Markus Montola on Shadow Cities
My old friend and colleague Markus Montola has just presented at GDC, this time from the ‘right side of the fence’, as representative of Grey Area, the Finnish game developer behind ‘Shadow Cities‘. (We presented together in 2009, but at that time we were both academics.) His talk was already blogged at Pocketgamer.
Shadow Cities is a beautifully crafted mobile MMOG, using GPS to chart a parallel world in which magic powers roam. The concept is rather similar to the ‘Mythical Mobiles’ game designed within IPerG, but the gameplay is primarily about area control in teams rather than player-vs-player battle (there is a bit of both, though). The major invention of Shadow Cities is its model for remote play, which allows you to ‘teleport’ to play anywhere in the world from your couch.
According to Pocketgamer, this is also what people do: they play Shadow Cities more from home, than on the move. This might be surprising for a location-based game, but it makes perfect sense: after all, phones are becoming a par preference mode of access to the Internet even at home for many users. We might want to game when on the move, but why would we want to stop doing it when we come home? So why shouldn’t locative games also support couch play?
Curiously enough, Markus talked about reaching critical mass as the biggest challenge for Shadow Cities and maybe for locative multiplayer games in general. “We need critical mass in every neighbourhood at all time”, Pocketgamer cites him. But with their support for distant play, it can’t be the locative factor that makes critical mass an issue for Shadow Cities. Rather, I think it is the requirement on synchronized play. In Shadow Cities, players team up to battle other teams or achieve particular feats at particular times and particular places – and I think that is the time, not the place, that’s their problem. Mobile gameplay is typically short term, at least compared to PC or console play. Games like WordFeud and (semi)games like Foursquare don’t run into critical mass issues, and I think the reason is that they are asynchronous. And Foursquare doesn’t even support couch play!
These are important considerations for our current research game prototype ‘Codename Heroes’… We have asynchronous play, but we don’t have a lot of support for couch play. I think we may need to consider that a bit more carefully.
By the way, here is a good reference on why people use mobiles when they have access to computers:
Stina Nylander, Terés Lundquist, Andreas Brännström, Bo Karlson. “It’s just easier with the phone” – a diary study of Internet access from cell phones. Pervasive 2009.