Gameplay

Gameplay

A shot of gameplay. A player, left, engages in conversation with our live actor, right, who improvises as a generated townsperson whose life history was simulated prior to gameplay. A model theatre separates them, and its curtains are drawn between conversations with the townspeople. Before opening the curtain to play a character live, the actor first gets into character; during conversation, he must adhere to the generated personality and simulated life history and beliefs of the character he is playing (all of which is displayed on a hidden actor interface that updates in real time).

Photo: Adam Summerville.

Gameplay Close-Up

Gameplay Close-Up

A shot of gameplay from the player's perspective. Our actor, left, engages in conversation with a player during a performance at the Slamdance DIG showcase in Los Angeles.

Photo: Slamdance TV.

Notification

Notification

Each Bad News playthrough ends in a scene in which the next of kin is notified of the death of a loved one. These scenes are often emotionally intense, sometimes culminating in tears from both the player and actor.

Actor Interface

Actor Interface

A hidden interface is visible only to the actor, displaying information about the generated personality and simulated life history and beliefs of the character that he is currently improvising live (here, one Cecil Senn). As the subject of conversation shifts between characters, the interface updates dynamically to display the improvised character's beliefs about the new subject of conversation (here, Rolland Thies) . These beliefs are accumulated during a world generation procedure—this works in the style of Dwarf Fortress, made possible by a custom artificial intelligence framework developed as part of our research as PhD students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Character beliefs may be false, which means that the player must vet the sources of acquired information to home in on the truth of the matter.

Photo: James Ryan.

actor

actor

Our actor is Dr. Ben Samuel, one of the few individuals in the world whose creative background cuts across professional acting and artificial intelligence research. Ben's acting credits include Hulu's first original scripted series, Battleground—the New York Times called him "the best reason" to watch the show—and he's pictured here (right) with Jay Hayden (left) in a still from the series. Ben's PhD thesis is titled "Crafting Stories Through Play"; it positions Bad News and other projects against a theory of "shared authorship", which characterizes projects in which a system and player collaborate, through play, to construct stories that neither entity could have created on its own.

Photo: Hulu.

Player Materials

Player Materials

The player is provided a tablet computer, home to a special interface displaying information about the player's shifting whereabouts (see next photo), and a notepad.

Photo: James Ryan.

Player Interface

Player Interface

An example of the kind of information that is displayed on the player interface during gameplay. This interface is available to the player via a tablet computer that is positioned in front of the model theatre. To take an action in the gameworld, such as speaking to the bartender described in this screenshot, the player simply utters the command aloud—the wizard, out of sight, listens in remotely via a hidden microphone and then livecodes to execute the command in real time (causing the interface to update accordingly).

Photo: James Ryan.

Player Notes

Player Notes

We encourage players to take copious notes during gameplay—frequently these notes feature diagrams capturing family genealogies, town histories, and love triangles, among other kinds of information that may be generated during the world generation procedure that precedes gameplay. This example comes from a player at the Slamdance DIG showcase in Los Angeles.

Photo: James Ryan.

Wizard Station

Wizard Station

Our wizard station at the 2016 IndieCade Festival. The wizard listens in on gameplay (via audio captured by a hidden microphone), livecodes to update the player and actor interfaces (and to excavate nuggets of dramatic intrigue from the simulation), and communicates with the actor in real time using a web chat. Together, the wizard and actor work to ensure that each 45-minute playthrough has a satisfying dramatic arc.

Photo: Adam Summerville.

Town Generation

Town Generation

A shot of the wizard's terminal during the town generation phase that precedes gameplay; a sampling of simulated events are displayed on screen as the town is generated in real time. This procedure generates a gameworld and simulates its history from its beginnings as a farm town in the summer 1839 up until the death of the person central to gameplay, in the summer of 1979; it lasts a few minutes. We have written academic papers and a book chapter (in Game AI Pro 3) about this simulation framework—most of these can be freely downloaded here, or you can contact us for more details.

Photo: Alex Flores.

Wizard View

Wizard View

A screenshot of the wizard's view during gameplay. On the left is an active Python terminal with a generated town loaded into memory—using this, the wizard executes player actions that were spoken aloud (lines with a 'pc.' prefix) and searches the simulated town history for nuggets of dramatic intrigue (e.g., information about the deceased's person's father). On the right is an active web chat between the wizard and the actor, which allows for dramatic coordination and communication about all aspects of gameplay, including player commands that were not picked up in the audio, dramatic intrigue found in the town's simulated history, experience-level authorial goals, and anything else that may need to be communicated during gameplay.

Photo: James Ryan.

Wizard

Wizard

Our wizard, James Ryan, listens in on nearby gameplay in an early test incarnation of Bad News at the Experimental AI in Games academic workshop.

Photo: Ethan Seither.

Wizard at Slamdance

Wizard at Slamdance

James Ryan performs his duties as our wizard at the Slamdance DIG showcase in Park City, Utah.

Photo: Ian Stroud.

