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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid
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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid

May 20, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

The Home Stretch

While taking a break for breakfast, my mind worked out many of the problems plaguing the project. When I came back to it, I squashed the bugs quickly. Once the game was functional and bug-free, I still had to import the latest model from Rich. Using Bootcamp was great, but there were a lot of setup issues for the model.

Since we were working completely on-the-fly, there were no tools in the pipeline to auto-tag objects in our model with certain properties. I had to manually tag every surface on the compound model as metal, concrete, wood, dirt, or glass in order to get the proper bullet holes, footstep sounds, and other associated reactions to play correctly.

Beyond the tags, though, the model didn't import correctly. Many of the materials were missing their associated diffuse maps. So in addition to tagging I had to reassign materials and get them looking decent on about half the surfaces in the compound.

Finally, I wanted to spruce the compound up my making it destructible; certain objects can only be destroyed by the grenades (like the steel doors and satellite dishes) while other objects can be destroyed with the gun as well.

All in all, I tweaked with these features as well as experimenting with various lighting setups and other presentation level concepts until about 6 pm Saturday night -- 25 hours after I began.


As I write this, things are just starting to take hold. We had zero marketing plans. As I type this, though, emails have started flooding in from newspapers, other developers, and other publications. The most interesting of which has been an interview with Wired, which featured an article about the game on its front page.

So the hype is just building, and it appears to primarily be based on that article. Other news outlets started jumping on the story after seeing the Wired piece. Without the help of the media, this would be dead in the water. Without the game being developed so quickly, and without the basis, of the subject matter, again it would be dead in the water, because it's not a traditional entertainment game.

Luckily, we seem to have hit just the right balance of quality, journalism, and subject matter to garner some attention. Our goal from here is to build the website, build the technology, and continue to build news stories quickly.

The Future

This medium has some powerful potential. If the circumstances presented in our newsgames are physically accurate enough, and we let N number of players interact with them, patterns will emerge. The "Holy Grail" will be solving a real-world mystery with a solution derived from within a newsgame.

Another way to explain this is with a simple real-world example. Let's say I have a ball, and you can see I'm holding it in my right hand. In that instance, you would know the original circumstances. At that point, I ask you to turn around. I throw the ball and ask you to turn around once the ball has come to a stop. Finally, I ask you to describe how the ball got to its new location.

In this example, there are literally an infinite number of solutions. Perhaps the ball bounced twice and stopped, maybe three times, or perhaps it bounced off the ceiling once. One person could never present all the solutions, much less the precise, actual solution that took place. With enough players though, not only would a huge number of solutions become available, but also the most likely solution would statistically begin to stick out like a sore thumb.

This hypothesis basically aspires to take advantage of something that has traditionally hampered game developers. When Halo 2 was released, the development team and QA teams were shocked to learn some of the things players were doing within the game. There were some pretty big bugs that only emerged when N number of players reached a certain threshold. Viewed in the right context though, bugs might actually become potential solutions.

Already, emergent behaviors have created realistic but unintended side effects. The game was designed to be free of any explicit challenge. This mission had to be carried out with surgical accuracy in reality. Players who didn't mirror that surgical approach in the game (i.e. used only the grenades) complained that they had a hard time locating the intel.

By only using grenades, players were pushing the physics-enabled intel objects (laptops) all over the place, sometimes making it difficult to find them. In reality, using such a chaotic approach would yield similar results; most of the intelligence would be unattainable because it would be destroyed or buried.

Currently, we use Twitter and Facebook to pass our opinions on to CNN, Fox News, or MSNBC programs. Ultimately, I see News+Gameplay as a platform for solutions. Instead of stating your opinion, you will create your solution in-game. If the game is delivered quickly enough, then perhaps that solution can be used in reality.

In other words, the game crowdsource solutions from the players. Of course, eventually the news itself could be crowdsourced in 3D. Google Earth gets us close to a 3D Wiki, but it doesn't contain high fidelity experiences. Sure, someone put Osama bin Laden's compound up there within an hour of the press conference, but it didn't contain any behavior or physical ability. This is where the games part comes into newsgames. Games make the news interactive, and eventually provide solutions. Crowdsourced development will ensure the highest fidelity possible for the experience.

Eventually, interactive news can overcome limitations present in the current news system. One-way mediums like text and video are prone to force-feeding a concept to the end consumer. As we all know gamers call "bullshit" quicker than anyone because they aren't led by the hand through the simulation. Players control the flow of logic. As soon as something presented is less than logical, players realize it and reject it rather than nodding their heads.

Newsgames can provide a powerful check and balance system to help journalism evolve to the next level. I hope News+Gameplay can become a truly useful platform in this new field. I think we're off to a good start. If nothing else, we delivered proof that a team assembled on the fly can research, develop, and deliver 3D interactive content quickly enough to be relevant, even on a breaking news story.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 4 Next

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