Game Design

an ant’s life

An Ant’s Life is a virtual reality storytelling world using the Oculus Rift and PS Move that was created in three weeks by graduate students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). This world was chosen to be showcased at the Building Virtual Worlds Festival in 2014.

Using the PS Move, the guest controls an ant’s leaf raft as he makes his way back to the ant hill in the rain, avoiding obstacles such as raindrops, birds, falling trash and stomping feet. The physical leaf raft prop is reflected in the virtual world as seen in the Oculus Rift. Our challenge was to make the guest feel small and tell a compelling story through graphics, gameplay, experience design and sound effects.

Storyboards | Art | Props | Prototype

Awards and Honours: Published in CHI PLAY 2015 Proceedings; Presented at Pittsburgh Maker Faire 2015; CREATE 2015 Finalist; Adobe Design Achievement Awards 2015 Semifinalist

Video from Building Virtual Worlds Festival 2014:
Our game is unique in its approach to the virtual reality space because of its:

  • Integration of 2D art in a 3D environment
  • Inclusion of physical props and theming alongside the use of the Oculus Rift
  • Focus on storytelling for naive guests with an unusual perspective from the point of view of an ant
  • Innovation in the merge of art, technology and the physical space to create an immersive experience


STORYBOARDS: experiencing the world as an ant
We decided on the story of an ant making its way home in the rain by sailing on a leaf, encountering various obstacles. The story would be told with no dialogue or instructions to allow the game to be played by anyone without the need to explain it. The goal was to use VR to make the guest feel tiny, so we used distorted sound effects and perspective drawings, plus a fleet of ants the guest steered, which acted as a health bar through the game.


ART: 2D in 3D environment
The unique art style of integrating 2D art in a 3D environment presented challenges technically and aesthetically in virtual reality. We had to find ways to make items look more realistic rather than flat, such as rotating sprites in-game (billboarding) with respect to the camera, all the while preserving a consistent drawing style for our art assets.

Bird (2D)
Trapped Ants (2D)
trapped ant3
2trapped ant2Ant Body for Player UV Mapping and Texture (3D)
ant body uv
ant body uv_texture

PROPS: the leaf, the stem and the food
To increase the feeling of being a tiny ant, we decided to use props, including a giant leaf that the guest stood on and a long stem to which the PS Move was attached that the guest used to steer the leaf. We attached pipe cleaners to the Oculus Rift headset as antennae so the guest knew who they were in the game immediately as they put the headset on. The red stuffed cherries we made as food were a success, especially at Festival when the guest was made to balance more food while steering the leaf as their ant companions perished to the dangers in the rain. All these physical props were reflected in the virtual world and served to further immerse the player.


Final prototype (before BVW Festival):An Ant’s Life was created by: