Fathom started from a simple ludonarrative pitch, where by giving the player a set of innocent NPCs, and then having these characters offer up their own vitality to help the player move towards a goal, an implicit plot emerges during otherwise typical gameplay. In Fathom, the player's goal is to absorb colour from these NPCs into themselves until they match the colour of a gate.
I've uploaded Fathom to Itch.io for archival purposes. Feel free to download it and try it for yourself.
Concept art, by Quinn MacDonald
My job during this three week project was to work as a technical developer for a character artist, environmental artist, and project communicator. Since I was the sole programmer, it was up to me to define the scope of the project, and was ultimately responsible for assembly and system structure within the Unity project. My role also included user experience design through the mechanics of movement and puzzle designs, level designs, visual communication, and handling of playtesting sessions.
In our team's first meeting, the gameplay we settled on was a simple RGB-based colour mixing puzzle. RGB colours as a mechanic felt intuitive to us since we wanted the hitpoints of each NPC to be both communicated visually, and slowly-absorbed (non-discrete.) It was decided each NPC within the game world would be responsible for a different hue, tied to their vitality.
I developed a prototype the next day with a proximity-based colour interpolation mechanic.
THE COLOUR PERCEPTION PROBLEM
Using colour as a core mechanic brought a fascinating set of UX challenges. Some playtesters, for example, had years of experience with subtractive colour mixing, through print design or mixing paints in art class. This quickly manifested when players were faced with a colour-mixing puzzle. Some players see red and green and assumed it would mix into a brown colour, instead of a yellow.