The effects of malaria are horrifying, killing over one million people each year, with approximately 70 per cent of them being children under the age of five. In an effort to spread the word about this vicious disease, Establishment for the Greater Good (opens in new tab) (EGG) - Psyop (opens in new tab)'s not-for-profit educational initiative - recently created a dark but beautifully illustrated game and animation for the Against Malaria Foundation.
"Nightmare: Malaria (opens in new tab) the game was inspired by the aesthetics and storyline of a public service announcement created by EGG," says executive producer Justin Cone. "In a sense, this made the constraints for the game somewhat strict, as we wanted the game to feel like a seamless continuation of the storyline presented in the spot. But when it came to game design, things were much looser. We could do anything we wanted, provided we had enough time and people to pull it off."
After exploring many options, based on time and staff availability, the team landed on the puzzle platform genre. "It simplified the design process a bit, since many of the core mechanics have existed for decades," says Cone.
The team then priortised a few key goals. "First, we wanted people to internalize the idea that mosquito nets are the most cost effective means of stopping malaria," Cone explains. "Secondly, we wanted people to get a little freaked out playing the game - we wanted to make an emotional impact. And finally, we wanted to raise players’ awareness of malaria and the Against Malaria Foundation, one the most effective nonprofits in the world."
The team accomplised these goals by designing a game that literally gets under the skin. "Not only are the game environments of bloodstreams and brain cells creepy, they relate to the symptoms of malaria as it progresses through victims’ bodies," says Cone. "Sound design, handled by the very talented Q Department (opens in new tab), also played a huge role in creating emotional impact. As you play through levels, you hear the buzzing of mosquitoes as they approach. It’s terrifying, annoying and incredibly effective. It drives you slowly insane."
One of the most important aspects of the game was to highlight malaria prevention. "We designed a system in which nets are the only way to avoid being stung by mosquitoes," Cone continues. "When you duck under a net to avoid a menacing stinger, you feel a rush of relief. You’re safe. All thanks to a net."
To create both projects, the EGG team used a variety of software. "The trailer was created with Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects, Maya, Softimage, V-Ray, and Nuke," says game developer and designer Brian Kehrer. "The game was created with Photoshop, Maya, and Unity.
"For the spot, making the 3D elements feel alive in a 2D world took some keen design," Kehrer explains. "Maya was used to combine animated 3D displacement maps and keep the edges active while loads of hand painted lighting and textures were added on top. For the game, designing the levels to be challenging but intuitive required lots of iterations and playtesting. We continually refined controls and mechanics throughout the project."
Want to know more? Take a look at this cool making of video:
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