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A Week in Game Mechanics

February 14, 2012 News 1 Comment

It’s been sort of fortuitous that this week in Transmedia Los Angeles it’s been all about Game Mechanics. I was able to attend three informative events, and compiled helpful information that I feel can come in handy to all of those interested in incorporating a gaming aspect into their Transmedia projects. Below I recount my findings.

Transmedia LA announces plans for ARG 

Our first meetup of the year took place at our new location in the Annenberg Building over at USC, and was one of the biggest ones, in terms of attendees, that we’ve had in a while. Among the topics discussed included, the Transmedia projects coming out of Annenberg, Wyrcon, Sundance Innovation, and other independent projects. The livestream of the event was recorded and it’s available below.

Watch live streaming video from transmediala at livestream.com

But most importantly, Transmedia LA announced during this meetup their plans for creating, producing, and launching an ARG as an educational track for members to learn how to create one. The project is called The Miracle Mile Paradox and it’s set to be a location based experience central to Los Angeles, yet allow players outside LA participate via the online components.

In addition, the online components will propel the release of clues that would need to be decoded on a weekly basis. These components will drive the main plot of the experience through the 13 weeks total that the ARG will be live this summer. On top of that, interactive content regarding the characters is also set to be released weekly either online or through a live event.

How is it going to be educational?

As an active participant helping on the project, you would have the opportunity to learn any aspect of an ARG that you would be interested in developing. At each step of the process, the project leaders are planning to setup mini workshops open to all Transmedia LA members not involved in the project that still want to learn how to do different things. In addition, an account of the project’s progress will be available in the Transmedia LA website for all of those living outside Los Angeles.

The Miracle Mile Paradox project is currently recruiting people with all sorts of backgrounds: writers, designers, people with WordPress experience, people with marketing experience, people with Kickstarter experience, people with mobile apps and geo tagging experience, people with gaming and puzzle making experience… you name it. The project is set out to launch Memorial Day.

For more information on the project contact the project leaders via our Meetup Group:

April Arrglington (yes, that’s me!) – Story Producer

Susan Bell – Experience Producer

Amanda Price – Line and Marketing Producer

An Evening with Starship Valkyrie

I was invited by Transmedia LA member Aaron Vanek to spend an evening with some eager LARPers who get together once a month to play Starship Valkyrie. Valkyrie is a live action role-playing game set in space that incorporates elements found in board and card games, which is very reminiscent of D&D play.

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  • Lesson One: Game Masters are not omnipotent. 

I have participated in a LARP experience before, but this was the first time experiencing an ongoing LARP. The main difference I found between these two types is that while a one time LARP has a beginning, middle and end happening at the live event, an ongoing LARP comprises of many components to keep the action going.

While it is true that among one of the responsibilities of the GM (Game Master) is to keep the game moving forward, and try to accomplish the story goals per the character’s profiles, I found that often times the players were the ones making the ultimate decisions for what happens with the story in the game. The Valkyrie LARP is a perfect example of a game that was played to figure out and explore the story, and not necessarily the other way around.

In this particular case, it was interesting to find out that the Starship Valkyrie LARP was actually a game extension of another LARP happening aboard the Starship Sigrun. Some of the players from Sigrun were interested in accomplishing other goals besides the ones provided in that particular LARP, so they decided to take on their own separate mission in the Valkyrie. As it stands today, the Valkyrie LARP now comprises of a larger group of players than the Sigrun LARP.

  • Lesson Two: Is not only about the Role Play.

It was interesting to discover how the Valkyrie LARP divided the game into two main sections: those interested in role play and following the story and the action taking place while playing the game, and those interested in game strategy and puzzle dynamics.

In Valkyrie most of the role play was experienced at the Captain’s Bridge, Medical Station, and Star Fighters Quarters. These sections were devoted mostly to character development, and mission exploits. While these sections explored more theatrical inclinations, it also utilized board game play to simulate combat strategy. Additionally, the GM created many consoles for these sections that the players operated like simulators. These simulator props had double functionality, as they tied the role playing players with the players that had signed up for the puzzle dynamics section.

The Science and Engineering players from this second section used puzzles to simulate solving problems (i.e.: when needing to fix damages incurred by the ship). This section was very active, in spite of being considered less theatrical, because they utilized up to five different kinds of puzzles during game play. It was also interesting to see how the GM had incorporated the use of timers for time management to simulate time lapses.

On top of that, a fourth section was developed to take care of unforeseen events expected to happen in game. Central Operations was assigned to a Non Player Character to figure out action left to chance. For example, it was up to Central Operations to decide by dice, coin toss, or by drawing a card when exactly damages were incurred by the ship while in hyperspace. The consequences of these actions were then reported to all the stations affected in a ripple effect. And, as an extra measure of urgency, an overall point damage affected all players in terms of health/life points.

Many thanks to GMs Christian Brown and Roselle Herley for the walk through of the experience. For more information on the Valkyrie LARP visit: http://starshipvalkyrie.com/

Discussing Pervasive Games at PEG-LA 

I was also invited by Transmedia LA member Jeff Watson to attend the first yearly meeting for Pervasive and Environmental Games. The group’s interest lay in creating, testing and discussing outdoor/street games, ARGs, and any other form of gaming that takes place in a public space.

The group is formed by members with prolific experience creating their own independent games, including the team testing for the night, Myles Nye and Greg Snyder from Wise Guys Events. Members of the group are also very invested in bringing pervasive gaming to the general public through events like Come Out and Play, IndieCade, ARGFest and the GDC.

For this particular meeting Jeff gave us a recap on the aftermath of the ‘Reality Ends Here’ ARG he launched for USC last year. Below I recount the most interesting findings of this particular case study:

On Game Dynamics

The ‘Reality Ends Here’ concept was originally conceived as an attempt by the Faculty of Cinematic Arts of USC to create a game that would function as a class. Jeff was brought on board after he pitched the ARG concept. After a short pre-production period, ‘Reality’ ran at the USC campus for a total of 120 days last summer with basically a shoestring budget.

The game consisted of five main components:

  • A pervasive component: students were introduced to the game by following clues and solving puzzles around campus.
  • A card game component: students were handed a deck of cards to play a project configuration that then they were required to produce.
  • A media component: students were required to create, upload and share their multi-media projects per their card configuration.
  • A score board component: students were given points per their card configurations and each week a leading board would reveal the week’s winners. The winners in turn would be subjected to surprised prizes, like mentorship meetings with top faculty members (like Henry Jenkins) and notorious entertainment talent (like Robert Zemeckis).
  • An online component: the main website for the project (created on WordPress) kept profiles of all the active players, their projects, their status in the game via badges, and built the community among the players.

The Aftermath

At the end of the 120 days, the site for the game had 150 players and a total of 120 projects submitted, all high quality. Jeff calculated that in terms of game play some players had spent up to 80 hours per project submitted. The game had helped build the community among the students, which was especially helpful in such a competitive environment that is the USC Film School. The game also made it easier for new students to become part of the community by becoming fans of the game and each other’s work. Of course, not everything was a love fest. There were instances of severe competitiveness at the beginning among players, and cases of the students actually creating projects about how they felt about the game dynamics. By the end of game players were not only able to add these projects to their portfolio, but experience a truly Transmedia educational experience. A wrap party at the end of game celebrated the winners, who were giving especial medals. Labeled a success, USC is now looking into developing a similar project for next year.

For more information on Reality Ends Here go to: reality.usc.edu