To try a game prototype where the "map" depends on where you physically play, go to Amnesia Fortnight, pony up a few bucks, vote for "Buried Metropolis," and hope for good luck.
That's the skinny. Here's the long meandering story.
I've been attending Adventure Design Group lectures. Mostly, they've about pervasive-game/ARG/art stuff, but some of the upcoming talks sound like they'll wander a bit further afield. E.g., the next lecture (coming up on π day) is going to about a software platform to ease running ARGs. Since I'm not planning to run an ARG any time soon, but an upcoming-talk announcement last time caught my ear: Brandon Dillon and JP LeBreton of local computer game house Double Fine will give a talk in a few months. (I might have seen JP LeBreton in the audience during the talk in which those upcoming talks were announced. Maybe. Hey, it was dark, and I might not recognize a game designer by silhouette.) It seemed like an odd fit. Why those guys? It seemed like an odd fit. If you want some Double Fine nerd to give an Adventure Design Group talk, why not Paul Du Bois? He's at least played in a Park Challenge. I wasn't so sure about the beyond-the-screen qualifications of the folks actually signed up to give the talk.
I guessed that they might talk about Hack 'n' Slash, a computer game that fuzzed the "boundaries" of the game by encouraging cheating. I'd played a proof-of-concept prototype; you could play it as a straight-up game, but the game had come with human-readable source code for parts of the program, and it was easier to figure out what to do if you looked around and tinkered in that source code. So it could be a game that busts out of the "magic circle" of gaming… for that subset of the population that's comfortable looking at computer code. That's kinda in the Adventure Design Group mindspace, though I worry that only ~a third of the usual folks would see it that way.
When Double Fine figures out what games to make next, they go through a multi-week ritual they call Amnesia Fortnight. Employees craft pitches. A few pitches are chosen. There's a fortnight-long hackathon in which those few pitches turn into prototypes. If some of those prototypes feel fun, maybe they turn into games.
Double Fine has turned to crowdsourcing to figure out which game-ideas are worth turning into games. They didn't useta. But then a couple of years ago, they were thinking of making a game in the theoretically-moribund point-and-click adventure genre. It's the sort of game that nostalgic folks would say they missed. But it was hard to figure out if those folks-talking-at-that-party-you-went-to added up to a sizable audience of folks who'd actually want this game. They tried a Kickstarter campaign to simultaneously gauge interest and fund the project—and raised a few million dollars, wow. So now they seem to like using the crowd to figure out, y'know, what fraction of the global crowd might be interested in a game. (If that early experiment had had a negative result, would the Double Fine folks like the technique so much? Hmm. Anyhow.)
Starting with last year's Amnesia Fortnight, Double Fine has crowd-sourced the choosing of which game-pitches should move forward to become game-prototypes. This seems like a deft way to figure out which ideas capture public interest (which might hint at number of future customers). I bet it also side-steps the office politics that probably muddy such deciding. Last year, anyone could kick in a few bucks to participate in Amnesia Fortnight: you could vote on game pitches and get copies of the prototypes to play afterwards. That's how I came to play a prototype of that Hack 'n' Slash game: from last year's Amnesia Fortnight. I voted for some game ideas, including Hack 'n' Slash. After the hackathon, I had a prototype to play with, yay. (Well, I had a few to play with, but most of the winning ideas didn't interest me so much, so I didn't play them.)
Double Fine is crowd-sourcing Amnesia Fortnight again this year. There are game pitches up. You can kick in a few bucks, vote on ideas, and get some rough-but-fun prototypes to play with later. I'm doing it again this year. There are some neat ideas in there that seem like they could turn into fun games. Though you might not agree with me about which ones are the fun ones. (I like the idea of a game around virtual dim sum. But maybe that's just because most real dim sum's been no good for me since I've been a vegetarian. Who really thinks that turnip cakes need pork bits? No, really, wouldn't those bits be better off in some kind of, y'know, pork bun? Oh man I miss turnip cakes. Sorry, what were we talking about?) But BUT. If you read this blog because you're into the pervasive games-out-in-the-world thing, you might be particularly interested in one of this Fortnight's game ideas.
Buried Metropolis is a game—well so far it's a game pitch—in which the game "map" depends on nearby wifi hotspot addresses. If I tell the game about my neighborhood's local wifi hotspot "password is neoprene" and you're in the neighborhood, tell the game about that same hotspot, we should both end up playing on the same map. Someone in Chicago looking at some other wifi hotspot will see a different map.
There are many games out there where your character wanders around a landscape-ish map, occasionally bumbling into entrances to "dungeons," areas in which to go adventuring. Buried Metropolis seems like it could change this: maybe now the players will explore the landscape of the real world, looking for wifi hotspots whose addresses turn out to generate especially-handy maps.
It seems like there could be some ways to have the real world and the game world interact, depending on what a device "knows" about the local wifi hotspots. E.g., if my phone "sees" a wifi hotspot in the neighborhood, maybe that means I can explore the map associated with that hotspot. But what if I actually use that hotspot to connect to the internet? That implies I have some kind of control over the hotspot, right? I know its access password, probably. Maybe that implies my character should have boosted abilities while in that map. So in my neighborhood, maybe I could explore the map associated with the hotspot "password is neoprene" with a big boost; and similarly with the unlocked "ShyPanda-guest" but maybe not "ShyPanda", for which I don't have the password.
Yes, yes, wifi security is notoriously bad; you can use programs to crack it in no time. OK, maybe encouraging players to hack wifi security is a bad idea. Still. There's a nugget of an idea there.
What if the game challenged you to change the human-readable name of a hotspot to demonstrate your control? Like, you could play through the game; you encounter a character who tells you this map's magic word is "ossifrage". If, in the real world, you can change the human-readable name of that hotspot from "password is neoprene" to "password is neoprene not ossifrage" then the game gives your character a boost. Since "password is neoprene" is my box, I can change its name. But I can't change the name of "ShyPanda-guest"—it's unlocked so I can use it, but I don't have permission to change its name.
Does this idea pique your interest? It piqued mine enough to ramble like this. If you're interested, go to Amnesia Fortnight, buy some votes, vote for some games. If Buried Metropolis is a winner, maybe it'll turn into a prototype. If it turns into a prototype, maybe those Double Fine nerds can talk about it at the Adventure Design Group in a few months.