Me, Morrie is an interactive novel that showcases the relationship between Morrie, a grandfather who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, and his grandson Mendel. It is designed and developed by a team of four people using Unity Engine. Over the course of the story, players will get a glimpse into what a family may experience when a loved one is impacted by Alzheimer’s.
We began developing Me, Morrie for our final project for a class at USC. When we first started brainstorming, we knew we wanted to tell a story that centered around family. We began to share about our own families, and some of our teammates opened up about their families’ experience with Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). We discussed having a central character impacted by AD and how it could create a unique gameplay experience. We couldn’t complete the whole game by the end of the class, so we set a goal to finish it and share the story with a wider audience.
Through our game, we want the players to empathize with people who are experiencing Alzheimer’s and become more aware of Alzheimer’s Disease and the impact it has on those who are experiencing the disease and their loved ones.
The game is showcased at the USC Games Expo 2021. It can be played in the browser and downloaded from Me, Morrie main page.
This was a project for a class assignment of creating a narrative game. When we brainstormed the ideas, all of us agreed that we wanted to create a story about family. We started sharing our own family stories, and realized two of our teammates, including myself, have families that are experiencing Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). For my family, we didn’t realize that AD can be prevented and the condition can be slowed down with proper treatment. When we realized how serious it was, my grandfather was already in pretty bad condition. If we had more awareness of Alzheimer's Disease, we would have acted on and helped my grandfather in his early stage.
Another teammate also shared her grandmother’s story on AD. As a result, our team decided that we wanted our players to be more aware of this disease, and the impact it brings to the families who are experiencing Alzheimer’s.
Even though this was a narrative project, we didn’t want our game to be solely a novel. We wanted to use some mini games that related to the story to reflect the idea of grandpa Morrie’s Alzheimer condition, so that the players can feel the conditions getting worse by both reading the story and playing the mini games.
The screenshot on the left was our brainstorm white board where we developed the story and mini games. We did some research on AD and decided to have four chapters of the story, as this could gradually show grandpa Morrie’s condition. We also had some example demonstrations of the UI and the mini games. We drew several different versions, comparing them and coming up with the best version.
In addition to the white board on the left, we also created a design document.
** This is not the final design. We made some adjustments after writing this version of the design document **
We created a paper prototype in Tabletop Simulator that tested our mini game mechanics. Because we wanted to use these mini games along with the story to create the player experience, whether the mini games can create the experience and feelings we wanted were very important. Here are some critical issues and player feedback:
[Issue: To-Do-List Mini Game] In the to-do-list mini game, we introduced the incorrect task as the fifth sentence. We also had 2 out of 10 tasks that were not able to be completed.
[Player feedback] Players suggested we introduce the awkwardness earlier than the fifth task and make the fill-in words able to fit into the tasks even if they aren’t exactly the correct words.
[Issue: Jigsaw Puzzle Mini Game] In the jigsaw puzzle mini game, we incorporated varying art styles that created a sense of awkwardness and altered perception.
[Player feedback] In addition to having different art styles or blurred areas, we could also have pieces that don’t intentionally fit together, to create unsolvable puzzles.
[Player feedback] The game could be open ended and doesn’t need to have a correct answer to complete the mini games. Players have the option to decide when the mini games end.
[Player feedback] In terms of whose perspective the story is told from, if players are playing from Grandpa’s perspective, the experience can be framed as a dream--players could switch between dreams and real life. If from the family's perspective, we could still use similar mechanics to create empathy because they share the same experience of sadness.
[Player feedback] Repetition and slow changes can be really powerful. Instead of having Grandpa’s condition be in the same severity, slowly changing grandpa’s behaviors and cognitions could imply that his condition is getting worse, which arouses players’ empathy and awareness.
According to the observations and feedback, we decided that our next steps on the development would be:
[Story Structure] Our most crucial step right now is to decide the story structure. This includes several aspects:
Perspective: Currently the mini games are through grandpa’s perspective, but we realized that this same experience is also true from family members’ perspective. Our question is how to create authentic experience while maximizing the impact of Alzheimer’s.
Timeline: When do family members first discover that Grandpa has Alzheimer’s? Does Grandpa have Alzheimer’s from the beginning, or do players gradually discover this as the story unfolds?
Story: By the time we playtested the game, we didn’t have a complete story yet other than the narratives told in the mini games. Our next step, in terms of the narrative, is to develop a complete story that we can smoothly implement our mini game ideas into.
[Mini Games] We playtested three mini game ideas, but we need to have more mini games that convey the same experience. Our goal is to create one to two more mini games that fit into the story and convey the experience.
The paper prototype can be played in Tabletop Simulator here.
