We hope you have as much fun with Note as much as we had in making it. Read all about the process of making Note below.
Note lived as any ordinary 8-year-old boy, until the day he woke up surrounded by total darkness, finding himself out of body and far from home, located in the In-Between. Try as he might, Note can’t seem to remember a thing about his past.
The sounds of an all-too-familiar song drifts through the darkness. Note, drawn to the song, follows the sounds to a strangely tiled room, with a locked door on the other side. Stepping onto a tile, he hears a single note play. Hopping to the next, he hears another note play. He slowly realizes the task at hand — to leave the room and the In-Between, and to get closer to home, he must recreate songs from his past.
Note tests players’ memories, asking players to help guide our protagonist, Note, through a series of memory-based music puzzles. Players must listen to songs from Note’s past and recreate the songs through a combination of memory and sequential jumps to complete each puzzle. Upon completing each level, our protagonist, Note, moves physically closer to home, uncovering a song from his past life in the process, and unlocking an auditory memory from Note’s life in the process.
Initial Design Decisions
Initial design decisions
Our initial idea for the game was to be a single-player rhythm based game featuring key elements similar to the ones commonly seen in popular auditory games such as Guitar Hero and Line Rider, however, the underlying mechanic that we wanted to focus on and explore as a team was audio. In our ideation phase, we took inspiration from various audio based games and decided on building audio memorization focussed puzzles and an audio based platformer as a separate level. Moreover, all of us really enjoyed playing the game “Monument Valley” due to its stunning visuals and the feelings/emotions of wistfulness it invoked in its players.
With the our aforementioned initial design decisions, we were naturally inclined to attempt to invoke similar emotions within our player base making our primary audience for the game to be players (aged 5+) who enjoy a fine blend of auditory and visual experiences along with logic based puzzle elements in a game. After a lot of playtesting, we were able to tweak our puzzle ideas to fit the interests of our target audience. More specifically, we decided to focus on only memorization puzzles rather than also including a platformer to strictly appeal to a certain player base and also to remove unnecessary learning curves within different levels and keeping the progression smooth.
Design Elements and Choices
Our desired tone and mood for the game revolves around the emotions of wistfulness, haunting, and endearing as such we designed level audios matching the tone and narrative for the game ourselves and incorporated them into our memorisation puzzles to stick to our theme for the game and meet our initially intended goals. Furthermore, we created a slightly haunting storyline for the game to supplement our auditory design and to keep the theme for the game consistent. Our wistful yet endearing art and visual elements for the game are similarly reflective of our initial goals and consistent with the overall elements and mechanics of the game. For instance, our protagonist, Note, is a ghost, thus its art and the background story highlights the slightly “haunting” mood we planned to go for, yet when Note finishes a level, it swirls around and completes an ending animation which adds to the “endearing” tone present in the game.
Our initial puzzle and map design process was purely analog. We utilized the sketchnote techniques and 5 basic drawing elements/shapes learned in class to draw individual levels for the game to help us brainstorm different ideas for puzzles and the platform for the game. This preliminary design phase turned out to be extremely helpful to us later on when we were building the digital game as it not only streamlined the digital design process for us but also we were able to receive valuable insights and feedback for each design.
Initial Analog Design
Playtesting & Iteration
We initially thought about taking our game in two separate directions — a 2D platformer where players would traverse sound waves, guided by a song, and a 3D memory puzzle.
Generally, across both versions of our game, we sought to answer the following questions:
- Would the two versions of the game make sense together?
- Should we aim for mobile-based or web-based versions of the game?
- What degree of difficulty/length should we aim for when creating the audio for the game?
To test the 3D memory puzzle version of the game, utilizing a digital piano keyboard, we videotaped sequences of notes for players to memorize on the digital keyboard and had players recreate these sequences of notes on the digital piano keyboard.
We sought to answer these questions across our 3D memory puzzle version of the game:
- Do players need visual cues to remember notes? Or, can players rely solely on auditory signals to remember notes?
- Where do the limits of players’ memories lie when it comes to length and difficulty of songs?
To test the 2D platformer version of the game, we recorded a song in Logic, and had the player trace their finger across the sound waves of the song in Logic to mimic the movements they might need to grapple with when traversing a sound wave in a 2D platformer game.
We sought to answer these questions across our 2D platformer version of the game:
- What kind of pacing would be too easy/difficult for the player to follow?
- Would a player have fun traversing a soundwave?
