explore the bornean

rainforest through the

umwelt of other creatures

Team

3 developers

3 designers

1 project manager

Role

3D modeler + animator

Non-biped rigger

Game designer

UI/UX designer

Tools

Unity

Autodesk Maya

Figma

Anivision is an NSF-funded project operated by the Digital Applied Learning and Innovation

(DALI) Lab at Dartmouth College. I worked as head designer and mentor for the project

across numerous iterations, building all animals, designing traits, and leading

gamification.

This case study documents the past year of the project, when we pivoted from simulation to entertainment. For info

on the previous versions, please reach out!

game design

ar/vr

anivision

march 2021-present / 2.5 years

ANIVISION

a series of scavenger hunts in which players unlock

traits of their chosen animal to better hunt their

prey.

meet the project

background

Tarsiergoggles, the first version of the project, simulated the visual

experience of a Bornean Tarsier.

It culminated in a 2020 paper that validated the educational power of the concept

specifically and VR as a whole.

85%

preferred virtual reality to a traditional classroom experience

60%

correctly identified the benefits of tarsier vision

problem

Though informative, that experience prioritized accuracy over

entertainment at the cost of engagement.

Player testing found users found it interesting, but got bored easily and wanted activity

more than exploration.

The trait system was also all-or-nothing: players ‘became’ animals at

once, diminishing their ability to distinguish between individual

traits.

Many got overwhelmed and struggled to identify individual senses.

opportunity

How might we gamify an animal trait simulation to prompt

learning and empathy in young users (8-15 y/o)?

  • How might we represent non-visual and non-human traits in a primarily visual

  • platform (e.g. thermoception, olfaction, UV light sensitivity)?

  • How might we present the numerous traits that make up a perceptual system to

    relay the individual advantages/disadvantages of each, cohesively?

solution

click to play

low-poly landscape

The game is played in a stylized replica of the

Bornean Rainforest, scaled to match the

chosen creature.

Simplified assets and clean, bright gradients

provide a visually satisfying canvas on which

to view and compare the animal’s traits.

Players enter our little slice of the Borneo via a

lobby styled like an explorer’s camp à la Tarzan.

onboarding

To introduce players to the typical game flow

and mechanics, the onboarding is a guided

scavenger hunt to unlock human traits.

Users search the lobby for two apples,

unlocking color vision and learning controller,

eating, and climbing mechanics as they go.

This system also familiarizes users with the UI

of the game so they know what to look for in

the primary biome.

finding fun

After choosing between a pit viper and a

bornean tarsier, players enter the biome to find

a scavenger hunt waiting.

Players, equipped with human traits, are tasked

finding prey during the chosen animal’s active

hours.

However, this is no easy feat: human eyes are

not equipped for the low light of this terrain at

night.

That’s why these creatures have evolved

specialized traits— and why the player learns

them as they go!

senses-in-sequence

After finding three prey, their first trait is

equipped. Another three, another trait, until

they’ve unlocked a full perceptual system.

These sequential milestones allow users to

understand through first-hand experience why

each trait is valuable.

They also provide a sense of successful

progress: the game appeals to explorers and

achievers alike.

movement mechanics

Every animal maneuvers the world in a

different way: some swim, some fly, and some,

like tarsiers and vipers, climb.

Players can reach into and grab nearby trees to

pull themselves, hand-over hand, into the

branches above.

Physical climbing is a fun, intuitive way to

boost immersion and counteract the potential

nausea of joystick movement.

behind-the-scenes

level design

-----

The environment needed to be big enough for the player to feel

immersed and able to explore, but not so large as to be difficult to

navigate.

Using Figjam and a birds-eye view of our ground-plane, we mapped out tentative paths

through the space, then closely referenced them as we positioned trees and brush in the

Unity scene.

In addition to the main biome, we needed a base-camp where players

would select animals, enter the game, and return when done.

