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Stardew Valley

The player inherits their grandfather’s old farm plot in the beautiful town of Stardew Valley, which is your chance to start a new life and create a thriving farm. Players throughout the game will get to know Stardew Valleys inhabitants, make friends, start relationships and celebrate being together.

Stardew Valley is a feel-good game that you can lose hours in just taking care of your farm or doing other activities such as mining, fishing, mini-quests, and so much more. When we ask our community their comfort game, Stardew Valley has been in the running every time!

Features:

  • The farm is in your control do what you want with it
  • Meet interesting people, form friendships and relationships
  • Customise the game to your liking
  • Take part in events each with mini-games and things to do

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

An Interview With Elitsa Dermendzhiyska on Betwixt

We spoke to Elitsa Dermendzhiyska, entrepreneur and science writer (Guardian, Aeon) about Betwixt; an iOS experience described as “Lifeline meets Lord of the Rings”, bringing together fantasy and psychology. 

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what Betwixt is all about? 

Elitsa is an entrepreneur and science writer interested in the human psyche. In 2019, she convinced a group of UK authors and thinkers to tell a deeply personal story in a book called “What Doesn’t Kill You.” That’s how she met Hazel, who was one of the contributors. 

Hazel is a therapist and internationally published author, whose approach to wellbeing was profoundly shaped by her former life as a champion boxer and kickboxer. Twelve years ago, the stress of competition drove Hazel to emotional and physical burnout, and she spent years in therapy re-thinking the meaning of strength and success. It was this journey that inspired her to train as a therapist herself and help others win their own emotional battles.

Betwixt was born out of our collaboration with game designer and fiction author Natalia Theodoridou (2018 World Fantasy Award winner). Our goal was to create a safe, magical space for anyone to explore their own mind. Betwixt combines fantasy and psychology into a choose-your-own-adventure game that our players describe as a cross between Lifeline and Lord of the Rings


How did you first come across the concept of Betwixt, and how has it evolved since then? 

Ellie left her job in tech in 2016 in order to study mental health. Over the course of many interviews, she noticed that a lot of people coped with distress by playing video games, despite the thousands of mental health apps out there. In her private practice in London, Hazel, who is a lifelong gamer, had noticed that storytelling, play and creativity really helped her clients open up and engage in sensitive personal topics. So, when we met, it instantly clicked for us that there was enormous untapped potential in games being used as vehicles for personal change. 

Since then, Betwixt has evolved from a basic chatbot-like application running on Facebook Messenger into a polished digital experience complete with immersive sounds that gives players the opportunity to co-create and make the story their own.The result is a magical space where imagination and reality collide, where players can practice emotional mastery and learn important skills while being engaged in an epic survival story.

 


Betwixt has a lot of scientific based research that has driven the app forward. Can you tell us about the practices that are embedded within the mechanisms of Betwixt, and how they are designed to impact player interaction?

In Betwixt you play as a lone figure trapped in a strange, magical world that responds to your emotions and makes real what you think. With the help of a mysterious guide known as “the voice”, you try to escape the In-Between and in the process, you learn how to wrestle negative thoughts and feelings, and develop self-awareness, which has been shown to be a protective factor against many common mental health problems. 

Betwixt fuses story and play with elements drawn from psychology research and therapeutic practice. This is done in a way that allows players to practice self-reflection and develop emotional literacy without compromising their engagement – an aim that has guided all of our design choices. Woven into the story are techniques grounded in:

  • Positive Psychology
  • Transactional Analysis
  • Cognitive Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Storytelling and narrative identity
  • Self-Determination Theory
  • Expressive writing
  • Self-distancing
  • Meditation
  • Emotion differentiation


What sorts of take-homes are you hoping players can get/achieve from Betwixt, and do you see any barriers? 

Betwixt combines fantasy and psychology in a way designed to empower players to engage with their own lives as the heroes of an epic tale. And this is one of the key take-homes we hope people would get from the game. It’s a mental shift that increases your sense of agency in the face of struggle and enables you to reframe problems as challenges that are part and parcel of the hero’s journey.

If you manage to see yourself as the protagonist of an epic story (even a little bit), you can avoid feeling victimised by the setbacks along the way, because your willingness to confront obstacles is precisely what defines you as a hero in the first place. 


Do you see the theory currently being used through Betwixt in the future of mental health related game titles?

We certainly hope so! Betwixt was recently showcased as a model for the future of mental health chatbots at the global conference on human-computer interaction CHI, and we’d be thrilled to see how our approach can help re-imagine play as a powerful tool for self-understanding and positive personal change.


 

Skills utilised:
News

An Interview with Rachel Clancy on A Hero’s Guide To Gardening

We sat down with Rachel Clancy of Tea Creature Studios to discuss their latest title, ‘A Hero’s Guide To Gardening’, which is available now on iOS! A Hero’s Guide To Gardening is an interactive story which teaches young players emotional literacy and covers all sorts of subjects ranging from mental health to LGBTQIA+.

