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  • Results from Game Design Challenge: Hamlet

    - staff
  •  In a recent game design challenge, we asked you to design a game based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. The primary limitation was that if in-game characters spoke, then the words that came out of their mouths had to be directly from the original text.

    When we come up with these challenges, we have no idea what the answer or answers should be. For this challenge in particular, I (Jill Duffy, editor of actually felt like I couldn't solve it, leaving me extra curious to read your ideas.

    It's been a few years since I read Hamlet, so I rented the film of Sir Lawrence Olivier's version, a staging I had never seen before, to refresh my memory. Much to my surprise, Olivier plays with dialogue and text by making some of Hamlet's soliloquies voice over narration instead of spoken word -- Hamlet is thinking privately rather than thinking aloud. For a film, it actually makes more sense for asides and certain soliloquies to be internal monologues. I wonder if it would make sense in a game, too.

    One idea a lot of people favored was having a director game similar to The Movies in which the player is the director or producer of the play at a theater. Garrett Guillotte deserves a nod for annunciating this idea first on the forum.

    Another idea a few people had was to expound on some small reference in the play that happens offstage, Hamlet going to school at Wittenberg, for example, or his capture and escape from pirates. While it's certainly worth exploring this solution, why make up new back-story when you already have such a wonderful story in front of you? Why not use the dialogue you have rather than fight to work around it?

    That might have been the key to this challenge: realizing you already have a story. Readers who decided to create murder mystery games or text adventure games -- two other popular ideas -- capitalized on the existing story and put their time and money into working on the game mechanic. What will the player do?

    Best Entries
    Tamar Goldberg, Hamlet's ‘Guest'
    (see page 2)
    Tamar Golderg's solution is brilliant because it doesn't require any in-game dialogue and it has an intriguing reward scheme. The player arrives at Elsinore after all the events of Hamlet have taken place and moves through rooms to solve puzzles; each puzzle uses a prop or other reference to the play. Although Tamar says the solution is inspired by The 7th Guest, I was prompted to see a likeness to Ico, a game that has a deep and heart-wrenching story, a lot of puzzle-based play, but almost no dialogue.

    In Tamar's version, cutscenes are the player's reward for solving puzzles. There's another component to the game, too: a social networking site where students discuss the meaning of the props and cutscenes.

    Sharon Hoosein, Horatio's Challenge (see page 3)
    Sharon Hoosein's response to this challenge is chockfull of active words. Read in particular the section called "A Quick Rundown." The player is Horatio in this game and has to perform tasks to protect and help Hamlet. What makes Sharon's solution exceptional is that all the tasks are things that happen in the play or very closely connected to the actions of the play. For example, before the play within the play starts, Horatio's task is to quickly reposition the audience members so that Claudius and Gertrude are in the middle where they can easily see the play.

    Sharon, like Tamar, calls for cutscenes as player rewards.

    Devin Monnens, Act Act Shakespeare Revolution [PDF download]
    Devin Monnens, University of Denver, came up with this playful way to play through the play. I love this solution. It could be used to teach any play.

    Using a new Wii microphone (to be developed), friends join together to act out the play. Dialogue appears on the screen as if it were karaoke. AI characters fill in when not enough players are available. And when there's fencing, pull our your Wiimote. En garde!

    The solution came in third for two reasons. One, Hamlet easily runs four hours or longer when performed by expert actors. Imagine how long it will take to play through when the actors are not experienced. Also, for long stretches of this time, most of the characters are off stage. How could you break up the play-as-game and keep all the players actively involved? Second, I hope Devin knows a thing or two about writing grant applications or finding sponsors, as this solution surely will exceed the $50,000 the professor has banked for development!

    Honorable Mention
    Matt Roberts, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
    (see page 4)
    Matt Roberts' solution was quite similar to Devin Monnens', but is a single-player game and doesn't require a new microphone peripheral. It uses the Wii fitness board and relies on the player selecting right/wrong dialogue from a multiple-choice list to move the game forward. And in case you thought Hamlet didn't have enough dying in it, choosing the wrong answer leads the player to a quick death, repeated indefinitely until the correct answer is selected.


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