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  • Student Postmortem: SCAD's Project Loyola Alternate Reality Game

    [04.22.08]
    - Jeff McNab
  •  Project Loyola is an alternate reality game (ARG) and senior-level project by students in the Game Design program at Savannah College of Art and Design. The team of SCAD students was formed to work together for Studio II, the culmination of the academic program at the college. In the class, game pitches are given by any of the class members, and projects are green-lit based on a critique by the professor and votes from fellow classmates. The team members worked together over 10 weeks to develop the project under the guidance of Prof. Brenda Brathwaite.

    Game Synopsis
    Project Loyola is still ongoing, but without giving too much away, the game's basic premise is this: Alex Loyola, the founder of a company called Red Loyola, has gone missing. Alex and his business partner Robert Morgan began Red Loyola, which makes server architecture platforms, from an initial investment from Sophia Rivera, president of Rivera Capital. Alex has disappeared after traveling to the United States on personal business. His wife Stephanie, a sous-chef and co-founder of The Loyola Scholarship, has been trying to locate her husband. With the player's help, Alex's body has been discovered along a strip of highway leading from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga.

    Since the discovery of the body, Red Loyola and the Loyola Scholarship have been closed, and contact with Robert and Stephanie has been sparse at best. A mysterious character named Joseph Capablanca, also known as "codemonkey327," has been contacting the players with enigmatic messages. Joseph's messages question the nature of Alex's disappearance and death but also stir up paranoia, as they suggest that some outside entity is always watching him.

    Why an ARG?
    The Project Loyola team wished to create an ARG for multiple reasons. During the pitch session of the class, the project lead pointed out the freshness of the genre, the minimum technology requirements, and the lack of academic teams working on similar projects. The group members wanted to work in an avant-garde area of game design and be able to finish the project in the allowed time.

    The technology requirements of ARGs are fairly simple: web sites, email, and phone calls are the primary source of information distribution and player feedback. The fact that the team wasn't required to develop custom engines or networking architectures in order to work with massive multiplayer game mechanics was a major factor in the decision make an ARG.

    The original idea behind Project Loyola was simple enough at the beginning: create an ARG. But the first few days of researching the genre led our team in a new direction: documentation. We found that resources on how to play ARGs are plentiful, but those on creating grass roots ARGs is limited. There is some documentation about ARG design available through various sources, such as the IGDA ARG special interest group, but the focus on grass roots development and process was hard to find.

    Also, competition against large-scale ARGs, such as The Dark Knight or Cloverfield, felt like a daunting task. It would be better to keep the project simple and be able to study the design process more than try to create something to go head-to-head with more commercial ARGs.

    Our team plan is to document everything that happens during the development and launch of the game in order to create a wealth of knowledge for others to use. This is the focus of our project. We know we won't make the best ARG ever, but we hope that we can help others in their endeavors to do so, too.

     What Went Right
    1. Development. Part of the requirements of the Studio II class is for our team to work using the Scrum methodology for development, which involves developing multiple parts of a project at once. This presented a problem for us at first: How do you use Scrum on an ARG's design? A more logical choice for our situation would have been to use a waterfall methodology, in which design progresses in a more linear fashion. But because of the academic requirements, our first step in development was figuring out how to do development.

    What we settled on was the concept of narrative phases. Each phase of the ARG is a subset of the overall narrative in which specific events will occur. By developing parts of each phase during the course, we would have elements from each phase completed as we moved forward. We based our phase model after the classic storytelling model, with character introduction (exposition), rise in action, climax, and dénouement (we considered "fall in action" part of the dénouement). Each phase would try to implement each of these four parts.

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