As you may have noticed, neonascent has been buzzing about productive/educational games recently – I’ve spent too much time playing games that are totally unproductive. I can only imagine how much combined human effort is sunk into these computer games! More than anything, I tend to find myself playing just for the sake of advancing the storyline, so these last weeks I have been getting some design thoughts together for a storytelling game.

It’s about time I floated the idea to get some feedback and thoughts.

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Background

“Play Well Together” is a collaborative storytelling system. The concept is to provide a fun and compelling alternative to other games, and allow players to collaborate together to tell a story. Collaboration will be through contributing content, and voting on different aspects of the story, as a sort of online madlib. The format of the story I’ve chosen is a three act play, on the basis that this is flexible enough for most stories.* The plays would also be “played back” regularly, although in the style of early computer-game cut-scenes (i.e. subtitles for speech). A global countdown within the program will give all players an idea of the contribution deadline, and once it is up, the slate will be wiped clean, and a new play created.


The platform

I’m really aiming at Play Well Together running on a mobile platform, so that it can be played as an alternative to other mobile games. This is a design consideration which has informed the way collaboration is done, so as to reduce the amount of data swapping needed. Most collaboration will be mediated through a voting system. Content can be freely contributed, and votes cast to determine choices. A vote weighting policy will be worked out to make sure more recently contributed content is not ignored.

The platform will include tools for contributing content (including a rudimentary picture editor), voting, and the play viewer. I’m interested in working on a possible multiple-choice-based system for trying different alternative performances before voting.

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The Play Breakdown

The play is broken down into different discrete components to manage contributions and voting.

  • Character Roles – Slots for Protagonist, love-interest, antagonist, foil, mentor/guide, etc. will be available. Characters’ appearance will be editable.
  • Location – background graphics can be contributed.
  • Props
  • Dialogue and Action – action and dialogue will reference Role so that they are not dependant (i.e. “Protagonist hits Antagonist”)

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Wrap-up

I’m currently working on a very rudimentary prototype, running on mobile phones supporting J2ME. Hopefully when I have something for people to play with, we can get a feel for the dynamics and start to tackle the likely horde of tweaks needed to get it fair and fun. My benchmark for flexibility is to be able to perform a Shakespear play. For the moment the graphics is all going to be pretty retro chic, but it should still carry the narrative.

Let me know your thoughts on the plan, or feel free to offer your Java dev time! 🙂

*Plenty of prototyping and revision will be done, so – as with everything else – if this choice doesn’t work, we can change it.