Game Design perspective

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Game Design perspective

Postby Krika on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:37 pm

Alright, since I don't know if I've mentioned this, but my major is quite literally called Game Design and Development. And thus this whole thing is ridiculously interesting to me from a technical perspective (although I am sad that I could not have been involved, although that's a whole 'nother can of worms entirely).

Thus, I am looking at this format for potentially allowing for a wider variety of storytelling methods, telling interactive stories in new ways, etc.

So....what do you all think about the ARG format for telling stories and making games as opposed to more traditional methods of doing so? I've had ideas such as having a webshow where the non-show material was if anything more important to the story, methods of adapting this into mass-Choose Your Own Adventure style things, or somehow pitting two player-bases against each other without the other knowing (which would be near-impossible but cool as hell).

Kinda a rambling, non-specific post, but especially with the advent of smartphone ubiquitious-ness (which we have discovered is not as ubiquitous as one might think....), this sort of thing, especially with AR elements might be a fun way to craft games, stories ect. Thoughts, comments, concerns?

EDIT: Sorry, kinda got my thoughts together a little more. Basically, what do you think the technical and creative advantages, limitations, and other stuffs of this format are? Because I'd LOVE to work on something like this in the future.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Connor Fallon on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:46 pm

Welp. Give me a moment, I am literally morally obligated to provide a wall of text for this thread.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Bill Cohen on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:49 pm

As an educator who feels ARGs have MASSIVE potential for conveying not just narrative but information in new and meaningful ways, I'm happy to chat about this in a more psecific context - I have notes I've been taking as the game ran about what to keep/ditch/expand upon when I try my hand at an EduARG.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Tom on Fri Dec 28, 2012 9:50 pm

I could write a whole thesis on this game at this point, but I'm really exhausted of it, so I suggest you PM screenstorming instead. ;)

I will instead give you a comparatively brief write-up, and hope Connor can fill in the gaps:

-Teach writing skills
-Encourage collaboration
-Promote Layar
-Have a story affected, even driven, by player feedback

The former was accomplished through not just requesting refics and combat fics, but also, HOW we asked for them. Accepting Dil's nonviolent story for Medusa established early on that we were looking for character-driven pieces. Submission quality improved pretty much every time we requested fics.

Several puzzles, including the one you guys are cracking your heads against tables working on now, were built to be hard for one person to solve. Some are nearly impossible for one person to solve (Locator, etc). This was intended to create a community, which would all play the game together, instead of a collection of individuals who happened to be playing. Eddie was one of the people who would always give us notes and change puzzles when they were too easy to be completed solo.

Layar helped fund the game, and their app worked really well with the Echoes concept. I genuinely love the app and hope their company does well, so if you build an ARG, use it!

The last design consideration I'll go into now, was that we built a non-puzzle interaction method. Players could control the rate at which characters received some information (telling Holmes about Moriarty's involvement in Okogwu, lying to LJS, etc). They could also shape peoples' emotional outlooks (Witch, Romeo). This affected the plots on the micro level.

On the macro level, you elected Sicon and Adell, saved Adell's life, etc. Designing a branching story like this involves writing two stories with 80% overlap, and then doing the extra 20% for each, having that ready to go no matter what. (There are a few Mr. A videos you will never see, cause they didn't happen.)

There's much more to be said on this topic, but I am exhausted of thinking about it.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Connor Fallon on Fri Dec 28, 2012 10:28 pm

Tom covered a bunch of this, actually. We've all talked about it pretty extensively =) So maybe I can live with writing a slightly shorter post.

One thing I'd like to note, and I suppose Micheal Anderson can correct my on this if he's still lurking around here, is that most ARG's are pretty fixed -- many of them boil down to online and local scavenger hunts, and are more puzzle focused. It's not universally true, but certainly our game was more on the narrative end of the spectrum.

I think the biggest thing that affects ARG's as a medium, from both a design and narrative perspective, is the form of interaction. Running an ARG is more akin to running a game of DND than it is to designing a video-game -- actually, even more than DnD, it is very difficult for you to constrain and define the "moves" the players can possibly make in moving things forward. So as a designer, you have to really think about things from all angles, and then know that you haven't thought of enough of them.

The other thing that is really interesting about an ARG is that it only ever really happens once. I'm a big fan of the "Games as Experiences" school of Game Design, where you are crafting a set of events that will shape the player and teach them skills much in the way real life experiences do. In many ways, ARG's are actually more naturally suited for this than most videogames are. There is no barrier between the player and the world of the story, and as the game only happens once, their choices have dramatic and permanent consequences -- there is no reloading. This can make things more stressful -- as we saw with the central choice we implemented in this game here -- but it also can also give everything much more impact.

