In the last post about Aachen Horror I stated one main goal of the project was to bring the same level of Immersion traditional tabletop RPGs provide into a location-aware application. I got some comments on that from friends and colleagues (sadly not directly on the blog :(), so here I’ll clarify this idea a bit.
Of course there are several constraints for this approach that narrow down the possibilities for Aachen Horror, some touch the setting, some the mechanics directly.
Traditional tabletop RPGs cover a vast number of genres: Science fiction, fantasy, cyberpunk, horror, and a lot more. They typically provide a pre-fabricated world that can be populated by the players’ fictional characters.
Players then imagine their characters moving and interacting with this world. Even LARPers do this in a way, they usually play at places resembling the imagined world as close as possible. When thinking about bringing such a game into the real world, and I mean that quite literally here, there is a potential clash: When the imaginary world differs too much from the real surroundings, immersion is probably hard to achieve.
It should be obvious that we will chose a setting that fits the environment to avoid such a conflict. Hopefully a modern scenario makes immersion into the game for the players easier.
In a way, this will also influence the style of the game itself. There are actions that players simply can’t physically accomplish. In a tabletop game, it is easy to pretend to be a fighter, but if the playing actually incorporates physical action rather than just imagining and describing said action, it forces players to stick with things they can perform. This goes even more for impossible actions, e.g. flying.
Social norms, will limit the actions even more. If the game included, let’s say, a wild chase of two players, they would be forced to run after each other in front of an audience that’s oblivious of the whole situation being a game. Referring to my other post I wish to bring back more child-like play, but I highly doubt this can be done with brute force. I bet people would feel odd running after another; it might even happen that someone calls the police, completely destroying the game experience.
To alleviate these problems the setting will be sort of rooted in the real world. From my experiences as a gamer myself, I decided to use a “Call of Cthulhu” like setting (taking place in present times, unlike the original game). The setting does contain supernatural aspects and mystery, but players take on roles of regular people. This is part of the general style of CoC scenarios: Normal characters are more or less coincidentally thrown into a plot. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because I don’t want to spoil the experience for future players.
The important point is that the general concept of the game’s plot and setting elegantly avoids problems that arise from playing it actually in a real world, modern city surrounding. Players don’t have to role-play characters totally different from themselves, constantly switching back and forth between themselves and their alter ego. Even supernatural or mysterious elements of the game don’t clash hard with everyday life: These aspects are usually depicted as “secret” and “hidden behind the real world” anyways and it is part of the atmosphere of the scenario that the general populace is unaware of these dangers (think along the lines of X-Files).
Of course what has been said so far doesn’t completely define the game’s plot. The point is that when designing anything like this, one os not totally free in terms of choices about plot, genre and atmosphere. I see this as a price that comes from “brining the game into the real world”. There’s a whole bunch more, but I won’t go into detail in this post.
For the actual plot, we are working together with Carsten Schmitt, an author for the German version of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. Since the story of the game is such an important aspect, we wanted to have a professional for that task. I hope there will be a lot of “cross-pollination” between us and him; we bring in technical background and design ideas, which he will then use for creating an enticing plot for the game while his ideas hopefully inspire us to look into new ways to make use of location-awareness in applications and design for “gaming interfaces that can be used in everyday life”.