Jotting Notes on the Ghost Patrol talk at GC Summit 2009

[I went to the GC Summit 2009, at which various folks talked about how they run The Game. I didn't take notes then, figuring I could watch the video later. So now I'm watching the video, specifically the video where Greg deBeer and Brian Mendenhall talk about the Ghost Patrol Game. And I'm taking notes. Mostly I'm just trying to paraphrase them. When it's me interjecting my opinion, I'll use [square brackets]. I'm kinda assuming that you already know about the Ghost Patrol game. My write-up of the game is not so coherent, but has links up top to some better ones.]

  • It's Greg! Mostly covering how Ghost Patrol handled some of the common issues that arise in GC.
  • Ghost Patrol was more of an interlocked series of mini-games than one big game. That was all part of the plan. It added up to 65 total puzzles. OMG!!
  • Goals: fun game. story-driven. players of all levels could enjoy it. Non-goals: keeping "top teams" blissed out.
  • GC had complementary skill sets. Technical, creative, production, logistical. But not so much on the puzzle-making. [Some good designers, but not many who were enthused about that part?] Also, no-one was into location scouting.
  • Part of the reason for walkish mini-games: SHaRC devices don't work very well in vans.
  • Skipping was a point of contention. Remember, we're not trying to bliss out top teams. We want the not-so-top teams to have fun.
    • Some people don't like being skipped. You get to the end of the game, folks are raving about some puzzle--which you didn't see. Hey...
    • But can you avoid skipping people? Probably not.
    • Can you use "bonus" puzzles instead? Again--these are just puzzles that not everyone sees.
    • Could we skip folks over one ghost, over one mini-game? Didn't want that either. Since there was a meta-game at the end, incorporating elements from all the mini-games, players needed to finish all the mini-games.
    • So what do you do?
  • The Ghost Patrol skipping system revealed: for each mini-game: team sees at least the first puzzle and the last puzle. Brian points out: kept the first puzzle and the last puzzle pretty simple.
  • Playtesting Greg playtested Paparazzi and Hogwarts. Playtesting is awesome! [true.] You feel like you're part of it. You're having fun. You're playing for free. There's less pressure, more fun--hey, if we can't solve it, it's probably Game Control's fault, not our fault.
  • If you plan to run a game soon, I recommend playtesting a game soon. Be part of the playtest process. Then volunteer during the game. See things from the inside. [Huh. Yeah, that seems like good advice.]
  • Ghost patrol playtests.
    • In addition to "living room" playtests, did two day-long playtests (3 ghosts each) and an overnight playtest (all 8 ghosts).
    • Not just puzzle feedback. SHaRC feedback, too. "It really sucks to use the SHaRC under these circumstances..." ["live" playtest versus "living room" playtest]
    • Brian points out: did one playtest really early. That was darned good, because that pointed out lots of things to change in the story mechanic--which was a big part [and big success] for Ghost Patrol. Greg says yeah we had people driving from one end of SF to the other, navigating by SHaRC. It was a nightmare.
    • Also good for deadline-driven people on GC! Gotta get this done by the playtest! Otherwise, meetings would have been more "Let's talk some more; let's see how we're feeling. Let's talk about skipping some more."
    • Didn't get so much hard solving data. Got kinda giddy watching teams have fun. Didn't note down times.
    • A playtesting team got stuck. Sometimes GC said "Yeah, well, other teams won't get stuck." [Sigh, me too.] Trust your playtesters. You're using them for a reason.
  • Were meeting twice a week for 6-8 months before the game. [Oy.]
  • It's Brian! He's talking about the Story, a big part of Ghost Patrol
  • Goals: Do something different! [don't dry to out-Snout Snout, don't try to out-Shintek Shinteki. Don't try to out-coed coed. Try something new.]
  • How to convey a story through puzzles? [This gets into stuff that people argue back and forth in computer game design plenty: what is the place of Story in games?] In most games, though the game is themed, when you sit down to solve a puzzle, it's just a puzzle. [Smart move on Midnight Madness: use a puzzle-solving story as your story.] Can we make it so that there's a story-driven reason that your team is sitting in a van decoding this thing?
  • In most games, stories and puzzles are tenuously connected. Teams are goal-oriented--so they ignore the story, concentrate on the puzzles. But if the story is conveyed through puzzle, then by golly teams will get a chance to appreciate that story.
  • (Not claiming that Ghost Patrol 100% succeeded in pulling the story in.)
  • Didn't go for a strong over-arching storyline. Part of the team is going to be asleep for some parts--won't be able to piece it together. Asking teams to remember something that happened 25 hours ago is mean.
  • Instead, did "world-building". This situation in which puzzle-solving captures ghosts.
  • Did have 9 self-contained stories/mini-games.
    • Easier to do theme for a 3-hour story than a 30 hour over-arching uber story.
    • Divvy up responsibility: not everyone has to agree on everything. Different people might have 'stake' in different stories.
  • Non-goal: make players role-play the story Some players really don't like it. We're a bunch of introverted xenophobes--we wanna grab our puzzles and retreat back to our van to solve.
  • Puzzles are part of story. Need to keep players immersed in story.
  • Ghosts were a good choice. They've been known to leave mysterious messages. Ghosts are open-ended. If this ghost knows Braille, no player is gonna say "No way would any ghost have known Braille". They're invisible.
  • Because Ghosts are "making" these puzzles, nudged GC away from paper puzzles, since ghosts don't usually use paper.
  • Slime collection--fits the game mechanic, but not super puzzle-y
  • Game up with a ghost's story first. That, in turn, suggested the answer words for the puzzles. This favors strong theme over strong puzzles.
  • Hard to write puzzles w/so many constraints. The theme constrains the answer word, constrains the way the puzzle might work.
  • Expectations. Could have pushed things further--but hesitated to go to far away from the canonical "The Game".
  • Making activities fit themes--argh.
  • Non-paper puzzles take so much more work.
  • Logistics--65 puzzles, many of which were planned for public space.
  • Questions
    • Rich Bragg Liked the game! [hey, a strong puzzle solver liked a game that wasn't aimed at the strong puzzle solvers!] Liked that tried new things! What was that about "Expectations"? What would you have liked to do, but held back from? Brian Can we have a game where we don't make teams drive? Can we have a game where, instead of solving puzzles, team infer things? How about a game where every location is somebody's house--not fun places?

