Frank Lantz is the creative director and co-founder of area/code in New York City, a developer that works exclusively on 'big games,' described by area/code's website as "large-scale, real-world games. A Big Game might involve transforming an entire city into the world's largest board game, or hundreds of players scouring the streets looking for invisible treasure, or a TV show reaching out to interact with real-time audiences nationwide."
Previously, he has worked as the director of game design at Gamelab, the developer behind the mammothly successful casual game Diner Dash, and as a game developer for POP. He also teaches in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.
Gamasutra: Could you describe, in your own words, what area/code does?
Frank Lantz: We create what we call Big Games – games that mix digital, electronic, and virtual elements with some form of real-world presence. These games are usually large-scale, multiplayer games that involve physical activity and face to face social interaction. They often take place in urban settings or other public spaces.
GS: How do "big games" differ from "alternate reality games"?
FL: We see ourselves as exploring a similar territory but with a different focus, or perhaps a broader approach. ARG’s tend to be very narrative-driven. The standard ARG structure is built around some kind of mystery story that the players are exploring, and progress through the game usually takes the form of collaborative puzzle-solving which unlocks access to additional story elements. We see Big Games as more gameplay-driven. You might have a Big Game with a rich, complex narrative, but you could also have a Big Game that is totally abstract.
The games we make often have elements of collaboration, but also usually have some form of player vs. player competition, and are less about puzzle-solving and more about skill, tactics, and strategy. In general our games are more procedural, and less content-driven.
Also, ARGs seem to be more invested in the pleasures of confusion, about creating ambiguous situations where you don’t know whether what you’re looking at is part of the game or not. In the games we’re making we usually try to make things really clear and simple, so the players know exactly what the game is and what they’re doing (which is hard enough to achieve even when you’re shooting for it!) so this makes them perhaps a bit more accessible to a casual player. But in general we love the experiments that are taking place in the ARG world, and see all those guys as fellow travelers. Real-world stuff like Jane McGonigal’s Tombstone Hold’em, which was part of 42’s Last Call Poker ARG, are especially interesting to us.