Agent // Operator is a Stealth/Hacking game for co-op players. With a focus on teamwork, one player plays as an Agent undergoing missions while the other player plays as the missions remote Operator. The gameplay focuses on the separation of physical and abstract/digital challenges that can only be surmounted through cooperation and communication.
To further develop the concept a number considerations had to be taken on board. Gameplay, setting, theme, aesthetics, narrative scope were all addressed in broad strokes with the initial prototype and refined further through the concept art, mind mapping and mood board phases of early development. Through the following series of experiments i was forced to disregard a number of ideas and take a close look at many aspects of the project we had either taken for granted or simply failed to consider.
- Paper prototyping Operator gameplay for player feedback.i made a simple board game version of the operators proposed resource management mechanics. The first version had players earning continuously and paying a fixed cost for each action, lending itself a very rigid slow pace, and a feeling of powerlessness for players as they were dependant on the rules to grant them more points each turn. the second version i allowed players to take back moves they had made in previous turn as free actions in their current turns (As a means of granting back points to the player). With the second version the players resource pool became far more versatile and dynamic, and literally doubled the amount of agency/potential moves at any given moment.
- Research Taxonomy of gamers by age demographic and cross that with genre demographic, to isolate what age groups are more interested in what types of play- (See -Presentation) Establish Cultural context, Explore the demographics for science fiction and dystopia in games and other popular media, establish cross section point. This experiment aided in helping us decide on our setting,informing our initial broad outline with tropes and themes that resonated throughout our established target audience. This was not entirely unexpected, but it was pleasant to have our assumptions reassured.
- Iips Independent, Interdependent Problem Solving Scale testing attempting to discover to what extent could these different problem solving styles be synergised or manipulated to increase/ decrease challenge difficulty and facilitate player interdependence in game.Initially i had intended this test to provide insight into mechanical and abstract problem solving styles, however its findings forced me to redefine the very core of the concept. Where i had began defining our roles by their problems, Mechanical or abstract, i was instead forced to define the core mechanics roles by their actions and interactions. The balance between the two is the fulcrum of the project. This testing process provided the raw statistical base for the balancing of our two game modes, how to balance the Independent/Interdependent gameplay and forced me to entirely reconsider how we viewed the Core Mechanic. This was a crucial breakthrough.
- Explore possibility of live action AR prototyping with classmates. using skype cameras and mobile phones.Though i still think this is a viable exercise, i let the opportunity pass me by, perhaps in the next phase of development.
- Explore what genres crossover with Stealth/puzzle/management both to meet expectations of play styles and see if other markets/ demographics can be tapped into, eg social gamers who like puzzle games/management games/ and pick up and play games. This lead me to discover that our planned gameplay rewarded achiever players and socializer players most, while almost ignoring Killer players, a very useful insight- one which in retrospect should have been obvious.
- explore incentives for socializers and achievers.Achievements, forums, community building, social media integration. Explore incentivising both roles ingame to meet some of the expectations for each of Bartles Taxonomy of Gamers.
- Determine accessibility of Concept by examining taxonomy of genre/age demographic vs taxonomy of other popular genres within this grouping, eg strategy, Mmo, Fps etc - Refined market information. should have been undertaken at the beginning of development.
- Compiled findings, assess their viability for integration into development re the criteria of project time management, technical requirements etc to inform changes in development.
From this phase a number surprising questions emerged, most notably the problems of defining our core interaction between players and the issue of setting.
In hindsight much of what was learned through the past phase of development should have been clarified by a much earlier date.Through the use of surveys, analytics, playtesting and research we were forced to confront flaws in our intended designs and through considering these issues bring the concept into greater focus and context.
A//O is based around modern day intelligence gathering practices, with a focus on the bi-cameral divide between Asset and Analist, our Agent and Operator. Set in the near future we explore a world where current social surveillance and information gathering systems have progressed to their neo liberal conclusions. Privatisation of Intelligence Agencies, blanket CCtv coverage, corporations selling vast amounts of user data to third parties. This is explored through the subversion and control of information systems such as phones, tablets, personal online information- social media, bank statements through the networks that manage them.
The cultural context can be defined under the following criteria:
- Globalisation of information Gathering. Companies such as Facebook, Google, Paypal, Skype to name but a few have all be found to provide user data to both governments and the private sector either willingly or unwillingly, the scope of these institutions is nothing short of global. People from all over the world, of every race, creed and denomination use these media to facilitate modern life. The process of information gathering effects the online community through the introductions of internet censorship laws intended to curb personal freedom while boosting public and private sector freedoms. The online community in turn informs the global public, making this an issue which transcends national or regional boundaries.
- Social Media. Does our desire of personal freedom, when coupled with mass social media and the information age leave us uniquely vulnerable through our digital stawman? And if given the powers (in game) to turn this information against the (game) world, does this change how they view social media and its societal role.
- Current Political Climate. The roles of state, Intelligence Agencies, and private companies in mass digital information gathering as exposed by government whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Bradley manning is an extremely contentious issue. This ties into the rights of the individual, the War on Terror and governments Intelligence operations and foreign affairs. Both whistleblowers have become world famous and has brought the issues they sought to highlight onto the world state and into the popular consciousness.
- Demographics. Our target market in 18-30, which cross sections with the market audiences for Sci Fi, Action/Adventure/Stealth Gameplay. These genres account for 25% to 40% of the market for games within this age grouping. This trend is also seen in the market dynamics of other media such as Tv, Film and Comic books. The ideal cross section between gamers, sci fi fans and espionage/stealth genre fans is 24-26, depreciating from 24 down and from 28 upwards.
The concept in its projected format will have the following legal considerations:
- Work of Fiction. A//o is a work of fiction set in the near future, as such it uses no established trademarked images, logos, or names and any comparison to entities or persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
- Libel.Some aspects of the project take a satirical look at the Information age, as such some of the content could be considered as a parody, and is subject to legal protection.
- Age. A//o features some mild violence. In order to keep a low threshold of entry into the game there is no swearing, adult, or otherwise unsuitable content for children. However the mild violence will render the game potentially unsuitable for children under 8.
- Licencing. in order to release as a monetized product each of the packages used in the development must be legally licenced before release. These Include Unity Pro licence(To be acquired), Ngui licence(purchased), Pro Builder licence (purchased), Tnet Networking licence (purchased), Props Animation licence(purchased-nonprofit only).
Ethical considerations and context for ongoing development:
- Ethics in the Information Age. The theme and setting of the game poses the questions:
- Privacy, what information about oneself or ones associations must an individual reveal to others. Under what conditions and with what safeguards? what things can people keep to themselves and not be force to reveal to others?
- Accuracy, who is responsible for the authenticity, fidelity and accuracy of information? similarly, who is to be held accountable for errors in information and how is the injured party to be satisfied?
- Property, Who owns information? what are the just and fair prices for its exchange? who owns the channels through which information travels? How should access to this scarce resources be allocated?
- Accessibility, What information does a person or an organization have a right or privilege to obtain? under what conditions and with what safeguards?
- Localization, A//o makes no distinction between genders or the roles played by gender in game. As such some regions may be unwilling to play a game featuring females in authority or enforcement positions.
- The Bicameral Mind, A//o seeks to emulate the bicameral (split) mind approach used in Intelligence agencies, the separation of Asset and analyst, or in our case Agent and operator. This system of compartmented responsibility and accountability is rooted in a trained form of Mental function devised from the study of the schizophrenic mind. As such some people my find the abdication of responsibility uncomfortable or the Bicameral mind may be distasteful to them.