We found that a 3D version of the game allowed us to play from a player’s perspective which broadened the visuals we could incorporate into the game. With a 3D version of the game, we could integrate visual cues for notes into the game, including elements like elevation changes to represent high/low notes.
We also found that visual cues for players without musical experience would prove extremely useful.
We also found that we should stick to a web format given that a lot of the game mechanics across both versions of the game involved the ability of the player to move through use of the keyboard.
Finally, we found that length of song and number of notes in a song played major roles in the difficulty of the game, finding that 10+ note sequences were too difficult to memorize, and that songs should not last over 30 seconds.
We tested with one member of the class who had prior experience playing piano, which may represent a skewed group of advanced users.
Our user also indicated that including both versions of the game as a series of mini-puzzles for our protagonist to solve in his path toward regaining his memory felt too disparate to be a part of one cohesive story. As a result, we did not move forward with developing the platformer level and instead focused on the audio memory puzzle.
For the second playtest, we created a low-fidelity board of tiles that each play a note when the player comes in contact with it. We also created an 8-note length sequence for the player to memorize. One member of the class playtested.
We sought to answer these questions:
- Does the camera angle display the tiles well?
- What should happen when the player gets the sequence wrong?
- How does the movement across the tiles feel?
The player enjoyed making sounds with the tiles. It gave him pleasure just to move around the level and listen to the sounds that were being made. This is a great success because one of the core types of fun in our game is sensation through music and sound. The affirmation from our playtester meant that the mechanics of the game were conveying the intended aesthetics well. The player movement also felt smooth to him, and he remarked that it was “fun to hop around.”
The camera angle showed the tiles and the player from the side. As a result, the player had difficulty discerning the depth of the tiles from this angle. Additionally, the player was occasionally obscured by the taller tiles when positioned behind them. We decided to change the camera angle to be from behind and above the player, so the angle aligns with the player’s view, prevents the player from being obscured, and better displays the height differences of the tiles.
We also ran into an issue regarding the hit boxes of the tiles. Players that stood on one tile and ran into an adjacent higher tile from the side would trigger both tiles at once. To prevent this form of behavior, we changed the trigger for each tile from simply touching the tile to an invisible hitbox only on the top of the tile. That way, each tile would only get triggered by the player standing on top of them.
One of the key questions we wanted to test is what should the behavior be when the player gets the sequence wrong. The original behavior we went into the playtest with was to reset the player to the starting position whenever they stepped on an incorrect tile. Through playtesting, we determined that this was a poor approach as it limited the player’s freedom to explore the level and play on the tiles. We then changed the game so that the player could step on any tile without restriction, but triggering an incorrect tile in the sequence would clear out the previous input tiles and they would have to restart the sequence.
For this playtest, we changed the camera angle and added in dialogue at the beginning to provide narration and instruction to the player.
We sought to answer these questions:
- How does the new camera angle affect gameplay?
- Are the instructions clear?
- What are the player’s reactions to the audio solution sound?
The layout and depths of the tiles were intuitive to the player in this round, suggesting that the camera angle was an improvement. The player also highly enjoyed exploring the tiles. After the puzzle was done, the player continued to jump across tiles just for the fun of it. This was a sign that our game was successfully providing the sensation type of fun. A future idea for this game is that we could allow some kind of sandbox mode to let players play with the tiles without have an objective or puzzle to solve.
The player did not know that he could jump by hitting the space bar. We realized this was a key mechanic that had been left out of the onboarding, so we incorporated it into Note’s dialogue to make it clear to future players how they can jump.
We received feedback that the tiles in the far right corner felt much higher than the other tiles. It was a challenge to the player to jump on them, and that was not a difficulty we intended. We consequently adjusted the tile heights so that it would be easier to jump on all of them and reduce the distracting disparity between them.
The player noticed that when the capsule hit the side of a tile, it vibrated. They remarked that this was “annoying,” so we fixed this bug in the next iteration.
The sequence of notes given to the player to replicate were rather random. The player commented that if they are going to all that extent to memorize the sequence, they would like the sequence to have a more satisfying, cohesive sound. We realized that the puzzle should be pleasing to listen to, and that would make the game more fun. To address this issue, we created a melody for the player to replicate that we tested in later rounds.
In this playtest, we focused on the experience of the puzzle and player movement across the board.
Specifically, we had these questions:
- How does the puzzle feel?
- How is its level of difficulty?
