“Undead Support Group is a free-for-all game for two to four players. Give out compliments and friendly advice to be the last one tethered to the mortal coil. Play as one of four undead mon—uh persons who, as a break from their troubled afterlives, get together to lift each other’s spirits.”
From the very onset of creating this game, I knew I wanted to make one in which the player focused on helping the other players rather than helping themselves. Through design research and playtesting, I aimed to create a dichotomy between competitive mechanics and themes of altruism and improving mental wellness. The result is a game that rewards you for acting compassionately within the fiction of the game in conjunction with furthering a player's self-interest of "winning the game." For the game's other elements, I decided to explore another juxtaposition—the contrast of the material and digital. When deciding to create a tabletop game for my senior thesis, the aim was to move beyond the digital and create a work that exists within the material space.
The aesthetics of the game are also designed with the digital-material juxtaposition in mind. For most of the gameplay design process, placeholder symbols were used for testing purposes. Once I developed a stable version of the game, I began experimenting with design directions, specifically an exploration of pixel art and bitmap graphics.
The goal was to make the designs as minimal yet recognizable as possible. The execution was to design everything with as few pixels as necessary. The symbols and characters are designed at 16x and 64x, respectively. Additionally, I limited myself to using a bit depth of one (binary color options). These restrictions forced me to create designs that worked solely because of their form and use of negative space. The result is a series of designs that work on any scale. When scaling graphics for different contexts, I made the intentional decision to use nearest-neighbor interpolation to preserve the hard edges of the image, as the visibility of individual pixels is a deliberate stylistic choice. I intend to envoke a kind of nostalgia for an older, less technologically advanced era of computer graphics—the first ventures into the world of the digital.
The current character designs are a result of multiple iterations of conceptual and illustration experimentation. Initially, the characters were secondary to the primary objective of designing game mechanics. They were a nebulous group of four individuals that wanted to help each other. From this arose several collections of four-character groups: A group of character tropes from different genres, of monsters, of villains, of vampires specifically, and ultimately of the undead. In doing research, I found an abundance of undead mythology and depictions in modern fiction. From this research, I set to create a diverse cast of characters that delt with a compelling shared struggle—their undeath. The designs themselves went through multiple passes, redesigns, and revisions. Each character had to work within the 1bit 64x graphic framework. Reference images were created by taking full-sized references, reducing their size, and their bit depth. I used Photoshop's threshold to convert the references into high-contrast, black-and-white images. I was then able to observe the representation of certain elements at the extremes of light and darkness. It was essential to determine how aspects like hair, clothing, and facial features could remain expressive with such little visual information. The goal was to create characters that cultivated an air of mystery and intrigue, as well as being suggestive of gothic horror—a choice made to juxtapose the kind-hearted wholesome gameplay.