 

How did you begin the journey of creating your own video game?

 

My partner (in life and game design!) Aida and I met in 2018 just as I was starting a master’s degree in Independent Games & Playable Experience Design. Hero’s Guide was originally a text adventure game called Get Closer that we created during Global Game Jam in 2019. Aida had the idea to make a game that talked about common misconceptions people have around supporting someone going through depression. My game-making skills at that point were pretty limited to HTML button clicking, but through some thoughtful personal writing and Aida’s gorgeous artwork, Get Closer was received really well for such a simple experience! 

 

What inspired the creation of A Hero’s Guide to Gardening?

 

We were invited to show Get Closer at the gaming festival EGX Rezzed in April 2019 and while we were there we met members of an organization called Gaming the Mind – a group of mental health professionals interested in the intersection between mental health and games. We got talking about the idea of “emotional literacy” (it means the same thing as emotional intelligence but literacy is used when speaking in an educational context) – and how a game like Get Closer that allows you to role-play conversations centered around feelings could be used as a teaching tool for kids. Aida has a degree in primary school teaching and had been interested in mental health education prior to any game making, so it seemed like a great jumping-off point for a bigger project. In that same year, we saw a funding opportunity in Colin Macdonald’s amazing email newsletter – the Sky Women in Technology scholarship. We used Get Closer as a proof of concept and had the incredible good fortune to be selected for the award of £25,000 to develop the game that became A Hero’s Guide to Gardening. We used the funding to hire developer Destina Connor of Tea Powered Games to bolster our game-making capabilities and the delightful Jefferson Toal as our narrative designer.

 

You went with an interactive visual story style for A Hero’s Guide to Gardening, what were the reasons to go down that path?

 

Initially, Hero’s Guide was going to be a 2D RPG-type game – not for any design-led reason, more because I had found a pretty comprehensive 30 part YouTube tutorial on how to make one and thought I could pour our idea into that format. Thankfully this idea was scrapped fairly early on in the project, mainly because as a team that was stronger in art and writing it made more sense to choose a format that played to our strengths rather than including features that didn’t necessarily support the story we were trying to tell. We decided on a format that felt like a playable comic book with character dialogues inspired by what we had tried to do in Get Closer. We looked at interactive narrative games like Florence, or purely dialogue-driven games like 7Days! For inspiration.

 

What do you want players to take away from the experience of playing A Hero’s Guide to Gardening?

 

We hope we have created memorable metaphors and illustrations of how to navigate and process the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness. There’s also an overarching message about not being afraid or embarrassed to ask for help or admit when we are struggling. When you’re a kid, you don’t have a long-lived frame of reference for what’s normal. I remember being a kid and feeling ashamed of struggling with school work and feeling embarrassed to tell my parents that I was being bullied. I thought these things were my fault, but if I had spoken up, the adults in my life could have helped take that shame away and helped me come to a solution. To that end, we’re also in the process of creating resources for parents and teachers that use the events of the game as a jumping-off point for further discussions about emotions and mental health.

 

A Hero’s Guide to Gardening touches many different subjects from representation, love, and mental health, what was your motivation for this?

 

In a Hero’s Guide to Gardening, the focus of the narrative is on the mental health message, but we do reference gender identity and family relationships as Noomi gets to know the other characters. Ranger Seta is Noomi’s camp counselor and is a non-binary character. When they first meet, Seta tells Noomi their pronouns (they/them) and Noomi tells them hers (she/her). Later when we see Seta’s clipboard up close, we see they have annotated the names of the gardeners in their department with their pronouns as well. It’s a detail that doesn’t change the course of the story but our intention is to make interactions like these a normal part of everyday life. We also make some decisions about the makeup of the families of the campers. For example, Noomi’s relationship with her guardian Astrid is left open to interpretation because we liked the idea that she could be read as fostered or adopted, and we can see in the family portraits in their home that Astrid has a female partner. 

 

If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring developer that wants to create their first game, what would you tell them?

 

Global Game Jam really got the ball rolling for us. I think for independent game makers it can be really hard to dedicate time to a passion project outside of work, but hackathons and game jams are a great way to generate a prototype in a quick and focused environment. If you’re a solo developer you might find like-minded teammates that could become future collaborators. Game making is especially tough when you’re on your own because it encompasses so many different disciplines, so meeting other designers and artists can connect you to a network of people who you can bounce ideas off of and ask for advice. Bonus piece of advice – GET ORGANISED BEFORE YOU GET STARTED! I have ADHD and am basically allergic to spreadsheets but I wish I had done more upfront to organize and track the development process – for my sake and for everyone else who worked on this project!