- How easy is it to jump across the tiles?
The player commented that they liked the minimalistic design of the game and thought it looked good. He, like players before, also enjoyed exploring the board after the puzzle was done.
A technical constraint of this iteration was that the player could not jump very high, so he could only access tiles that were immediately next to or diagonal from him. We had not figured out how to fix this yet by the time of this playtest. The player commented that this was limiting his exploration of the tiles and asked if he could double jump. We realized that allowing double jumping would make it much easier to move across the tiles and figured out how to implement it.
In playtest 1, we had tried having the player play back a series of notes after listening to it. The feedback was that this was too difficult, which is why we added a visual component showing what tiles to hit. In this playtest, we received feedback that it felt like the game was solving the puzzle for the player since it tells you exactly where to go. It was too easy to memorize the visual pattern, and it felt “straightforward.” The player was not experiencing the challenge type of fun like we intended. We could have made the sequence more difficult to memorize by lengthening it, but we felt that would make the game more chore-like rather than fun. We made the decision to remove the visual component and only give players the melody/audio to replicate. We also planned to have the tile height correspond to the note, which would make it easier to remember which tiles to hit relative to the others. In playtest 1, all of the tiles were the same height, which we suspected contributed to the difficulty of replicating the audio. In the next round of playtesting, we tested the difficulty of the puzzle with this change.
In this playtest, we playtested less dramatic height differences for the tiles, as well as asking the player to play the audio version of our game, in which they listened to the audio and then after exploring the board, tried replicating the music with the keyboard.
Specifically, we had these questions:
- How much harder does this make the game?
- Is this additional challenge fun or frustrating?
- Was the height difference of the tiles small enough so the player could more easily navigate to and from harder to reach tiles?
The player enjoyed the freeform exploration and the jumping- the decrease in tile height made the level easier to navigate for them. They also concentrated on trying to get the rhythm of the music as well as the notes exactly right, and felt like the audio made the game a more interesting experience.
It remained difficult for the player to jump from tile to tile if they were not contiguous. They would continuously bump into the sides of other tiles while trying to play the tune, which disrupted their thought process on what sound each tile was playing and how the song worked. At this point, they would often stop after this point and ask us to play the audio file again. We ended up decreasing the surface area of the tiles that had the capability to create sound in order to make the tiles less sensitive.
Additionally, they continuously forgot where they were in the process of playing out the tiles, and would have to restart the tiles they were halfway through, or ask to listen to one note on the audio file. They also expressed the want to stop and think about the next tile, but since they were building a song and there was a certain rhythm they had to achieve, they had to keep moving. The need for the player to keep track of all these notes in their head while also keepipng track of each new tile’s sound, their position and color, and organize these all into a new program that lacked the beat of the music led us to decide to add a feature to save these notes in some form, so players didn’t need to play out the music in one go to solve the puzzle, instead simply storing the notes in the right order to pass the level.
Final Playtest Video
Due to the limitations of the class, we were forced to condense our narrative into the single level as a slice. Originally, we aimed to have each level represent a song. The levels would be divided into three stages with each stage representing the percussion, bass, and melody of the song. As the player cleared the stages, the aspect from the previous stages would remain and eventually culminate into a whole song at the end. In the future, we would love to fully implement this design as we feel that it’s a great way to convey the desired aesthetics of the game. With more time and resources, we could have better fleshed out the narrative and puzzles creating a more engaging experience for the player.
Walkthrough and Build
Note begins facing a set of colorful tiles and is prompted to press a sound button to hear the music. Players can explore the world at first, and when they’re ready, listen to the sound they must replicate.
Players listen to the song, then proceed to look for the corresponding tiles to jump on. Each tile, also a different height, is indicative of a different sound. The player strings together the sounds to recreate the musical piece.
Players can store the notes they want as part of their solution by pressing the shift button. This way, players can continue to explore the tiles without needing to follow the beat and flow of the musical piece they are recreating. They only need to store the solution in order in their own time.
If the player stores the solution accurately, Note spins in joy, and a joyful level end dialogue is played.
Final Playtest Feedback
Grace (Art Heist)
I moderated/took notes for our last session. One game I playtested earlier was Art Heist, a web game that simulates an art heist. I liked the aesthetics of the site – the black background and bright red text made it feel like I was doing something secretive and risky, evocative of the premise. There was one puzzle where I worked with a partner to deduce which word from a list of words was the password to a safe. There were a limited amount of tries available, which was a good mechanic to make us think over our guesses carefully. We started by clicking on one of the words. After doing that, we received feedback that a certain number was “correct.” It was ambiguous if that meant X number of letters were correct and in the right place, or X number were correct but not necessarily in the right place. We eventually deduced what it meant, but I feel like that confusion was unnecessary and that the feedback could have been more clear.