      Original vision for game: Teams would pick up a dossier from GC. Dossier would send the team to a house, a haunted house. And maybe there'd be strobe lights and stuff. And eventually, teams would figure out that those things were actually puzzles. So it felt like you were in a haunted house, but really you were solving all of the puzzles all at once. All locations would be open all during the game [feasible if not so many sites need watching, I guess, as with folks' houses]. So GC could choose which house to send teams to based on which location is least crowded at the moment. BUT then a team would be obliged to solve all puzzles at a location, puzzles aren't skippable. Team doesn't necessarily want to sit in somebody's house for three hours. Teams might expect something linear, something racelike [but in this original plan, if I'm in the same house with the Burninators, that doesn't mean I'm fast.]

      So there's risk of creating something that teams won't enjoy. You spend a year of your life working on this game. How much do you want to risk?
    • Red Byer The value of real-world playtesting vs "living room" playtesting. : Yes. If you let a team solve under nice conditions, ok. But then you take another team, it's cold out, you shove them in a car with a couple of pencils that they have to find--and it doubles the time-to-solve. Brent Holman chimes in on that: if you're trying to figure out how long your event will take, that's not just solve time. There's also this intangibles category. That's the big difference between the fastest teams and the slowest. Some teams will never stop, they will pee out the window, they will bring all their food with them, they're just go go go go go. Other teams, they'll just go to a bar for a couple of hours, you just never know. Greg Yeah, we did our full-day playtests. But it wasn't until late in the process that we learned of "stupid o'clock". In hindsight, should have had more rough playtest conditions. But it's hard, you know, hard to put your playtesters through that. "Hey why don't you come over at 3 a.m. and solve this puzzle?" OK, so how did we think about timing? Consider how long it would take a team to crank through a puzzle if they got every "aha" instantly. But then consider: not every team is gonna do that on every puzzle, right? Wrong! Or rather, there's some team that's gonna do that, at least for a while. (someone in audience points out that frontrunners are nice, because they fix broken puzzles) Greg continues: Yeah, and we had Ian Tullis on GC, so we were thinking of standing him out in a field and having him make up puzzles for teams as they showed up. Brian You should have Ian Tullis on your GC.
    • Teresa Torres says on the Expectations thing: be transparent about what you're doing. If some team doesn't want to hang out in your house for three hours, they don't have to show up. Brian Yeah... but every single team would have signed up anyway. And, uhm, we didn't know what our gameplay mechanic was going to be yet, even as we accepted applications. Greg Yeah, we were figuring a lot of that stuff out. Teresa You could tell teams what you're talking about. E.g., tell them that you're talking a lot about story. Then they can make a decision. It's all about the players--that's the part of Curtis' letter that so important. Brian Yeah, I re-read that three months before the game and was "Oh yeah, right: the Players" Greg It's easier for experienced GC folks to be able to watch and describe what they're doing. We were mostly pretty green. David Mendenhall We tried to let our application process show what we were aiming for. We made it silly and creative. In hindsight, we should have said outright: this is what we're trying to accomplish. Brian Speaking of Expectations, though: GC normally isn't transparent. So we weren't transparent.
    • Sean Gugler How hard and expensive were the SHaRC devices to make? I ask because you guys came up with a really strong framework. I'd love to see another Ghost Patrol--even if you didn't run it. Greg OK, there's two aspects to this. Ghost Patrol as a "franchise" and the SHaRC. Jesse was our SHaRC master: Jesse Morris The SHaRCs ended up being around $150 each. The revision that you guys had--they had enough problems so that I didn't want to see them ever again. It would be a lot easier to make the second time--it took a lot of work the first time. I'd never done any industrial design before. The housing was actually more work than anything. But the electronics and everything... if I were doing it again--I'd want to do it differently. Brian Yeah, it would be easier to re-do than re-use. Jesse Morris Yeah, no, reusing it? It's glued together, if you want to change it, you'd need to pry stuff apart, get past some epoxy... David Mendenhall Yeah, our original plan at the end, we were gonna tell teams, OK, you're Ghost Patrol franchises, so go forth. Folks who want to run a Ghost Patrol, you're welcome to... we don't wanna. Brian Yeah, anyone wants to run a Ghost Patrol, we'd love to see it, we'd love to play.