 

Do you have any plans for future projects in the pipeline?

 

Right now we are focused on creating extra educational content based on the events and characters of the game (which you can find on our website or our social accounts). Next on the to-do list is a card game that tackles relationship education that I’m currently hashing out with the lovely illustrator and writer Katy Edelsten. We were chatting about the limitations of sex education in schools, and realized that there is so much to learn and understand about how relationships (whether they are casual or committed) work, and what’s safe and what’s respectful that needs to happen before these very practical conversations about how not to get pregnant and how condoms work! Right now though I’m taking a bit of a break and I’m looking forward to spending some time with a soldering iron repairing some of my hardware games that have fallen into disrepair since my MA in 2019! And playing some games, I haven’t had enough time to do that as much as I’d like either!

 

Tea Creature Studios

Tea Creature Studios (@teacreaturestudios) • Instagram photos and videos

Tea Creature Studios Twitter (@TeaCreatures)

A Hero’s Guide To Gardening by Clancy on itch.io

‎A Hero’s Guide To Gardening on the App Store

 

Skills utilised:
News

A Hero’s Guide To Gardening

A Hero’s Guide To Gardening puts you in the shoes of Noomi who sets off for her first summer at Camp Pitch Pine in where she hopes to become a heroic adventurer. When things don’t quite go to plan, Noomi will have to find the courage to take charge of three struggling botanists. To help them Noomi must get to know them and help solve each of the problems that plague the gardens.

Through A Hero’s Guide To Gardening players will learn about different expressions of emotion and learn strategies for coping with fear, anger, and sadness. Players will also learn about LGBTQ+ themes as well as learning literacy along the way in a wonderfully written and very beautiful interactive story game.

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

Ruya

Described as a game of tranquillity through the art of matching pieces of Ruya in the world of her dreams.

Players will engage in a wonderful and relaxing puzzle experience in which you will face a multitude of challenges aimed to help relax the player. 

With 64 handcrafted puzzles, players will slide, swipe, pop and release cute characters so that Ruya can progress and unfold her memories. 

Features: 

  • Relaxing gameplay
  • Beautifully handcrafted puzzles
  • Visual narrative to encourage positive emotion

 

 

Skills utilised:
Games & apps

No Console? No Problem.

Next-gen consoles have arrived, and whilst it’s exciting to see the dawn of a new era of gaming, it can be easy to feel left out if you’ve been unable to get your hands on a new console.

We’ve created a list of free games (with no in-app purchases, or adverts), for mobile gaming. From Stranger Things, to rhythm games, we’ve got you covered. 

ULTRAFLOW

Developer: Ultrateam

An ultra-smooth puzzle game that puts your mind to the test! The goal is to get your ball into the larger circle within a certain amount of bounces. 

ULTRAFLOW 1   |  ULTRAFLOW 2

iOSAndroid     |     iOSAndroid

Cytoid: A Community Music Game

Developer: TigerHix and Neo

A musical rhythm game, similar to Let’s Dance and Guitar Hero. Players will be put to the test on their speed and accuracy skills whilst jamming out. 

iOS / Android

 

GameStart Pixel Battle

Developer: Eliphant

If you like 16-bit graphics and old school side-scrolling platformers, then this one is right up your street. Help Alyse discover who has been sabotaging video games to make them impossible to play. 

iOS / Android

 

Stranger Things: The Game

Developer: Bonus XP Inc.

A fictional adventure game set between season 1 and 2 of the hit Netflix series Stranger Things. 

iOSAndroid 

 

DATA WING

Developer: Dan Vogt

Race to the finish line in different missions assigned by the computer called Mother. You’ll set off in your very own ship to take on the tasks given. 

iOSAndroid 

 

Wicked Lair

Developer: Stefan Pratter

In Wicked Lair you become the villain who is in charge of building dungeons with monsters and minions to destroy heroes that try to conquer it. 

Android 

 

OHM A Virtual Science Centre

Developer: Statnett SF

This educational game for kids and adults will teach you about all about energy, using engaging and interactive puzzles. 

iOS 

 

Underhand

Developer: Spoopy Squad

Become a cult member and try to summon the Ancient One in this resource management adventure game. 

Android

 

PewPew

Developer: Jean-Francois Geyelin

A game similar to Geometry Wars, PewPew puts you in the front seat and lets you experience a multidirectional shoot-em-up. 

Android

 

Mekorama

Developer: Martin Magni 

In this casual atmospheric puzzle game, players must help their little robot reach the end of each puzzle, and collect level cards along the way.

iOSAndroid 

 

BuniBon

Developer: Ludosity

Players will have to bounce to get all the orbs in each of the levels provided, with levels becoming increasingly more challenging as you progress. 

Android 

Skills utilised:
News

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