Stepstone Island is a mobile game for Apple iPhone devices where players clean up and nurture their own virtual island through exercise. Targeted toward those seeking to improve their exercise habits in a casual way, the app takes in real data from Apple’s Health app and converts it into in-game currency. This currency may be used to clean debris, plant trees, build landmarks, and interact with the game-world. The more beautiful and clean your island becomes, the higher the chance of characters visiting your island and supporting your hard work!
Now available for free on the Apple App Store!
Stepstone Island was created between spring 2017 and spring 2018 as my thesis project for my MFA in Interactive Media degree at the University of Southern California. I took on multiple roles including gameplay programmer, lead designer, and project manager during development.
Team Stepstone Island:
Steven Sugar - Artist / Game Designer
Michelle Olson - Game Designer
Sam Celeste - Game Designer
Blair Devereaux - Sound Designer
Sarah Trevino - Music Composer
The software used on this project include the Unity game engine, BEHealthKit Unity Plug-in, Xcode, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, TestFlight, MonoDevelop, Microsoft Visual Studio, SourceTree, and GitHub.
Stepstone Island was born out of wanting to combine my interest of idle games with the fitness data collected on my FitBit wristband. I was inspired by idle-games like Neko Atsume and Tap Tap Fish, and wanted to create a more relaxed fitness game option opposite of Zombies, Run!.
Audience Experience Goals
Motivate players to move and exercise
Encourage a sense of positivity and silliness through the world
Gather actual step data from the player
Create a fluid UI with a gentle learning curve.
Game Design & Development
Many prototypes were made in the beginning of development to test interactions and idle-game mechanics. Of course, one of the most important features to nail down was the fitness API integration. I first started working with the FitBit API. However, I ended up using Apple’s Health App data instead because it was much easier to integrate with Unity via the BEHealth Kit plug-in.
Initially, prototypes followed a more unfolding set of mechanics, similar to that of A Dark Room by Double Speak Games. However, other games like the Animal Crossing franchise and Stardew Valley started influencing it as time went on. The premise of cleaning an environment came in later when my team was recruited in Fall 2017. It turned out to be a great parallel; improving the island while you improved your own exercise habits.
The game revolves around collecting currency that can be used to purchase items from the in-game shop. The game has three main currencies. Coins and milestones are obtained through step count and distance walked while daffodils are given by characters that visit the island.
Shovels and pickaxes are purchased from Olly’s Outlet and used to clean up the debris on the island. This makes space for items to be placed.
A guide to unlocking characters can be found in the Guest Book. Each character has a list of items they would like to see on the island. If these items are placed at least once, the character goes from locked to “On their way!“. They appear randomly and are not fully unlocked until their first visit to the island.
Michelle, Sam, and Steven helped tremendously with the character design on this project. Our first character was Olly the Osprey, an equivalent to a “Professor Oak“ or “Tom Nook“ type role that guides the player through the game.
After designing Olly, we then went on to design seven additional characters that visit the island. Each character (except Olly) would arrive on their own boat and stand somewhere near an item on their checklist after the player taps on their boat to greet them. All characters also come with their own unique set of dialogue.
Stepstone Island is visually inspired by the islands in the Pacific Northwest, map illustrations, and the outdoors in general.
Music and Sound Design
In Fall 2017, I pitched the project to a group of students from the Thornton School of Music and recruited our composer, Sarah Trevino. She made three awesome tracks for the game that coincide with specific times during the day: morning, afternoon, and night. She also created some great stingers as well.
In addition to a composer, Team Stepstone Island also had Blair Devereaux for sound design and she created all of the sound effects included in the game. You know those character dialogue murmurs that you hear in the game? That was all her.
By January 2018, the game was ready for long-term playtests with Apple’s TestFlight App. A total of five long term playtests were conducted between January 2018 and March 2018 with a total of forty two people ranging from ages eighteen to fifty. These playtests lasted a few days and required the player to exercise. Out of those forty two people, twenty one filled out the post-playtest survey.
These playtests were valuable in improving the player’s experience of the project and also helped me test the game on different iPhone devices. I made various changes to the game due to these playtests, including adding labels to items in Olly’s shop and timed notifications to remind the player to check back into the game. I also had to adjust for the iPhone X aspect ratio after finding that the canvas didn’t scale correctly.
Work in Progress Pictures
Showing it off
Because Stepstone Island revolved so much around one’s personal fitness, I made the decision to publish it on the Apple App Store. This way people could easily download it for free and play directly with their own Health App Data. We had a lot of requests for the game to be put onto Android devices. However, due to the scope of the project and my limited knowledge of Android devices, this is not a possibility at this time.
Stepstone Island was first shown at the USC Games Expo in May 2018 and later on at the IndieCade Showcase @ E3 in June 2018.