Labels: ,

Ghost Patrol: It was awesome, yes

The Ghost Patrol Game was awesome. You just want to lock the creators up in a basement somewhere and force them to crank out more of these things. Uhm, but that would be wrong. Anyhow, there's a write-up; with photos stolen from Dave Shukan.

Labels: , ,

Link: Ghost Patrol Forums, Sort of

Meat Machine (well, the Bay Area team by that name) set up a "Ghost Capturing" part of their Ghost Patrol application: a social network for ghosts (and ghost sympathizers. I joined, but have encountered some anti-living bigotry. I think y'all should join and back me up... while respecting Ghost culture, of course.

Visit Lonely Souls

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Glasshouse

It's fun to walk up next to Rich Bragg when he least expects it, especially if you're dressed up in glow sticks to look like a character from the movie "Tron". You remember "Tron", that movie where the characters were all programs inside a computer. Well, some of those programs were human beings that had been scanned in. Sort of like an early version of that movie "The Matrix". Or like the movie "Glasshouse".

This novel is like the movie "The Matrix": it's a lot of fun, but if you think too hard about the premise, you think Hey wait, why did the bad guys need humans for this? Try not to focus so much on the plot. Instead, think about a world in which it's possible to upload your memories, to "back yourself up". What changes would that have on society? How would it change the way people think about immortality? Especially when viruses came along? Discuss.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Anansi Boys

I watched the no-more-secrets application videos that have been posted so far. I found the toy sharks very funny, funnier than I would have expected from the verbal description "well, there are toy sharks". I was impressed by the fire engine. But that's not why we're here today. We're here today because I'm still trying to clear out a backlog of book reports. Like this one for Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys.

Every so often, you're traveling in some city and you realize that the books you've brought won't last. They looked so substantial, but then you opened them up on the airplane and you notice that the margins are large, as is the typeface. And then you realize you'll need more books before this travel is done. If you're lucky, the bookstore you pop into will have a book as amusing as Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman. It's good. And it's ubiquitous. So you won't really feel bad about leaving it behind in a hotel room--you can always pick up another copy elsewhere.

Oh the book--it's a sequel to American Gods, another book in which gods don't so much walk the earth as creep around in the world's back alleys. The gods plot and our hero must unravel their plottings, twist those plottings around to his own ends, then untangle the results. Unlike American Gods, there appear to be many forces at work in this novel that don't rely on belief. There is a crazy bird lady, but I haven't noticed anyone worshipping a crazy bird lady recently, nor telling stories about one. Then again, maybe I'm not moving in the right social circles.

Labels: , ,

Book Report: Strange Itineraries

It's a book of short stories by Tim Powers. There are some good ideas in here--but then most of those good ideas got recycled in later novels. Uhm, and I think they work better in the novels. I enjoyed these short stories. If you like Tim Powers and you see this book in your local bookstore, you could pick it up and be happy. I don't know if I'd go across town to pick it up, though. I was across town when I picked this book up, but I was on another errand. But that's another story.

Labels: ,

Book Report: Sister Age

A collection of short stories, some of them autobiographical, by M.F.K. Fisher. I was not so fond of the Twilight Zonish ghost stories, but the rest were awesome. There was one story about going out in a little boat on Morro Bay and it talks about the fishing there, and the story is poignant. And there is a story about a quirky old man in France (which sounds like the formula for a horrible story which snobs pretend to like as they chuckle over "exquisite eccentricity", but really this was a loving description of an interesting character, so don't trust your first instincts upon your first reading of that description). There were stories about loss and grief, which were hard to take during a time when I was grieving over a couple of lost relatives, but they were good stories nonetheless.

Tags:  |  |  |

Labels: ,

Book Report: Innocents Aboard

It's a book of short stories by Gene Wolfe. There are some winners and some losers and some, uhm, averagers. It's Gene Wolfe, so even the averagers strike an interesting mood. I liked a ghost story called Houston, 1943 and a story called Wolfer.

Tags:  |  |

Labels: ,

[Powered by Blogger | Feed | Feeds I Like ]

home |