The ArtSpark Festival is a game design/theatre production competition taking place in Austin, Texas. For more information, please see The ArtSpark Chronicles, Part I.
Previously in the ArtSpark Chronicles
team, a group of strangers brought together at the last minute under
the name Team Impromptu, had just received an envelope containing our
“spark.” The spark was meant to serve as creative inspiration for our
team’s project; therefore, it would help define the boundaries of our
creative efforts for the next three months.
Part II: The Game
we opened the envelope, we were surprised to find three separate file
folders. Each one contained several pages of information around a
specific theme; each folder was, in essence, a different “spark.”
Rather than being a single item—as in the “practice challenge” we
undertook during our Orientation meeting—each spark consisted of a
collection of different things. One folder contained items related to
music, such as guitar tablatures and song lyrics. A second folder
contained a printout of an online matchmaker service profile, as well
as a news article about a man who dated a woman he met over the
Internet—only to discover later that it was his own long-lost mother!
unexpected and interesting as these sparks were, our team didn’t
immediately recognize the potential to create a marketable,
story-driven game concept from either of them. It was not until we
opened the third folder—labeled “To Infinity and Beyond”—that we felt
our own creative sparks ignite. The folder contained a satellite image
of Mars, several cartoons themed around Martians, and a URL that led to
an online academic paper detailing a plan to colonize Mars. Though we
did not rule out the other sparks completely, this one captured our
imagination and easily set the stage for a number of marketable,
Team Impromptu members hard at work.
we just had to come up with a specific concept on which to concentrate
our efforts. We thought up several different ideas, any of which would
have probably resulted in a pretty neat game; they ranged from a
multiplayer vehicle-based “race for colonization” to a single-player
survival horror experience set in an isolated Martian research station.
The idea we ultimately chose started with a simple premise: What if
Earth really had been invaded by Martians in 1900, much as it had in H.
G. Wells’ classic novel War of the Worlds? And how would that event
have shaped human history? The resulting concept is set in an alternate
1920; instead of fighting each other, humans have banded together to
protect each other against another Martian onslaught. When the Martians
fail to return, the global military organization known as the United
Earth Alliance—in an effort to preserve its own purpose, as well as to
maintain continued peace between nations—decides to launch an assault
against the Martians on their home planet. The game, titled Empires of
Mars, would be a first-person action adventure with the player assuming
the role of an eager grunt soldier named Nat Henderson.
artists on our team immediately set to work capturing the unique visual
style suggested by the premise. This would be critical to conveying the
idea of an alternate history, and could potentially provide a valuable
marketing hook by offering gamers a world unlike any they’ve seen
before. The notion was to combine “steampunk” elements with the visual
style of Golden Age sci-fi, mix thoroughly, and see what we ended up
then had to decide what would be shown in our playable demo. Though we
didn’t have much time to create one, we knew a playable demo was one of
the deliverables expected by the ArtSpark judges at the end of the
competition (along with a design document and marketing strategy).
After fleshing out the storyline in more detail, we realized that the
main character was far from the static archetypal hero usually seen in
games. In fact, he—and consequently, the player—experiences a powerful
dramatic arc over the course of the story. Since this is hard to convey
in a short demo, we tried to figure out a way to incorporate “story
moments” that offered a glimpse of the larger game world. We also
wanted to include at least one contextual gameplay moment that, even
though the demo would be nothing more than an early prototype, was cool
enough to make a player say “wow.”
Vehicle model by Toren Lehrmann.
proposed solution for offering “story moments” within the demo involved
using voice-overs. Since the ArtSpark Festival also consists of several
teams working to stage their own theatrical productions, we had several
people with acting experience eager to volunteer their services. This
is a perfect example of the synergy between creative disciplines that
ArtSpark aims to encourage.
addition to developing their own project, each ArtSpark team is also
tasked with marketing their work for public presentation. For theatre
teams, this means advertising their plays and selling tickets to
performances. Fortunately for the game teams, we were not asked to sell
tickets; instead, our game concepts will be unveiled at the Fielding
Lecht Gallery in downtown Austin on Wednesday, June 7th starting at 7
p.m. Admission is free, and each game team will have several stations
set up for guests to experience their playable prototypes. In addition,
each team will give a 15-minute presentation on their game concept,
followed by a 10-minute Q & A session with attendees.
To advertise this event, our team created two websites: one at www.empiresofmars.com, and one at www.unitedearthalliance.com.
The first is a fairly straightforward promo site for the game, while
the second is a themed site designed to immerse the viewer in the
alternate world of the game. It is meant to resemble a military
recruitment site for those who wish to join the fight against the
Martians. In addition, we created themed “draft card” invitations to
send to several video game industry luminaries in the Austin area, as
well as postcards featuring propaganda slogans and artwork.
The optimistic milestone schedule.
just under three weeks left in the festival, our team still has a huge
amount of work to finish. In just two months, we’ve already faced
numerous unplanned setbacks, including technological issues and human
resource issues. And the added pressure of creating marketing
materials, as well as a public presentation, has stretched our
resources to the limit. At this point, I think every one of us is
wondering the same thing: when presentation night comes, will we be
able to deliver?
[Find out in the next installment of The ArtSpark Chronicles.]