Tidal Waste was the capstone project for my final year in the University of Washington Bothell’s Interactive Media Design program. We worked on it for roughly six months. It is a turn-based RPG set in a garbage patch in the middle of the ocean. Our goal was to get players to care about ocean pollution and teach them how to properly dispose of their household trash. We created and tested a working paper and digital prototype of our game. You can play the digital prototype by following the link below.
– Systems and Mechanics Design
– Physical Prototyping
– Enemy Design
– Level Design
– Running Playtests
I designed the primary systems of the game with the intent of teaching players how to properly dispose of trash, then reinforcing that knowledge through repetitive action. Each enemy has a type of common household garbage that they represent, and each special move the player can make represents a type of household waste disposal. If the player uses the right type of disposal against a specific type of garbage, they deal more damage and can earn extra rewards from the battle. My thinking was that if a player could internalize that they should use water-type moves against a fire-type opponent while playing Pokémon, they could internalize that they should recycle a monster made of soda cans.
I built a physical prototype out of paper and dice in order to test these mechanics and make sure they were functional before having them implemented into our digital prototype. This way, I was able to test it on a few of my peers in order to make sure that our mechanics, as well as some early enemy concepts, were engaging.
I worked on the enemy designs while making the physical prototype. I designed each enemy to be memorable so that players would have an easier time remembering which disposal techniques to match with them. This way, the player would have an easier time remembering how to dispose of the actual garbage that these enemies represent.
I planned out a scenario the player would have to run through in this prototype as well, creating a sequence of enemy encounters and writing several NPCs the player could interact with. I looked at discussion boards and YouTube videos to see what RPG towns, dungeons, and shops players liked and what they liked about them. That way, we could know what players tend to look for in these elements of RPGs and try to build our pirate town of Dimrag with them in mind.
I populated Dimrag with unique NPCs like the shady shopkeeper Kelpie, the root beer loving manatee in the middle of the road, and the insufferable comedian Twocan. I also gave it some unique areas like the perpetually-full tavern and the graveyard that takes up almost a third of the residential district. I wanted players to have some kind of attachment to the area so that when they would see it in danger from pollution, they’d want to help the area and the animals living there.
I ran playtests in the paper prototype by running it like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. Another team member took notes on what decisions the player was making and how the player was reacting to the game. From these playtests, we were able to deduce that our basic battle mechanics were teaching players how to dispose of household waste more effectively, but our more advanced mechanics were not being communicated or incentivized clearly enough to teach the player effectively. However, the players did seem to grow attached to our world and characters.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with my work on Tidal Waste. My favorite part was working on the world, enemy designs, and writing. I had a lot of fun with those parts, and people who saw the game responded positively to them. If I had more time to work on the project, I would work on making the more advanced mechanics more easily understandable to the player.