Play with a Purpose

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Game design for exhibitions. Presentation given at the Museums Association event on "Creating effective digital content event" on 15th March 2011

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  • The picture shows a complex exhibit in the Science Museum. Touch the pole and you get a 3000 volt electric shock
  • Games are for telling stories. That’s the most important thing I want to say today. There are some people who think that games in exhibitions are just for light relief, they don’t tell you anything. I think that’s really missing the point.
  • This idea that games can communicate messages isn’t new. This is a board game called the “Landlords Game” which was patented in 1924 by Elizabeth Magie She was a Quaker and the idea behind the game was to tell the story that capitalism can end up bankrupting the many and giving extraordinary wealth to one or few individuals. You go round the board buying properties and if you land on someone else’s property you have to pay rent. It wasn’t hugely successful but in 1935 Magie sold the patent to Parker Brothers who made
  • Monopoly. Which is the most popular board game ever made and has been played by over a billion people. So you see how games designed to tell stories can be very successful.
  • But, lets look at a example from a museum exhibition. This is “Merchant Adventurers Hall” which is owned by the “Company of Merchant Adventurers of York”. Here’s a game that we made to tell people what they did.
  • When you’ve played the game you should know all these things about the Merchant Adventurers
  • If we’re going design games for an exhibition it’s a good idea to decide what makes a game in the first place. Lots of people have had a go a defining what makes a game:
  • These definitions are rather abstract and not that useful when designing a game
  • So I’ve had go and come up with this. As you can see, it’s a loop with feedback which helps you make the next choice
  • This is very useful when we’re designing museum games because we can look at the content and try and find a feedback loop to make the game from.
  • This is Launchball which is probably the most successful museum game ever. It’s been played by at least 5 million people. It has a particularly obvious feedback loop. You move elements like this Wind Turbine into position and press the “Test” button.
  • Then a little ball comes out of this hole and if you’ve done it right it gets blown into the goal. If you haven’t done it right you move things around and have another go.
  • This idea of feedback loops has also been used by people researching physical exhibits. This is an exhibit created by the “APE” project at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. You have to race these wheels down the slope to see which one goes faster. All the wheels have different sets of weights on them. When you’ve tried two, you can then choose another pair and see what the result it.
  • Its also useful to compare games to other media
  • Here’s a passage from a novel. As you can see its telling us how the narrator feels. Books are good at expressing thoughts, they’re also very good for abstract concepts.
  • Here’s a still from the film “The Kings Speech” which has just won lots of Oscars even though its essentially two people in a room talking. Films are good for conversations. They’re also good for showing physical situations.
  • Here’s a clip from a game called “Mirrors Edge”. As you can see its very physical
  • And here’s another game called “Sim City”. You have to run a city. You make decisions about tax, transport and what to build. They all affect each other. Games are very good at showing systems.
  • So when we're designing games we should look for a physical aspect to the content. It may be possible to make games about religion or contract law but its always going to be more difficult
  • Here’s an example of games being about the physical. This a description of an industrial composting process which we were asked to turn into a game. Its very abstract, very impenetrable text.
  • So we concentrated on the fun physical part of the process which is driving the truck. The different parts of the process are represented by the different buildings at the top of the screen.
  • Most games have a protagonist. When you play the game you take their role. This is very useful for museum games because once we’ve identified the protagonist we can ask ourselves “ What decisions did they make?”. This gives a clue about what actions the player will take in the game.
  • Here’s an example. We were asked to make a game about an aviation pioneer called “Robert Blackburn”. There’s not much information about him but we do know which aircraft his company designed.
  • So we created a game where you have to design three different aircraft and make similar design decisions to Blackburn. Here you’re designing a jet aircraft and you can see what happens if you give it biplane wings.
  • One of the key issues with any museum game is how much content you can communicate. Game content is divided into two parts; the Message and the Background content.
  • Here’s a sample message. It should be a one sentence description of what you want visitors to get from the exhibit. Try not to make it something which they already know or is too difficult. Even so, you’ve only got one sentence so doesn’t that mean you can’t have much content?
  • This is where the background content comes in. That’s all the content you need to build the game “world”. So for this game we need to know what goods can be bought, what they look like, how much they cost, how much that cost varies. We also need to know what medieval York looked like, what the ships looked like and the maps. Even a simple game can need a lot of background content and usually the better the background content the better the game.
  • So how long will people play your game? Here’s some very, very rough figures. As you can see an exhibition game gets played for around 3 minutes so you need to be really concise.
  • We’re now got a good start on the things we need to write a brief to get someone to make a game. So to recap we need to know:
  • Play with a Purpose

    1. 1. Play with a purpose Game design for exhibitions
    2. 2. Who Am I? We specialise in creating digital exhibits for museums I run Joe Cutting-Digital Exhibits We also provide consultancy for large or complex projects
    3. 3. Games are for telling stories
    4. 6. The Company of Merchant Adventurers of York
    5. 7. The game tells you <ul><li>What did the original Merchant Adventurers did </li></ul>2. What they traded in 3. The places they went 4. What they did in the Merchant Adventurers Hall
    6. 8. So what makes a game?
    7. 9. Game design books
    8. 10. Game definitions “ a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude” Jesse Schell “ learning in a context where there is no pressure” Raph Koster “ A closed, formal system that engages players in structured conflict and resolves its uncertainty in an unequal outcome” Tracy Fullerton
    9. 11. What is a game of skill? <ul><li>The player is put in a situation </li></ul>2. The player makes a choice 3. The player receives feedback on that choice which may help with future choices 4. Go to step 2 and make another choice
    10. 12. Games have a feedback loop
    11. 13. Launchball Launchball
    12. 14. Launchball
    13. 15. An APE exhibit at the Exploratorium
    14. 16. Comparing games to other media
    15. 17. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger ” “ Books : good at expressing thoughts
    16. 18. Books : good at expressing thoughts The Catcher in the Rye J D Salinger Films: Good for conversation (and physical situations)
    17. 19. Games: Good for physical reality
    18. 20. Games: Also good for systems
    19. 21. Games are about the physical. Good for showing systems.
    20. 22. “ Active In-vessel Composting Phase”
    21. 24. Games have a protagonist Colonel Mustard from Cluedo Pacman
    22. 25. Robert Blackburn
    23. 27. How much content?
    24. 28. “ The Merchant Adventurers made their money by trading with other European ports” Message
    25. 29. Even a simple game needs a lot of background content
    26. 30. How long will people play? Exhibition game: average 3 minutes World of Warcraft ~ 150 hours Console Game like “Call of Duty” ~ 2 hours average Web game: 5 minutes to 1 hour Smartphone game: 5 minutes to 1 hour
    27. 31. Ready to write a brief 1) Message 2) Big chunk of background content 3) Possible protagonist and feedback loop 4) Duration 5) Fixed budget
    28. 32. More information Games: www.joecutting.com/play.php Advice: www.joecutting.com/advice.php Launchball: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/launchball Museum games: www.show.me.uk Industry: www.gamasutra.com

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