Tag Archives: guest blog

Technology waits for no one


Local actor, singer and writer Helen Stephens shares how her mind was blown, put back together, and blown once more as she learned Lumasol with Dutch theatre troupe PIPS:lab at the recent technology masterclass they hosted at The Edge.

“Technology waits for no one” they say, and as a young Brisbane theatre maker I have always felt this to be true, I got left behind somewhere between portable CD players and the iPod revolution. The realisation that I now had to reacquaint myself with modern technology was always just a little too much of an inconvenience, especially when I had brothers and boyfriends who were happy to acquiesce my every technological need. “I have to use a computer to do what?? I have to think about that?? Could you just do it for me?…Please?” are all questions and requests I made frequently.

Due to my dismissive and unadventurous attitude towards all things technical and the tight waisted budgets those of us in the arts are used to working with, my approach to theatre making was always to keep things simple, use minimal if any lighting states at all, maybe a few audio tracks if I couldn’t create them live and to not even dream about using projection or other forms of multimedia. This attitude of mine which says that technology is too hard to use was however, strongly challenged when I met up with 2 members of an out of this world performance troupe last week at Brisbane’s, The Edge.

Let’s go back ten years. It is 2001, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, “master of the impossible, image wizard, media genius and natural-born inventor” Keez Duyves who after years of technological creativity, problem solving, programming and conceptual design launches PIPS: lab, a theatre company consisting of a group of musicians, actors, sound engineers, programmers and technicians who share his passion for mind blowing technological experiences and real, visceral, interactive performance.

Now back to 2011, November 29. I who at 25, have gone through QUT’s Creative Industries Drama course, trained in many different forms of performance and am highly aware of the contemporary theatre movement which threatens to leave me behind, decide to head along to a technology in performance workshop to see if I can learn a trick or two. All I know is that it is to be run by a Dutch theatre company and is sure to be a great experience and a steep learning curve. Over the course of the next 4 hours my mind is blown time and time again and I realize that I am in the presence of a man whose mind and ideas are so far ahead of his time that he has no choice but to wait for technology to catch up with him.

Keez and company member Fred Rodrigues, originally from Adelaide, worked to introduce themselves and their company to a group of ten willing creatives ranging from circus performers, actors, musicians and filmmakers to teachers and community workshop facilitators. We were each given a small LED light and asked to draw out our name, letter by letter with the light, on to the large, white wall at the back of the room.  Little did we know that this was the exact method PIPS: lab use with their audiences in their show Diespace and a fitting introduction to a technique they have aptly named Lumasol. Before our eyes each letter of our name, dutifully written in order, was captured, layered and then presented back to us as a floating, revolving 3D image, an example of which you can see online. The effect is nothing if not impressive and eerily surreal. The concept of Diespace (created in 2007) is fittingly matched to this luminescent tool as the show explores the idea of souls living on in a virtual space after their human counterparts have passed away.

Something I would like to stress at this point is that Keez and the rest of the PIPS: lab team, are devout believers in using whatever equipment is readily available, accessible and affordable. They use a mixture of well-worn MAC and PC laptops, switching between them as the need presents and really were inspiring in their demonstrated ingenuity and resourcefulness. They rely on free software such as MAC program Quartz Composer for a lot of their programming needs and fashion musical instruments and lights from broom handles, PVC pipe, coloured plastic bottle tops and anything else they can lay their hands on. They believe that where there is a will, there is a way and foster this attitude with vigour and excitement when attacking new ideas for instruments, sound design applications and motion capture and live animation programs. No matter what they develop each tool has one universal commonality and that is that they are built with a high audience interaction function.

From Lumasol, to Bullet Time animation, I learned that PIPS: lab were successfully creating this effect long before The Matrix made it famous. Not only did they do this, but they achieved it by using a circle of modified disposable cameras in a darkened room with a centred, raised flash. Their work with Graffiti Artists in this clip is an example of this unique yet simple technique.

Discussions moved from Musical Instrument Digital Interfacing, (MIDI) to Motion Capture, however, due to technical difficulties we were unable to really see these in action. Herein lies one of PIPS: lab’s golden rules: never expect that technology will work, in fact, expect that it will fail.

So after a morning of playing and experimenting with lights and cameras, bodies and computers I want to thank The Edge and PIPS: lab for providing the opportunity for such profound learning.  I walked away having seen the impossible made possible and knowing that I could do the same.

“Daring to fail is the best way to learn, create and experiment”. Keez Duyves

Moments: Now You’re Acting With Portals


Illustration by Hannah Groff http://dribbble.com/hannahgroff

[Videogames are about the instances when player, machine, and code meld together in a formless dance and produce something meaningful. Something memorable. An experience. A moment.]

 It was not meant to end like this.

Maybe you played Valve’s previous games. Half-Life. Opposing Force. Half-Life 2. Maybe you know that Valve are no stranger to ending their games on a bitter note, either with the player-character’s death or estrangement in otherwise unfortunate circumstances. Still, immolation to end a puzzle game all seems a bit much.

Things started simply enough. You awoke in a glass cell. You moved through a series of test chambers under the instructions of a friendly, automated female voice. The kind of voice that would probably go to the bar on a Friday afternoon with the Telstra and Centrelink answering machines. The kind of voice that would assure you she is a real person and of course you should say your password over the telephone. That voice taught you how to jump. How to move crates. How to use buttons to open doors. Most importantly, it taught you how to use the portal gun.

It’s a simple device. A gun. You play videogames. You know how to use a gun. But this gun doesn’t shoot bullets. It shoots portals: elliptic wormholes that open up on whichever surface you fire at. Left-click shoots the blue portal; right-click shoots the orange. The two can be traversed with a single step, folding the space between them. Want to go over there? Simply put one portal there, one portal here, and step through.

You had to dramatically change your conception of space, of how space is traversed. But that is okay. That was the point of the whole game. You did what the voice said. You solved puzzles in the “test chambers”. You sensed a story, sure, but one that was there for decoration. Like the castle in the background of Tetris. A story to justify your actions, not a story to engage with. Devices gotta be tested, right? That’s a good enough excuse to play. So you played. You tested.

But then things got weird. You wondered where all the other people were. What was that off-hand comment the voice made about cake? Did she just suggest you might be killed? What are those scribbles on the wall?

And then it is the final test chamber. There is a sign right there on the wall telling you as such. You jump onto the sliding platform on its monorail track. You use some portals to get around a wall blocking your path. You don’t even have to think about it anymore. Folding space to your whim has become second nature.

But then you round the corner. You see the flames. You see the rail descending into them along with the final seconds of your life. The woman’s voice assures you the portal device will be undamaged by the flames.

Portal’s slogan is “Now you’re thinking with portals”. You don’t think. If you think you will die. Instead you act. You shoot the blue portal on the wall, just above the licking tongues of the flames. You shoot the orange one on the far side of a maintenance walkway beyond the flames. You leap. You miss the flames and fall through the portal, landing of the platform, just in time to watch the platform sink into the fire.

Imagine you are playing Tetris and all of a sudden you figured how to walk away from the endlessly falling shapes and go to the castle. That just happened.

The voice tries to hide its alarm. It tells you to stay calm. That someone will come and “collect” you. You aren’t really listening anymore. You did something that simultaneously was the only thing you could do and exactly what you weren’t meant to. This isn’t a puzzle game anymore. Testing ended; play continues.

Above you, way above you, you spy a maintenance shaft and a small hole in the mesh. You see where portals might be placed so to propel yourself into the shaft, into the area between the test chambers. You place the portals and jump through. This isn’t a puzzle game. Oh no. Not anymore. This isn’t how it ends. This is how it begins.


Moments: No Russian

No Russian

Illustration by Hannah Groff http://dribbble.com/HannahGroff

[Videogames are about the instances when player, machine, and code meld together in a formless dance and produce something meaningful. Something memorable. An experience. A moment.]

