Natural Language Dev Blog 01: Constraints

Natural Language, my new project with Braydon Beaulieu, is the first chapter in what is hopefully an ongoing series of games exploring the motivation of AIs and their interactions with humanity. Natural Language is meant to be both a stand alone mini-ARG and an introduction to a larger story.

Going into this project, I want to set four clear design constraints for the game:

  1. All in-game content must only be delivered from a single website and two email addresses.
  2. The game can be played by a single player (with help from the community) anywhere in the world.
  3. The playtime of the game will range from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how the player solves puzzles.
  4. A player will be able to start the game at any time and complete it at their own pace  it requires no outside input once set up.

I created these parameters for two main reasons: to make the game more inviting to new players of the genre, and as a challenge to my team. These constraints will only apply to Natural Language, and not future games in the series.

ARGs are a fascinating and deep medium, but this depth can be rather daunting for new players. The sheer volume of content and possibilities can quickly overwhelm newcomers and deter them from a game before the narrative has a chance to get them hooked. Furthermore, the time commitment involved in staying up to date with an ongoing ARG campaign can be too much for some players, who can quickly fall behind, and feel like they are only witnessing past events from the sidelines, rather than taking part in an evolving narrative.

I want to make Natural Language inviting to as many players as possible, and hopefully act as an introduction to ARGs for newcomers. The playtime and content delivery constraints will ensure that new players are not overwhelmed with the scope of the journey on which they are about to embark. My time at Alice & Smith also taught me the value of persistent ARGs  games that allow players to join, from the start, at any time. While Natural Language will have nowhere near the scope of an Alice & Smith game given the difference our studios’ sizes and resources, I want to invite newcomers into the experience in the same way.

From a design perspective, I’m excited at the challenge of working within these boundaries. I often have the urge to create a new website, social media channel, etc., just for one puzzle, only to cast it aside immediately afterwards. This can be distracting for the player, who has to learn about a new character or entity just to forget about them as they continue in the game. With the constraints of a single website and a pair of email accounts, we’ll be forced to consider reusing pre-existing elements in the game in new ways, and make players look twice at elements of the game they’ve already explored, and view those elements in a new light. The rest of our parameters will enforce this goal of creating deep content, rather than a world which is spread too thin.

Finally, I am excited to start an ARG project in such an open way. I want to share as much of the process as possible without creating any major spoilers for the final game, and invite others to join the discussion. Thank you for joining me on this adventure!

See you next week,

Patrick