If you were at this year’s GDC and noticed an occasional yelp emanating from a group of people mashing buttons on their cell-phones, clustered around a large video display, you may have wondered what all the hubbub was about. For the last six years Gamelab (the indie New York studio that we work for) has made a conference-wide game to be played during the GDC. What those people were doing was playing Gangs of GDC – this year’s installation of the Gamelab GDC game.
What the hell is Gangs of GDC?
Gangs of GDC was the world’s first (as far as we know) massively multiplayer mobile phone fighting game or MMMPFG. While the genre-name may be complicated, the game itself was actually pretty simple and straightforward. The theme was that rival gangs such as the Match Three Boyz and the MMOFOs are vying for control of the GDC by fighting over three neighborhoods scattered throughout the conference center. Each neighborhood consisted of a large flat-screen display set up in a high traffic area of the conference showing a grid of nine blocks.
Players would dial up a number displayed on the screen and be immediately placed on one of the blocks where they would either fight any rivals that were on the block or else flip the block over to their gang’s control. When fights occurred players resolved them through a simple rock-paper-scissors game where they pressed 1, 2 or 3 on their cell-phones to perform a light jab, a strong upper-cut or a devastating roundhouse respectively. Every five minutes each neighborhood would be scored and the gang that controlled the most blocks in a neighborhood would gain points for each block they controlled.
Why would anyone make a MMMPFG?
At this point you may be asking yourself, why would someone make an MMMPFG? As mentioned above, for the last six years Gamelab has produced a large real-world game to be played at the GDC. In years past our games have ranged from social experiments like Bite Me to massively multiplayer board games like Leviathan. The goal of these games has always been for us to play around with different forms of gameplay, and to try to provide our fellow developers with a chance to interact with each other while diverting themselves from the whirlwind of activity that is the GDC.
Last year our GDC game was Pantheon: a game where players were divided into warring pantheons of gods. While we were happy with Pantheon and received positive feedback from players (especially about the virgin sacrifice component) we also felt that the game was a bit too complex and required a lot from players both in terms of organization and in sheer number of tokens for each player to manage. To address this we wanted make something a little bit lighter and we also wanted to experiment with using technology to help take some of the burden of managing the state of the game off of players.