A few things Mark Wallace

Tag: mobile

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!

Playing the Story

I’ve been doing a bunch of of over-thinking lately about the evolution of story and the future of narrative entertainment, so rather than continue that navel-gazing, here’s the short form (the short story, so to speak), and I’ll have more to say about this later. Not that all of this thinking is original to me; I’m just doing what I always do: scanning the landscape, picking out the relevant pieces, putting them together in a way that makes sense to me, and adding my own contributions as I go. So…

In the future, books will behave more TV shows. And not just TV shows, but interactive TV shows you can play like a game on your mobile device between reading installments of a parallel story unfolding at the same time. They’ll be released in episodes, there will be more than one thread to them, they’ll be interactive / participatory / responsive in some way, and we’ll take them with us wherever we go. And this won’t happen in the distant future, but within the next five years or so, and perhaps sooner (like now). Not to all books (or films, or games, or what-have-yous), but certainly some, most likely many, and possibly — eventually — most. At some point, in fact, it will become difficult to tell a book apart from a television show, and we’ll need a new name for this kind of narrative entertainment experience. We have the word “transmedia,” but that’s an adjective, not a noun (and it’s a term of art, in any case, rather than a consumer-friendly word). I’m not going to propose a new noun here (though I’m interested to hear ideas), but I do want to take a minute and describe what this experience will look like.

Here are four broad bullet points (not all of which will apply to every work):

  • Serial: Content will be released over time, in bite-sized chunks that can be consumed in a single sitting. Most narrative art — whether it be text, video, audio, or otherwise — will take the form of episodes. Long-form content won’t go away, but serialized narratives will be the default. You might get a bit every week, or a bit every day, you might get a number of text messages daily, or the pace of the story might vary according to how often you interact with whatever’s framing the experience — perhaps a framework like a game.
  • Multichannel: A work will feature multiple story threads, or “channels,” each of which will add its own unique content to the overall experience. These may be in the same or different media, and they may be narrative or merely descriptive (e.g., the fictional Web site of a scientific institution featured in a work). We will need new paradigms of linkage in order to navigate all of the fragments; an episode in one channel may point to an episode in another, which may in turn loop back; sequence may be important, or it may not. Narrative experiences will need to develop the signals which indicate these things to us, both technologically and in terms of the narrative itself.
  • Participatory: At least part of the form, distribution, sequencing, and/or other elements of the content (including, in some cases, portions of the content itself) will be shaped or created based on the participation of the audience. Rarely will a narrative be the same set experience for all who consume it. You may enter and leave it at different points, your choices may alter the sequence in which you experience it, the collective choices of the readership may alter what everyone sees, you may write a portion of it even as you consume some other element, or one of too many alternatives to list here may also be the case. Some of this may happen incidentally, merely as a result of following linkages, some may happen more consciously, some may happen as a result of a game, etc. But the monolithic story-object will become largely a thing of the past, and the shape of the experience will come to be determined at least in part by the actions of the audience.
  • Ubiquitous: Content will, at a minimum, be portable via mobile devices, and may also encompass platforms that reach all areas of a consumer’s daily life. That is to say, you may take your experience with you on a mobile device, or you may find that the experience follows you around across many devices and many contexts, despite the choices you make. As we become more connected, not just to the Internet but to the environment around us, narrative will take advantage of those connections and come to saturate them with story wherever it can.

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