It's that time again! The 4th installment of Mission US is LIVE!
"City of Immigrants" follows Lena Brodsky, a 14 year old Russian Jewish immigrant girl newly arrived in New York City in 1907. She is faced with the challenge of supporting herself and her family, dealing with labour issues for women in the garment industry and her increased need for independence as she outgrows adolescence.
I've been working on this project for the last year with the wonderful folks at EFS and it's been as rewarding as all the others. I am still in love with the idea of leveraging technology and games for education. It's an innovative and fun way for students to learn some difficult concepts and really delve into history and story telling. It's one thing to read about history but it's another to get a sense of what it felt like to live in that time, and Mission US gives students just that.
This particular mission is close to my heart because it takes place in turn-of-the-20th-century New York City. Firstly, I love NYC. Secondly, I love history. It's been fun to go back in time and consider the life people lived back in 1907.
As with all the other missions, we worked with a lot of historical references...
It was important to ensure the character designs were appropriate for the time, so the hair styles and clothing was important to get right.
As NYC was ripe with new immigrants, we wanted to capture the different ethnicities of the characters. In the game, Lena meets other Russians and Jews in her community, befriends an Italian girl, and meet white, Protestant Americans at her work in the garment factory.
The game environment was built in 3D and although our characters were designed in vector form, the combination of the two works quite well.
Each character illustration started with a character description and their storyline in the narrative of the game. Some reference material was collected for each character. Historical characters, especially, needed to be as accurate as possible to their real life counterparts. For example, this character illustration of Clara Lemlich, a leader of the massive strike of shirtwaist workers in New York's garment district in 1909, was based entirely on one of the few portraits that exist of her.
For the fictional characters, including Lena, I took the reference material and the character description to outline a sketch of the character. Some sketches are detailed, some are less so capturing the pose of the character more than the details.
I then take my sketch and the reference materials into Illustrator and draw out the character in vector form.
To get a glimpse into my illustration process, check out this time-lapse video of the Rosa character illustration.
The character vector art is then sent to the folks at EFS to check for accuracy. Some back and forth may be required to get things right, but generally it's good to go.
For the major characters that the player encounters, a talking head was created from the vector art. For that several different expressions for the face was created and various lip states which was turned into a talking head. The different states and expressions was turned into a spritesheet which is used in the game engine for use in the dialog. This allowed us to bring the character to life using different expressions at appropriate moments in the dialog. The character talks and blinks giving it a more life like feel.
A unique character in this mission was the character of Isidor, Lena's baby nephew. He doesn't talk but he does what babies do - he doesn't sit still and he cries. So the character art was created as well as a small animation of him crying. You only ever see him carried by his mother Sonya.
Here is a shot of some of the major characters for this mission...
And some minor characters that you come across throughout the game...
I had fun creating the cast of this game. Bringing character descriptions to life and seeing them in action in the game is incredibly gratifying.
You can check out details of the game and play it at mission-us.org.
Onto the next mission!