Saturday, March 05, 2005

Another 5-day Workshop on Interactive Narrative for Sagas

Munich, Germany

Sagas logo I grew up loving London's Underground -- one of the oldest subway systems in the world, with its tubular tunnels and its brilliant map. But having seen Munich's, my loyalty is severely tested. The London Underground is showing its age: small platforms, horribly crowded cars, numerous stairs, and hot, dirty stations. Munich's U-bahn has enormous stations with escalators almost everywhere, and big, comfortable trains. In fact, they seem about the same size as regular trains. The track and acceleration are both smooth, and extraordinarily, the whole thing seems to run on the honor system -- no guards watching, no barriers to queue for. You simply punch your ticket with the time and walk in.

I was in Munich this week to teach a five-day workshop on creating interactive narrative for the Sagas "Writing Interactive Fiction" project, which is funded by the EU and run by the Film and Television Academy in Munich. I did this last year as well, in Karlsruhe, Germany, but that was a fluke -- it was supposed to be in Munich but the space wasn't available.

I had never been there before, and unfortunately, I didn't get time to see much of it. Snow fell heavily and footing was just as treacherous as it had been in Sweden the week before, which made me glad of the U-bahn. Fortunately my hostess, the small and feisty Brunhild Bushoff, had bought me a week-long "go anywhere" ticket. But I was too busy with the workshop to see much of the city.

We had an interesting mix of people: British, Danish, Portuguese, Italian, and of course German. They devised a series of games from the eminently practical to the frankly bizarre (a real-time strategy game in which birds destroy the human race). And when we weren't working on game design, we were eating enormous (and occasionally rather heavy) German meals and drinking liters and liters of German beer together. It was a great time, albeit tiring, and as before I got rather tired of cigarette smoke. But some of the work was genuinely inspiring, and many of the attendees displayed real talent.Now that storylines are turning up in so many genres, I shouldn't have been surprised that many of the participants chose to leave traditional adventure games and incorporate stories into other kinds of gameplay. These were the games the four teams created:
  • Love and Cruelty: From the Favelas to Ipanema Beach. This was a hugely ambitious game that combined adventure game elements with a dance game and probably other mini-games as well. The favelas are Rio de Janeiro's notorious slums. The player takes on the role of either a down-and-out man or woman in the favelas, and tries to become a hip-hop king or queen.
  • Johnny Tallend, an action game combined with a romantic comedy (or was it a tragedy) about how a small person believes the only way to win the heart of his ladylove is to become a super-hero. So he does, taking on many exciting challenges.
  • Revenge of the Twin Witches, a classic puzzle-solving adventure game in which the player has to use exploration and political manipulation to bring her twin sister's killers to justice. This was the most thoroughly worked-out and commercially-viable concept.
  • Nevermore, a strategy game in which birds take over the world by killing off humans in a variety of ways. Different birds have different skills -- parrots, for example, are the only ones that can talk to humans -- so part of the game is about choosing your troops to win the particular battle at hand. Nevermore had a wry and twisted sense of humor. Secretary birds are responsible for looking after other birds whose job is to memorize and record important events; these latter are known as duckuments!