The Yoga Simulator: My failed attempt at game design

The Yoga Simulator is a computer game where you can completely immerse yourself in a unique virtual yoga experience with Nikki-the dedicated yoga instructor. In her small but cozy yoga room, she will walk you through a 10-minute sequence of reviving yoga poses with great patience and a calm manner, in such a way that the synchronization between your real physical movements and hers is optimized.

This is the introduction to my art project – a computer game I attempted to make in Unity two months after the lockdown in April. Seeing people restraining their social communication to the virtual world, I asked myself, who has ever wondered about the feeble, deceitful reality? The history runs deeply but I might just name a few. Foucault dissects our constructions of knowledge. Just to later point out that they are mere probabilistic categorizations that cannot be held as absolute truth. Debord notably draws out a society full of spectacles where reality seems less imperative. Baudrillard asserts a model of “the real” without any origin or reality. Bostrom propagates a futuristic possibility that we might have been living in a computer simulation. Thus comes a plurality of pop-culture conspiracy theories that pry on the end of humanity – a post-human stage where our descendants or other unworldly entity running the simulated worlds we are all unknowingly living in. And for a long time now, it seems like these computational models are gradually falling apart.

Nonetheless, it was entertaining reading these sci-fi theories, knowing that we are all confused. On a different matter, during these times, the mutual sensibility people share is a mixture of hope and despair. Emerging a collective of people who are trying to keep calm by exercising, meditating, cooking,..etc. while everything, the environment, the economy,..etc. is going down. Therefore I was inspired to loosen my grip on the postmodernist skepticism for a while, and hope to lighten up the anxiety accompanied by unassailable uncertainty by venturing along and playing with these conspiracies and sensibility. I was inspired by many simulation games like the Goat Simulator, Surgeon Simulator, or the ones with lower budget Mother Simulator, School Simulator…etc. They are all quirky games that take advantage of the simulation aspects and invoke the uncanny resemblance by allowing the player to explore unphysical possibilities, thus brings about thrilling experiences. As a result, The Yoga Simulator is my take on creating a low-quality simulation that plays with my own expectations as well as those of the potential players’. Despite its point of replicating reality and many promisings, nothing is going right.

Goat Simulator, one of my inspirations for the game

In the game, the player’s role is subordinate to the game’s NPC (non-player character) – Nikki – the center, in two senses. First, she is the only character in the game. Second, the game narrative revolves around Nikki, as I tried to include in the game possible outcomes that revolve around the player’s interaction with Nikki. Her behavior was programmed on Unity’s finite state machine – a basic object-oriented Artificial Intelligence behavioral training technique. It basically gives Nikki sequences of simple tasks to complete on yes/no conditions. With many shortcomings from my side as a beginner, Nikki turns out to be a very crappy AI. Also, her appearance is rather unpleasant and movements are extremely awkward. However, along with the game, she tries her best to do her job.

As the situation around the world gets worse, it was difficult to find optimism and motivation. Hence I have put the project on halt for now. In reflection, The Yoga Simulator might not be finished. It is, however, my situational experiment with a new form of story-telling as an artist. It devises, firstly, my reflection on the new digitized identities we adopt in the world with real crises. And secondly, my position as a small, insignificant entity amidst the massive flow of events.

In-game environment

Parts of the code governing the game logic and the diagram of Unity’s Animator Controller as a Finite State Machine

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A part of Nikki’s in-game animation

Here is a short video of my ridiculous game-play trials:

If you guys are interested in game design, I would love to have an in-depth discussion. Let me know in the comments below.