We have always been intrigued by the prospect of creating a video game (since it allows for so much creative direction - drawing characters, choosing music, and writing storylines.) We also care deeply about the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and as people who have personally dealt with anxiety, we wanted to educate people on the mental illness so that it becomes a more empathized experience. We felt the best way to do so is to grab people’s attention through a poignant game, which is why we created Cero.

What it does

Cero is an RPG platformer game that simulates what it’s like to live with anxiety. You play as Cero, a mysterious red blob on a journey to make peace with their mental illness (manifested as a character in the game, Teethman). The player will explore the world and interact with their internal demons, doing actions to participate in anxiety-coping self care practices in order to defeat Teethman and the other manifestations of their anxiety. Along the way, you can explore different (sometimes hidden!) parts of the map and collect certain items like potions that will affect your stats (such as health and magic) along with other special items that may become essential in future gameplay.

How we built it

Cero was built with the melonJS framework/game engine—we used Tiled to create and edit our game level maps and TexturePacker to optimize our sprite sheet and texture atlas. We also used Boxy SVG and Krita (digital art software) to draw original tilesets and sprite animations.

Challenges we ran into & What we learned

This was our first time building a Javascript game, and we didn’t anticipate the sheer number of different aspects and features that would need to be taken into account. Neither of us are familiar with game development, so it was extremely time consuming to try to find the correct software to fit our needs during the hackathon and fix bugs that had to do with loading texture and map resources. It was also really challenging to create an rpg game storyline for the first time ever, and understand how to sequence the scripts, characters, and actions. As a consequence of delving into so many different areas, we learned quite a lot about game development as a whole and gained a better understanding of how difficult it is.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We’re proud of the smooth functionality of the resulting game and the simple but effective grayscale design of the characters and world.

What's next for Cero

Right now, Cero is more of an informative game, where the player explores a landscape simulating the experience of anxiety itself. We hope to add more interactive aspects to the world such as having a choice of actions to take and incorporating more paths in the story to help users internalize coping mechanisms and healing methods for anxiety. For example, we want to add new chapters to the game, each addressing a negative habit/coping mechanism resulting from anxiety, and the user needs to accomplish a series of self care/healing tasks specific to battling said bad habit. We also want to figure out a way to emphasize that the mental health journey is not linear, and would have to do so by adding more to the game design itself.

While Cero is meant to be an informational game, we also hope to add a lot more puzzles and gamification so that anxiety education is embedded in a more complicated and engaging storyline.


Music: Forest Walk by Alexander Nakarada | Music promoted by Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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