Play the game here! https://m-ansley.itch.io/the-best-days
Shortened Walkthrough: https://youtu.be/OyVhGWbF-2k
The Best Days is a game about student life and mental upkeep. It’s about pushing forward through the days and nights while attempting to stay healthy and sane. It’s a game about the invisible hours spent toiling away in a room without company. These are, in short, the best days of your life.
Ultimately, however, it’s a game about anxiety, depression, isolation, time pressure, and boredom, but it’s also one about perseverance and routine in the face of them. It’s been created in response to: A) the idealisation of student life (particularly by nostalgic adults), and B) the over-reliance on ‘black dog’ imagery (or other embodiments) in depicting depression. Instead, this game focuses primarily on the experience of depression and anxiety (in terms of sensations), in the context of mundane student life. It uses a Unity first-person perspective setup with a custom mood, anxiety, and time manager to adjust time on cue and increment post-processing and audio effects depending on the player character’s mental state.
High anxiety increases the volume of a heartbeat effect while incrementing a vignette (designed to represent the kind of pessimistic ‘tunnel-vision’ stress can cause), while low mood desaturates the colours and increases the volume of a breathing sound effect (designed to simulate and represent the general loss of energy, vibrancy, and warmth, along with exhaustion/fatigue, I associate with depressive episodes). These are based entirely off personal experiences and sensations rather than qualitative research.
The game is, in a sense, a juggling act between anxiety and depression (essentially masquerading under the word ‘Mood’), but it ultimately hopes to illustrate ideas of time- and self-management. While the impending exam within the game is figured as somewhat of a doomsday (and ‘time’ is figured as a sort of antagonistic force), there is life and warmth beyond it. My many post-its and notes-to-self during my undergrad told me to keep at it, but that there would also be a time when I could enjoy the sun on my skin again.
- Implemented raycasting to allow for user interactions with objects in the room (switches, record player, TV, etc).
- Created a custom time and mood manager class to control time within the game as well as the player’s ‘mood’ and ‘anxiety’ levels (with a public multiplier variable to be influenced by activities, the date, etc.).
- Developed incremental post-processing and sound effects. These increase in relation to the player’s mood and anxiety levels beyond a certain threshold (and towards a minimum and maximum level respectively): a tunneling vignette effect and heartbeat for stress; a
- Set up and created user-triggered camera animations for first-person cutscenes/transitions.
- Developed a custom ‘audio fade’ class which works with Unity’s audio-mixers to gradually lower the volume of groups of audio sources.
- Designed the piece as a simulation game, designed to create and recreate some student life experiences: time relentlessly passing, low and high mood, high and low anxiety (exam stress), working, procrastinating, unwinding (via meditation or during walks). Developed a custom mood, anxiety, and time manager to enable most of these.
- Designed and developed the bedroom, lake, and ending exam environments. Implemented environmental details for narrative purposes, authenticity, and to promote player curiosity. Implemented lighting and post-processing for atmospheric purposes.
- Rapidly developed custom models using Unity’s ProBuilder package. These include (but are not limited to): the bed, desk, lamp, drawers and cabinets, books, TV, games console, record player, laundry basket, and drying rack.
- Created a variety of interactive objects to make the space feel more homely, as well as to provide the player with some fitting procrastination material (in-keeping with the ‘student life’ theme and setting).
This game is one of several stories I’ve been meaning to tell. I’m starting to see a lot of my games as a ‘coming to terms’ with parts of my personal history. I get to work on it, package it up, and then simply move on to the next project. While I don’t believe depression and anxiety can be quite so easily packaged up and ‘dealt with’, I do hope this project can be a sort of send-off to my undergraduate days. This depiction of student life is fairly mundane and hopefully understated, but that’s so much of what it was and is for me. We just work away and hope for the future.
[P.S. I’m working on a full post-mortem for this game which should go into the development process in a bit more depth. Keep your eyes peeled if you’re interested! ;)]