As the success of Pokemon Go inspires more and more developers to experiment with augmented reality, there's opportunity for multiple new genres of gameplay to emerge, including ones that take advantage of narrative design.
But if you're a game developer working in the narrative space, how can you get started on working with geolocation design? At GDC 2018, developers Šarūnas & Žilvinas Ledas will be presenting a talk on this very subject. To get you ready for their session, we've reached out to the duo for a discussion about their work at game studio Tag of Joy.
Q: Tell us about yourself and what you do in the games industry.
Šarūnas: I am a co-founder and CEO of an indie game development studio Tag of Joy. Since we’re a pretty small team, this means doing a ton of different things: managing and directing games, programming and even making some art. I have a degree in software engineering, but I’ve been doing a lot of art stuff on the side, so one of my main tasks in the team is to fill the gap between purely technical people and artists, often doing some of these things myself.
Žilvinas: As Šarūnas already said, we are a small team, so we usually have to fill multiple roles. I have a technical education as well, but I do a lot of management and similar things.
We started our studio Tag of Joy because we wanted to make engaging games and tell stories but we didn't want them to be ordinary ones so from the start we are focused on innovating games technologically, visually and gameplay-wise.
Q: What inspired you to pursue your career?
Žilvinas: Video games is the most engaging and immersive way to tell and experience stories, and I was amazed by stories and storytelling from my childhood, so telling stories through video games is a natural decision. What is more, I love that when making games one needs to interact with teammates from different fields (writers, artists, musicians, technical people, …).
Šarūnas: I was always interested in crafting and creating things, so when my brother and I started playing those amazing classical point-and-click adventure games, I soon realized that this is something I’d like to make myself. I then started learning skills that could help me with that, began working on some interesting projects and, finally, ended up in the industry. Actually, the fact that we are currently working on a point-and-click adventure Crowns and Pawns is not a coincidence :)
Q: Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at GDC.
Žilvinas: We were in the unique position, that we had an idea to create a location based augmented reality monster fighting and collecting game back in 2012. This was way before Pokemon GO was announced. So after some prototyping and developing, in 2014 we released an early version of the Monster Buster: World Invasion”game. This experience gave us a deep understanding in what and why some things could (and some couldn't) work when creating such games. Our main point of the talk is that by accepting new technical possibilities, story-writers and game developers are able to craft new exciting worlds, but new challenges await as well!
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Šarūnas: One of the biggest challenges, which is actually what makes this industry so attractive, is the involvement of all kinds of different competences and people. Programmers, artists, musicians, writers, managers, marketers, everyone is working towards the same goal – to make a game that people would love. It’s not easy to put everything together into a single integral product, but it’s fun! Another challenge that a lot of developers face – and this one is not as fun – is the overcrowded market, which makes it very hard to sell even the best games. I guess that’s why the developer-publisher deals are coming back into fashion (and a phenomenon called “indie publishers” have come to existence over the last few years).
Q: What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
Žilvinas: Telling stories, getting positive feedback, knowing that your work influences others in a good way is what motivates me!
Šarūnas: To me, I would say there are two most rewarding milestones: seeing how all the different pieces are coming together and then (a lot of work and time later) seeing how someone is enjoying your game. This is what keeps us going.
Q: Do you have any advice for those aspiring to join your field someday?
Šarūnas: There are a lot of things that you can do in a game development company, so I think it’s important to experiment, look for what makes you tick. And in that process, it’s also essential to just make games in your free time! Even if those games might not look like the games made by professionals right away, you will get a lot of experience (and fun) working on each of them.
Žilvinas: Šarūnas is totally right. When we give lectures and workshops to schoolchildren, we always emphasize that all of the areas – art, programming, writing, management, music and sound – are valid career paths if one wants to make games. But this is true for the ones with an education as well! Specialists from various areas are able to contribute to the game development process, so don't hesitate to try if you dream of making a game!
Q: Why do you think storytelling has value as a design component in the Augmented Reality field?
Šarūnas: Augmented Reality introduces some very interesting ways of playing games, but it also limits player freedom in a lot of ways. So, not all traditional game features are feasible anymore, but storytelling is one of the things that still fits well into this new medium. And it’s something that can motivate people to actually go outdoors and explore the game world. People love uncovering the background of the characters and finding out what is really happening in the game. And when they physically go somewhere to find a character, and then get some interesting piece of information on top of that, the walk becomes much more rewarding and engaging.
Q: What's the most valuable way that geo-location design has influenced your storytelling in this genre?
Žilvinas: It is not easy to single out one thing, but, for example, if your story takes place on Earth, in a game-world that is similar enough to the real one, – as a storyteller you can use the surroundings to create unique experiences for the player. Another thing is that players, in a way, are forced to go out to fully experience the game and so this can create more immersive, memorable or even individual experiences. For example, we had tons of feedback how parents with children were hunting monsters in the parks and elsewhere and that it was very fresh.