By KaRI Y. Snyder, MFA
The Texas Children's Hospital's oncology department sought to change how families were informed of at-home care practices. Instead of being handed a binder to read when released from the hospital, a family would be given some form of interactive guide. I was brought in to develop this guide which ended up becoming a mobile augmented reality (AR) video game that allows a target audience of parents/caregivers and patients 12 years old and older to follow at-home patient care for cancer recovery.
- Instructional Designer
- Game Designer
- Project Manger
- Executive Producer (business development & fundraising)
- Creative Director (all graphics and promotional work)
- Lead Writer
- Audio Design
-Dennis Mathews, Lead Programmer
- Carlos Puerta, Lead Unity Programmer
- Corey Smith & Eric Rose, Programmers
- Angel Muniz, Lead 3D Environment Art
- Anastasia Snyder, Lead 3D Character & Concept Artist
- Stephen Mitchell, Lead Animator and Technical Artist
- Aaron Lehnen, Composer
- 8 Voice-Over Actors
- Fundraising and Pre-Production: 6 months
- Production: 1st round: four weeks; 2nd round: 6 months
- Assembla & Monday
- Google Suite
- Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, Audition, After Effects, XD)
- 8th Wall
- Babylon JS
The oncology team utilized the Children's Oncology Group Family Handbook as the guide from which they advised families. From that guide I learned of the various categories of at-home care families were informed about. I mapped out which rooms in the home were "touch points" most often used for which care habits. I started to see a "city" of activities with different storylines and characters for each domain. I stated to name each touchpoint with the overall game world being that of under the sea.
Due to a limited budget, the game could not cover every recovery care habit, thus I worked with the Texas Children's Hospital team to determine which at-home care habit was the first one of importance for the first phase of the project. They asked that Hygiene Station be the first objective.
Next I built out an in-depth Production Game Guide of over 100 pages that covered the name of the game (Therapon, the Greek word for Therapy), branding, which games inspired the game play (Animal Crossing and Pokemon Go), what activities and game mechanics Therapon would engage in, the style of the world, the style of game characters, the trackable tasks that a patient would undertake in the Hygiene Station, additional goals if funded, long-term objectives, the story outline for Hygiene Station, sound references, collectibles, an asset list, character traits, character stories, core mechanics, game logic flow, mini-game wireframes, and the UI of growth and destruction moods.
The game alerts the patient that something is going on in the Therapon world. It's time to meet up in Hygiene Station (the bathroom).
The patient scans a unique card to log into Therapon.
A timer goes off with an animation of hands bring properly washed and with Masher, the lead character, singing.
The patient is rewarded with a new short 30 second story and mini-game as a reward for completing a Hygiene Station task.
In terms of the story line, patients would work with Masher, the realm’s Harmonic Conductor, and his crew to build out the Hydration Station and keep a Medicinal Coral Garden thriving through music. Why use augmented reality (AR)? I wanted to convey the idea that although we cannot see germs, the microscopic world is active. The patient gets to unlock a secret unseen world through his or her activities that involves killing germs.
Changing a daily habit requires a length of time. Due to budget, I focused on a 28 day augmented reality experience.
Help Therapon to thrive as the Harmonic Conductor
Station Engineer: Developing sound orbs and defending Hydration Station.
Pharmacologist: Creating new tonics and medicines for the Hep-Mecs.
Guardian Warrior: Defending Hydration Station and Masher from the De-Vecs.
De-Vec Chaos Leader: Annihilate Hydration Station and prevent the Hep-Mecs from developing more tonics.
Rhythm Orb Boxer: Overly energetic, sea sponge munching orb tapper.
For story tension, I developed a mix of characters. Both Hep-Mecs and De-Vecs are tiny beings who can only be seen by the human eye with special equipment (a mobile phone).
Hep-Mecs are a community of fantastic and fanciful robotic creators who are always trying to build amazing realms that cultivate healing.
De-Vecs are a community of destructive, lazy, and mean creatures who maliciously or carelessly destroy or takeover the realms of the Hep-Mecs.
I was the lead writer on the project. Each day a patient needed to be reminded to log into the world three times a day. Strong word hooks for the phone alerts along with witty, weird or funky writing was required to keep the attention of the user and provide a quality reward. The final script was over 11,000 words with over 50 voice lines and character repressions in the final voice-over recordings. Due to the range of ages and that hospitals serve an international audience, I wrote at a sixth grade reading level.
I developed mini games that worked with the main story of Masher seeking to keep a medicine garden alive and growing by singing to the plants. First he would collect sound orbs with each orb featuring a music track to one level song. Collectively all the sound orbs would make up a final song with the goal of finishing one song per week (one "level"). The challenge was that each sound orb needs maintains or they breakdown and the song breaks too, thus causing the garden to no longer grow.
I created all the UI in the game as well as handled all the sound effects along with recording and editing the voice-over actors. The game was published to the Apple and Android stores in June, 2021. Since users are required to have the unique scan card, no one outside of Texas Children's Hospital can play it. To prevent under-age tracking and patient confidentiality issues, the game does not tie any personal data to the user. Only general game data is relayed to the Texas Children’s Hospital team via AWS.
Continue your healing journey by diving into the secret world of Therapon! Within this 28 day augmented reality experience, cancer patients from Texas Children’s Hospital can work with Masher, the realm’s Harmonic Conductor, and his crew to build out the Hydration Station and keep a Medicinal Coral Garden thriving through music.
The game tracked two variables for time-on-task: "Length of time played over all" and "Length of time for each session." This set of metrics allows the team to know if patients are actually participating or skimming through the material.
A patient's parent is given the option to sign-up to the game prior to leaving the hospital. If the game has a lot of sign-ups and then drop outs, it could mean the game is attracting interest, but the design isn’t delivering on its promise.
Game completion is a great indicator of the quality and effectiveness of the content delivery. At the end of the game, patients were also asked if they wanted to come back to the world of Therapon in a future update.
Outside of overall completion, the game tracked individual sessions completed, card scans, how many mini-games completed, text alert errors, how long between sessions, how many parents replied to their weekly HQ report, and how many Harvest Songs were replayed.
“Video games helped with my mental stability. I really want character customization and a fighting simulation so when sitting in a chemo section, there is something to do.”
“I want this game to help other families with keeping up with their daily schedule. It was really hard for me when going through chemo to remember everything.”