Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Play Improviso!

Screenshot from Improviso.
PAX East just wrapped up, where we debuted our new data collection game: Improviso!  Players of Improviso are paired anonymously online as the Lead Actor and Director of a low budget sci-fi movie. The Lead Actor plays Ted, a struggling reporter who wakes up tied-up on an alien spaceship. The Director selects scenes, summons special effects, and plays the supporting cast members: the G-Man, Scientist, Alien, and Little Girl. Improviso is a collaboration between the Media Lab and the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab.  Download Improviso yourself and play today!

More after the jump...

The best time to play Improviso, and find other players online, is between 7 - 10pm in your own time zone.

We announced the game at the Dialogue as Gameplay panel (read about the panel on Gamasutra and Newsarama), and it was playable at the GAMBIT booth.  Download the game, and get more info on the GAMBIT Improviso page.  The official press release is here.  You can find additional background materials and concept sketches on the GAMBIT blog.  Watch the trailer video below to get a sense of the gameplay.

Watch the trailer on Vimeo.

Gameplay in Improviso is similar to The Restaurant Game, where players are given a role to play through typed text and physical interaction in a 3D environment; however rather than teaching characters how to play a role in society (e.g. a customer or waitress), we will use the data from Improviso to teach characters how to play roles in a story. The Restaurant Game had a nice tie-in to Schank’s idea of the restaurant script. Here we are hoping to show that the same methodology can automate characters from recorded gameplay in a less mundane situation, that we wouldn’t assume has a shared cultural script, yet we expect to find some recurring behaviors drawn from our shared pop-cultural knowledge of science fiction.

Concept art for the alien.

It was a bit surprising how challenging it was to get players to do what we hoped they would do in Improviso, relative to The Restaurant Game. When you tell someone to play as a customer or waitress in a restaurant, they know exactly what to do without requiring any more information, but if you say “you’re a G-Man in Area 51,” most people are lost. Plus, a first-person game in a science-fiction setting, with guns and aliens, brings along certain expectations; expectations that are not aligned with the gameplay in Improviso.

So, the challenge with this game was figuring out how to get ordinary players, who might not have any experience with acting or writing, to engage in dramatic improv with strangers online. Below is the list of things we did, to finally get the results we wanted.

  • created a detailed tutorial.
  • provided examples of expected play (trailer video, and story boards in the tutorial).
  • began the game with the players in a situation that forces face-to-face interaction and dialogue (Ted is tied-up, and can’t even move until Agent Smith unties him).
  • provided very specific descriptions of what should happen in each scene.
  • confined players to specific regions of the set for each scene (e.g inside the spaceship, inside the Area 51 lab).
  • started scene one with only two characters, and gradually introduce additional characters in scenes two and three.
  • implemented mechanisms to enforce relatively short scenes, such as running out of film, based on a combination of time, the number of lines exchanged, and some randomness.
Much of this seems obvious in retrospect. Hindsight is 20/20. But in any case, it worked! We’ve observed almost 100 people engage in online improv. Many are getting into character, and even seem to be having fun. We’re excited to see what happens in the wilds of the internet.

This project would not have been possible without the support of GAMBIT. Improviso began as an 8-week summer project with a team of nine undergrads (seven from Singapore, plus one from both MIT and RISD). A GAMBIT grant allowed us to continue working on it for about three more months, with a smaller team of two programmers and one artist.

1 comment:

  1. We have just release Improviso v1.1, responding to demands of players. We have added a Play-As-You-Wait feature, and are working on a Mac OSX version. Download HERE: