In my last post, I discussed the location-based augmented-reality game Bram Stoker’s Vampires. I outlined the basic game concept and discussed how locations that were relevant to Stoker’s life as a student in Trinity College Dublin were used for geo-locating characters related to his novel Dracula. One of the characteristics of the game that I didn’t get to fully discuss in the first post is its narrative structure. I will do that in this post and I will also explain the flexibility in the narrative structure that our game engine affords.
Location-Based Games are games in which the gameplay involves moving around an actual physical environment. The particular mechanics associated with this may differ significantly between titles, and can involve chase mechanics (such as Can You See Me Now? or Zombies Run!) or collection mechanics (such as Pac-Manhattan), territorial mechanics (such as Paranormal Activity: Sanctuary) and conventional fantasy RPG mechanics of combat, levelling and skill specialization (such as Shadow Cities). Despite the range of mechanics used, titles tend to be heavy on gameplay and light on narrative. The games we make at my game studio Haunted Planet Studios are different in their ambition in this regard, and in this and a few follow-up posts, I will discuss some of the ways in which we try and tell stories with our recent titles.
Our basic narrative unit is a case (as in a case solved by a detective), and each of the games I will discuss in this blog post series constitutes one case. A case takes place in its own universe with its own characters, backstory and plot development, but several cases can of course share the same universe. The case is also an important gameplay unit and corresponds roughly to a level or a quest in other games. When a player has completed a case, they have solved a mystery and feel a sense of satisfaction. During play, our game engine stages a case, either in a specific site (such as a historical site or a theme park) where we have picked the specific location for each encounter or in a randomized fashion where the player happens to be at the time. All the cases together make up an overarching story — that the world is full of ghosts, that Earth is a haunted planet.
Of particular interest in this photo is the building in the background — it is the Graduates Memorial Building (GMB) in Trinity College, which is home to two of the University’s oldest and most prominent student societies: the Philosophical Society (“the Phil”) and the Historical Society (“the Hist”). Bram Stoker himself was a student at Trinity College and served as President of the Phil and Auditor of the Hist, so it is of historical relevance that the player encounters one of Stoker’s characters in this particular spot. Although it is hard to see in the photo, the GMB also makes a terrific backdrop to a ghostly encounter and greatly adds to the atmosphere. Curious readers can explore the building’s exterior (by daylight) via the Virtual Tour.