I'm so glad I got to be Lead Designer on this project.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Rick Healey on Sat Dec 29, 2012 3:12 am

The most I'll say at this point is that I'm hoping to write an essay on this subject and shop it around. I need some more feedback and distance from everything, though, so all I can say is that I'll post a link here after it's written and published (and, uh, I find someone to publish it).
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby Val Reznitskaya on Sat Dec 29, 2012 9:03 pm

I am actually very interested in interactive media as a means of telling stories, so here's my $0.02:

I love stories, both static and interactive, and I believe they are both good at different things. The strength of interactive storytelling lies in making you feel personally involved in the experience. The big example that comes to mind is allowing you to make decisions and experiencing the consequences, but I don't think that's even the most important one. "Games" can be good at making you feel like you're a part of the world. You own all of your successes and failures, and when a character that earns your trust betrays you, it's personal.

My main experience is with video games, and those have widely varying levels of immersion. Some of them are pretty linear experiences, where you might be fairly detached from the characters you play as, while others allow you to project yourself onto an avatar quite easily. I don't think one solution is better than another as long as it works with the story being told. I've seen great examples of both do things that a book could never pull off. I could talk about examples all day.

But the thing about video games is that you can never achieve a perfect projection. You are always a stranger in the game's world, or your character has a different backstory. There are always things you want to try doing that the game won't allow. With an ARG, this doesn't have to be the case.

In this ARG, the conflict was brought into your world. You didn't have to be anyone but yourself (unless you wanted to), and you could try practically anything within your abilities and see what would happen. The trade-off, as Connor said, is that you can never take something back. While this heightened the tension and made the game seem more real at times, it wasn't without its drawbacks. For example, you guys didn't know that Adell could have died during the fight with Cthulhu until the post-mortem. Because there wasn't precedent for consequences on that level, many of you didn't think it was even a possibility, so the emotional payoff of having him survive wasn't as strong as it could have been.

I don't think any given medium is better than another, but there are stories that work best when written with the medium in mind. In the best case, you end up with a unique and compelling experience that cannot be retold in any other way.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby screenstorming on Fri Jan 04, 2013 4:45 pm

Tom wrote:I could write a whole thesis on this game at this point, but I'm really exhausted of it, so I suggest you PM screenstorming instead. ;)


Yeah, there's so much to think about! The post-mortem is fascinating, and I've only begun to dig through it. :) I find it especially interesting to think about lessons learned on different fronts for future ARGs where players and GMs interact. I've also been thinking a lot about the prospects for a business model for related works that could get everyone paid, and be built around a much larger revenue-generating player base.

Bill Cohen wrote:As an educator who feels ARGs have MASSIVE potential for conveying not just narrative but information in new and meaningful ways, I'm happy to chat about this in a more psecific context - I have notes I've been taking as the game ran about what to keep/ditch/expand upon when I try my hand at an EduARG.


This is *exactly* what I want to get involved in, developing ARGs and interactive storytelling in ways that can help people learn, not just cramming information for tests, but really learning to think in new ways, learning more about what life can consist of, and even engaging in real-lfie character development. Some of that could be seen in TWWF, players trying things, regretting them, making mistakes, learning from them. I jumped into the game pretty late, and struggled to make sense of a lot of it, but in postmortem it all makes a lot more sense.

I'd love to talk more about the prospects of applying ARG-like formats to the design of learning environments. I've found some related projects: for example, Roger Travis, http://livingepic.blogspot.com/ and the team at Pericles Group have a project called Operation LAPIS -- http://www.practomime.com/ I see they even have some RFPs with up to $5k budgets -- http://www.practomime.com/write/history.php and http://www.practomime.com/write/la.php -- perhaps some kind of collaboration could occur, and I think with some marketing, it would be possible to develop much larger budgets for this kind of thing.

Here, Latin teacher Justin Schwamm, explains a difference between LAPIS and his own story-game project, Tres Columnae:
http://joyfullatinlearning.wordpress.co ... uccess-ii/
The folks at LAPIS say they’re building a role-playing game “wrapped in” an alternate-reality game. Communities form in those kinds of games, but they’re a result and a tool, not a goal. Participants “play” the narrative, but the narrative itself is controlled by someone else. I’d call that an untextbook.

The Tres Columnae Project begins as a learning community – a community playing and creating a story game together. Within the overall arc of that story, members add their own characters, their own situations, their own narratives large or small. Ownership and control of the narrative belong to them as much as to me! I’d call that an antitextbook.


