An Exploration on Location Based Interactive Narratives
Location Based Narrative
In this project, I'm interested in exploring a more engaging and interactive way of telling first-person narrative stories that's more integrated with their environment using the Virtual Reality technology. Players can immerse themselves as a character in the story, by engaging with the physical environment, taking actions in both physical and digital world.
Hypothesis: The use of context-aware location-based, interactive narrative story can improve immersion and create agency for the players.
Because of the exploratory nature of the project, my research and design process is quite different from the traditional approach. I started by studying literatures and research papers, the competitive landscape, and conducting exploratory interviews, to develop an initial concept. Using an interactive demo designed based on the concept, I was able to conduct cognitive walkthroughs and gathered more concrete feedback on the concept. Based on the feedback, I decided to focus on the designing of the narrative architecture and conducted user testing using a interactive mobile prototype.
Literature Review and Competitive Analysis
I looked at the competitive landscape of location based interactive narrative games by examining different products and research projects. I not only looked at existing location based interactive narrative games, but also looked at computer based interactive narrative games, location based games, and products that have spatial elements to them. I also examined games of different themes, including adventure, social games and games that are built for education purpose.
To understand the problem space and develop empathy for the users, I decided to use the story as a starting point. I recruited five participants who have seen the TV show Walking Dead and conducted semi-structured interviews with each of them. Through our conversations, I try to identify where are the design opportunities for mapping actual physical components to dramatically satisfying actions that are close to the story of the Walking dead.
Based on the research, I decided the following design requirements to measure the success of the project:
- Players should be able to stroll around freely
- The game should be engaging and immersive
- The game should encourage users to replay and explore different story lines
- The game should encourage players to explore different locations
- The game should support multi sequential story telling
The player would wear some kind of activity tracker such as Fitbit to gather contextual and activity information, such as GPS location, heart rate, time and weather. Based user’s decisions and the data gathered, the system will generate the narrative story accordingly. The story is communicated back to the user through augmented reality and audio feedback. The use of wearable devices such as google glass would be ideal in this situation.
I conducted five sessions of cognitive walkthrough with five different participants who have seen the show Walking Dead, using an interactive demo, to gather targeted feedback about the concept of location-based interactive narrative. First I explained to them the concept and goals of the project, then I let them interact with the demo and asked them to think aloud while playing the game. The demo simulated the experience of wondering in the real world by using a Google Map Street View like environment on the browser. Reaching a certain location will trigger an event. And the story is affected by the decisions participants made in the events.
Telling a story that is tied to the location opens up a lot of opportunities to increase immersion. However, there are great challenges in designing such narratives. First of all, the narrative should be interesting and engaging on itself. Second, the narrative should support multi-sequential storylines. Last but not least, it should integrate seamlessly with the locations and amplify what the environment has to offer.
To systematically map out the narrative architecture for building a functional prototype, I map out the states of each location. Each mission starts with a passive state. When the pre-conditions of the mission are satisfied, the mission become active. When the players completes the mission, post-conditions will be set. The post-conditions, then in turn, become preconditions of other missions. The internal state of the mission and the change of the variables are not directly perceived by the players. But they maybe indirectly perceived through the change in storyline and conversation. The variables can change when the player visit a certain location, make a choice or choose to say certain things in a conversation. The variables can also change based on time, location and weather.
Participants felt immersed in the game by being in the physical space and interacting with the characters, especially when the whistle blew and the event was triggered unexpectedly. However, more can be done in terms of context awareness.
Participants were aware that their choices, location, and the time of play affect the outcome of the game. They showed interests in replaying the game to see different outcomes.
Participants reported that the game would help them explore different areas. For example, during the testing, one participant noticed the pretty flowers in Skiles Garden and took pictures of them.
Below is an example of part of a storyline. This story incorporates elements in the physical space. The Georgia Tech Whistle is a steam whistle that is currently located near the Tech Tower on campus. The blowing of the whistle occurs five minutes before every hour. When the whistle blows in the real world, a mission in the game is triggered in the game.