The lobby we built drew on explorer camps like the one in Disney’s Tarzan, with animal

statues that users placed on a central podium to activate the entrance to the rainforest.

game design

-----

After brainstorming multiple mini-games and structures of various

timespans, we scoped down to one scavenger hunt-per-animal with

drip-fed perceptual traits.

This simple format proved intuitive for users and provided numerical milestones (in counts

of prey-captured) at which to unlock traits.

x3

katydids

x3

katydids

x3

katydids

x3

tarsiers

x3

tarsiers

x3

x1

x1

X

return to

lobby

X

return to

lobby

tarsiers

katydids

pit viper

bornean tarsier

apple

apple

PORTAL

OPEN

  • Capture X many thing from

    a stationary ‘focused’

    position.

    • buzzard, focusing

      during a hunt

      • indicative of visual

        acuity, targeting and

        focusing in on single

        prey for a rapid

        swoop attack

    • frog, capturing

      dragonflies/katydids

      • indicative of hunting

        style, targeting and

        focusing in on a

        single prey to trap

        with tongue

Target Practice

  • Move around to find X

    specific thing (time limit

    optional).

    • tarsier, seeking out

      specific prey

      • indicative of

        protanopia, showing

        the additional

        difficulty it poses in

        action with an extra

        tough prey object

    • leopard cat, seeking

      out prey

      • indicative of

        olfaction, tracking

        down a single target

        by its particular trail

Geocaching

  • Reach the target within X

    amount of time OR survive

    X amount of time without

    being caught.

    • pit viper, escaping

      predators

      • indicative of

        olfaction, helpful w/

        running from a grey

        faced buzzard

    • dragonfly, escaping

      predators

      • indicative of

        polarized light,

        reaching a pool

        where a persistent

        tarsier can’t get you

Fight, Flight...

  • Find X things in Y amount

    of time.

    • pit viper, pursuing prey

      • indicative of

        olfaction, taking

        advantage of a new

        crop of tadpoles

        reaching maturity to

        track down X many

        before time runs out

    • buzzard, pursuing prey

      • indicative of UV

        light, tracing trails

        left by tarsiers to

        find X many before

        the sun rises and

        they shelter

Timed Tracking

  • From a relatively stationary

    location, track down X

    many of the same

    object/creature.

    • pit viper, identifying

      prey

      • indicative of

        thermoreception,

        distinguishing prey

        from predators in the

        branches of a tree

    • buzzard, isolating

      types of prey

      • indicative of visual

        acuity, finding

        specific targets and

        discerning them

Matching

  • Put object X together by

    finding pieces in set Y and

    completing a ‘puzzle’.

    • tarsier, hiding from a

      predator

      • indicative of

        camouflage,

        composing coverage

        for a hiding spot to

        evade the eyes of a

        buzzard

    • chameleon, hiding from

      a predator

      • indicative of

        camouflage,

        adapting coloring

        based on the enviro

Crafting

  • Combat a predator or prey

    NPC to survive. Battles

    could occur in various

    possible formats, as

    presented below.

    • dragonfly, combatting

      with its own

      • indicative of hunting

        and territorialism,

        facing off with other

        dragonflies for food

        and survival

    • pit viper, wiggling and

      biting to escape the

      talons of a grey-faced

      buzzard

      • no specific trait

Fighting

  • Seek a single end goal,

    with some mechanics from

    other games brought in—

    no holds barred!

    • any animal, escaping a

      particularly persistent

      predator (amongst

      others)

      • indicative of all traits

        in tandem, running

        and hiding to reach

        the end point of

        shelter

  • similar operation for all

    animals: basically a

    culminating experience

Survival

  • Move around to find (and

    eat?) X many things, no

    time limit.

