Our daily development blog series for the alternate reality game, The Source, continues with the perspective of Amanda Dittami, one of the Game Changer Chicago Design Lab’s core designers. Amanda writes about platform development for The Source.
The design for The Source has not been conventional. The platform was no exception. From the very beginning we thought the games that make up The Source might not be fully developed until after the program launched. Due to the often-adaptive nature of alternate reality games and our short time frame we had to design the platform with a certain amount of flexibility. Whereas most alternate reality games call for improvisation, most platforms do not.
One case of improvisation occurred on the very first day. A few days before The Source launched we had migrated the final site to our server. We realized that the ability to upload an avatar, which was working on the previous server, was no longer working! We weren’t able to figure out the problem before the day of the launch, so we decided to turn the mishap into part of the game. As one of the first Challenges of The Source, Ros (a character and the “creator” of the site) asked players to submit a hypothesis stating why he or she thought the avatar functionality was no longer working and why. One player, Nia H., replied to this Challenge with the following:
"I assume a difference in software creates problems when we try to change our avatars. Because we run on various operating systems i.e. MAC/WINDOWS PC there is already a difference in the way we approach certain functions on our computers or laptops. I’m assuming that because the software used on the testing ground was different from where the avatar function was tested a glitch came about.
I gathered my hypothesis by reading comments on this message board.”
A handful of players participated in this impromptu Challenge, and for all they knew it had always been part of the game. Although none of the players figured out what was wrong, it was a great exercise for them to start learning how to use search engines, forums, and message boards in order to help them solve their own problems.
The mistakes we see in the platform design today can be viewed as learning experiences, both short and long term. The strengths of the platform have included its role as an active online space for player communities, transmedia storytelling, and real time updates and improvisation. We have a solid foundation to build on which can be used to strengthen possible future iterations. The success of the platform could not have been achieved without the developers at Sennza, IT Services at the University of Chicago, the players of The Source, and all our designers/improvisers at Game Changer.