Chomps Tries to Fill the Void Inside Him
Chomps Tries to Fill the Void Inside Him, forthcoming for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, is an arcade game in which you play a videogame character, Chomps, who has escaped from his cartridge and must eat and grow bigger (because that’s all he’s programmed to do). In part a nihilistic-cute twist on Katamari Damacy, in part a soul-searching take on Hungry Hungry Hippos, Chomps has been developed over the course of a year by a primary team of three. I hold primary design and project management roles and assist with game engine work, while Cameron Stallings is primary visual design and modeling, and Cristiano Ferreira is primary on programming and game engine work.
Game Design Decisions
The game hinges on a unique locomotion solution: the player’s scale, and thus the playspace, increases as the player grabs and eats the entirely of the gameworld. When a game starts, the player is the size of a paperclip and by the end of the first level they’ve eaten their way out of a school and stand 40 meters high. This change in perspective is a constant reward, and also enables the player to reach things previously out of reach, expanding their sense of choice.
Because it is common for a VR playspace to be taller than it is wide, the level was designed with a focus on verticality. Also, because we could ensure a linear path of growth through the level (while still giving a player the sense of autonomy room-scale VR offers), we were able to optimize performance and narrative delivery elements by creating sets of objects that would be accessible only within a certain size range. This prevents an oversaturation of small objects in areas the player is not able to reach until they’ve grown quite large, and creates a framework for narrative delivery elements of groups of objects of similar scales.
The game takes place in a cartoony-yet-dark world: a schoolhouse in Trump’s America. Lunch is sponsored by Pepsi. Pseudo-fascist banners mingle with inane motivational posters and flyers for the school’s gun club. This is all contrasted with a sugar-sweet soundtrack and cute low-poly art direction to both cast humorous light on our world and winkingly justify its consumption. Most of this world-building takes place through environmental storytelling.
The other main narrative delivery element is a running commentary by the first thing you eat, your friend and fellow escapee Dimply. Dimply's main narrative is to bemoan your betrayal and flesh out the player character; he makes it clear that far from being a sympathetic everyman, Chomps is a dumb, brutish creature - probably a low-level baddy, meant to get stomped on by a hero. But Dimply's narration also offers some helpful feedback: he comments on some of the objects you eat (contextualizing any of the non-standard effects they might have), and periodically reminds you to keep eating if you are playing too slowly.
Because the game is limited by a countdown timer, we needed to privilege simplicity in UI design and ensure no time would be wasted trying to understand the controls. Along with rolling locomotion into the primary action, we limited functionality to one button and one primary dynamic: grab. After an object is successfully grabbed, it can be moved to the player’s head where it is automatically eaten. To gauge whether an object can be grabbed, the player’s mass is compared to that of the object, and on contact with a controller, the object turns either red (insufficient player mass; ungrabbable) or green (grabbable). We are currently testing out other ways to represent this feedback, so as to make the game more accessible to colorblind players.