Sea Turtle Adventure

Generative educational game about the impacts of ocean pollution on sea turtles.

OVERVIEW
Problem
Lack of understanding about pollution in the oceans and its specific impact on marine animals, like the sea turtle.
Solution
Interactive educational game that informs users about the impacts of toxic substances in the ocean on sea turtles' mortality.
My Contributions
I worked alongside my first partner to ideate the game concepts, design all elements of the game and develop the game. Following the first iteration, I designed the 3D model of the game controller, created the demo video, conducted user testing and designed and programmed the final changes.
Duration
Oct. - Nov. 2019
Team
Shuyu Gao (iteration 1), Zee Doehling (iteration 2), Nikki Mehrjerdian
Tools
Figma, Javascript, p5.js/p5.play, Rhino 3D, AfterEffects
 
PROBLEM STATEMENT

How might we design an engaging experience that educates people on the dangers of oceanic pollution on sea turtles' health?

SOLUTION
Interactive browser-based game that invites users to guide a sea turtle through the ocean to feed the animal. Through this experience, the user's mission is to avoid the toxic pollutants to help the turtle grow into a full adult.
 
PROCESS
01 Research
Subject Discovery
Synthesis
02 Design
Iteration 1: Web-based game
Iteration 2: Novel controller
03 Evaluation
Usability Testing
Design Iterations
RESEARCH
Subject Discovery

How has oceanic pollution impacted the sea turtle population?

Over time, the ocean has become more and more polluted. 
But how exactly is all this polluting impacting marine animals, especially sea turtles? 
According to research, sea turtles are one of the most vulnerable marine animals. The pollution in the oceans impacts sea turtles at all stages of life, beginning with an egg to a fully grown adult turtle. With all of the pollutants, turtles often mistake toxic material with regular food. Besides the confusion, there are times where turtles have nothing else to feed on and have to eat whatever is available to them, which is usually mostly pollutants. Chronic exposure to these harmful substances has led to a decline in the sea turtle population. 
 
Synthesis
Based on the research gathered, we decided to create a web-based interactive game that would highlight food and pollution impact a sea turtles growth and health
  • Allow users to move around the turtle to feed it while exploring in the ocean
  • Program the game to make more pollutants available over healthy items to show the severity of this issue
  • Demonstrate how sea turtles may mistake pollutants for regular food 
  • Incorporate information about the items the turtle eats
    • Focus of game is to inform users and bring light to the problem
 
DESIGN
Iteration 1: Web-based educational game
For our first iteration, we focused the game on a sea turtle and its journey from being an egg to a full adult creature living in the ocean in todays ecosystem. In this game, the user will use the mouse to make the turtle swim around and feed it. Since our intention with this game was to show how pollution in the ocean impacts, we created informational pop-up texts about whether the turtle consumed healthy food or pollutants. These texts will serve as a way to inform people not just about the kinds of pollutants in the oceanic ecosystem, but also about the sea turtle diet as well. 

We strived to create a realistic ocean environment where although there are plenty of food resources for sea creatures to grow, the pollutant plays a significant role as a constantly existing hazardous obstacle where the animal either cant tell the difference between harmful items or sometimes doesn't even really have a choice but to eat the toxic items. While the topic of our game is serious, we wanted to create fun and engaging designs for the user to interact with.
Check out the first iteration below and make sure to turn up the audio while playing.
Iteration 2: Novel game controller
Following our initial design, we set out to add a novel controller to add more user agency to the original game. Not only did this new addition makes the most sense in terms of making with meaning, but it was also an aspect that we were both very excited to implement to the original game. I designed a 3D model of a turtle to use as the controller using Rhino (with lots of help from an Architecture student). 

I designed the top and bottom shell separately to allow for enough space to fit a Tiny Arduino board and accelerometer sensor. 

After designing the model, my partner and I utilized the maker spaces on campus to 3D print our controller. We quickly came to realize that 3D printers have a mind of their own and prints don't always turn out the way they're supposed to. After 6 failed attempts at 3D printing, we unfortunately were not able to get the product we had hoped for, but we managed to use pieces from two somewhat successful prints for our controller.
With our physical turtle, the user will simply pick up the turtle and begin moving it in the direction they want the turtle to swim in. The user can move the turtle sideways, up and down and even diagonally to guide the direction of movement. In addition, the interaction that the physical turtle provides is much more realistic compared to the first version of the game where the user would guide the turtle by moving the mouse cursor. There is a large gap between following a cursor and imagining a sea turtle swimming. Using this physical controller in the form of a sea turtle the player gets a more in depth experience through lessening the amount of abstraction. They will truly feel their movements making an impact on how the turtle navigates the ocean. Through being physically involved in guiding the turtle in the ocean and feeding it, the user will develop a more personal connection with a sea turtle and therefore will better understand the impact that pollutants have on these marine animals. There will be moments where the user will try their best to avoid toxic items, but it will be physically impossible to do so, and that is exactly the message we want to convey with this game.
Evaluation
Usability Testing
Following the first two versions of the game, I sought out to work independently on redesigning the game based on user insights I gathered from fellow peers who played the game.
 
Some of the feedback from the usability testing included:
  • Confusion about the health of the turtle and how it was impacting the game
  • Disruption from the game due to the pop-up informational texts about food items
    • A need for a non-disruptive way to indicate to user whether the food consumed is healthy or toxic
  • Lack of motivation to replay the game since there was only a losing end state 
 
Design Iterations
​Age counter which also serves as a game score so players can see how the food is impacting the turtle's growth. Depending on the score of the game, the turtle's health will deteriorate signaling the end of the game.
​Informing user of food labels and whether they are healthy or toxic in a subtle manner that doesn't disrupt the game.
Visually representing the turtle's health through speed in which it can swim around.
  • The turtle's age is an indicator of whether the user is winning or losing.
Reflection
What I Learned
This project was one of the most challenging experiences for me, but it's also one of my favorite projects I've worked on because of how much I was able to learn and grow throughout this process. Prior to working on this project, I didn't have much experience with programming, and especially no experience at all with p5.js/p5.play and physical prototyping. Even though I still have so much left to learn, this project was a great place to begin building on these skills. 
I hope to come back to this project soon and continue working on ways to improve it. One idea I plan to implement in the future is exploring animations to other design elements within the "sea" and conducting usability testing to determine whether the animations are enhancing the gaming experience or not. 
 
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