Jul 232006

This weekend, I had the singular opportunity to sit on a panel with esteemed game designers Allen Varney and Greg Costikyan. A friend of mine was helping to organize the Texas Indie Game Developer Conference here in town, and signed me up to do my “game design improv” panel with a couple of luminaries. (Previously, I did this last year at… MilleniumCon, maybe(?) with James Ernest and Wes Jenkins.) I also do improvisational theater on the side (mostly with my troupe, Improv For Evil), and I’ve found that there are many parallels between the way we construct fiction on the fly, and the way that we construct game designs. So, to demonstrate this a little bit – and to have a bit of fun – we go before an audience at a game developer conference, take a number of suggestions from the audience, and design a game in front of them, in about half an hour. It’s a hoot.

Our suggestions/constraints this time were a very small budget, a year and a half development time, mobile platform target, something to do with World War II, and a target demographic of seventy years old and up. Whew. We eventually came up with a casual tactical/puzzle game game that would be built with a small team using open source tools, and sold and distributed on cell phones that are given out by our strategic partner, a retirement community. The game was a networked turn-based square hunt, where you had to help lead your grandchildren out of Nazi occupied France during the war, by hooking them up with resistance operatives and finding various items on the map, trading them between players and helping each other along the roads. I should have taken better notes – it could have actually been fun – but this is the nature of improv. Ephemeral. Big fun, and then it’s gone.

Anyway, it was a great experience, and I look forward to doing it again sometime soon. Yay game design, yay, improvisation.

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