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A few things Mark Wallace

Tag: games (page 1 of 2)

Storytelling Together (Not Bowling Alone)

I’ve always been really interested in the kind of collaborative storytelling that emerges from tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons and the like, and I keep enough people in my Twitter feed to occasionally notice new stuff going on in the space. At the moment, things seem particularly rich, with a ton of interesting Kickstarters and other stuff popping up:

  • Microscope is what I think of as a “historytelling” game, which lets you “explore an epic history of your own creation, hundreds or thousands of years long, all in an afternoon.” Ben Robbins, the game’s creator, is now Kickstarting an expansion set. Worth the $10 for the pdf, I say.
  • Downfall (currently being Kickstarted) sounds like a very interesting historytelling game. You don’t so much create a society as briefly describe and define it — and then narrate its collapse. Awesome.
  • The publishers of Fiasco, a really cool take on tabletop roleplaying (catch Wil Wheaton playing it here), are now Kickstarting The Warren, which essentially turns Watership Down (one of my favorite novels) into an RPG. Such a great idea.
  • There’s a new edition of the Blue Rose role-playing game of “romantic fantasy,” a loosely defined genre that focuses more on character development and interaction than on swordplay and dungeon crawls. Its Kickstarter reaped more than $85,000.
  • A Patreon from Tracy Barnett, who created the School Daze role-playing game about being an awesome high schooler a la Buffy, or whatever other kind of awesomeness you can think up.
  • I noticed Cheat Your Own Adventure via this blog post and this Tweet (or maybe this one), complete with a fun after-action report. It’s a collaborative storytelling take on the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood. Definitely want to play this with my stepkids, who are 13 and 16. Grab the two pages of rules here.
  • Plus, a game about life with migraines.

One of the things that’s interesting to me about this is that, like board games, these are experiences that all but require people to be in the same room at the same time. (You could, of course, play these games via Skype or the like.) That’s one of the things I love about analog gaming, and it’s also part of the reason I think it’s important: It’s an activity that brings people together at a point in history when technology makes it ever easier to remain in our own little orbits, talking to and seeing each other less and less and less. (Not that it requires that, it just makes it easier.)

I have a hard time envisioning tabletop roleplaying games becoming popular in a really significant, mainstream way, a way that cuts across generations, genders, and class divides. (I could be wrong.) But in a world where people are still afraid of bowling alone, it’s nice to see so much activity around a pastime that requires participants to build and engage with their community.

Help Bring the Cardboard Renaissance to South by Southwest

I had the good fortune to attend GenCon a couple of weeks ago (which I’ve written about for Shut Up & Sit Down), and it’s only made me more excited to try to bring some hot cardboard action to South by Southwest. I’ve proposed a panel there for March about lessons that cardboard and electronic games may have for each other, composed of three of the most interesting publishers in board gaming:

  • Mark Kaufmann, co-founder of Days of Wonder, which publishes the best-selling Ticket to Ride
  • Kristin Looney, head of Looney Labs, which publishes the Fluxx games
  • Cory Jones of Cryptozoic Entertainment, which publishes a lot of licensed games, as well as a few interesting originals such as Gravwell, which I need to break out at game night.

You can help make it happen by voting for the panel over at the SXSW panelpicker. It would be great to get a panel like this going at SXSW, as we’d probably also do a n open play lounge with a bunch of board games and other fun stuff. I really want to see it happen mostly because it would be fun! So drop us a vote over there, will you? Thanks!

Strategy Game Gets Book Deal

The most interesting part of this press release announcing that Ireland-based game company Digit raises US$2.5m is not the financing news, but the last sentence of the release: “Kings of the Realm [Digit’s free-to-play strategy title] is due out later this year, along with the first book in a series from Penguin.” [Emphasis mine.]

Though it doesn’t seem to have originated as an intentional package deal (news of the book deal was first released last fall: Digit and Penguin ink Kings of the Realm book deal), it’s a smart move nonetheless, and I expect to see a more such deals in future, and more projects that are envisioned as this kind of true “transmedia” marriage right out of the gate.

Rather than cobble together an adaptation after the fact, or take advantage of a property’s popularity to piggy-back a game or other add-on, it makes a lot of sense to craft a number of components as pieces of a larger, more integrated whole, letting each medium take advantage of its own strengths and feed into the strengths of the others involved.

It will take a lot of vision to do this right, and a lot of talent. But it’s coming. And it’s going to be really cool when it gets here, seamlessly reaching into unexpected corners of your media-consuming life to bring you a richer, more immersive style of entertainment than we’ve seen before. I can’t wait to see this happen, and be part of bringing it to life.

Fitting Mobile Games Onto a Board

Temple Run Danger Chase: fun?
This is cross-posted from the Quora blog I recently started as an experiment. Why am I cross-posting this here? Who knows…

I love the idea of board games based on video games. But I’m not sure whether I like that idea better, or the idea of board games based on mobile gaming apps — like the Temple Run Danger Chase game, a review of which I stumbled across the other day.

