a music-driven desktop

game in a synesthetic

landscape.

march-june 2023 / 10 weeks

modeling

game design

Team

2 developers

1 designer (me!)

Role

3D modeler + animator

Level designer

UI/UX designer

Technical artist

Tools

Unreal Engine 5

Autodesk Maya

Figma

TreeIt

Movements was a capstone project built in a single term at Dartmouth with two teammates.

As the sole designer and asset creator, I designed, built, and animated all models and UI;

led level design; and assisted with technical art— and learned UE5 on the way!

movements

a game in which players use magical instruments on-

beat to navigate a world of dancing nature.

opportunity

How might we illustrate music, mechanically and environmentally, in

a 3D world?

  • How might we prompt players (who have at least some familiarity with typical desktop

    gameplay) to notice the soundtrack and relate it to their own actions?

solution

problem

Music is integral to a cohesive experience in any game. However,

players rarely pay attention to it.

They don’t need to: rather than playing a functional role, music traditionally acts as a

unifying, ambient layer without mechanical significance.

‘seeing’ sound

The greatest design challenge lay in drawing

attention to the importance of music.

Most players, accustomed to music as a

background feature, did not notice the

soundtrack-instrument connection.

Through iteration and extensive user testing,

we made various changes including adding a

UI graphic to map the beat for the player.

musical mechanisms

As they progress, players pick up instruments

that equip them with different mechanics.

In the cave they find a drum that sends out a

shockwave when struck; in the meadow, a

horn that sends them jumping high into the

sky. Both only work when used on-beat.

After its first use, a track featuring the found

instrument is added in and more visual

elements are activated in the scene.

on-time obstacles

The goal in each setting is to progress to the

‘next environment’ while evading moving

barriers.

In the cave, players maneuver falling boulders

to reach the meadow, where they duck swaying

trees in their path.

If struck, players return to the start of the

present level without losing progress.

synesthetic setting

The world consists of two primary

environments: the cave and the meadow.

Custom soundtracks (composed by one of the

developers) play in each, and scene elements

like vines, waves, and trees dance in-time.

The cave is a shorter-form introduction to the

structure of the game, while the meadow

poses a larger puzzle.

meet the project

click to play

(illegible, i know— but hey, it’s all part of the process!

click it to head over to a super high-res dropbox copy.)

level design

2 weeks

The level design evolved from many a whiteboard scribble, as well

as extensive collaboration and conversation with the team.

Hover over the level maps to see my whiteboard sketches that inspired them!

environment

2 weeks

I designed, built, and custom-textured asset packs for the landscape.

After researching existing kits, I created 40+ environment models with, I promise, clean

topology! hover over the cave below to see it in wireframe.

While the cave flow was entirely modeled in Maya, I implemented Unreal Engine 5’s

terrain tools with my own assets to sculpt, paint, and populate the meadow.

obstacles

2 weeks

While some ambient elements used a synesthesia plugin, obstacle

movement required greater precision and custom animation.

I made these by importing the audio into Maya and interpreting beats-per-minute into

frames-per-second, then moving to match. All obstacles were rigged and skinned for

easy import into the game engine.

To ensure a leafy meadow without sacrificing visibility, I implemented stylized tree

shaders that not only simulated moving leaves but also faded out when too close to the

camera.

character

2 weeks

To give the game a sense of soft-worldbuilding lore, our character was

a mysterious adventurer.

Designs drew from games like Sky: Children of the Light and Legend of Zelda: Breath of

the Wild, as well as brainstorming sketches and DALL-E 2 iterations.

instruments & ui

1 week

To further boost the soft-worldbuilding, natural feel, the instruments

resembled animal-inspired relics.

When players found and picked up the physical instrument, the corresponding icon

spawned and the beat-visualization UI activated.

The character was rigged and skinned by hand, and the scarves at the belt were adjusted

in-editor: to make them flow with the player, I experimented with UE5's cloth tools. outside

of big jumps, it flowed well!

behind-the-scenes

thank you for reading!

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

built with framer by macy [2024]

movements

march-june 2023 / 10 weeks

Movements was a capstone course project built in a

single term at Dartmouth College with two teammates.

As the sole designer and asset creator, I designed,

built, and animated all models and UI; led level design;

and assisted with technical art.

a game in which players use magical instruments on-

beat to navigate a world of dancing nature.

click to play