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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 4 of 4

GS: Do you feel area/code is aligned more with the video game or the board game tradition?

FL: One of our slogans is that we make games with computers in them instead of the other way around. We like to think that, as computers continue to get smaller, more distributed, and more ubiquitous, and as gaming continues to evolve and grow and mutate, the hard distinctions between videogames and boardgames and sports will tend to go away, and we’ll see all of these things as part of the grand, long-term context of games in general.

GS: In regards to a game like Pac Manhattan, can you talk a little about the transition from virtual to physical play space?

FL: As soon as you take a game like Pac-Man and blow it up to city size you immediately have all these tricky design problems to solve. Many of them are about information–not just how do you track the location of all the players, but even more importantly, how do you represent the state of the game to all the players. So, in Pac Manhattan, the students spent a lot of time thinking through the information management issues: Who knows what when? And it turns out that a lot of what makes Pac-Man Pac-Man is right there–the ghosts have numerical superiority but Pac-Man is “smarter,” and we captured that by giving Pac-Man access to all the information but limiting what the ghosts can “see.” It turned out to be a really interesting and fun part of the game. Another design problem was how to model collision–do you require physical contact or just proximity? And then one of the main things I was most worried about was simply physical danger. I really, really didn’t want anyone to get hit by a car.

Another photo from Pac Manhattan.

GS: Area/code has recently received more press as a marketing company than a gaming company. Is this also area/code's focus? Why or why not?

FL: Yes, a lot of our projects are sponsored by big brands who want to do something other than traditional advertising. They are especially attractive because they are big and attention-grabbing, and public. Unlike a traditional computer game, where you are just talking to the players, with a Big Game the play of the game becomes this visible, public event, so the players of the game themselves become a kind of media that broadcasts out to the rest of the world. And of course, also these games speak to exactly the audience that has stopped watching TV.

GS: Can you talk a little about the connection between "big games" (and ARG's) and advertising? Is the connection necessary, or can/should such games exist on their own?

FL: We are actively working on commercial applications of Big Games in addition to the sponsored and promotional projects we’re doing. Ultimately, we think there will definitely be a market for commercial Big Games that might be subscription-based, straightforward retail, pay-to-play, or some combination of these.

GS: Which of area/code's games do you feel has been the most successful? Why? When a game has dual purpose--marketing and play--what defines success?

FL: Our game ConQwest won some prizes, and generated a ton of what are called media impressions, and in general was considered a big success on the publicity front. But I don’t think any of that would have happened if the players hadn’t been passionate and enthusiastic and driven. At the end of the day, I think the games are most successful as marketing when they are successful as games. You have to have an engaging, compelling player experience in order to capitalize on that for bigger communication purposes. For us great gameplay is the engine that drives everything else.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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