The idea of tying board games to licensed IP in this way is very appealing. It doesn’t absolve the game of its burden of fun (the Temple Run game sounds like it may or may not have accomplished that), but it does give the games a leg up in a market in which few original titles see any appreciable sales. I know that games for properties like the Walking Dead and others have done very well for themselves, probably much better than if they’d just been pushed out into the market as games qua games.

This, of course, is the same avenue that a lot of electronic game publishers go down, not always with good results. Licensed video games run the gamut from fantastic (some of the Star Wars games) to abysmal (too many titles to list). But then, so do adaptations of books into movies. The license doesn’t make the product any better, it just makes it draw more attention, from a more qualified audience. And in the low-margin world of board games, that’s important.

The reason I like the idea of games made from apps is that the interaction footprint of an app is generally so small that you can extract a nice tight core mechanic from it for use in a game. What’s an interaction footprint? It’s something I just made up; like it? It’s a term that’s meant to characterize the number of possible interactions you can have with an app, or with anything, I suppose. Temple Run has an exceedingly small interaction footprint: you can swipe up, you can swipe down, you can swipe right, or you can swipe left, and two of those do essentially the same thing. In fact, the interaction footprint of Temple Run is so small that it sounds like the designers of the board game saw the need to add some.

Mobile games, especially those playable on a phone, are often forced by constraints of form factor to boil their experience down to a few key interactions. That’s not the only way to design a good board game, but it can be helpful, especially in a game for the mass market. Board games have other constraints, of course, in that feedback happens much more slowly than in electronic apps, and so more variety may need to be built in. But my top-of-head thought is that there must be a ton of mobile games out there with small enough interaction footprints that they would translate well into analog games. I’ll be right back, after I hunt up a few.

UPDATE: Forgot to include the news that board games for DOTA2 and Team Fortress 2 are on their way. Cool!

Channel and Content: Facebook vs. the Virtual World

Uberstrike: Kill your virtual friends on FacebookI had the pleasure a few days ago of writing a piece for Wired magazine’s Opinion site on How Facebook Killed the Virtual World (which you can feel free to go and read, if you haven’t already — I’ll wait here). It garnered a predictable raft of reactions from virtual world fans. With a title like that, how could it not? But one comment in particular sparked some additional thoughts. Ramzi Yakob wrote:

To be honest, I don’t see how Facebook bears any relevance to MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft. You’re effectively arguing that a CHANNEL has the ability to replace CONTENT… which it can’t. The ability to use Facebook as a channel for games isn’t something I’d dispute – whether or not it has the ability to disrupt multi-billion dollar ventures that produce very high quality content is completely ridiculous.

There are some interesting semantic things going on here. I’m not arguing that a channel can “replace” great content. But I am arguing that channels have a great deal of influence in determining what content we consume. And by extension, I’d say that content on its own merits doesn’t have as much power — and that its power wanes as channels mature. This is the “build it and they will come” fallacy of Internet services: it almost never works that way. You have to put an enormous amount of effort into getting your content, no matter how great it is, in front of the people who may want it. And this is something Facebook facilitates very well — so well, in fact, that it is likely having an impact on our patterns of consuming even expensively produced, high-quality content like top-shelf MMORPGs and the like.

I say “likely” because it’s tough to measure, but there is certainly plenty of anecdotal evidence. And there are definitely plenty of (moderately) happy Facebook investors and newly minted Facebook millionaires who stand very firmly behind the idea (as I do) that Facebook can disrupt enormous and established industries that trade in high-quality content. Spotify (for which a Facebook account is necessary) is a great example of this, as are all the marketing campaigns on all the Facebook pages for all the movies, TV shows, games, and consumer products you’re buying every day.

Below the jump is the response I originally made to Ramzi’s comment: Continue reading

What’s the Best Definition of Pervasive Gaming?

I’ve just noticed that the Wikipedia page for “pervasive game” redirects to the page for “location-based game,” though I don’t believe the two are congruent. Location-based games leverage the player’s presence at a specific location in some way, while pervasive games don’t necessarily need to.

Humans vs. Zombies, for instance — in which college students hunt each other around a campus — takes place in the physical world around the players, without being dependent on particular locations. One could imagine a host of other gameplay possibilities that leverage mechanics that depend on interactions with other players or with categories of objects or locations (“coffee shops,” for instance) rather than interactions with particular locations (“the Starbucks at 2nd and Market”).

With that in mind, what’s the best definition for a class of games we could call “pervasive”? Here’s my current thinking:

A pervasive game is a game that takes place in the physical world, concurrently with the normal activities of players’ everyday lives.

Let’s pick that apart a little:

  • a game that takes place in the physical world
  • a game that takes place concurrently with the normal activities of players’ everyday lives

Explicated below:
Continue reading

His Father was the Pope: The Exquisite Corpse of GS623

In the graduate studies course on the history and techniques of games that I’ve been teaching, I have my students create a prose Exquisite Corpse as part of our unit on parlor games. (We are also talking about participatory storytelling around this time.) This involves one person writing the beginning of a story at the top of a sheet of paper, then folding the page so that only the last line is visible. The page is passed to the next person, who writes the next part of the story and folds the page so that only the last line is visible, etc.

