The Lost Magic of Dagon

Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences, Research Office
Diciplines
UX, UI, Product Design, Game Development, Programming

The Lost Magic of Dagon

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Intro video

Brief

Our goal was to design an intervention for aiding in physical therapy for children with upper motor-neuron or movement disorder that is common with Cerebral Palsy (CP). This design intervention that makes use of game play mechanics that will provide data & insights that form part of the research into a greater study aimed to provide evidence that self-adapting play complexity provided by a smart toy can create adherence to physical therapy at home for children with CP.

Design Process

Digesting the brief

We begin to explore the problem space by reading a briefing document based on a canvassing session that briefly delves into the field of smart toys for children with disabilities and also with a base explanation of the end user. We do a full reading and discover a full set of questions surrounding it outlined in this document.

Generative Research

We start by conducting a literature review covering the topics of Cerebral Palsy, Smart toys for children with disabilities, some stakeholder research and we look for any evidence of the effectiveness of these existing toys to our target user. We find that whilst there was a lot of literature available regarding supporting children with both physical and intellectual learning, there was less knowledge available specifically related to the link between CP and and learning, apart from perhaps a couple of key research papers.

Our desk research also discovered some knowledge in the form of Videos that prove pivotal in the development of our solution given that due to covid restrictings, Usability testing was not possible.

Stakeholders Analysis

We develop a full picture of who the Primary and secondary stakeholders are to determine their level of involvement and importance to the solution generated.

Developing empathy

Part of our multi-pronged approach was to use another generative technique  to develop empathy for our end user was through performing design probe.

Situated design exercise

We designed and conducted a cultural probe to try to develop greater empathy with our target user. Recruitment of appropriate candidates for our research proved challenging as children with CP were not available to us, so we went out our local park and asked children aged 8-12 to participate in a drawing exercise. We would then interview them, asking about what they drew.

Cultural probe conducted in the park with children aged 8-12. Data would come in the form of the drawings collected, and by one of us conducting the interview whilst the other would make written notes.

The "5 why's" exercise

The activity involved finding out what children that age are interested in, without necessarily resorting to referencing known cultural artefacts, as well as tapping their creativity and imaginations to discover new themes. We would then ask them about what they drew, performing the "5 whys" technique to try discover what might be at the core of their answers. With each response they provided, we would futher ask them about why they provided those additional explenations and then continue this process until we get at the core of their reasoning and motivations and feelings.

Some of the results of the cultural probe we conducted with children aged 8-12

Evaluative research

We collected a raft of smart toys currently available on the market that would be relevant to out target group. We assessed and evaluated what was currently available.

Competitive analysis evaluating the current state of the market of smart toys for children with learning or physical disabilities

Interviews

We conducted interviews with more of our target users and stakeholders. We managed to find some adults with CP to be able to interview them as well as children without CP to discover what their interests in toys were. These interviews were done online and recorded and transcribed.

Research Analysis

We generate an affinity diagram to try to gain insights on common themes surrounding the subject.

Affinity diagram showing common themes discovered in the process.

Key Insights

From this research surrounding the users, an emotional need arose. Children with Cerebral Palsy desire social belonging, but their therapy exercises can make them feel disconnected from this. 

The responses of children and their parents were similar: they like video games that tell a story, building, fighting, fantasies, and mainly – magic.​ 

As Vesper, they perform magic such as turning a crystal ball or placing magic gems, which engage hand movements that are the core of their therapy. 

User research

Our literature review allowed us to provide this summary of our target user:

Cerebral Palsy is the most common motor disability in children, causing stiff muscles in their hands.​ It is difficult for them to perform everyday tasks, like cutting food or buttoning their clothes. To get better at these things, they need to exercise these movements with occupational therapy​, but current therapy solutions are boring and tedious for them.

Framing the design challenge

We use the Ideo method of framing the design challenge to explore the diverse subject of Cerebral Palsy.

Framing the design question (IDEO method)

From our exploration, we generate another affinity diagram that begins to reveal common themes for what might be the design challenge.

Affinity diagram

Developing a "How Might We" (HMW) question

Combining our findings from our affinity diagram, we develop a "How Might We" (HMW) question and subsequently generate a solution statement.

"How Might We" question

HMW promote independence in everyday tasks, enhances self-esteem, and empower belonging with peers for children aged 8-12 with Cerebral Palsy levels I & II?

Solution statement

Once we've define the challenge, we then prepared a solution statement that might address the problem.

By creating an adaptive smart toy that inspires them to increase the use of their spastic hand through intrinsically motivated play.

