A 3D adventure with eels

Te Papa: Te Taiao | Nature

Eel Adventure

This adventure game is featured within the new Te Taio | Nature exhibition at Te Papa.

The game itself is made for all ages, but particularly younger visitors from age 7 through to teens. We had two clear objectives in that we wanted our audience to re-frame their thinking and realise how cools eels are by: THINKING - the eel makes an incredible journey; FEELING - amazed, engaged, cheering.

The experience is a joystick driven game, which means you take the perspective of guiding the eel through its incredible journey.

We’ve used the eel’s life cycle as the progress bar, to guide where you are in the game.

Approach:

Created in close collaboration with the experts at Te Papa, we've created a cheery, cartoony look for our young audience and engineered an entire NZ river journey in 3D using the game engine Unity. You begin your journey in the South Pacific, and follow young larvae all the way to Aotearoa where they begin their journey up a river - with your help. The environment changes as you move upstream, through braided rivers and into quieter, deeper upstream pools where eels can live for around 80 years, before going all the way back to the South Pacific, where eggs are fertilized and the cycle begins again.

User experience:

To reinforce the amazing life of an eel, we have used the stages of their life-cycle as levels to the game. You begin as an egg, the larvae follow the currents to NZ, and then you guide the little glass eel into the river, where it becomes an elver. From there, you feed the eel, avoid obstacles and predators, and help boost the eel through incredible physical feats – climbing up a waterfall, up a fish ladder to get past the hydro dam, and even moving overland to find an ideal home. As you do this, your eel gets larger until you complete the game as a full sized adult eel.

Design:

After a lot of testing with different models, textures and colours, we felt the low-poly approach gave us the best tools to create a game design that is both beautiful, and flexible enough to illustrate unique NZ models.
To create that distinctive NZ look, we paid special attention to getting the sound, colours and lighting right, as well as adding an abundance of NZ plants and props, such as cabbage trees, braided rivers, punga trees and lupins. We also needed to make it feel like an environment that people occupied too, so you can see a boat, no. 8 wire fences and most importantly a DOC sign tucked between a few harakeke bushes.
The game is successful at attracting diverse groups around it, and we've observed repeated game play with textbook conversations about how cool eels are. The game is a highlight for many visitors who seem energised after playing.

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