    • pit-viper, seeking out

      prey

      • indicative of

        thermoreception or

        olfaction, pursuing X

        many tarsiers or

        frogs

    • tarsier, seeking out

      prey

      • indicative of night

        vision and active

        cycle, picking out X

        many katydids in

        low-light

Scavenger Hunt

Testing proved that this system helped users to better understand not only what traits they

had but also the adaptive benefits of each.

challenge: how might we introduce traits that are not adaptive— that don’t benefit

the animal, but never evolved out?

sensory design

-----

The design and implementation of traits involved extensive creative

collaboration with the entire team, plus close conversation with

resident animal pros.

Systems ranged from custom shaders (like thermoreception and protanopia) to particle

systems (like olfaction and ultrasonic hearing) to overall scene adjustment of volume,

lighting, skyboxes, and more.

challenge: how might we ‘accurately’ relay non-audiovisual traits like olfaction?

challenge: how might we ‘accurately’ relay traits that humans have not experienced,

like polarized-light sensitivity, without anthropomorphizing?

hover over any of the flowers &

models to see the uv-ification!

The above highlights from my UV light sensitivity design process (for

the soon-to-be added dragonfly) demonstrate the key points of the

typical workflow.

I started by studying UV light: what it is, how it looks 'on- camera', and what in the rainforest

reflects it.

It typically presents as a 'glow', so I made custom emission maps and customized a shader

to accept them.

environment

-----

After consulting anthropologists and conducting additional research,

we modified an asset pack to accurately capture the bio-topology of

Borneo.

I remodeled the trees, elevating the branches to form a canopy and varying trunk height, and

made LODs to match. I also researched, modeled, and textured biome-accurate flowers.

I then repopulated the scene (following the level design map above) with special care to tree

height variation, recreating the few tall emergents and many short saplings characteristic of

the Bornean Rainforest.

animals

-----

To bring the world to life, I modeled, rigged, skinned, and animated a

library of animals.

These stylized characters included tarsiers, pit vipers, grey-faced buzzards, hole-in-the-head

frogs, and numerous insects, all designed after studying their movements and their

skeletons.

buzzard

tarsier

frog

pit viper

dragonfly

The team then equipped these models with procedural idle behaviour to move accurately

through the environment: some, like the dragonfly, used pathfinding to fly between the

trees, while others, like the tarsier, spawned on branches and animated in-place.

ui

-----

Since the world varies so much across the different traits, we designed

a UI style guide that subtly stands out against the active, colorful world.

These assets are all grayscale and vectorized, with clean white lines set against darkened

overlays to distinguish them from objects and graphics ‘existing in’ the environment.

Josefin Sans Light px. 72

Josefin Sans Medium Italic px. 84

JOSEFIN SANS SEMIBOLD px. 128

Text

Background: HEX 000000, opacity 60%

Content

Text

Subtitle

TITLE

tarsier

katydid

Icons

TRAIT TERM (part of speech.)

[pronunciation]

Trait definition with note of relevance to animal

Screens

Game Title

THE ANIMAL

Sentence summarizing the game.

Hint: to give the users more info about their prey.

Screens

future plans

-----

The MVP for the project is complete and now in the polishing stage, to

be released soon on AppLab and SideQuest!

If you want to try it out on your own headset, please reach out for access to an APK.

Following the release, we'll continue to build out and test the game.

This means:

  • Collaborating with National Geographic's educational programming

  • Expanding the library of playable animals

  • Experimenting with different mini-games based on the predation tactics of the different

    animals

  • Reincorporating player-predation, so the user can experience being hunted too

thank you for reading!

like what you read and want to hear more? please get in touch below.

built with framer by macy [2024]

Anivision is an NSF-funded project operated by the Digital

Applied Learning and Innovation (DALI) Lab at Dartmouth

College.

I worked as Lead Designer and Mentor for the project

across numerous iterations, building all animals,

designing traits, and leading gamification.

anivision

march 2021-present / 2.5 years

ANIVISION

a series of scavenger hunts in which players unlock

traits of their chosen animal to better hunt their

prey.

click to play