Noah J Nelson on Tuesday, Oct. 9th
Continuing my notes from this past weekend’s IndieCade. Consider this a travelogue of time spent in the alternate, ludocentric reality of independent games. [Previously… ]
IDEA: Alternate Reality Games as Educational Tools.
The University of Southern California is one of, if not the most prestigious film school in the country. Yet with that prestige can come a bit of calcification. Institutions that were once the center of experimentation and disruption have a habit of becoming focused on the “right way” of doing things. It’s only natural.
Natural and dangerous when the media world is constantly expanding. The developers of Reality Ends Here (winner of the festival’s IMPACT award) were given the challenge of finding a way to shake up the experience of incoming freshmen to USC’s school of cinematic arts. To recapture some of that experimental spirit that earned the school its reputation in the first place.
What they came up with was an alternate reality game, based around a deck of cards, that put teams of freshmen into competition with each other to create projects, earn bragging rights, and face time with successful alumni and other USC film boosters.
Each card in the game has a point value, which can be added to other cards to create the project requirements. As the game unfolded, teams formed to create card banks and other alliances that both replicated and challenged structure found in the traditional studio system. Here the principles of play are used to rehearse for real life experience.
In some respects it reminds me of the way that nutritionists find ways to sneak in vegetables into school lunches. The students thin they’re just participating in a fun side-track from their hyper-focused studies, but in fact they’re learning valuable lessons about teamwork and resource management. Beyond that many of the cards feature media types that have nothing to do with film. This helps prepare students for an increasingly transmedia focused entertainment industry.
Reality Ends Here isn’t the only game that is taking lessons from the world of ARGs and even Live Action Role Playing games and applying them to education. It’s an idea whose time seems to be now, as the generation that never left their games behind become parents, and look to pass knowledge on to the next generation.
GAME: Chroma Shuffle
At first glance I thought Chroma Shuffle was some kind of iPod nano game. As it turns out the hardware for the game is the Sifto Cube, or to be more precise a set of the cubes. Small, lightweight, featuring a color screen and a fistful of sensors, the cubes communicate with each other wirelessly.
In Chroma Shuffle the goal is to match colors by putting one block next to the other. The trick is that once a few blocks are gone, all the others slide around on the screen, creating a fairly complicated twist on the matching game genre.
Older model Sifto Cubes featured a physical button, you can push the screen down to click in a choice. The newest edition features a simple tap-touch screen. I have to say, I like the clicky button type more. It gives an extra tactile dimension to the simple interface, harkening back to an earlier age of games.
GAME: Armada d6
From the start I wanted to get my hands on this game, whose back story is as interesting as it’s design. In all I got in one session of Armada d6 with some IndieCade demo volunteers. The first session of any board game can be a bit clunky, but aside from one player who seemed to have trouble figuring out strategy and another moment where we all lost track of whose turn it was– embarrassing– the game played very swiftly.
The game is still in prototype form, with a deck of tile cards used as a configurable game board, a deck of cards that modify gameplay, and with a command sheet for each player. The humble “d6″, or six sided die from which the game takes part of its name, act as both game pieces and as the central mechanic.
Players start with a set of three dice they can bring out onto the board. They begin by rolling each die: the number that comes up represents the type of ship. Higher numbers are fast, but weak. When two ships meet in combat each player rolls another d6 and adds that value to the ship’s value. Lowest score wins. Which means that slow moving “1′s” are the deadliest pieces on the board.
Each ship has a special ability: change type, free attack, move diagonally, etc. Each turn allows a player to use *one* of their ship’s abilities. The object of the game is to build monuments on the planets that are in the center of each tile. Every time you do that you gain the ability to put ships into play from that tile.
There’s little wonder why the game took home the design award: a simple set of rules leads to a rich layer of strategy. One of the demo volunteers explained that the game was similar to Risk: but the game board variations and speed of play mean that Armada d6 has a kind of ready replay value that Risk can often lack.
Designers Eric Zimmerman an John Sharp are hoping to find a publisher to help them take the game to market. As someone who would like to have a copy of my own at home, I’m wishing them the best of luck.