31 Jul 2011

GenCon!

For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m attending GenCon Indy. For the previous two decades, I hardly ever missed one. I am really looking forward to coming back. I hope to reconnect with many old friends, and to make many new ones.

NAMASTE ENTERTAINMENT
You can thank Namaste Entertainment for bringing me. I’ve mentioned them a time or two on this blog, as I’ve been doing a little concept and promotional art for them, and occasionally dropping into their development forums to look at what’s been … well, developing.

Namaste has assembled an intriguing assortment of individuals to develop a new massively multiplayer online game. Yeah, that was my first thought too… they want to take on the behemoth that is World of Warcraft and hope to survive? The bodies of the fallen litter that battlefield. So what made me stop and pay attention?

STORYBRICKS
Namaste’s designers, including Jonathan Tweet (the only name I recognized when I first ran into these folks), have broken down the development of story into modular “bricks” — of people, behaviors, agendas, actions and reactions that can be assembled like those click-together construction bricks (you know what I’m referring to without my treading on trademarks, right?) to create genuine role-playing stories … and the bricks will be in the hands of players.

My old friend Bear Peters said he’d never play an MMO until there was a way to talk a dragon out of his gold. Well, I’m guessing such a thing just might become possible with Storybricks.

LISTEN TO THE INSIDERS
I admit, I’m on the fringes here. I’ve had a lot on my plate this year, and the people I’ve met through the Namaste internal forums frankly awe me. They’re talking about things we never considered back in the days of Tunnels & Trolls or even Interplay’s Star Trek computer game. What they’ve got cooking is pretty amazing. So let me point you to some of what they’ve been writing about this project.

I’ve had very long email conversations with Brian “Psychochild” Green, and I’ve been very impressed with the mind I see coming through those mails. He recently wrote a really great piece about What I’ve Been Up To that discusses the Storybricks ideas.

Stéphane Bura has written two interesting posts recently: one on the private lives of NPCs (and yes, they ought to have a life beyond being quest-givers and vending machines) and another about how lore and player-created story intersect.

PARTICIPATORY CULTURE
What gripped my attention is my feeling that Namaste is cracking open the door to the possibilities that Diane Duane hypothesized in her book Omnitopia Dawn. There’s no RealFeel yet, but putting sensible modular tools in the hands of capable players, enabling them to expand on and explore worlds of their own creation in addition to the world created by the original developers seems like the necessary next-step for social online gaming.

Teens (and adults) are Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out like never in history.  Aca-fan visionaries like Henry Jenkins talk about convergence culture and transmedia storytelling, about participatory culture among fans who write, draw, make comics, write songs and plays, teach themselves to make machinima and edit videos that build upon existing stories and franchises for the sheer love of storytelling. Active fan communities build more new content, investing more hours-in-development than the original canon of the works.

CHANGE, THE ONLY CONSTANT
Something has fundamentally changed in our expectations about entertainment and our interactions with the things we love. We expect to participate, tinker with someone else’s creations, to contribute and to share what we make. When Time magazine featured an article about fan fiction and the writer gets it entirely right, warts and all … Time magazine for heavensake! … the world has truly changed (and is continuing to do so).

Namaste’s Storybricks puts simple modular tools in the hands of players. If you come to the Namaste booth (#1643), you’ll get the first-ever look at what’s been put together so far. Namaste is what’s called “a lean startup” … there’s not a lot here yet, so bring your imagination for what future possibilities lie in wait. You’ll be able to play a demo, though, and when you are done there, come over to the corner where I’ll be hanging out. I’ll sign your Magic cards, or your Middle Earth cards, or your copies of Tunnels & Trolls or anything else I’ve ever worked on. Or just come talk with me! That’d be cool.

MY BIG REVEAL
In addition, I will have prints of two of the best pieces of art I think I’ve done in many a long year. I have been dying to show off these new pieces ever since I did them, but Namaste asked me to keep them under wraps until now. These are concept art pieces done for the game — a look at some of the possible characters, player or NPC. The Sky People are refined, elegant, magical, and I found the description of them to be … “inspiring.” Um…. yeah. That’s a good word for it.

If I am at the Namaste booth, you can pick up the prints for free (while they last). If I’m away (perhaps over at Flying Buffalo’s booth, #501), give a listen to people at the booth like Brian and Kelly and Kat and John, who can let you play the demo and hear more about what is planned.

Tell me you read this blog, and I’ll have a small thank-you gift for you too. See you there!

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6 Responses to GenCon!

  1. Ellen says:

    Liz – Thanks for this post – I really like the concept art works – thanks for sharing them. I will be very interested to see what develops with Namaste

  2. Liz says:

    Thank you, Ellen! Believe me, I am not blind to the potential application of this for schools and libraries teaching game design…

  3. This is awesome news, Liz, and it’s great to see you there in the thick of it. They couldn’t have picked a better artist than you for concept art, so save a couple of those prints for me. You think the Namaste people would let me hang out behind inside the booth with them for part of the show?

  4. Liz says:

    For those interested in another blogger with a first-hand look at how the Storybricks are working, check this out: http://tobolds.blogspot.com/2011/08/storybricks.html

  5. Rodolfo says:

    OMG Ken St. Andre!!!!! Now I am really bummed that I am not coming to GenCon T_T. You are most welcome anytime to our booth :D

  6. Liz says:

    There’s your answer, Ken, straight from The Big Man himself! See you there. :)

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