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Big Reality: A Chat with 'Big Game' Designer Frank Lantz
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Big Reality: A Chat with 'Big Game' Designer Frank Lantz

August 10, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

GS: The logistics of a "big game" might be hard to imagine right off the bat. In a given game, who decides the premise/gameplay? Where do participants comes from? Who's the target audience?

FL: Big Games are designed just like traditional computer games or analog games – the game design team creates the premise and develops the gameplay then refines it through playtesting. Sometimes games are designed for a particular setting, like a conference, where the players are the attendees. Sometimes the game is “open” and has to recruit players for itself. The target audience could be anyone, although sometimes its limited by technology to people with cellphones, or people with laptops or whatever. But basically, we see the audience for Big Games as anyone who wants to try something new.

GS: What is area/code up to at the moment?

FL: We’re working on a big project for an entertainment company that is built around a popular TV show and will go public late this year. We’re also making a game called Crossroads, which is a tight, little two-person strategy Big Game inspired by aspects of Mardi Gras culture that we’re designing for an exhibit about urban culture at the Van Alen Institute here in New York in September. We’re working with a group called the Girls Math and Science Partnership to create a science-based Big Game for high school girls. We’re doing some brainstorming with the folks at Disney Imagineering to help think about how the Disney parks could evolve to include game experiences. We’re working with a cool company in Japan called Geovector which has a technology that can tell you which way your cellphone is pointing. And we’re developing a game for Come Out and Play, which is an upcoming urban gaming festival organized by some of my former students. Among other stuff!

Big game Pac Manhattan in action.

GS:Why did you make the switch from electronic to real-life games in your own career?

FL: I’ve always been interested in experimenting with new kinds of games and game structures; I’ve also always felt that digital games were more properly understood as a subset of games, rather than as a subset of computer media. In other words, for me Counterstrike has more in common with tennis and golf than people tend to think. Ditto for World of Warcraft and Chess. So I see the transition as being more a matter of focus, rather than a big leap. Early on, I had a bunch of opportunities to create games for conferences which were fun, small-scale experiments. And then I got invited to create the Big Urban Game, along with Katie Salen and Nick Fortugno, for the University of Minnesota Design Institute. That was a massive project and paved the way for the larger-scale Big Games I’ve been doing since.

1996's Gearheads was co-designed
by Lantz.

GS: How has your past work at Gamelab and POP influenced your work at area/code?

FL: Gamelab has been doing a large-scale, social game at GDC every year for the past 5 years or so, those were awesome learning experiences. And, in general, both Gamelab and POP create a lot of small scale online and downloadable games. These games have to have instant appeal, they have to be accessible and fun to a broad audience of casual players, and they live or die based on their gameplay. I try to apply these same design principles to the games we make at area/code. Balancing accessibility and depth is the goal.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

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