Mixed Reality Stories
In my PhD project I investigated the user experience of running with mixed reality stories (MRS). My interest started with Zombies, Run!, an audio-story people supposed to literally run with. What fascinated me about the app was the unconventional way it created a mixed reality experience for the runners. It also allowed me to co-author an academic publication with the word 'zombies' in the title.
Over the course of the project, I worked together with creative writers to co-create and produce prototypes of three distinct mixed reality stories. Each of them essentially functions as a game level.
My goal with the level design was to explore the variety that Zombies, Run! format allows. I organised workshops with creative writers to discuss the format, its opportunities and limitations, and also how creators can adapt their traditional storytelling toolbox for MRS design.
Together, we explored three distinct ways of relating an MRS to the physical environment. One story was designed to closely match the runners' physical location, by integrating particular landmarks and venue names. Another was deliberately vague, mentioning only general descriptors, such as 'a park', thus allowing runners to connect the story to any park. Finally, the third story directly contradicted the environment; for example, a lake was mentioned in the story, even though no lake could be found around the runner. A publication based on the findings from the process of creation of MRS prototypes was accepted to the Australian largest academic HCI conference.
The consequent testing with runners demonstrated that the prototypes evoked mixed reality experiences comparable to those from an established commercial app. The overall runners' satisfaction with the prototypes reached 75%. I successfully defended the thesis:
The work is now written about in a way that demonstrates expertise in the theoretical, methodological and practical aspects of the work. I think that this thesis is a brilliant piece of work, for which the student should be hugely proud.
Dr Conor Linehan, thesis examiner
My fascination with the use of entertaining mechanics in 'serious' software started before I commenced my PhD and continues to this day. I believe that this skill of finding ways to make software more engaging and fun can be highly useful in a role of a level designer as well. Here are just some examples of my previous work in this direction:
Ready Steady Goal
For my undergraduate diploma, I designed a prototype of an app that helps to develop habits for achieving personal goals. The app encourages setting up simple, repeating, and measurable steps towards the goal. It keeps track of the progress and provides a visualisation to assist with identifying patterns.
Impact: After defending the thesis, I graduated with honours. This prototype also helped me to get accepted into the University of Melbourne.
One of my clients asked for assistance with developing a pitch for an app that would encourage people to measure mobile internet speed in different locations. I suggested using game mechanics for the purpose. The idea was to divide Australia into small areas (cells). The person who gets the fastest speed in that area becomes the leader of the area. That would encourage others to measure speed both more often and in more locations, in hope to get bigger numbers and usurp the current leader.
In a single design sprint, I developed the concept and visuals, and handed off to the client to present.
Impact: the pitch helped my client to secure the funding.
The digitalisation of money removed a lot of friction from spending. Impulsive purchases provide instant gratification at the expense of long-term goals. Not Spent is a concept app that helps people to save money by introducing instant gratification for not spending.
Spenders set up a saving goal and choose a beautiful motivational image either from presets or their photo library. Every time they resist spending, they enter that amount in the app, and the money go to their saving account instead.
Gratifications comes from instantly seeing progress towards the goal.
Impact: I published the concept on Medium and promoted on Twitter. The amount of views exceeded the amount of followers I had at the time, with the solid read ratio of 50%.
Ultimately, I learned that video games, mixed reality stories, board games, tv series, and even a lot of 'serious' software are different mediums that strive to create the very same emotions within the players, readers, watchers, and users. And that the techniques for creating emotions in one medium can be adapted for the use in other mediums.
I used my experience of designing apps, websites, and mixed reality stories to create a tv pilot screenplay about an emerging Australian gay rugby team (think 'Fleabag meets Veep on a rugby pitch'). I didn't have an opportunity to properly pitch it due to the pandemic and personal circumstances. Still, I believe the screenplay demonstrates my ability to develop characters, create locations, write dialogues, design transitions, along with other skills highly relevant to level design.
Here are the first three pages:
As a postgraduate researcher and a freelance designer, I got used to presenting my work regularly and to different audiences: researchers, designers, engineers, clients, academics, industry professionals etc.
The poster I made for Melbourne's Computing & Information Systems Doctoral Colloquium earned an honorary mention for best design:
I gave a talk at the Australian largest UX conference, linking software UX design practices with traditional storytelling. The talk was a huge success and was rated second best on the conference app, following only the closing keynote talk.