Terra Loop

Terra Loop is a digital board game guided by Gaia, the Last Elder, as the oracle who entrusts a group of humans traveling back to 1999 to stop The Lastings, a series of irreversibly devastating climate events. The game’s design, theme, and structure are curated around the intersection of food and sustainability while having fun and bringing awareness. Working as a farm leader, can players grow, harvest, and invest in agricultural lands while competing yet collaborating with each other?

Role
Creative Director + Lead UX
Date
JUN 2020
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Challenge

Our main questions when creating Terra Loop were: How might we create a fun experience in which people learn and empathize? How can a game communicate irresponsible scaling has negative consequences for an unsustainable life? During the second year of the Stanford Product Design Master's program, we embarked on exploring and creating impactful solutions within the food innovation space. We started exploring solutions within sustainable packaging through material or logistics innovation. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic began, we were challenged to pivot and given an 8-week design sprint. Given the new imposed reality in which we couldn’t interact with users, producers, specialists, and even ourselves, and with the amount of stress quarantining brought, our team pivoted into creating a novel design challenge while doing something we all enjoy deeply: making games.

Design Process

Our Team: Infusion Van Studios

Infusion Van Studios is a multidisciplinary team brought together during our capstone project for the Stanford University’s M.S. in Engineering, Design Impact program. It is comprised of Jeff Kassab (UX Researcher and Animation Enthusiast), Eric Colbert (Design Engineer and Project Manager), Manu Garzaron (Product, Visual and UX Designer and maker of various mediums), and myself, as a Creative Director, Lead UX, and Sound Wizard.

Ideation

On an eight-week design sprint design, we delved quickly into our iterative process in creating a new digital board game. A high-level exploration of our process to design Terra Loop were: (1) Developing fun game mechanics, and then (2) adding in the teaching aspects. We knew if the game was not captivating, people would not play, and as a result not learn. We spent the first-week ideating various themes until we narrowed into a hybrid competitive and collaborative game centered around sustainable farming.

Mural powered brainstorming session

We started with a rough set of rules we patchworked together from other games we have played and began playtesting through Zoom using physical board game pieces from Catan. This proved to be a very easy and useful way to iterate on the game mechanics and quickly hone in on a basic set of rules, actions, and game pieces. A couple of weeks into this process, we developed a low fidelity digital version of the game using Mural to allow for playtesting with users across the US.

Mind Map: Game Ideas
Mind Map: Game Themes

UX Game Design: Iterative Playtesting

Once translated into a physical prototype to a digital one, we quickly and regularly playtested with various people across the US with varying levels of board game experience. Over the course of a month, we went through 13 game versions, iterating with various game mechanics and rules. A major focus of our playtesting was to strike a satisfying balance between collaborative and competitive gameplay.

In our first playtests, players would completely disregard the collaborative aspect and often wound up losing as a whole team. As players played the game more often, their mindset shifted into thinking about the well-being of  Earth and played more thoughtfully. This shift in the mindset boded well for our game mission centered around raising awareness.

Having achieved a mix of fun and awareness-building, we could now focus on bringing the Terra Loop experience to the next level through a high-fidelity design of all game elements and interactions.

Game Mechanics: Immersive Storytelling

Terra Loop is simultaneously a collaborative and competitive game. Players work collaboratively to ensure the survival of the planet while competing in reaching a certain number of regenerative farms first in order to win the game. In a quest for regenerative farms, players can steal farms from other players or intentionally cause plots of land to go barren, however, they need to keep the balance of the game in mind since Gaia will reflect their actions into the gameplay during the next year.

Terra Loop: Digital Board Game Design + Interaction


Creating our Design Language System

Terra Loop was designed with themes around a modern reflection of serious game design in intersecting harvesting themes and sci-fi elements. Each component embodies a modernistic and ode to farming while balancing bright and engaging colors and typography for an immersive experience for game players. Along side visuals, sound design continued in creating an immersive sci-fi serious game with elements of hope, realization, and a call to action to players.

Design Language System: Branding our immersive story through Type, Colors, and Board Components

DLS: Player and Game Components to blend a modern and approachable farm theme

DLS: Branded Card and Game Play Components for immersive storytelling

Conclusion

Designing a digital board game about food sustainability during a pandemic was a fun and informative design challenge. First (and most importantly), we had a lot of fun during our last quarter at Stanford. Second, we learned so much more about game dynamics and mechanics (UX design), running playtests (UX research in game design) and iterating based learning, and once we had the mechanics nailed, each of us focused on different mediums to define the different deliverables of the game: hi-fi visual design, interactive prototypes, and final trailer. Next step? If we decide to go on a quest, Terra Loop is ready for implementation.

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