Cover photo for Waiting Dominoes

Waiting Dominoes

Design, Augmented Reality, Game
Project Context
This project was built as an entry to the Snapchat Creative Challenge 2021.Its an annual event organised by Snapchat wherein they convene Universities all over the globe to help them solve biggest challenges around Augmented Reality (AR).

Team Composition: 
5 HCI students, with backgrounds in Comp Sci., Psychology and Art history.
My Contributions
My Roles & Responsibilities: Research, Storyboarding, Illustrations, Prototyping for different fidelities, Video Recording and Editing, Logo Design

Duration: 3 months

Tools Used: Paper & Pencil, Figma/ AdobeXD, Miro, Canva, AR Prototyping (using ARLoopa and Unity), Notion, Mental Canvas, Questionnaires, User Interviews

The Challenge

The theme at this event was to design technology that promotes and enhances in-person interactions rather than inhibits them. The goal was to foster in-person socialization i.e. how can AR bring people closer together?

The Solution

We wanted AR to piggyback on a scenario where people are already together, rather than creating an entirely new situation. For this we went ahead with the use case when people are queued up or waiting with others, encouraging them to engage in conversations through an AR-based game that can only be played by collaborating with others.
Final video showcase.

Design Process

The following design process, consisting of five steps, was followed for this project. These five steps are: Research, Ideate, Prototype, Test and Present (or Storytelling). These steps were then broadly classified into four main phases, namely - Inspiration, Conceptualization, Iteration and Exposition. In terms of managing the project, I utilised the agile methodology, segmenting the project into multiple two-week sprints.

Design Process diagram for Waiting Dominoes
Fig. Design Process with different steps and phases
Fig. Project introduction and context video
Understand the Ask

The first step was to get an understanding of the problem statement. Too often, people remain alone in their digital bubbles, even when they are physically together. We were supposed to suggest a solution wherein we break these digital bubbles. Not only were we asked to encourage casual social interactions amongst people but also make these interactions more joyful and engaging. And all this had to be done by utilising augmented reality (AR).

Our initial research revealed that AR can facilitate co-located interactions by providing a safe, risk-free environment that allows users to engage in different forms of social interaction with others. For example, in the field of gaming, co-located handheld AR games provide visual, auditory, and physical cues from the shared physical spaces to encourage players to form social gaming strategies and interact with other players.

Pick a Direction

Post preliminary research, the team got into a brainstorming session, where everyone was expected to jot down possible instances of co-located spaces, that we can target. We came up with 23 ideas and performed a round of voting within the team, to narrow down to top three.We carried out a short in-situ interview with college students and professionals (since they are most likely to be familiar with AR), to know which out of the three ideas would they consider to be the most affected by digital bubbles. 23 out of 34, picked the second idea i.e., when people are waiting in long queues, they least indulge in any social interaction. The team was convinced that the concept of making queuing time interesting and engaging would be the best track for this project.

User Research

To understand how people behave when queuing, a questionnaire (snapshot below) was distributed online and was completed by 21 individuals. It revealed that people found themselves waiting in a queue very often, whether at grocery store counters or at restaurants. They hated to wait for long durations and mostly started checking their smartphones while in the queue. Another important insight was that majority of people listed smartphones as their primary device to access AR content. A couple of respondents showed interest in buying AR specific hardware (head mounted display or smart glasses) in the future.

To gain a more profound understanding, we conducted semi-structured interviews with 8 participants. Some important insights that came out of the interviews, were:

1. People seldom talk to strangers, when in queues.
2. Waiting causes physical fatigue, so peope tend to stretch or make other body movements.
3. They indulge in activities, that they can opt out of once their turn comes up in the queue. In other words, they dont engage in activities that require long attention spans or commitments.
4. They keep on checking the status of the queue, quite frequently, to know at what speed is the queue progressing.

Miro snapshot for discussions about preparing interview script and questionnaire
Fig. Snapshot depicting script preparation for interviews
Game Theme Conceptualization

After having completed the user research, next we began to discuss and come up with concepts for the core theme of the game. A total of eight game ideas were generated. To select the most suitable ones, these ideas were plotted on three prioritization matrices representing :

1. Engaging/ Joyful vs. Boring + More vs. Less AR involved
2. Low vs. High Learning Curve + Low vs. High Feasibility
3. Encouraging natural social interaction vs. Obtrusive to Social Interaction + Complex vs. Easy Implementation

As a result of this activity, the 'domino effect' idea was selected as the theme of our game. Next up, it was time to build on the abstract idea.

different game ideas generated
Fig. Snapshot of MIRO board depicting game ideas
Fig. Prioritization matrices used to decide suitable game ideas (click/ tap to zoom in)
Developing a storyline for the game

Prior to exploring the game concept, we first wanted to incorporate virtual queuing to free people from lines and move them to open spaces to have more interactions. We planned to do this via a token-based queuing system implemented within the game. Based on the previous interviews and questionnaire results, a short and easy-to-play game is what we were looking for to implement in waiting situations. The game should be multiplayer and involve natural and rich interaction between players. In addition, since longer waiting usually generates negative emotions, the game should also be fun and relieving.

A storyboard was developed to visually predict the experience of the game. Also, because it added a human face to the research results and other theoretical insights obtained till now. Multiple sketches (as depicted below) were generated in this phase, as it is an iterative approach. Low fidelity wireframes also included in these sketches.