You not entirely sure what your colonel was alluding to while he debriefed you during the loading screen of Modern Warfare 2’s third level. You do know you are going undercover to infiltrate a terrorist cell of ultranationalist Russians (always the Russians) to get close to their leader, Makarov. Your CO says “You don’t want to know what it has cost already to put you next to him.” But what does he mean when he adds, “It will cost a bit of yourself.”?

“But that is nothing compared to what you will save.”

So the level loads. The mission begins. First there are the sounds: a bag unzipping, the hum of machinery, ammo being clipped into guns.

Then the visuals fade in. You are in an elevator with three men. Each is wearing a Kevlar vest over their suit. Each is holding a rather large machine gun. Maybe you are surprised to see that, in fact, so are you. But probably you aren’t. After all, the point of the game is to shoot people, right? You move your crosshair over the one directly in front of you and his name pops up as is common for your allied companions: Makarov.

Makarov looks at you. “Remember,” he says. “No Russian.”

You wonder what me means by this as the lift doors open and the four of you walk out.

You are in an airport. A Russian airport. You are confused. This isn’t a Middle Eastern battlefield or a Russian castle full of commandos. This is not the kind of place you are used to shooting people in. The crowds queued at the security checkpoint don’t notice your group at first, but then the three men open fire.

Maybe you open fire as well. Maybe you roll your eyes and laugh at the very idea of a Modern Warfare game trying something this serious. But you know what? This isn’t about you. This is about me. I didn’t open fire. I sat there on my couch, with my controller in my hand, trembling. Unable to pull the trigger that would fire the gun at the civilians now running, screaming, and dying. I’ve fought waves of faceless soldiers. I’ve run over pedestrians by the city-full. I have built rollercoasters deliberately to send their passengers hurtling into the side of a mountain. Implicated in a massacre? That is something I have never been.

Bodies litter the ground. I follow the three men through the security gates as they beep and flash futilely. An injured woman is dragging herself away by her arms. A man is on his knees, begging. Makarov’s men mow them down.

We follow Makarov up the escalator and through the duty-free shops. More crowds. More firing. More screaming. The screaming is the worst. It just doesn’t stop. If I try, I can here the exact screams of that level in my mind. The problem is getting them out again.

“Run, you idiots!” I plead at my television screen. Why is that one not running? Why is he staying near that corpse? The men shoot him.

A cop jumps out from behind a wall and I shoot without thinking, dropping him. It gets easier, then. Not easy. Just easier. I have to shoot, surely, or else Makarov will get suspicious. I spray bullets past the fleeing, screaming people, deliberately missing. Occasionally, I shoot the injured. The other men will kill anyway, I justify to myself.

It’s horrifying. Absolutely horrifying. As we progress through the airport, I can’t run. The game forces me to walk, to move slowly past the ocean of corpses I’m implicit in. I keep repeating the CO’s line to me. This is nothing compared to what I will save. This is nothing compared to what I will save.

We move onto the runaway and, finally, face targets that shoot back. Russian SWAT. We fight out way through. The terror has been caused. Now we must escape.

We lose the SWAT through a fire escape into a side room. There is an ambulance waiting for our escape. The first man jumps on and helps Makarov up. He chuckles. “That will send them a message.”

Makarov turns and takes my hand to help me up next. “That was no message,” he says and shoots me in the head.

That is the message.”

The ambulance drives away as my character lies dying on a Russian runway. As the SWAT run up, ambivalent of the fleeing ambulance, I think about what just happened. The entire attack was staged just to leave my corpse amongst it. To have the Americans blamed.

I feel like throwing up.

Over the following stages, full-scale war breaks out between Russia and America. America says it is because they were framed by Russia for the attack. Maybe that is true. But as I fight the Russians through a variety of other playable characters, as I protect Washington DC, suburban streets, and fast food chains from the vengeful invades, there is no denying it: I was a part of that heinous crime. It cost a bit of myself, and I didn’t save a damn thing.