More evaluative research - Hardware evaluation

When testing with the target age group, it was found that the LEAP Motion was easy to master, the game was understandable, and that the children were delighted by interacting with their hands. Besides their love for magic, children learn through games and are motivated by winning them, and a quest-based format helps inspire replay value​.

Technology research & evaluation
Hardware comparison and evaluation for suitability to the task
Comparing and rating the hardware

Our solution

We decide to focus to empower the children’s hands through therapy and we begin to ideate and paper prototype solutions of how we might do that.

Rapid prototyping

I also implemented rapid prototyped some of the technical solutions in order to evaluate them, such as with teachable machine and camera detection to try to recognise hand movements.

Ideation

We sent through several rounds of ideation and evaluation of our ideas for the game, using paper prototypes and rough sketching.

Development

The exact hand movements of the children are captured with LEAP Motion, a hand-tracking device, which is scientifically proven to be effective in therapy for Cerebral Palsy. Using the Unity game engine, the team translated these hand movements into in-game mechanics.

Game story development

My colleagues focused primarily on the game story development using popular gaming tropes. We decided that we would have a main protagonist for our target audience to be able to empathise with. We avoided including a game villain to limit the sense of peril and traumatic experiences for a young audience. Our early interviews with parents of children with CP indicated that some of the games introduced some anxiety to their child, and so it was important that we avoided points of conflict entirely.

We create "The Lost Magic of Dagon". Dagon is a fantasy world that lost its magic due to a dark wind. With a stimulating low poly game aesthetic, it encourages play and exploration. The children play as the hero, Vesper, who must cast spells to restore the lost magic of the village.

Art direction

My colleagues primarily focused on generating the games visual aesthetic and art direction. We decided that a low polygon aesthetic was quite popular as well as being less technical and time consuming to be able to implement. My colleague created our game protagonist Vesper and rendered a 3d model of vesper to place in the game.

Creating and crafting - concepts for the game visual aesthetic

Character design

The game character was design using blender with skeletal structure integrated.

Vesper - the protagonist for the Lost Magic of Dagon

Game interface story-boarding

We designed game interfaces based on common game interface conventions we had learned.

Storyboards generated for the game interface

Learning how to make a computer-based game

We learned to understand the core components to game design and this includes learning about the MDA principle of game design - Mechanics, Dynamics & Aesthetics. That we applied for the game logic.

Prototyping

I developed the prototype using a prefab game with a low poly aesthetic and implemented the Leap Motion SDK to the build. This was to establish if the gameplay mechanic and aesthetics would work with our concept.

In prototyping with the Leap Motion SDK, we discovered that it did track hand motion to a level that was adequate to detect when hand movements like dorsal flextion. The various hand grips like ball grip were also readily detected.

Game environment design

Me and my colleague designed maps for the game based on modifying more pre-fab game assets that we were able to purchase or download for free, as well as learning the native terrain mapping tools.

Coding

I initially attempted to learn to script the game code with C#, Unity game engines native game programming language. But to learn C# to be able to develop the game in the timescale we had to work to (3 weeks) proved too much of an ask. Thankfully, there was an alternative to implementing game logic in the form of the build in visual scripting programming language called Bolt.

Game logic applied via Unity engined build-in Bolt visual programming language

Usability Testing - Phase 1

Phase 1 prototype test setup

User journey mapping

We develop UX test journey profiles for each candidate we tested. This evaluates in real-time, their experience and maps how they felt and what they thought throughout the experience. From this we also generated a lot of notes on improvements for the next phase of testing.

Sample user journey maps and key insights gather for further development and testing

UX testing - Phase 2

For the next phase of testing, we managed to roll in a lot of the suggested improvements from Phase 1.

As previously established, we weren't able to test directly on children with CP due to restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. We were however able to test on children in the same age group. We decided that children without CP were a reasonable alternative because children with CP have the same level of intellectual development as children without. And so we could test if the game would be fun for both.

Onsite testing with Children without CP aged 8-12

Test conclusions

After the test with Children without CP, we were again able to collect many more notes and suggested improvements that we would be able to roll in our learnings for a next test phase.

Game Documentation

Documentation for the game is provided in the form the Process Documentation where I aid in writing the Case Study as well as provide designs for the Service Design Blueprints.

I write all of the Product Documentation in the form of a Game Design Document (GDD). The GDD outlines all aspects of the technical development of the game from System documentation and to User Documentation.

Service Design Blueprints

I perform some elements of Service Design by designing Service Design Blueprints for the Game.

Read the full case study on the HvA website >

Game Development
User Experience Testing
Field Research & team discussion
Field Reseach
Early testing

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