Sketch depicting people outside a restaurant in a queueSketch depicting people in queue busy on their phonesSketch depicting a player scanning a QR codeSketch depicting the game starting in a mobile phoneSketch depicting time passing by while the players are playing the gameSketch depicting people having a good time during their waiting time
Fig. Sketches from the storyboarding phase (click or tap to zoom in)
Game Mechanics and Mid-fi Prototypes

Apart from providing a structure to the game, well-thought game mechanics can help foster repetitive play, fairness and motivation amongst many other factors. They also help govern and guide the players' actions and the game's response to them. The team discussed and came up with many exciting and interesting features for the game, some of which are stated below:

-    Players would be represented as dominoes in the AR space.
-    Players would join the game via QR codes placed at queuing locations.
-    Via the app, a player can see other players in their physical surroundings.
-    A player can approach other players to form domino formations.
-    There would be targets placed virtually around the player's location.
-    A 'mexican wave' movement by the players, would trigger the domino effect.
-    More players (dominoes) in the formation, higher the score.
-    Earned points can be exchanged for rewards.
-    Dominoes can be customized by getting accessories from the game shop.

Medium fidelity wireframes were also prepared at this stage so that the game concept could be better explained to the users during the next step i.e., usability testing phase.

Sketch depicting gameplay
Sketch depicting game rules
Sketch depicting game rules
Storyboard depicting gameplay
different game levels
Sketch depicting game rulesSketch depicting game rules
Fig. Sketches depicting game rules, game levels and other game mechanics
Medium fidelity wireframe 1
Medium fidelity wireframe 2
Medium fidelity wireframe
Fig. Medium fidelity wireframes
First Usability Test & Feedback

A role-play usability test, followed by a semi-structured interview was conducted with four participants, with an aim to:

1. Check the feasibility of letting players do successive arm movements to mimic the domino effect
2. Refine the game process and rules based on users’ feedback.

Since a successful hit is determined by people successively performing multiple sets of arm movements, we asked the users to perform two arm movements. We observed that interactions naturally occurred during the role-play. Players genuinely engaged in body movements and actively had a casual conversation during the game (evident through observation., “lift your arms higher” “you are standing too far away”). In addition, we found out it is better to start timing the duration when people indulge in conversations and start arranging themselves into domino queues. Post this, players would hit the “Start” button to begin the countdown, after which the timed-round begins.

Issues Identified

Three issues were identified from the responses received and observations made during the usability test:

1. If the game is played on the phone, how could players do arm movements while holding a cellphone in their hands?
2. Arm movements are relatively easy to do. The game should add more interactive features and refine gamification to increase difficulties.
3. While playing, will the person see himself falling or how would feedback from user's actions be conveyed?

Incorporating Feedback

We changed the gameplay to rectify the aforementioned issues:

1. Instead of arm movements, player would now see four AR directional icons appear around their domino, on the ground, which they need to tap with their feet to control direction ofdomino's fall. However, we keep body movements and implement them through AR glasses.
2. Virtual coins would be placed randomly in AR environment. Users can earn these coins if there domino formation hits them.
3. An AR interactive character would be introduced in the game, that would act as a game coach as well as give feedback on user performance and progress.

Enhancements post first usability test
Fig. Improvements to the game, post first usability test
Further Usability Testing

Two more rounds of usability testing were performed to further fine-tune the game mechanics. Representative users were recruited and asked to use the props to play the game, while thinking aloud. Prototypes were built using cardboard cutouts and dominoes printed on paper, to give the participants a feel of the real world scenario. After giving a brief introduction about the game and its rules, they were asked to complete some tasks.

Some participants expressed confusion about certain game rules and scoring mechanism. We got back to the drawing board and uncomplicated the game by eliminating a few rules and easing out the scoring mechanism. We realised that there was a fine line between making the app too engrossing like a full-fledged game and keeping it as a fun activity so that players dont lose track of the reason they were in queue.

Fig. Images from usability tests (click or tap to zoom in)
High Fidelity Artefacts

We named our game, 'Waiting Dominoes'. For the final project showcase, high fidelity visuals were prepared. Since our target device was a smartphone, I built a marker-based AR app using Vuforia engine and Unity with 3D domino models. As the final goal was to present the concept, rather than building an actual game, I also utilised ARLoopa and 3DBear to build markerless Waiting Dominoes experience. For better communicating this idea, the Wizard of Oz technique was used to mimic real world interactions. Then I delved into video editing to create a 5 min video explaining the entire process and the solution. Video and other artefacts have been uploaded below.

As a team, we achieved the goals set at the start of this project.

1. This app was successful in encouraging people to talk to strangers, as this game cannot be played alone. Higher number of players in a domino formation were directly linked to higher scores, hence, pushing the player to initiate a conversation with other players.

2. Body movements were included as part of the game. Thereby, reducing physical fatigue from standing in one position and posture, in a queue.

3. A player could drop out of the game (for instance, when their waiting time is over), while the game would not end for other players in the domino formation. Others can simply readjust their positions to compensate for the player that left in-between.

4. A constant sense of queue progression, would be communicated to the players via the playful AR companion in the app, so that players dont lose track of the queue.

Click below to checkout the Figma prototype:
Figma Prototype.

Final visual designs for the project
Fig. High Fidelity Screens

Key Learnings

In this project, I got a chance to work on multiple aspects of building an AR app, from background research to ideation and from sketching concepts to technical implementation. Some of the key learnings are mentioned ahead.

  • sketching icon

    The importance of rapid lo-fi prototypes can not be stressed enough. Even when you dont have a working solution, sketches can help you and the stakeholders assess the ideas early on.

  • Project plan icon

    A proper plan is extremely essential for any project, whether the project lasts for 2 days or 2 months!

  • simple and complex icon

    Keep it simple. A simple but efficiently implemented solution is much better than a complex solution with too many features.