What I love about this particular story is that the last installment is the classic Exquisite Corpse ending — and was written (in huge block letters) by someone who had never helped write an Exquisite Corpse before. Here it is in all its glory, with passages from one person to the next marked by “/”

I came to work on Tuesday and looked out to see a sea of shining faces, all eager to learn. But when I asked them for their homework / they chose to instead turn it in late, causing a ruckus of epic proportions. / The two dogs continued to fight until one ripped the head off the other. / So thinking he had won, he strolled down the street but fell down a hole. / Even after waking up at the bottom of the inescapable hole, the LSD had yet to wear off. / Disturbed by the enduring effects of the neurotoxins, Mickey jumped in his riverboat and rushed downriver to find a doctor. Trying to conceal his distress, he started whistling a tune. / It was an old military song. His father used to sing it every night. But despite the old good memories, it still brought back the terrible details of his death. / To top it off, he found out his father was the pope and he had a hand in the hoax of the lunar landing. / Where they had a drink and then the pope killed him. / The pope was arrested and no one knew what to do. How can you send the pope to prison for murder? / And could it even be called murder? Although there was much confusion, many claimed it was self-defense and he had no other choice. / So he should just tun away or call the police. However, he doesn’t do anything. / EVERYONE EXPLODES AND EVERYTHING DIES.

Pervasive Gaming and Best Practices at StoryWorld

I was at the StoryWorld conference in San Francisco earlier this week. It’s great to see the beginnings of a cohesive community and body of thought emerge around transmedia and evolving narrative — it reminds me of the early days of the community coming together around virtual worlds, and what fun it was to chronicle that.

I talked to a bunch of interesting people, but only sat in on one or two of the panel presentations. Herewith some notes on one of them, titled Streets That Tell Stories: How Pervasive Gaming Engages Audiencespervasive gaming being the kind that inhabits the real world around you, that takes place over hours or days or weeks or months, and has as its playing field a building or street or city or actual, physical world. You may not have heard much of this kind of game before, but there have been some very cool examples (linked below, of course).

The panel addressed techniques and approaches for creating pervasive games, and was moderated by Christy Dena of Universe Creation 101 (among other things), and featured three panelists:

Some of the recommendations and experience that came out of the panel:

  • If you trust people to enter into the world you’ve created for them, they absolutely know what to do.
  • Design to accommodate different levels of engagement.
  • You’re not just working in one medium, you’re thinking pretty much 360 every minute.
  • You have to know what the space is like at all times of day, and days of the week.
  • There’s no point in feeling you should do something in a traditional way.
  • You want to be on the ground and scout out those spaces, see what opportunities arise.
  • You have to be able to improvise as a creator and as someone running these things.
  • We’re like Situationalists 2.0, we just have better tools now. — Jeff Hull

Hull introduced himself as Creator Director of Nonchalance, “a situational design agency” in San Francisco. “Situational experiences involve spaces and people and other things to add to the environment. This is in contrast to experiential design, which very often can be kept within the two-dimensional monitor-based realm. Our mission is to provoke discovery through visceral experience and pervasive play, by reengineering the way participants and audience members interact with media, with the space around them, and most importantly with each other.”

Hull’s Nonchalance is best known for a very cool pervasive game built around an organization called the Jejune Institute, in which players worked to solve mysteries whose clues were hidden around SF, take part in protests, and participate in other immersive experiences that took place in the streets and buildings of the city. To get more of a feel for the particulars of the Jejune Institute, watch the trailer, and read this New York Times piece about the game.

While this isn’t too far removed from alternate reality gaming as we’ve come to know it, Nonchalance seems to be aiming for a more immersive and pervasive experience than most of those we’ve seen before. I think there’s a lot of potential for this, especially when combined with tools and practices from more “traditional” electronic gaming — not to take away from the pervasive experience, but to enhance it and help drive players to engage. Continue reading

Graduate Studies in Rock, Paper, Scissors

I chose "A"
On Tuesday, I started teaching a graduate studies course in the History and Techniques of Games at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. (To prepare, I ran through the Academy’s new faculty orientation, which included the above multiple-choice question, much to my delight). We’ll be looking at the history of games and gaming from the very beginning (i.e., ca. 5,000 years ago) on through the very latest. I want to construct the course around three main ideas:

  • what games are and where they come from
  • how games are made (in terms of both design and culture)
  • the roles of games in society and our lives

The course description (which I did not write) sounds pretty cool (see below), though it does not include the game of Rock, Paper, Anything (more about that below as well) that I had students play. Continue reading

Genre-ifying Time Management Games

not how I'll be spending my time

I recently got a promotional email from PlayFirst (see above) pushing their “top time management hits” and exhorting me to “check out these fan favorite time management games!” My question: Are there really people out there who are thinking to themselves, “Hm, I wish I had a new time management game to play”? Isn’t that like someone thinking, “Okay, time to buy a new audio-based interpersonal communication device,” instead of “I need a new phone”? Continue reading

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