Socializing in progress
Incredibly, we’ve already rolled over into the second month of the year. At Playlab London we’ve been trying to turn 2013 into a year of Really Interesting Things, and part of that commitment involves getting stuck in to a whole bunch of experiments! - Simon’s going to talk us through the work he’s been putting in to a prototype called Socialite.
Socialite is being made in response to the V&A’s Britain 1700-1900 galleries. Spectacularly, the V&A is looking for a games design resident for the second half of 2013, and the application process called for proposals. I let my enthusiasm get away with me and built and prototyped an idea from scratch. Socialite intends to turn the way in which people interact with each other into something joyfully competitive and performative, while guiding them through the context and history of the V&A’s collection. The game is intended to be played on four networked mobile devices, but the prototype is delivered on one screen to allow for a faster turnaround in between iterations.
When designing Socialite I wanted to create a lively game which would thrive on performative dispute - the idea put forward by Douglas Wilson of the brilliantly eclectic Copenhagen Game Collective. In his essay “Designing for the pleasures of disputation” which revolves around the notion that competition can be something which is playful and effectively pro-social in a group.
I wanted to turn a conversation into something like the fantastic Spaceteam, recently released on iOS by Henry Smith. It needed to be frantic, silly and fun, and in being that perhaps it could also make something joyful out of an activity that can be stressful for many.
The game picks up on the fascinating content of the V&A gallery, full of items exploring fashion, style and culture in the 18th century and explores the context of those artifacts. What would it be like to be at a party during that time? What items possessions might you gossip about?
A round of play consisted of 3 minutes in which players are presented with the goal of emerging from a conversation having completed the most goals. Goals are commands like ‘Outrage Mr Garrick!’ or ‘Befriend Lady Pomp!’.
Over the course of two weeks spending what time I could spare developing this game I managed to squeeze in four playtests mostly thanks to my patient and understanding friends. The game really evolved, and I had the opportunity to apply a lot of learning in a short period of time.
The first playtest looked a bit like this:
Our testers were really overwhelmed with the interface which was trying to convey an awful lot of information in a game strictly limited by time pressures.
I found that there was a dissonance between the social and competitive aesthetics of the game-play. On one hand there was thought time being demanded by the notion of ‘winning’ a conversation, and having to figure out the best way to do so within a fairly complex system. On the other hand, the genuine social pressure of engaging in conversation with three other people requires a great deal of attention.
It became apparent almost immediately that the major challenge would be designing a game which could effectively balance the cognitive load generated by these two tasks.
I experimented with a number of different options in order to make this work. The game changed from a rapid time pressured twitch response game into a turn and rounds based experience aiming to give people plenty of time to think.
‘Responses’ were added to give the conversation a chance to flow. The data model governing the players reactions to each other was simplified and the interface was completely reworked to give everyone less to focus on.
The second and third playtests explored all of these different options. Here’s a video from playtest number three:
Things started to flow a little better. We found that the turns and rounds were too slow, but it became apparent that there was such a thing as an optimum number of players engaged in a task at once. Two people trying to talk out of four at any given moment seemed to be the sweet spot, and the code was re-factored to make changing that number a trivial thing to do.
During playtest 3 we started to talk about social proof scoring, procedural narrative and the feature which became ‘secret missions’. By the time playtest 4 rolled around I had cleaned up the interface even further, and it looked like this:
Other new features included the chance to knock someone out of the conversation for up to 10 seconds by ‘outraging’ them and ‘secret missions’ which meant every player always had an immediate task to follow up on, like lowering their status or outraging another player. Here’s a video:
Things flowed well by this point, and my testers seemed to really be enjoying themselves. The game could diverge from this point in a whole glut of different and equally valid directions and that is an exciting point to inhabit with a design.
In February we will be playing with an Arduino and Heart Rate Monitor to make games which make your pulse into a mechanic. I’m seriously looking forward to it.
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Keep Me Company Company is built on the +sum framework and like +sum, KMCC was conceived as an engine for visualising, raising and sustaining an area's Jen ratio, a measure of the social well being of an environment designed by positive psychologist Dacher Keltner. Unlike +sum, KMCC provides a simple narrative frame to ease the player into the game, and a solid set of game play goals.
KMCC casts players as executives in company which profits from the social feats performed by it's employees. Those playing collect points ('bucks') which accumulate in a central pool to bolster the companies share in a fictional market, against competitors such as UnSociable inc. The game ends when the company has gathered 100% dominance of the market place.go back
The Keep Me Company Company is a radical non profit adventure in giving more value to doing positive things.
At playlab we are big fans of the idea that a game framework is a potent tool for affecting our behaviour. We created +sum as a technical framework which supports that goal.
+sum allows for the delivery of missions to players, and the ability for players to receive points, give points, share messages and collaborate on completing those missions.