Some post-IGF suggestions, now that you’re hooked

Artwork by Porsha Marais www.porshamarais.com

Last time around, I promised I’d suggest a few cool indie games you might enjoy as you discover the ridiculously huge world of gaming. Amusingly enough, I had no idea The Edge was teaming up with IGF for their own awesome games event, so a few of of my choices are in the program. Fortunately, I can think of many, many others that are more than fine substitutions  as well as additions to your growing games library. Here are three you can grab NOW and two that are very promising works in progress. Continue reading

Risky business: Subtext in gaming

Illustration by Zac Smith-Cameron http://iamzac.deviantart.com/

Before you start, you might like to read Part 1 of Jasmine’s discussion of subtext in gaming.

Despite the ability of subtext to enrich games, its inclusion is often neglected for two main reasons: it is simply forgotten and it is risky.

In the first instance, today’s increased emphasis on a game’s mechanics, rapid prototyping and reiterations, story often becomes a secondary concern. This itself is not a bad thing – but it does mean that it is easy to be well into production before the game’s story is fully fleshed out – and that makes it extremely hard to retroactively create subtext. Afterall, you must have figured out what it is you want to say explicitly, if you want to be able to whisper it implicitly. That is most easily achieved if you have planned the story ahead of time and are able to communicate it to all of your team (so that each member can craft their contribution to implicitly support the narrative ) – but it does require a strong shared vision and perhaps even a sense of authorship among the team.

Secondly, subtext is often neglected as it too much of a risk to implement – both creatively and financially. Subtext asks that players bridge conceptual gaps – what happens when a player doesn’t or can’t do that? It can leave a player confused and unsatisfied.  It can be especially problematic if you wish for players outside your language/culture to understand the subtext you created, as metaphors and symbols can take on entirely new meanings in other cultures, rendering it impossible to understand or worse still, creating unintentional subtext. I have heard anecdotes about how one studio was forced to increase the amount of fingers of its cartoonish game’s character models for a Japan localisation, as less than five fingers is often associated with the yakuza – a case of accidentally creating subtext.

If the player does miss out on the subtext, it can also mean that hundreds of hours embedding narrative elements into the art and design was wasted – and time equals money. This makes relying on subtext an inherently risky prospect. For the risk-averse AAA studios, this makes developing subtext laden games an unappealing prospect, especially since it is impossible to quantitively measure the financial returns subtext makes for a game.

So, how can we easily create subtext in our games? A few ways that I have discovered in my limited experience:

  1. Plan early – Encapsulate a central message or feeling that you wish to convey. Discover this as early as possible, so that all your design/art/code decisions can all be made to further your message. Try to keep your message as simple as possible – it’s easier to convey and players are more likely to tune into your message.
  2. Show don’t tell – Does the player need the world background story to play the game? Is there a way for the player to know a character’s internal grief, besides being directly told? Always ask yourself: is this necessary ? Is there a way I can imply this to the player instead of directly telling them in a pop-up box? Try to limit using text as an exposition crutch. Find other ways to feed the information to the player.
  3. Lie to the player – GLADOS from Portal is a great example of this. It forces the player to really think about what they’re seeing/hearing.
  4. Rely less on traditional visuals – One of the fantastic thing about making games is that our palette includes so many things: 2d/3d graphics, text, sound fx, music, vfx, code, etc etc When designing it is easy to forget about all the tools at our disposal. It’s possible to setup some interesting dissonance for the player by using conflicting elements (ie cheery music during a morbid scene). If you can’t find a way to imply something visually, try a different element to imply it.
  5. Embed meaning into every asset – try to make sure that every asset in some way supports the message/feeling that you want to convey.
  6. Consider your audience – a subtextual reference to Icarus is probably going to go over children’s heads, but one to Red Riding Hood would probably be picked up on.

Creating subtext is hard work, but it creates richer, better games and is the great trick of creating works that have the potential to be true classics.

Subtext: Making games better

Illustration by Zac Smith-Cameron http://iamzac.deviantart.com/

A common complaint among today’s game players is the quality of stories in games. I believe that it isn’t the plots or character development that is lacking, but the neglect to include subtext that creates inferior narratives.

