Monday, October 22

UCLA alumnus develops simulator game where dads date dads

(Claire Sun/Daily Bruin, Angela Song/Daily Bruin)

(Claire Sun/Daily Bruin, Angela Song/Daily Bruin)

When given the choice between seven eligible bachelors only one question remains – who’s your daddy?

In the visual novel-style game “Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator,” users play as a personalized dad character intent on romantically pursuing other eligible dads in his new neighborhood. Design media arts alumnus Greg Batha served as lead user interface designer and developer for the game. Released July 20, “Dream Daddy” garnered significant attention on social media this summer through promotion from popular YouTube channels such as the Game Grumps, which released the game.

As a UI developer, Batha was responsible for all visual aspects of the game besides illustrations, and designed the pause menu, fast-forward button, typography, transitions, loading screens and all associated animations.

Batha worked together with several team members including “Dream Daddy” narrative designer Jory Griffis to establish a visual tone for the game early on. They wanted to develop a style for the UI that complemented the game’s illustrations, Batha said. Griffis said they also wanted to evoke the tender, funny and playful nature of the game.

Griffis said a well-presented UI was integral to the game’s design because the premise of the game could lead some people to not take it seriously. He and the other developers were concerned that their game would seem like a throwaway joke or a meme.

“That was something we wanted to dispel from the moment a person starts playing the game,” Griffis said. “The writing is actually very emotive and characterful.”

Before joining the team, Batha researched a current pop art trend in Japanese games and anime. The trend, which makes use of colored screen tones and simple, bold patterns, seen in games such as “Animal Crossing” and “Splatoon,” influenced much of the UI, which Batha then tailored to a “dads” theme, he said.

One of Batha’s first designs for the project was the game’s frequently used dialog box. He chose a color palette that he considered dad-like, framing the box in a khaki tone with other colors that reminded him of blue jeans.

He also designed signature patterns for all the individual characters for use as visual motifs throughout the game. Thick blue and tan stripes accompany fitness dad Craig Cahn, while small purple dots on a lighter purple background go with cool dad Mat Sella. Batha rendered and animated these background textures using a shader program he coded for the Unity game engine.

Batha limited himself to very simple patterns in his design, so as not to draw too much attention to the interface. He said UI is an unusual artistic field because if done well, players shouldn’t even notice the effort put in.

“It’s really important that it’s not invasive and that it’s not taking up a lot of the player’s focus,” Batha said. “Especially in a place like this, where the art and the backgrounds and the writing are so hugely at the forefront.”

Co-creator Leighton Gray said Batha spent a lot of time improving aspects of “Dream Daddy,” such as the character creation screen, where users can customize their dad avatar. Gray said she was impressed by the way the creation screen’s icons react to user input.

“It’s super bouncy and almost juicy and responsive to what you’re clicking on,” Gray said.

In addition to aesthetic elements, he also considered practicality in his design of the user interface. Gray said before Batha joined the project, it was difficult to tell which character was speaking during dialogue. Batha designed a nameplate at the top of the dialog box, which encases the name of the character speaking. The nameplate also features the character’s signature pattern motif, animated to float in the direction of the character’s onscreen avatar for more visual clarity.

Batha said his job as a designer is to solve problems like the dialog box mix-ups – which helped the team finish the game in one year, a much shorter time frame than most independent games. As a result, he ended up condensing three or four months of work into 10 weeks, utilizing his skills as a media artist, programmer and animator.

“I felt like this was a project I’d been preparing myself my whole career for,” Batha said. “It was such a good fit with my aesthetic and my design style and my programming style.”

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