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©2019 by Ellie Locatis.

When Rivers Were Trails

On this project, I was responsible for:

  • Prototyping and implementing many game features

  • Implementing and balancing the core game loop

  • Integrating tools for writers

  • Writing and editing game text

  • Managing a team of seven designers and programmers

  • Coordinating with contract writers and artists

  • Conducting regular playtests

  • Bug fixes

Designing for Education

This game was created in collaboration with the Indian Land Tenure Foundation with the goal of teaching high school students about the allotment acts and their impact on indigenous people in 1890s America. Because of this, we focused on creating a linear experience that would allow us to present the educational material needed in a way that still allowed the player to feel like they were making meaningful choices about their own journey through the maps.

Providing Unique Experiences

When Rivers Were Trails was created as an educational game intended to be played in Native high school classrooms, so each player needs to be presented with the same educational content in the same order. This limits the ability to tell different stories to each player, but it was important to us that this game not be a purely static script, so I built a robust "random happenings" system that would determine a player's current status and give them one of a set of relevant repeatable events, allowing them to help or hurt their status in the game. This allowed the game to become both a challenge of inventory management as well as a vehicle for delivering educational text.

Writing

The text for this game originally came from over thirty indigenous writers, all excited to share stories from their own tribes, all with their own ideas about the game. The point of the game was to share the unique experiences of indigenous people, so it was important that each message be preserved, but it was also important to highlight the educational content of the game and to present the overall narrative of the game as a single experience. I took on the role of editor and message protector, asking for text revisions from writers as needed and knitting all the stories together into a cohesive narrative for the player.