Installation at Big Pictures Los Angeles

Installation at Big Pictures Los Angeles

Bad News is an installation-based game. Though the setup for each performance is unique, our design philosophy stipulates that the model theatre be positioned in an isolated area—this makes gameplay an intimate experience, and one in which the the player does not feel like a performer. Because our game takes approximately 45 minutes to play, most audience members will not have an opportunity to experience it firsthand. In many of our installations, a frontward-facing area has hosted the wizard's command center, allowing for onlookers to observe his livecoding. This makes the wizard's activity during gameplay a second type of performance, and one that is more available to exhibition audiences.

Photo: James Ryan.

Gameplay at Slamdance DIG

Gameplay at Slamdance DIG

Here, the wizard (left) listens in on gameplay (right) at the second Slamdance DIG showcase, held at Big Pictures Los Angeles.

Photo: Nina Ryan.

Guide

Guide

Most performances feature a third team member—the guide, Adam Summerville—who is free to provide information and a behind-the-scenes perspective to onlookers. Here, Adam explains the project to a group of museum attendees at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Photo: Anastasia Pahules.

Guide 2

Guide 2

Adam stands in front of our installation at the Slamdance DIG showcase, held at Big Pictures Los Angeles.

Photo: Mark Marino.

Wizard and Guide

Wizard and Guide

Sometimes technical issues arise during gameplay—here, the guide assists the wizard in getting things back on track during a performance at the 2016 IndieCade Festival.

Photo: Jim Whitehead.

Awards

Awards

Bad News is an award-winning experience. Here, the core team is shown accepting the Audience Choice award at the 2016 IndieCade Festival—"the Sundance of videogames". (You can watch us accept the award here.) Earlier, we won the Innovative Game Design track of the Student Game Competition at the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI).

Photo: IndieCade.

IndieCade Trophy

IndieCade Trophy

The 2016 IndieCade Audience Choice trophy.

Photo: James Ryan.

Live TV Appearance

Live TV Appearance

Leading up to our appearance at the Slamdance Film Festival (as part of the DIG showcase there), we conducted a live interview on the Mountain Morning Show on Park City TV. The segment can be viewed on YouTube by following this link.

Photo: Park City TV.

Installation Façade

Installation Façade

A view of the audience-facing façade of our installation at Big Pictures Los Angeles, built by the curation team there. The shade of pink is meant to evoke the time period of gameplay—the late 1970s—and the holes in the board on its right side allow exhibition-goers to peep in on gameplay without disrupting it.

Photo: James Ryan.

Letter Board

Letter Board

Close-up of the letter-board component of our installation at Big Pictures Los Angeles.

Photo: James Ryan.

Redwoods Setup

Redwoods Setup

Bad News can be installed anywhere. Here, the model theatre is being set up in preparation for gameplay in the redwoods forest, on the beautiful campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Photo: James Ryan.

Redwoods Gameplay

Redwoods Gameplay

A playthrough in the redwoods, on campus at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Photo: James Ryan.

Redwoods Gameplay 2

Redwoods Gameplay 2

A playthrough in the redwoods, on campus at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Photo: Alex Flores.

Wizard Command Center

Wizard Command Center

The wizard operates from a command center that is hidden in a back room at the University of California, Santa Cruz, out of sight from the player and actor, who are positioned in the redwood forest.

Photo: Alex Flores.

Narrative Excavation

Narrative Excavation

Web chat between the wizard and actor prior to gameplay. After town generation, the wizard explores the generated town in search of nuggets of dramatic intrigue, which he feeds to the actor via a live web chat. As part of this interaction, the two settle on a set of potent storylines—ones that happened to have emerged during simulation of the town's history—that the actor will attempt to reveal to the player naturalistically, through conversation. In the shorthand of this communication, 'D' refers to the deceased character for the upcoming playthrough.

Photo: James Ryan.

Epilogue

Epilogue

After the notification scene, the player debriefs with wizard, who provides insight into the underlying technology and then generates an epilogue for the town by simulating thirty years into the future.

Photo: Anastasia Pahules.

Roguelike Celebration Installation

Roguelike Celebration Installation

Our installation at the Roguelike Celebration, held at the Eventbrite offices in downtown San Francisco.

Photo: James Ryan.

Radio Play

Radio Play

At the Roguelike Celebration, we did a performance of Bad News for a live audience in the style of an augmented radio play. Gameplay took place in an isolated room (see previous photo), but audio was piped into an auditorium for the benefit of a live audience. Throughout the playthrough, the player, actor, and wizard interfaces were displayed on a large screen, and the wizard and a guide (Tyler Brothers) provided behind-the-scenes commentary for the audience. Additionally, audience members were free to call out for specific wizard livecoding that was used to excavate narrative intrigue from the simulation that was then fed to the actor in real time to alter the course of gameplay.

Photo: James Ryan.

Public Performance #2

Public Performance #2

We again performed before a live audience, in the style of a radio play, as part of the Slamdance Polytechnic program in Park City. To left of the action in frame, an audience listened and watched behind the scenes as a performance unfolded to the right. Throughout the playthrough, Slamdance TV captured footage from several angles.

Photo: Eseel Borlasa.