The Progression of the Lens – Part 2

Our adventure continues!  Part I can be found here.

Winter Quarter Finalization:

So with a few ideas, we set forth designing a Lens.  At this point our idea was of something roughly circular (which had gone over well in terms of visibility), floating, and could function as a HUD for the player.

A few other elements kept cropping up, like crystals, energy arcs, and an idle spherical state.

I’m not entirely sure where the crystals came from.  I can perhaps trace them to an early concept piece Andrea did for the Main Lens, the template of all Lens technology.  We wanted it to be some sort of mystical natural formation, which fit with a crystalline theme.

The Main Lens ver 1

By Andrea Lopez

This design is also where I got the idea for the Lens Rune we’re using as a cursor.  Andrea can be thanked for just about all of our runes actually, as many were copied directly from the rune sheets she did in early winter.


Anyway, these concepts in mind, I made a ton of designs.


LensSheet1LensSheet2CrystalLens   OroborosLensRingLens  SphereIdle

Initially I had some trouble getting a sphere shape I liked.  Early versions had squarish components floating in a sphere.  I wanted something that would both look good when forming a sphere, while at the same time didn’t look dumb when forced into the rim of a Lens.  The compromise was to make the rim a separate component, which would enfold from Lens-space, giving us a lot more freedom for the actual sphere components.  For those, I believe it was Ting who suggested the staggered, alternating design most similar to what we ultimately went with.

As we refined this design, I found myself struggling with these ideas, which is one of the reasons the Crystal, Oroboros, and Ring Lenses exist.  I wanted to try a few crazier ideas to keep myself interested and creative.  Some elements of these designs even made it in: the spinning alternate world component, which can be seen when in Pull mode, was modified from the Ring Lens design.

You’ll notice a few of the designs have very prominent protrusions on the right/left.  This was because at the time, the player only had two “slots” for transferable objects, mapped to the right and left mouse buttons.  Transferring something in an already full slot would replace that object, and it would go back to it’s original world.

After we had a pool of designs to pick from, I tried to get everyone’s input, to get what people liked and wanted out of a Lens.  It was a big part of our game, and I thought everyone should be able to give input.  From the feedback, I created this final design:


It contained all the major elements we’d wanted in a Lens, in a design that was pleasing and distinctive.  Now I just had to make it.

Once the design had been pretty much finalized, modeling the Lens wasn’t a particularly difficult task.  I carved the “Fin” segments out of a sphere, with the help of a few mirrors modifiers and linked meshes to line everything up nicely.


I set up an armature and did a few basic animations for base functionality, with the intent to do a more in-depth pass later.  We had a bit of leeway with the timing of the animations.  While Pull mode obscured view, Push had been designed to be significantly less obtrusive.  If the player needed to look at the Dreary World they didn’t need to close the Lens completely.  Transitions needed to be fairly quick and painless, but for the Opening animation I could add a bit more flourish because it was something the player didn’t want or need to do very often.

When animating, I also redesigned Push mode to have a more distinctive, square shape.  This was because during early playtests, when we had been using the simple cube Lens, many players had trouble telling the modes apart.  The main issue was our early levels, which had so few distinctive models or colors that it was difficult to tell what was in each world.  But the lack of difference between modes made it worse, as both Push and Pull had a generally circular shape.  Giving Push a more distinctive shape alleviated some of that confusion.

Another thing that helped was giving the Lens a rim.  When the Lens was in Pull/Look mode, the rim would clearly border the portal.  When in Push, it would vanish (the actual animation didn’t get in until much later).

With the Lens modeled and a good base set of animations, I slipped it into the build and we had a basely functional Lens!

Winter: Sound and Effects

I didn’t have much involvement with the sound design on the Lens, beyond providing feedback, so I’ll summarize and let those who did expand upon that if they wish.  By the end of Winter, the Lens had sounds on most basic operations, done by Michael and Adam Magelby.  The sounds were very floaty and magical, which Michael wanted to help emphasize the mystical qualities of the device.  For the transfer effects, Adam had found a set of bell sounds, giving each transfer a really nice chiming sound.

Effects during Winter Quarter were not super intensive.  During the days of the 2 slot system, the Lens had a red and blue sphere that would appear when a slot was filled

Intro Screenshot 2

When I was doing my initial setup of the Lens Manager code, I put in a few placeholder particles and orders to play them when slots were filled or Lens attempts failed (Colored red, blue, and white, unintentionally making this version of the Lens extremely patriotic).  The groundwork was laid for more intense effects, and much of the basic system survived the switch to an infinite use Lens.