After narrowing down to about four guesses, we randomly selected one to submit next, and it ended up being correct. We won the level, but it felt unearned because we were just lucky. I wished I could have carried out the deduction all the way through to the right answer – that would have been more satisfying. The luck vs. skill calibration could have been improved in this game.
We also didn’t realize we won right away. The line that told us we guessed correctly was small and inserted at the bottom of the page, so we overlooked it and falsely believed we still hadn’t found the correct solution. Making the winning message more overt would help.
I was supposed to playtest Dorm Break and Escape From Your Mind but both groups were resolving technical difficulties, so I playtested MoonRunner instead.
MoonRunner is a 3D platformer where players follow a series of lights guiding them through jumping, wall-running, and grappling. I thoroughly enjoyed the mechanics of the game, which included jumping, wall-running, and grappling.
An interesting note, that testers mentioned to me, was the length of time it took novices to complete the tutorial level, as compared to experienced players whose grappling, wall-running, and jumping skills translated well to this game.
The point system, goals, and narrative of the game, however, are not quite clear, although I am not sure if they are meant to be, as MoonRunner lies in the genre of platform games.
Player onboarding was clearly well thought through. As soon as the player acquired wall-running abilities through possession of a single object, the MoonRunner team had placed a wall directly to the left of the player, allowing the player to directly test the limits of their newfound powers.
I enjoyed the aesthetics of the game, which seemed to generally be space-themed and industrial, although I wonder how gravity operates in the world of MoonRunner, which is ostensibly supposed to be set on the moon.
I found the game quite frustrating as an inexperienced novice, which could be attributed to myself not being a part of the target audience, or to the game not being adaptable for players from different skill levels. It would have been nice to see built-in advantages for players of different skill levels, although this would have been beyond the scope of a tutorial level.
Zakria (Dorm Break)
I playtested this escape room game earlier comprised of a series of puzzles with the overarching motive of finding our roommate. What I found the most interesting part of the game was how the team designed a unique experience by making players interact with technological devices and the real world. This integrative experience allowed for players to feel like the protagonist and invoked a mix of emotions from uncertainty, suspense, and excitement. The overall difficulty level of the various puzzles and the jump in the difficulty between the levels was quite fair and matched with the audience which were primarily college students hence the puzzles revolve around the things and experiences of an average college student. While the game and the idea for the game was pretty solid, I felt that since there were random objects present, it might not be immediately apparent as to how we were supposed to solve the puzzle also, so the I felt the story can be further enhanced to subtly provide the players “instructions” without giving away too much. Other than that, I found the game to be pretty unique and exciting since I had never played an escape room before.
Peng (Dorm Break + Sandbox)
Dorm Break is a physical escape room where you try to solve the disappearance of your roommate. There were several puzzles to solve, primarily numerical in nature, where one led you to the next. The sequence of puzzles felt smooth and really encapsulated the narrative and discovery aspects of the game. All of the puzzles fit the aesthetic of being a college student with information coming from hints hidden in a to-do list, a class project, poetry homework, and general dorm decor. They were all things that a college student would reasonably have so the puzzles helped build the narrative. The puzzles also performed well mechanically aside from a few issues.
There was a cookie puzzle that required you to search a container of cookies for cookies that had frosted letters on them to spell out a word. In my opinion, I felt that this puzzle broke the immersion of the narrative since it was a bit too unreasonable for random cookies in a container of plain cookies to have letters frosted on them.
The cafes puzzle required you to plot locations of cafes on Stanford campus that the roommate visited onto a map. This could potentially be an issue for audiences outside of the Stanford population, but it could be easily resolved by generalizing the map.
There was also a chemistry puzzle which required knowledge of the periodic table. This knowledge requirement can be mitigated by providing the periodic table and also having further hints on the table itself if necessary.
