The Power of Games

January 31, 2008

I work part time in a computer repair shop. This is on top of school, outside projects and having a romantic relationship. It’s no wonder that sleep is near the bottom of my list of things to get done in a day.

Our shop does a lot of work with various computers users: from the power user, to the business user, to the grandmother who just wants to check her email. Recently, we fixed one gentlemen’s computer who then had problems getting it to turn on as soon as he got it home. We told him if he brought it back in to us we’d take a look at it. He was a nice guy and was more than willing to comply. It ended up being just a simple unplugged cable.

During the conversation with this customer, I overhead something that made me chuckle. At finding that it was such a small issue, he told us he was extremely relieved because, as he said, “I have to run an instance at 9:00 tonight”. It’s not uncommon for me to find desktop icons for all sorts of computer games, running from World of Warcraft to various Pop Cap games, on peoples computers.

It just goes to show the power of gaming. From education to entertainment, gaming has such an impact on people that this guy was worried about his computer working tonight. Not because he wouldn’t be able to get work done. Not because he might have just lost a couple of years of documents. Not because the photos from his vacation to Hawaii might be gone, or that the gigs of music he painstakingly stole from online went up in smoke. This customer was worried because he wouldn’t be able to login to a virtual world and interact with other people that he may not ever meet in real life.

I’m just always amazed at the power that play has over our everyday lives.

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Agile ARG Development: Phases

January 29, 2008

Currently I’m working on creating an ARG for my senior studio class. You can read about why I wanted to do an ARG in my post here. (Be sure to check out my major faux pas in the comments section.) One of the issues that our team had to resolve in creating an ARG was how to use an agile methodology. We decided to divide the ARG into “phases”, which are analogous to levels in more traditional game genres.

Each phase of the ARG consists of four parts

  • Introduction of new characters and/or organizations
  • What information needs to be given to the players
  • The puzzle
  • What the resulting updates are

The update is the determining factor of what constitutes a phase in our ARG. Each phase can have multiple character introductions and numerous amounts of information distributed, but their will only be one puzzle and one update. This helped us to divide up the ARG into understandable sub-sections for agile development. With each sprint, we are focusing on a specific phase in chronological order: phase 1, phase 2, etc.

This has a couple of advantages. We can develop the ARG in episodes, allowing our team to release phase 1 while we are working on phase 3. We are also able to focus on narrative development instead of puzzle development, since each phase only has a single puzzle. We felt that narrative was the stronger aspect of the two. A phase ends when one of three events occur: a percentage of the player base completes the puzzle, a single player completes the puzzle or a date occurs.

The phase model also helps us to create guidelines for content creation. Content needed before an update can be focused on instead of content that may or may not be needed for some time. A website, for instance, should have all content for phase 1 before content we start work on phase 2.

As we continue through the sprints, the material developed in phase 1 can be used in future phases with each of the end-of-phase updates. This also allows for simplistic modeling of information distribution and plot summary as we progress through the project. Thank god for linear story telling models.

I suggest this model for any student or grass-roots ARG development teams. It seems to make content creation more logical and ordered. Of course, you need to do some preproduction and figure out your ARG plot line in rough form before you begin. The phase model, however, allows for a lot of changes to occur during development, as we have changed many narrative elements with little effect on content created. It’s one of the strengths of the agile method.

On a side note, I’ve been wondering how to pronounce ARG. Does one say it as a single word, such as Charlie Brown’s infamous “ARRGG”, or does it take on the standard game acronym convention, such as RPG. I prefer the first.


The Hero Archetype and The Red Shirt

January 24, 2008

I had a random thought during World Mythology today. We are studying the Hero Archetype, as described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell, he was an American mythology professor who studied, deconstructed and quantified the myths of the world. He showed how various myths and characters fit into archetypes, such as the Flood Archetype, the Apocalypse Archetype, etc.

I’m not going to bother explaining all the details of the Hero Archetype; I just want to point out a few key things.

The hero:

  • goes through a change in personality or outlook
  • has some sort of climatic/peak point of resolution
  • usually dies

When we started talking about all of this, my random thought popped up. Star Trek Red Shirts were the heroes.

For those of you that don’t know what “The Red Shirt” is, it is a reference to the original Star Trek series. Whenever the team had to beam down to some sort of hostile planet, there would invariably be a “Red Shirt”, some unknown character that just got introduced that show. This was the character that was going to die, since the writers couldn’t kill off one of the main characters (Kirk, Spok or Bones). For some reason, the person was always wearing a red Star Trek uniform; hence, The Red Shirt.

Basically, the Red Shirt was the hero, according the Hero Archetype model. Being the martyr of the group, the Red Shirt sacrificed himself for the betterment of man kind, in this case the bridge crew. Kirk, Spok and Bones couldn’t be the heroes because they didn’t go through any sort of change in personality or outlook on life. They were the static, unchanging members of the crew, always approaching situations in the same manner. Obviously the climatic point of resolution for the Red Shirt was his death, when the space alien/space disease/space monster, etc killed him. It might not seem like much of a point of “resolution”, but his death brings about change in others.

So, what does this have to do with game design?

Well, besides the obvious narrative concepts this presents, it also presents an interesting game idea: “The Last Day of Ensign Ricky”, in which the player plays a peon in servitude to some sort of uber-powerful character who is supposed to be the center of the narrative. Think of a game in which you play Sancho Panza instead of Don Quixote, always trying to keep the MC out of trouble. Or if you need a more pop-culture reference, you play Kif to Zapp Brannigan.

Or perhaps this was just an interesting random thought that I felt was blog worthy. There’s always that possibility too.


A Short Update

January 21, 2008

This is just a small update. Basically, life is extremely hectic right now, and blogging is taking a back seat to other things, such as school, outside projects and work.

The biggest news is that I have been awarded one of the GDC Scholarships. You can check out all the award winners here. In all honesty, I’m still kind of in shock over this. It’s a big honor and I hope I can live up to it all. I’m getting extremely excited about the conference as it gets closer and closer.

In other news, work on the ARG has begun. Let me start by saying that I think I now understand why it’s called an ARG. I seem to keep repeating that over and over again in a very Charlie Brown manner. Between issues of MySQL database setup on my Mac for local testing and access to my hosting sites MySQL, things haven’t been fun the past couple of days. Top that with having never done an ARG or agile, and it’s one big learning experience for me. I’m just taking it in stride and trying to keep things simple.

This will have to suffice for a post for the next week or more as I try and get the ARG production running smoothly. Sorry for it’s brevity.