Project Overview

Tiny Nano is an entirely original three-level strategy role-playing video game developed in Lua programming language with pixel art style featuring AI enemy opponents created as a final deliverable for Advanced Digital Media: Game Design Methods course. This project is created by:

Midori Pierce – UX Product Lead

Cheng Cao – Software Engineer

Chenge Jia – Artist

My Role in the Project

Tiny Nano is a unique project in my undergraduate journey.

My role was to assist with the code and artwork as needed and filled in for everything else. As an UX Product Lead, I accomplished tasks that included game narrative, character development, prototyping, user experience testing, promotion, and presentations. I made important decisions throughout the project and was responsible for managing the project to meet the deadlines while creating the content we desired.

We started the project by brainstorming and asking ourselves what kind of game we wanted to make with what type of software. Since the team only consisted of three members, we could dream big and aim high easily without much compromising. Cheng primarily focused on the software, where he coded the game engine from scratch, while Chenge concentrated on the artwork.

Fun Loop

We are inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and created a game mood board while deciding the game’s direction and scope. I found the games that interested me the most have rich character transformations, engaging world dynamics, and well-thought-out puzzles. I wanted Tiny Nano to have the identical features that interested me in other games.

Each game has a fun loop, something fun that a person would want to do repeatedly. Through iteration of ideas, in Tiny Nano, we created a mysterious world mixing role-playing with strategy elements, creating a fun loop to keep the players engaged.

Story Narrative and Character Development

The way we make sense of the world is by narration, and there are some similarities between game and narrative, such as the feature of reversal where we move linearly from a normal to change to a new normal. Another similarity is the quest structure, where most games have quests, and our daily life also consists of inquiries or a list of things to do. The narrative tells the player what to do to get rewards, while games spawn narrative to let players have a method to tell others about the game experience. With these ideas in mind, I designed the characters and the story of Tiny Nano.

The story and characters of Tiny Nano were inspired by Animal Crossing and games based on fantasy worlds. I wanted the players to be on a journey with Nano and learn about Nano’s world through the play. Nano, Panda, Chip, and Nightshade were designed based on the people in our social circles, such as parents, friends, and more.

Wizard of Oz Prototyping

Before producing the game in code, we wanted to test the game’s playability. I created a simple prototype using Google Slides, simulating the RPG element of Tiny Nano. I gathered the feedback through observation and user interviews while demonstrating the slide prototype.

Tiny Nano was initially developed as a text adventure game where storytelling is the game’s primary goal. Based on the prototyping, I found Tiny Nano needs another element to differentiate ourselves from existing games. Especially given the project’s duration, we were not likely to create in-depth storylines to compete with other storytelling games. The decision was to incorporate a “strategy battle” into each game chapter.

Game Engine – Battle Pieces

After the decision to add a strategy battle to Tiny Nano, our team focused on designing the strategy battle. Especially since Cheng was making the game engine himself, we were able to implement the logic of each battle piece in-depth.

The battle board is inspired by Chess, where we designed a turn-based board game with a cool down for each piece. Each piece has a class, given different abilities and movements. Each level in the game has its unique set of pieces, making three different sets of pieces.

My primary focus is to design the battle pieces to fit the theme of each level, align the story with the methods Nano obtained the battle pieces, and ensure the color scheme of the level is consistent. The example above is from the mysterious garden level, where the battle pieces are in flower forms.

Each piece has three color tones to identify the state:  normal, friendly, and enemy.

AB Testing

Tiny Nano became more strategy battle-focused, and before we could continue developing the game, I wanted to see what kind of game does the player want.

Question: Does having a narrative make the game more enjoyable for the players to engage with Tiny Nano?

A: Story + Strategy Battle
B: Strategy Battle

I conducted AB testing with 12 participants in the story group (A) and 10 in the non-story group (B). The results show that story is essential to Tiny Nano, where it encourages the players to engage with the game.

As I performed AB testing, I recognized it is partially also a usability testing as the game created a poor user experience that needed to be addressed. 

User Experience

To improve the game quality, I identified features to be enhanced and we made the following changes: 

  1. Adjust the font and size of the text
  2. Reduce the number of colors used in each level
  3. Redesign the background and deploy a new transition (scroll the backgrounds from side to side) from story to battle  
  4. Redesign the health bar in the battle mode to be more visible 
  5. Standardized the color tone for the enemy and friendly characters on all levels during battle
  6. Redesign the display of battle mode: use the spotlight to make the boss stand out and have a unit window for the battle pieces
  7. Introduce a tutorial level
  8. Include visualizations in the story mode 
  9. Include animation in the story mode 
  10. Adjust the light/ mood during the story mode
  11. Finish the AI engine for the enemy component

Game Promotion

Game promotion is an essential part of game production as our end goal is to have players playing the game. I created this video using Adobe After Effects to highlight Tiny Nano gameplay with voice narration to generate publicity for Tiny Nano.

The Game

The best way to experience the game would be through the play. You can download Tiny Nano here. Please note Tiny Nano currently runs on macOS. Since the game is developed internally, you may get a warning stating the developer cannot be verified, and macOS cannot verify that this app is free from malware. If you wish to perceive and play the game, you may override the warning by pressing the command button on the keyboard while right-clicking the app to open.

The following are the screens of Tiny Nano gameplay with a quick video overview of the tutorial level.

Tiny Nano Tutorial Level Gameplay Overview

Final Remarks

Through developing Tiny Nano, I learned many valuable lessons and gained first-hand experience in making a game from ground zero. It utilized not only the hard skills but also the soft skills. Communication, collaboration, and clarification were essential to making Tiny Nano happen. Special thanks to my teammates and Professor Niemeyer. I now know games are both fun to play and to make.