The biggest issue that came up was in the Suits puzzle where we had to get numbers out of an episode of Suits. Some of the numbers were too general which caused confusion amongst the players (e.g. getting one million out of the word “millions”). If the clips were watched for too long, other numbers also came up in the character dialogue. We suggested to the creators of the game that they should specify end durations along with start durations for the Suits clips to prevent these ‘red herrings’ from happening. Additionally, this puzzle was supposed to be used in conjunction with the lock screen of a smartphone. Because our team did not realize this, we ended up spending a lot of time trying to decipher these numbers before the game creators finally gave us a hint. It would be good if the team could more explicitly connect these two puzzles together to avoid that confusion. It was extremely frustrating as players to be given information without context, leaving us unsure of what direction to proceed in and how to use the tools we just acquired.
Unfortunately, the game creator responsible for the poetry puzzle was not present so we were unable to playtest that part of the game.
Sandbox is a hybrid virtual and physical escape room in a box. The box represents the space that your character is trapped in, and the virtual website serves as a tool to provide the narrative and also present puzzles. I think the overall aesthetics of the game was quite appealing. The website was particularly well done: the choice of white text on a black background along with the font is reminiscent of other purely virtual text-based adventure games such as Zork and A Dark Room.
The puzzles within the game were also a lot of fun. The initial puzzle of finding the password in a pile of leaves was a bit plain but served well to fulfill the exploration and discovery part of the game. It was a good starting point for the player to ‘buy in’ to the narrative and start immersing themselves within the box of props.
The following puzzles were more difficult, with one of them requiring knowledge of how to count in binary. Although that puzzle could have been solved without knowledge of binary through hints provided in the props of the box, I feel that using the hints would lessen the feeling of accomplishment of solving the puzzle. Additionally, the hint provided you with a bunch of numbers that the players were expected to randomly choose a sequence of and use that to brute force the number lock. This would be a frustrating experience for the players since it doesn’t add to the fun or narrative and seems to serve no purpose other than to take up time. Therefore, redesigning the puzzle to be more accessible to people with varying backgrounds would be a better choice.
One particularly fun puzzle was a hybrid one where you turned physical knobs to adjust a virtual screen and receive a scrambled word you needed to decipher. I think the direct feedback from the knobs to the screen really encapsulated a sensation type of fun, despite it being slightly buggy.
Overall, the narrative of the game was conveyed quite well through the puzzles and the website’s dialogue and prompts. It would be nice to have a more refined physical aspect of the escape room, but it is understandable due to the limitations in time and resources.
Ashley (Locked Door Office Hours)
I was the notetaker for our final playtest, but I played Locked Door Office Hours, a Stanford themed escape room for a previous playtest. The first puzzle they gave us was a complicated looking electircal engineering diagram that had the code to a combination lock, in some way. The intense complication of the circuit diagram, addition of formulas scattered around the rim, and the flavortext of “LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE” led me to immediately look at the circuit lines as numbers individually, ignoring the rest of the additional symbols. This experience was very analogous to what our guest speaker mentioned- that people will often strip away the story and go directly for the puzzle. This was similar to the approach I realized I took with this puzzle- in the moment, the complexity of the circuit diagram and presence of the potential fact that math was involved prompted me to immediately remove myself from that storyspace, remind myself that a puzzle would likely not involve either math or anything E40M related, and look for other avenues, which the flavortext also prompted me to do. I thought this was a really memorable and interesting puzzle, because of the range of time one could take solving it. My fellow playtesters discussed this puzzle and if there was a different way we’d approach building out this puzzle, and to be honest, I’m not sure what would be best- removing some of the staged mathematical formulas there for show and to mislead others (since I thought the intensity of them was what broke the illusion for me) or leaving them there. I would be interested in knowing what the group decided to do.
We also completed another puzzle where we read some diaries that held in them colors and places, which we connected on the map to reveal an interesecting country in the middle, which was our key. I thought this was a very good puzzle as well, since it was spatially engaging, as we were using our hands to connect things on a map and also looking for places on a map. We got a bit misled while reading one of the diaries however- one prompt had two places mentioned, and we ended up thinking the one that wasn’t the primary location the text emphasized was the one to connect. We ended up spending well over twenty minutes trying to figure it out, until the moderators had to direct us to the other location as the one we were supposed to connect. I would suggest eliminating talking about two locations at all in that diary entry, as the others did not have two locations.
Overall, I had a lot of fun playing through the puzzles and I thought they all connected aspects of physical play, intellectual play, and creative play very well. Some aspects could be tweaked (mainly removing extraneous bits that might mislead players and take them down rabbit holes) but beyond that they were great pieces of the final escape room.