Dutch teenagers use their bicycles all the time. Unfortunately, they also use their smartphones a lot while on their bikes. That’s why Veilig Verkeer Nederland asked Shapers to make an applied mobile game that trains teenagers to resist their smartphone impulses while cycling. That’s exactly what we did! We created a fast pace race game that tests the player's reaction speed to the fullest. WheeliePop is available for free, try it yourself.
Within this project I was responsible for the concept, (game) design, art, animation and sound. I used the following percentage of my skills (at that time).
To give players a sense of purpose and context I figured out a fun little storyline:
More and more of your friends are acting strange. They keep staring at their smartphone screens as if they are hypnotized. No wait, they are hypnotized! Mister SMART, a wealthy CEO of a phone company, has a grand scheme to get everybody in his power. He uses his smartphone to hypnotize your friends. Jump on your bicycle and go investigate. You have to stop mister SMART and save your friends!
No 'serious' game
Wheelie Pop is aimed at teenagers aged 12 to 18 years old. That’s still a broad aim, so we set our focus on the age of 14. These players don’t want to play a ‘serious’ game, but a proper one! So that’s what we aimed for. Wheelie Pop is silly, fun, unforgivably challenging and it doesn’t feel like we want the player to learn something. Our test sessions confirmed this, because the kids didn’t want to stop playing. So how did we do that?
Because the players are very diverse, I chose to make the artstyle colorful, cartoony and likeable. It must appeal to boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18. That’s no easy task. That’s why I tested it with the players early on in the process.
The art style is realised in Adobe Illustrator and imported as vector graphics in Unity. This makes the game light in both performance and filesize. Plus it’s perfectly crisp on modern high density screens.
Signal stop treatment
How do you get players to resist their smartphone impulses? In order to accomplish that goal we incorporated the Signal Stop Treatment (SST) into the core gameplay. SST is a scientifically proven method to change people's behavior. It is often used to treat addictions and let’s face it, smartphones can be an addiction. In the game the player constantly reacts to ‘good’ impulses and must ignore the smartphone impulses. In this way the SST within the game trains the player ignore smartphone impulses.
The biggest challenge in this project was to let the player do nothing while there was a phone signal! That goes completely against the nature of games. So after intensive team brainstorming we came up with some simple mechanics to tackle this issue. We added a timer that’s all about reaction speed. With a ‘good’ signal the timer subtracts. The faster you respond the more points you receive. With a phone signal the timer counts up. The longer you ignore the signal the more points you receive. These mechanics make it natural to the player to take no action.
The SST system works best if it it is repeated often. So we had to make sure that players would play it long enough. That’s why we incorporated several motivational systems to make this happen:
A nice little story to carry the game.
18 levels that build up nicely from easy to insanely hard.
The factory of mister SMART is only opened when you reach it, which ads to the mystery.
We transformed the classic star system into more suiting traffic lights. So per level you can achieve orange, green or disco lights. The higher you score the more coins you earn.
Spend coins on silly items to personalize your character.
Because of the fast SST gameplay, testing was crucial to the success of the game. Both for making the game fun as for making the game effective. We did several test sessions and we were pleased to see the players were having a blast! Some even came back to ask if they could play one more time...