I am freshly back from ARGfest 2009 (in Portland, OR), where I met a bunch of great people and learned so much fascinating stuff. Undoubtedly, ARGfest was a positive experience for both Tanner and myself. We were invited to speak on an Indie Game panel, which I will try post about later, but also to run a live event. While we had never run a live event of this magnitude before, I was super excited to give it a chance. I believe my design and our execution was pretty good, but I want to take a moment to reflect on it as to better future live game designs.
My main inspiration for the design of this game is a game called “Heartbreaker, The Lover’s Dilemma,” which was designed by Charley Miller and run at this year’s Come Out and Play NYC festival. I not only liked how the game was easily understood and fun to play, but I also enjoyed how the game encouraged out of game conversation and icebreaking.
“Built on a prisoner’s dilemma construct, Heartbreak challenges players to develop a strategy that involves elements of trust, backstabbing, and/or a mix of the two. Throughout the game, players will approach one another in front of a judge and they can do one of two things: find out if the other is the their true love match OR they can break the other’s heart. The player who breaks the most hearts AND finds their true love wins the game.” (Come Out and Play Website)
Since Must Love Robots’ Speed Dating event was to be held the first night of the conference I wanted to make a game that was highly social and not very competitive. The incentive of the game was to win by getting the most “Love Points”, but the embedded design was to lower your ambitions and to do goofy things with newly met strangers. To accomplish this game there were two separate levels of play.
This “program” was run on every robot/player as they entered the game. Each piece contained a puzzle or “encryption” that when solved earned the solving player a Love Point, meaning that they figured out the key to the other bot’s heart. The puzzles were specifically chosen to be simple and to cover many different types such as visual, rebus, word, logic, and abstract puzzles. In this way making it easy for everyone to solve. The goal was not to trick people, but to get them to simulate speed dating. However, rather than awkwardly talking to a stranger about during a dating session, the puzzle gave the players’ incentives and encouragement to interact.
Each player was also given two envelopes that contained mini challenges for him or her to complete with the date of their choice. These “sub-routines” could be opened at anytime and used once. The mini challenges were themed around possible character traits including nerdy, sweetie, conversational, or deep. The players were able select one of their choosing and then one randomly to spark spontaneity. I wanted to use the sub-routines to make the game have more narrative than the LOVE.exe would have alone and I feel that this was the most successful part of the game. The sub-routines were also a way to increase the player’s Love Points depending on how successfully the sub-routines were completed.
I think the game was overall a success. Although there are certainly a couple things that could be changed in order to make it work better in the future. Since there are two different types of play happening at the same time it makes it slightly difficult to explain. Although once people started playing they figured it out rather quickly. I also think it would have been more fun if each person had been able to create or select an individual puzzle for their LOVE.exe, this would have increased the player’s agency and immersion in the game. However, this would have further added to the difficulty of the games explanation. I had also originally thought that it would be a timed event and the player’s would switch after being signaled, but on the fly we changed the rules so that the players could move around as soon as they were done interacting with the pervious player. This increased the speed of the game and stops awkward encounters that could go on too long.
Maybe next time, I would like to try having a narrative structure set up in the envelopes and include times on the outside that would cue the player when to open it. This way the narrative could be told in a linear manner and possible create a grand narrative rather than a bunch of single ones.