Spring: Polish

Coming out of winter, we had a basely functional Lens, and our mechanics were fairly set in stone.  We needed to finish up textures and animations, but our main focus would be on nailing down the feedback and feel of the Lens.

One initial issue with the Lens was that when idle, it was not very interesting to look at.   When not in use, it was very static for a floating magical device.  Making an idle version of every animation was not super time efficient, so I added a simple sin bob, which seemed to do the trick.  Immediately, the Lens seemed a lot more alive.

One similar solution I’m slightly disappointed never made it in were the Lens glitch animations.  We had this idea that if left alone for too long, the Lens would start to act up.  The view would distort, strange hidden components would pop out, basically things to emphasize that the Lens was this unknowable powerful artifact.  Unfortunately, I never had time to actually plan out and animate any of these, and anything too rushed might feel like a real glitch.

Overall, when it came to the feel of the Lens, we wanted it to feel powerful.  It should feel like something exciting that the player wants to use.  My inclination was towards something more flashy and mystical, while a few others pushed for something more raw-power and reality shattering.  Ultimately I think we found a nice compromise between the two.

Important to invoking these feelings was satisfying visual feedback.  First there were the glow effects.  Adam Burns had made me a simple shader to overlay a glow texture onto things (as opposed to Unity’s default emissive material, which only changed the intensity of the diffuse texture).  This let me easily change the designs and colors depending on the Lens modes.

The initial glow patterns were little more than simple geometric shapes and a different color so that I could tell if things were working.  I wasn’t quite happy with these first patterns, though wasn’t sure where to go with them so almost let them be.  Eventually when I revised the designs I made use of the runes, something I’d overlooked at first and something that made the patterns a lot more mystical looking and consistent with the world.  The “arrows” on the Push/Pull runes ended up fitting perfectly with the design of the fins.


Initial Push glow pattern


Final Push glow pattern

I’d wanted the Lens to crackle with energy ever since I went a bit crazy with glow brushes in the above concept pieces.  This was finally accomplished with a quick animated particle effect, providing some random sparks to make the Lens a tiny bit more volatile.  Initially I had plans to change the color of the arcs based on Lens mode, but this ultimately looked odd so I stuck with simply randomly displaying them after every transfer or fail (with more appearing on fail).  I added the steam effects when I got tired of the spray of sparks I initially had shooting out every Lens use.  I never got those looking how I wanted, so I tried something else (which just happened to match nicely with the updated fail sound Adam had recently done, though it was modified again with an actual steam hiss).

The steam (and excess electricity) meshed well with my vision of a Lens that was discharging the energy it had built up to try to transfer something.  I never wanted the fail effects to seem too aggravating.  Fail should clearly signal that they player did not transfer something, but in a game so much about exploring and experimenting, players shouldn’t feel like they were being punished every time they missed.  I felt I’d achieved this with the steam and energy arcs, as when combined with the sound effects I actually enjoyed the feel of missing with the Lens.

Sound again was something I gave feedback on but was  helmed by Michael and Adam.  The Lens had changed quite a bit since Winter, and its sounds needed an update as well.  Ultimately many of these sounds were modified instead of entirely redone.  The floaty, mystical sounds were perhaps a bit too subdued and needed a bit more power behind them.  The mystical was kept, but mixed in with the mechanical power of the Lens, and the quick tearing of reality.

Jason was responsible for the Camera shake, which was added in relatively late after it had been used in the final sequence.  Realizing the effect added quite a bit , he put it on the Lens as a test and it made transfers seem a lot more intense.

Finally, there was Adam Burns’ new transfer effect.  Our primary transfer effect hadn’t changed much since the start of the project, and while it served it’s purpose, it seemed extremely subdued.  Objects would slip quietly into the other world.  Adam fixed that.  While parts of the effect stayed the same (the actual dissolve is the same, just bright white now), the added flash made things seem like they were popping spectacularly out of reality.

Final Thoughts


All this came together and formed the Lens in it’s current form.  With our intent to submit to IGF in the coming Fall, it is likely that work on the Lens is not yet done, and that we will find more ways to refine it.

With the Lens, we forged an object that represents and enhances our core mechanics, and looking back on this design process has been a chance to reflect on how we managed it.  Hopefully this recollection has been entertaining and interesting!

-Alec Asperslag, Lens Engineer



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