Subtext is what we imply to players; what lies unspoken beneath the surface. It is the implicit content of a story; the thoughts and motives of characters; it uses metaphor to explore subjects instead of dealing with it directly (see Animal Farm or Bioshock). It is what compels people today to still be discussing Shakespeare’s plays, Kubrick’s films, Orwell’s novels, etc. It allows the player to feel ownership of the narrative via ‘their’ theories of the story (see discussions of whether the cake is truly a lie in the original Portal); but most importantly, it elevates a game from one that is fun, to one that also will resonate with you long after you’ve finished playing.

Bioshock could have been just another shooter in a sea of FPSs, but its clever examination of Objectivism and exceptional use of mis en scene elevates it above the pack. While Bioshock does cheat a little with the audio ‘diaries’ the player finds loitered about, it is mainly through examining and observing the world around them that players are able to piece together the narrative. Interesting questions arise when you stumble upon a corpse strung up to resemble a crucifixion, with “SMUGGLER” scrawled behind and boxes of bibles at its feet.

When faced with such questions or narrative ‘holes’ a player will either attempt to answer, ‘fill in’ or simply be confused; either way the player presses on further into the game to confirm their theories or to try to resolve their confusion.  Ideally, the game will never fully resolve all of its unanswered questions – after all, once a story becomes explicit there is little to discuss or think about. Some games such as Braid or Aquaria, I believe, very effectively offer additional pieces of story for the player (in exchange for completing ‘hard mode’ tasks), which don’t tell everything, but instead allows the player to refactor their thoughts and enrich their understanding of the narrative.

Even smaller, simpler games can benefit from an injection of implicit narrative. Consider the game Canabalt; with its superlative one-button mechanics, it has spawned hundreds of derivatives. While many are good games in their own right, I’ve yet to see one that matches the narrative depth of Canabalt. You never learn exactly what the man is running from in Canabalt; only see glimpses of hulking machinery in the background and know that it is frightening enough to cause the man to fling himself through windows and to ultimately die trying to escape it.

While it is still too early to say for sure, I believe that Canabalt’s layers of depth will ensure that it will still be played and discussed in ten years time, whilst its descendants will be all but forgotten.

Enjoyed this article? Read the second part of Jasmine’s discussion of subtext in gaming.

Beyond the edge of the screen

Illustration by Bec Todd

Illustration by Bec Todd www.bectodd.com

Here in 2011, say the word ‘game’ to people and it’s likely they’ll imagine some sort of digital and screen based experience. Whether it’s someone playing an Xbox or PlayStation game curled up on their couch, or a quick burst of Angry Birds on public transport, games have come into their cultural own through the mix of technology and art that have given us videogames.

This screen-centric view of the world is perhaps not that surprising when you look at the world that videogames were born into; one where film and television were the dominant entertainment industry on the planet  and one in which many contemporary game creators grew up.

With both of those things as constant pressure, is it any wonder that we frequently hear of games trying to be interactive movies or cinematic? Is it any wonder that when some filmmakers turn to critique games, they say that games can’t tell stories therefore are inherently a less worthy?

Telling stories is worthwhile, but if we use that as the benchmark for what is and isn’t worth creating, then we’re missing out on a whole range of human expression that doesn’t tell stories, and doesn’t feel the need to either.

Theatre, dance, music, visual art, and literature, all have a lot to teach us about how to create unique game experiences, as well as connect to our audiences in ways that building on a screen-driven or cinematic way of thinking can’t.  For example, a piece of theatre can construct its own internal grammar through the layout of the space, the sense of the abstract versus the concrete, the way it works to draw attention towards points of interest while never being able to entirely control the audience, and the way it engages with the audience’s imagination to fill in blanks deliberately left in the production. Dance is very much about form, about through the action and reaction to musical stimuli, and using physicality to express emotion and experience. It is about space and movement rather than about narrative or story. Music is about repetition, rhythm, assonance and dissonance, about expectation and harmony. Visual art is about form and composition, about scale and colour, about texture, and line and shape. Then, finally there is Literature which has long upheld the techniques of metaphor and structure.

