Thursday, September 21, 2006

Notes from a cruel puppet master...

... in which I post some of the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes machinations that goes into staging a public game on an epic (specifically, a Shakespearean epic) scale.

I'm in New York City for the next few days, doing final on-the-ground scouting and prepping for Saturday's big world premiere of Cruel 2 B Kind, the game of benevolent assassinations. Stay tuned to this blog post for updates on the puppet mastering!

Thursday... late

79 teams are registered to play. That is huge! We are seriously going to be a major ludic force to be reckoned with on Broadway. That number of gamers is going to make a big social impact on the game space. We expect to get even more players registered once the festival actually kicks off tomorrow. Therefore, I have spent most of tonight hacking our game algorithms to accommodate more, more, more players!

Originally Ian and I capped our system at a maximum of 100 teams. I had created algorithms for each number of teams, 5 through 100, that specify the number of weapons, iterated how many times each, for every conceivable number of alive teams at any given time. For instance, a game with 88 teams begins with 11 weapons assigned to 8 teams each; 90 teams begins with 10 weapons assigned to 9 teams each, 42 teams begins with 7 weapons assigned 6 times each, 29 begins with 1 weapon assigned to 29 teams, and so on. I like these diverse patterns for a bunch of reasons, but mainly because it means the game is different each time it's played depending on how many teams there are. A game with 1 weapon deployed by all teams requires great stealth; a game with 23 weapons assigned to only 1 team each requires luck, observation and strategy.

However, to keep things interesting and provide a range of gameplay experiences with a single game, and most importantly to ensure that each team has surviving targets and hunters at all times, I created algorithms for reassinging weapons from scratch. So a game with 88 players resets at 69, 44, 34, 16, and 7 players. Each of these resets deploys 23, 11, 17, 8 and 7 new weapons, respectively, to 3, 4, 2, 2, and 1 players each.

Anyway, I've been creating these algorithms for 101 - 150 teams tonight so that if registration keeps going up, we can accommodate even more players!

Thursday, even later

Now with room for 150 teams, I had to generate 50 new "kill codes" to add to the current database of 100. Kill codes are the unique codewords each team surrenders when they are assassinated. The attackers text the kill code to our game system to receive points and update the game to know which teams are dead.

The secret of our kill codes: each word is taken from the original text of Hamlet, since it was he who first spoke the phrase "cruel to be kind." You would be surprised by how few short, non-homonym words appear in a Shakespeare play. (Need to be non-homonym so teams shouting the codes are understood clearly and specifically by their killers, need to be short to allow for speedy texting!) It's all "lord" this and "woe" that. But I love the subtle texture it adds to the game!

Thursday evening, earlier

Fielded calls and emails from all kinds of press today, from MTV to the Finnish Broadcasting Company to the Villager, one of the oldest local neighborhood papers in the city. The more people who find out about the game, the better--because anyone who hears about it can sign up to run their own C2BK event!

Thursay afternoon

I've been scouting local bakeries and groceries for a good deal on self-catering supplies for our post-game assassins' picnic and awards ceremony at a secret location in Central Park. It's difficult to figure self-catering for upwards of 150 players! However, I think I've found a solution: mini cupcakes and lemonade. Yay! Also, I found cookies that look exactly like the daisy bullets on our C2BK logo and website. So I will buy a bunch of those, even though they are fancy and expensive, because they are too perfect not to bring along!

Friday Afternoon

Brainstormed levels of top assassins awards with some of the festival volunteers today. They were a great help-- and I can now proudly reveal the official levels of honors it is possible to receive in the game! In order of ascending awesomeness, we have Mad Assassin, Bad Assassin, Super Assassin, Elite Assassin, Extreme Assassin, and Ultimate Assassin!

Lots more interviews today... BBC Radio and the Village Voice were highlights...

My mom is coming into the city to play the game as an innocent bystander! I love that the game is mainstream enough for my mom. I also love that the game affords casual participation as someone willing to hang out in the game space and be attacked with kindness by the actual, registered players.

Friday night

Turnout at the opening night reception downtown was fantastic-- a packed room all night long, hundreds of folks, many familiar faces from Gamelab, Eyebeam, Glolab, MIT, NYU ITP, GDC, and so on... but even better, many totally unfamliar faces from the general NYC public! So exciting to see first-time reality-based gamers trying their hand at everywhere play.

...met folks who had flown in from as far as Mexico City and London to play Cruel 2 B Kind. I can't wait to give them a great experience befitting of such extraordinary efforts to be here for the game!

Meanwhile earlier tonight we hit 101 teams registered. Has there ever been a public pervasive game with that many teams in NYC? I think we are a first!

Ian finally got in from Atlanta, so tonight we're holed up in our room prepping and running a final test of the system from Starbucks (where we'll be puppet mastering the game live tomorrow) just to be 100% confident for tomorrow!

Saturday morning

It's raining in New York City today! That will likely have a bit of an impact on the turnout for the game... although at this point, even if half of the registered players don't show up with their cruel umbrellas, we'll still have a superabundnace of live assassins... we're up to 110 confirmed teams for today's game.

MTV will be here in about twenty minutes to film a special elite assassins orientation for a few teams I recruited yesterday for extra-special training.

Randomly, I am wearing a shirt that PERFECT matches the shirt the girl in our C2bK logo is wearing. I will flickr this later as evidence of my extreme fashion commitment to embodying the game! :)


Leonard King said...

Looking forward to hearing how it all goes. I'm glad you're keeping a journal of the event. I'm sure there'll be a lot to learn from the experience.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating. I was wondering how long it would take if there were 1 weapon per team because it would take forever to find the right victim. This will make things go much faster. But changes how I'm going to approach the game. I'm looking forward to the game tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Good luck! I hope you get some interesting and memorable surprises! :-D