Digital Prototype 1.0
We had our second playtest two weeks after we started developing the digital prototype in Unity. Because the game was still in development, we only had chapter one completed with arts and audio and the story up to the end of chapter two. In this playtest, we used chapter one as our vertical slice and tested it. In this introductory chapter, the grandpa doesn’t show any signs of Alzheimer’s. There are three mini games in this chapter: jigsaw puzzle, crossroad, and shopping list.
[Issue: Jigsaw Puzzle Mini Game] The jigsaw puzzle in the current version is too difficult. 3/3 players took a long time to put the pieces together and got stuck in this mini game. Usually, jigsaw puzzles have jigsaw shapes and edged corner pieces; players expressed that they always start with the corner pieces. In our version, however, all the puzzle pieces had hard edges. Therefore, players had difficulty distinguishing the pieces, especially because they don’t know the original jigsaw image/photo. Also, we removed the snapping mechanic from the prior version, which made the jigsaw mini game lack feedback on whether or not players put the pieces into the correct spots.
[Issue: Jigsaw Puzzle Mini Game] 1/3 players expressed that the photo content in the jigsaw puzzle didn’t connect with the story told in the post-game dialogue. The jigsaw photo in chapter 1 is from the kid’s birthday party, but the side dialogue tells the story of how the grandpa and grandma met. Even though there’s still some connection (the kid is holding the book the grandpa sent him as the birthday gift), it’s not relevant enough.
[Issue: Crossroad Mini Game] 2/3 players expressed that the ambient sound in the crossroad mini game was too loud and does not fit, as the SFX contained loud car engine sounds, but the map’s street was empty. Also, since the dialogue trigger in the crossroad mini game used a collider trigger, when players entered the collider from the opposite direction as we expected, the direction that the dialogues suggested would be the wrong directions. This created player confusion.
[Issue: Overarching Narrative] 3/3 players expressed that even though they enjoyed playing and going through the story in chapter 1, they were unsure of the overarching narrative, as in chapter 1 there was no sign of Grandpa’s Alzheimer's Disease. However, players also expressed that they want to continue playing the later chapters to find out more about the story and what happens to the family.
According to the observations and feedback, we decided that our next steps on the development would be:
[Jigsaw Puzzle Mini Game] Cut the jigsaw pieces as regular jigsaw puzzle pieces, instead of using the hard line edges, as this form of jigsaw puzzle is the most familiar to players and how they expect the pieces to be like. Add the snapping mechanic to the jigsaw puzzle mini game, as this helps reduce the difficulty.
[Crossroad Mini Game] Change the current ambient sound to a more peaceful sound (such as park or small town ambient sound), instead of using city noise as in the current version. Lower the ambient sound.
[Later Chapter Development Plan] Our plan for the final deliverable is to have a rough prototype that has all the dialogue/story and mini games implemented, without all the art assets (narrative background art) and all the final version of audio assets (background sound in each chapter, SFX). During the winter, our plan is to adjust the narrative and mini games according to feedback, and work on art and audio assets.
Download the build for digital prototype 1.0 here.
As we playtested the digital prototype 1.0, we received several comments and feedback from our playtesters. According to the feedback, we decided to shorten the narrative, making it quicker to get to the main story. We also completed the game with final audio and arts.
As we were completing the game, Me, Morrie was selected to showcase at the USC Games Expo 2021, the biggest game show at USC for the whole school year.
The final game can be played on Me, Morrie main page.
In addition to being a designer and programmer, I also worked as the producer in this project. This was the first digital game project in my MFA study, and a lot of our classmates didn’t have game development experience. Because I had a minor in game design in my undergraduate and had experience in game development, I took the role of a producer and started helping our teammates in the production process.
During the pre-production paper prototype phase, I created a document that teaches how to use Perforce as a version control system because I’m the only person in the team who had used Perforce before. Even though I had used it a few times, I was not confident enough to use Perforce without any issue. However, I did a lot of research online, learning about possible issues that could happen, and wrote them down in the document. My teammates were able to successfully join Perforce and used it as version control. I was also able to learn more about the program, and helped troubleshoot some issues that my teammates had encountered.
I also helped set up deadlines and milestones for our project. Since my teammates were not familiar with the development process, I taught them some basic knowledge before we started the project. I also made a schedule that planned out the milestones and breaked down the tasks, and assigned them according to team members’ skillsets.
Communication is also an important aspect in the development process. Since two of our team members’ native language is not English, I helped translate between English and Mandarin between my teammates when they were having trouble expressing their ideas, and made sure that everyone’s ideas and suggestions were heard. Our writer and artist had never worked on game projects before, and they were not familiar with some specific terms we used. I helped communicate with them and helped explain the things that they didn’t understand, making sure that their efforts, ideas and personal feelings were taken care of.
I enjoyed working as a producer on game projects. I have a background in both game development and business administration, and have worked on different aspects of development such as design, programming, modeling, illustration and production. These help me to become a better producer, and be able to be the mediator between people from different disciplines and backgrounds.