The wonderful thing about all of the above is that videogames are at a point where they can draw from all of them, creating a whole world beyond cinema that’s just begging to be explored. New technology such as motion control lets us borrow from physical art-forms like dance; touch input lets as draw from tactile art forms like sculpture or painting; a leap back to older adventure games lets us exploit the metaphorical strengths of literature while creating contemporary experiences; pervasive and physical, almost theatrical, game design uncovers fascinating mixes of rules and fictions that draw players into real world interactions with powerful consequences.

It’s an exciting time to be a game developer. There are free middleware and tool solutions, tutorials and assets online, but most importantly a worldwide audience looking for unique and captivating experiences. Looking beyond the edge of the screen is one way of finding out what those experiences might look like.

Diversity in Games

Games are powerful mediums that allow designers and players opportunities to explore interesting and meaningful experiences. Serious games do this by raising awareness of serious issues and representing ideas and experiences of minority groups. Art Games is a label used to describe games that offer representations of ideas and experiences but use these to generate introspective responses from players.

Designers can tackle ideas like love, sexuality and grief through innovation, emotion, cultural associations and challenging player perceptions. These games allow designers to experiment with elements like mechanics, narrative, aesthetics and themes to explore and expand games as a medium.

Experimentation and exploration with games as a medium is about discovering new storytelling methods, challenging our thoughts about immersion, becoming comfortable with presenting strange concepts and ideas, fostering creative environments, exploring different perspectives and cultures and engaging with the human experience.

Striving to encourage creativity and innovation won’t destroy existing games – instead it can offer designers and players different experiences to enjoy and value. Games are unique as players choose their own actions and can have different experiences with the same game. Creating diversity results in a wider range of better games and design choices.

There are a multitude of under-represented roles and narratives that could be utilised. It has been proven that the gaming community is not what the public perception believes it to be so the games we produce should reflect and engage this evolving population.

is it time? asks “is life worth living if you have nothing left to live for”? Players control and decide the fate of an elderly woman who is mourning the death of her husband. The game is designed to generate emotion and thought from the player about life issues. Home also looks at the lives of the elderly but by forcing players to confront the issue of managed care.

The Stanley Parable, Dear Esther and A House In California are interesting games that experiment with narrative and gameplay to engage players. These games may also challenge players’ views on what a game is.

Increased development and interaction with unique and interesting games encourages the industry and players to give these games a chance and challenge the common conception of games as strictly entertainment objects. If designers and players can challenge and change this perception, games can be taken as a serious medium for delivering powerful messages, engaging experiences and encouraging thought, discussion and action about serious issues.

Making a stand will encourage the industry to improve development of games by looking for alternative audiences and uses for games, increasing chances of experimentation and handling games and content with innovation, creativity and care. It’s important for the industry and players to help games grow as a medium which allows them to learn and understand what games can do.

Interested in learning, discussing and developing games as a serious medium? Extra Credits is an excellent source for players and designers. To learn more about the problems of serious game design and production, look to Matt Ditton’s talk on his experience with Alternator, serious games and the games industry.

Communicating with Serious Games

Serious games have been defined as a game whose primary function is something other than entertainment. Educational, training simulations, rehabilitation, art and propaganda are variations of this concept. Serious games are not just educational tools, they can provoke thought and action in their players through player choices, context and gameplay.

Designers create these games because they have a message or an experience they wish to share with an audience. Serious games is a broad genre that covers games that designed to teach users particular skills and impart information, experiences that offer different perspectives and challenge our preconceptions of issues, events and ourselves.

Why achieve this with a game? As Bryan Moses demonstrated with Alternator, games are valuable educational tools that can help change behaviour and thinking. A serious game is not just about the education of the player, it also involves the education of the designer. One of my university group projects was to create a game that provoked discussion about climate change.

One of the earliest problems we had was lack of information about the topic, from its causes, solutions and the arguments surrounding climate change. We also had to balance fun, game play, information overload and avoid preaching to players. These factors can influence player engagement and response; an overload of information can bore the player while skimming over the issue detracts from the game’s message.