I've been following the trend of more and more people questioning the traditional formats of school and college, such as http://www.uncollege.org/ and http://collegerealitychat.com/ -- and simply facing confusion over what path to take as the cost of tuition skyrockets and many people fail to complete their degrees. I've dropped out of college multiple times due to not finding an engaging learning environment, and I've often found games to be a better fit, yet they're often too disconnected from the real world for my tastes. So, I've long been interested in something that is game-like, and involves interactive storytelling, while also providing effective prompts and a sense of context for things like writing or or facing other challenges of different kinds. So often, students learn to game their educational institutions in ways that involve anything but meaningful learning and performance, as described by Rod Baird in his recent book Counterfeit Kids -- http://www.counterfeitkids.com/ -- and anthropologist Michael Wesch described in his article http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008/10 ... s-must-do/ and various TEDx talks. Wesch also developed a World Simulation game where his students enacted the evolution of their own cultures: http://mediatedcultures.net/worldsim.htm

I'm extremely inspired by the approach TWWF takes, encouraging participants to take initiative, but providing a narrative structure that helps that motivates that initiative. The brain is wired for story, and immersive ARG-like environments make for much richer stories than going through motions to get traditional grades or points.

This last fall, through the open Ed Startup 101 course -- http://101.edstartup.net/archives/tag/edstartup/ -- I found a number of educators with innovative ideas, like David Hunter's comic-and-story based approach to promoting geography learning: http://amplify.com/article/using-zombie ... -geography / http://blog.zombiebased.com/
"The zombie narrative Hunter designed—which appeals to kids the same way a video game does—is the framework for teaching middle school geography based on national standards. The story has several parts: Students prepare for the impending outbreak, then they have to survive the chaos, find a new settlement, build a new community, and plan for the future of their new home. Instead of just studying existing maps, for example, they have to design their own to track the spread of the zombies. In the end, students have to use higher-order thinking to solve real-world problems—or almost real-world, that is."


So, what are the next steps in realizing the potential in various forms of interactive storytelling? :)
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby BlackWolfe on Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:07 pm

I don't know about "Next Steps" but here's something I thought you might be interested in:

Smokescreen, a BBC production designed to raise awareness of internet personal security. It was a series of adventures much like a one-player ARG, with each episode being about some of the issues people should be aware of in the internet age -- securing personal information, password selection, ubiquity of security cameras, etc.

Sadly, the game is no longer online, but it was a great deal of fun, and it brought home some really nice lessons about internet safety along the way.
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Re: Game Design perspective

Postby screenstorming on Fri Jan 04, 2013 5:22 pm

Val Reznitskaya wrote:In this ARG, the conflict was brought into your world. You didn't have to be anyone but yourself (unless you wanted to), and you could try practically anything within your abilities and see what would happen. The trade-off, as Connor said, is that you can never take something back. While this heightened the tension and made the game seem more real at times, it wasn't without its drawbacks. For example, you guys didn't know that Adell could have died during the fight with Cthulhu until the post-mortem. Because there wasn't precedent for consequences on that level, many of you didn't think it was even a possibility, so the emotional payoff of having him survive wasn't as strong as it could have been.


This makes me think of an idea I've had for a while, which is to design an ARG blended with a reality show, where participants sign up to "be" characters, based on life situations they need help with. Instead of calling in Gordon Ramsey, as in Kitchen Nightmares, or some team of experts on other life improvement shows, or talk shows, a participant (or set of them) would have their situation adapted into a story like AverageJoe's. They'd then participate, vlog, blog, and interact with players according to some kind of ruleset, mediated by GMs to make for an engaging experience all around.

Many people struggle with life situations that have real-life consequences, or simply have open-ended situations that they can't resolve on their own or with a lot of Trial and Error Gameplay. This is especially likely when people are stuck in a network of other people where there's a lot of misunderstanding and miscommunication. The idea is not without risks, but if well-executed it could both improve people's lives and provide a more sophisticated form of immersion than a totally fictional narrative. The moral complications might be even more substantial than in TWWF, but I think methods could be utilized to help people learn how to resolve conflict through means other than bitter fighting.

I'm particularly interested in how this format could help people realize there are often ways to brainstorm win-win situations and see complicated situations through multiple lenses, including becoming more Genre Savvy when it comes to real life. I've seen many real-life situations where people's inability to switch between lenses and take the perspectives of others has led to escalating levels of frustration and loss on multiple sides. Once people start framing a situation in terms of loss, feelings tend to get hurt and tempers tend to flare up. Then, very often, if those situations aren't processed amicably, grudges and resentment build up, set to be triggered by future events. It could be debated what can be done about that, but by processing the past and coming to terms with it, I think people can grow psychologically and come to new realizations about themselves and others, and just maybe pull away from the cynicism side of life. All around, if people can learn to put themselves in other people's shoes, and think of both themselves and others as capable of growth, conflict can sometimes be transformed from bitter and unresolvable to dramatically meaningful.
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