Monday, February 23, 2004

Swedish Game Design Workshop Tour!

Skövde - Norrköping - Visby, Sweden

Another big trip to Sweden, this time giving my game design workshop at three different universities. I flew from London to Gothenberg, where it was bright, cold and snowy -- I haven't seen a genuine snowy winter in many years. From there I took the train to Skövde, looking out the window at the glistening landscape and the frozen lakes. There I was met by Jenny Brusk, a lecturer at Skövde University. The following morning was less pretty -- it was snowing hard and an icy wind blew it into my face on the way to the campus. After some difficulties with a balky video projector, I gave the workshop to a big group of students, and had the pleasure of dinner with many of them at a nearby student hangout.

The next day it was on to the University of Linköping campus at Norrköping, again by train. I had already visited Norrköping late last year for the MUM2003 conference. Another workshop, another dinner with my hosts Peter Blom and Henric Joanson. This was a particularly small group, but we had a good time. Immediately after it was over I had to take the train to Stockholm airport and fly to Visby on a little propellor-driven plane, the first I've been on in some years. Even though they bounce around a bit, I still like them; it takes me back to my childhood.

Visby is the largest town on Gotland, and that's not saying much. Gotland is an island in the Baltic between Sweden and Finland, and a very popular summer resort for the Swedes, but still and quiet in the winter. The whole island has about 50,000 people, of which Visby is maybe 20,000. But it hosts the Interactive Institute, which despite its remote location, has the fastest 'Net access I've ever experienced. It also has an imaginative group of students who did a great job on their workshop. In addition to the students, some of the staff participated, and their game about being a Viking is one of my all-time favorites.

Craig Lindley was my host, and he treated me to a marvelous dinner after the workshop: all native Norse foods like reindeer steak. The next day I got a chance to walk around the walls of the old medieval city. Visby was once the largest town in northern Europe, when the sea-trade of the Hanseatic League was in full swing, and its medieval walls and churches are still standing, largely unspoiled by time and war. I've seen the walls at Chester and York in England, but Visby leaves them in the shade.

Friday, February 06, 2004

5-day workshop on Designing Interactive Narrative for Sagas

Karlsruhe, Germany

I just got back from giving a five-day game design workshop on the theme of narrative in games for Sagas, a media training program sponsored by the EU. Among other delights I got to meet Ragnar Tørnquist, Creative Director at Funcom and designer of The Longest Journey, one of the best adventure games ever made. (, I had suggested him as a co-teacher to Sagas, and he came for one extremely intense day. (He was afraid that he only had a couple of hours' worth of material, but with the students -- and me! -- pressing him for more information and insights, it stretched into a full day.) Best news of all: Funcom has started production on a sequel to The Longest Journey.

After Ragnar left we got started on some serious game design. I used lectures and worksheets to teach them about plot, character, theme, user interface, mechanics, dialog trees, and so on. Despite repeated warnings that narrative games are Not Easy, the class of 12 persisted in creating wildly innovative stuff. All three teams chose storylines that included darkness and danger, but avoided violence as a method of resolution. Emotion and character growth were central issues for all of them, and their games included such fascinating concepts as "Emoogles" (emotional goggles), a film noir detective fighting against the incarnated character flaws of a dead poet, and a branching storyline based on a moral quandary: facing a repressive government, should a man with a family fight or flee?

The work was exhausting, even for me who was mostly a mentor and facilitator, but by the end I felt exhilarated and inspired. It didn't hurt that we had a wonderfully imaginative group of people who all got along well. I've already promised to give another workshop if they want me to. Some of the ideas are discussed in a recent Designer's Notebook column.