A game becomes an effective medium at delivering a message if it has been designed to keep players engaged and treats its players, concepts and itself with respect. Creating and playing games that have these qualities helps create better and more diverse choices for players and designers. Developing more of these games can raise awareness of issues like the effects of climate change, mental illness, historical and political issues and events.

The following games were created to communicate ideas by challenging players’ biases of ideas and through respectful treatment of topic. These are examples of designers who sought to raise awareness by focusing on the concerns of minority groups.

Molleindustria‘s Phone Story is a mobile game aimed at educating people about the brutal realities that make up the mobile market by making them aware of their role as part of the troubled supply chain. Using a phone to deliver this game helps consolidate the game’s purpose, critique its platform, provides commentary on the mobile industry and changes the perception of its users.

Escape from Woomera (EFW) asks its players to engage and question the issues surrounding detention centres by placing them in the shoes of a asylum seeker detained at the Woomera facility. EFW is aimed at empowering players to confront the issue and encourages them to form their own opinions.

Games like these also prompt minority groups and aid organisations to consider different outlets for representation and communication. Their issues and serious content can become accessible to a broader audience through games.

Not all games can highlight all the information and viewpoints that concern serious issues. Balancing accuracy, information biases and tone is a difficult task for any designer. However, by playing and making these games, we can encourage different experiences to be told and created to avoid misrepresentation and misinformation.

The interactive qualities of a game make it an excellent medium for allowing designers to create engaging, meaningful and interesting experiences for players and providing the player with choices that can change how they think or causes them to reflect on decisions made. It is an empowering to design experiences which inspire players to learn, enjoy themselves and produce positive change.

Can a serious game save the planet? [Part 2]

I launched my game Alternator on the 29 of September. After two years in development it’s a very satisfying to know people can get their hands on the game.

Alternator is a futuristic online racing game made for the ABC. Its purpose is to inspire players to take an interest in clean and renewable technologies. But can a game really save the planet?… No. The game can’t… but the people who play the game can.

There is a growing belief that games have an important role to play in behavior change. The games for change festival this year secured Al Gore as keynote speaker, and the Game Developers Conference in 2012 has a strand dedicated to games for change.

Young players who love car racing games aren’t necessarily interested in researching clean energy solutions, but Alternator opens that world for them in a really fun and engaging way. The player builds their car with clean technology. By winning races, they gain a legion of supporters who invest money in that technology allowing the player to make their car even cleaner and more powerful. The game is filled with amazing facts, but also has links out to the real world of clean technology.

So far the response from young players has been incredibly positive. One girl even gave the game 1 million out of 10. (perhaps we should have made a mathematics game).

Being my first game it was a huge learning experience, however the learning curve is still arcing up. It turns out making a game is the easy part. Spreading the word is where things get really tough. I’ve realised very quickly that it’s not enough to have a really fun game, you need to let people know it exists.

Marketing. How do you successfully market a game?… especially as an independent. I don’t know yet. I’m still working it out.

We have hired a social media expert to help us with the Facebook/Twitter/MySpace push. This has been reasonably successful so far. In the first week we had over 1000 fans of the game, and four weeks later that has risen to 3,750. Hopefully that number will continue to grow, though we are waiting to find out player numbers from the ABC so it’s impossible to say how many “fans” are actually playing the game. If you’re an indie without the time, expertise or inclination do the social media yourself I would highly recommend hiring an expert. There are plenty to choose from. We used Hayley Benson from BensonMears.

What we haven’t been able to do yet is get is get reviews or articles in either online or more traditional publications. If anyone has some ideas or experience in this area I’d love to hear your thoughts about how to break through and stand out from the other games being reviewed and written about.

As marketing for the game continues we are looking at how we can grow the concept of Alternator. We have designed an amazing world and characters, which the game only barely scratches the surface of. “Transmedia” is the latest buzz word for having one idea across several formats. So as well as taking the game into apps for phones or downloads for consoles, we’re looking at creating educational supplements for schools, and even an animated series. All of these elements will help feed back to the game and build the audience for Alternator.

Einstein apparently said “The world we have created is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking” So you never know….maybe Alternator will inspire the thoughts of the next Einstein who will find the ultimate solution to our energy needs!