Each Spring, Carnegie Mellon Students gather for four days of relaxation, fun, and competition during the annual event known as Spring Carnival. Every year, during the weeks leading up to Carnival, hundreds of students spend day and night frantically assembling booths for various campus organizations. A competitive booth is generally an 18' by 18', two story building, built to code and wired with interior lighting. As the Carnival attracts many area families, each booth has a game for visitors to play. Some games are more physical, traditional carnival games, while others are digital games ranging from custom computer games to homemade arcades.
For Spring 2011, the overall theme of Spring Carnival was "When I Was Your Age", so each booth had related subthemes. My fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon, choose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the classic 80's and 90's television show. For our game, I was part of a team of three that designed and built a computer racing game that utilized Wii hardware for input. Below, you can see the exterior of our first-place booth.
Design Overview and Process:
Our game chair, Joshua Debner, wanted to create an installation game that took advantage of the rich themes of TMNT in a way that fit in with the flow of the booth. We brainstormed general ideas, but booth presents several unique design constraints, namely that a game needs to have little to no learning curve and present an encapsulated experience in a relatively short time frame (as you need to move visitors through the booth).
We decided that we would be creating a racing game featuring Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on skateboards. Our team agreed that it evoked the theme nicely, while also satisfying one of our most important design constraints: gameplay length. Debner found a graphics and physics engine for us use, taken from an open-source downhill racing game called Tux Racer.
We began with a racing track resembling a farm and turned it into a loop around a city park. I was responsible for the gameplay code and the level design. We added models, textures, and scenery to reinforce the look and feel we wanted. I did all the textures and Debner worked on the models.
Wireframe and Untextured Blender Models
Textured track and Manhattan Skyline Background
We wanted to emulate the "powerup" style mechanics from other cart-racing games such as Mario Kart, but in a way that was appropriate to the theme of our game. We settled on “Pizza Power”, a boost gained by picking up pizzas scattered around the course.
Our third team member, Ian Gillis, had been working on adjusting the steering and getting the Wii interface to work. Once we combined his keyboard mapping script with the game, we did a second round of tests, using a Wii balance board to control the game. The game was immersive, short, but had high replay value. The last step was the creation of two skateboard decks, each of which had clamp attachments to fit over the ends of the Wii balance board. This allowed users to control the game by leaning back and forth on a real skateboard, further involving participants in the experience of the skateboard race.
Installation and Final Gameplay:
I designed the following poster to explain controls to visitors, and we installed the game into the booth about 10 hours before opening.
The end result: a playable, two and a half minute racing game that reflected the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's experience. We had over 2,500 visitors through our booth during Carnival, more than 900 of which played the game. The booth was a huge success, winning first place in our division.
Collaborators: Joshua Debner, Ian Gillis