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The Watery Pachinko Machine of Doom: Project Horseshoe's Thoughts On Story
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The Watery Pachinko Machine of Doom: Project Horseshoe's Thoughts On Story

January 17, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next

Techniques that play outside the current rules of the game industry

Many of the most exciting techniques for generating interesting experiences are found outside of the game industry. Academia, advertising and independent games have been dabbling in these ideas for years. We focused on rich examples from Alternate Reality Games (ARGs), narrative spaces, and social networks.


Alternate reality games such as I Love Bees and Last Call Poker have found that breaking the barriers between the online game world and the player's real world can lead to extremely compelling experiences.

Patricia Pizer shared a tale of how they included a simple game mechanic in Last Call Poker that required players to take a picture of a gravestone where someone had died on the same day they were born. Figuring this to be a rare occurrence, the game masters were shocked to find their inboxes flooded with dozens of images. Players were going to graveyards and taking pictures of the graves of infants that had been stillborn. The intense emotional impact of this intersection of game mechanics and the real world left a lasting mark on both the players and the designers.

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ARGs numbers compared to top retail games.
Raph Koster's GDCPrime 2007 lecture "What are we missing?"

Some lessons from ARGs include:

  • Difficult to scale: It is difficult to make the experience scale well since it requires active game/puppet masters playing various roles and adjusting the game to account for the player's unexpected progress. ARGs are ultimately a highly leaky pachinko machine.
  • Breaks players expectations of a game: However, the emotions that result are intensely powerful because ARGs actively break the model of a traditional computer game player experience. Players expect to play a game, but they end up being confronted by very meaningful and real situations.

Narrative spaces

There is a long history of environmental spaces that tell a story. Disneyland, Location Based Entertainment (LBE) and amusement park rides have been successfully creating mediated experiences for over a century.

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Ceci n'est pas une golfball. It is a carefully designed visual goal.

Lessons from narrative spaces include:

  • Controlled reveals/sightlines: Structure your space in such a way that intriguing goals are clearly presented to the customer as they wander aimlessly. People will tend to make their way towards the visual goals and thus will be guided even though they are acting out of their own free will.
  • Established paths: By combining sightlines, you can create well trodden paths that users will move through while still imagining that they are exploring new territory. This allows you to focus the majority of your production effort along these paths. A good example of this in games is what Naughty Dog has done with Jak and Daxter.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 7 Next

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