Developing Games with Transmedia
We live in the age of Kickstarter and social media, an age when every programmer with a dream, the right skills, and some vision is marketing their own computer games to the world.
Where the big publishers were sticking with tried and true ‘sure to make a profit’ games, these ‘indie’ programmers are producing ‘games for the gamers’, games that are what they would want to play.
It’s a renaissance, especially for science fiction games. Just check out Steam Early Release, indieDB, and SpaceSimCentral and you’ll see hundreds of titles all trying to grab your attention.
Which brings up a new question: “How do you stand out from the crowd?”
Clearly, you have to start with the product itself: The game has to be good! Each game developer has to come up with their own unique vision of the game. You can’t re-tread old ground – you need to bring something new to the table. A twist on something old. Perhaps a new perspective, or combining elements from other games in a new and exciting way. But what if there are other games out there just like yours, also with great gameplay and with passionate producers?
In that case, you'll need something else and that something else could be Transmedia.
Transmedia is defined in different ways by different people but at its core is 'telling the same story, or linked stories across multiple media platforms'. So for example, the plot of a computer game could be told through a novel, or a graphic novel, or an audio drama or movie.
But not only that. Side stories also fall into this category: Stories that link to the plot, or tell the story leading up to the game, or continuing the story after the game ends, are all viable and exciting areas to explore. Perhaps fleshing out characters or places or organizations.
Why this works so well with computer games is that games have a long development period. Transmedia allows you to communicate your universe to your building legion of fans, keeping them occupied and interested, while they wait for the game to reach Alpha testing, then Beta, then finally, general release.
This is what we are doing with Shallow Space.
Shallow Space has been in development for over a year. It took some time to find its niche and its unique style of gameplay. Alpha testing has been going on for many months. The game is progressing well. While fans wait, they have been reading a series of short story adventures set in the universe of Shallow Space.
Shallow Space is set in a unique part of the galaxy with many populated stellar systems. Each system was given a full and unique back story. Corporations, pirate armies, personalities, news outlets, civil wars, each has been given a voice and more. There is a living breathing universe behind the game. And the game will provide a very large window into that world. But it’ll be a game and gameplay comes first, not exploring every nook and cranny we have developed in the background.
The role that these short stories take is varied. First, they must entertain. Second, they should introduce elements of the universe and give the reader their first look at the world they will soon inhabit when the game comes out. Snippets only, a flash here, a glimpse there. An exciting detail that makes them think 'Cool!'.
They could stop there, but the real opportunity lies in their third role: To set the game up.
By the time the game is released, the players will have been given the opportunity to meet all the big players and to form their opinions on these big players, based on what they see in the short stories and what they read between the lines in these stories. Those that have read the stories will see elements in the game that are at once intimate and familiar. Plot points will collide with the stories they have already read. But best of all the stories may make them think one way about the world, only for the game to turn it on its head.
It’s at once adding to the story and providing twists that the game may not have space for in itself. It’s extending the story that is Shallow Space beyond a game into something much more.
It's adding additional value to the fans.
The first story, called ‘The Gift’ was published in five parts on the shallow space website. It tells a story of pirates and the Terran Confederation Navy and a strange planet orbiting a distant white star.
The second story, ‘The Tale of Samuel Shallom’ was also released in several parts. Each part was in a different form – personal diary, online forum messaging, official reports, audio recordings, and historical encyclopedia extracts. The story expanded the universe, linked in with ‘The Gift’ and added a few more possible plot points for the game and beyond.
The third story, ‘Paradijs Lost’ shows a lot of detail of one of the big players as the backdrop to a pursuit and truth story.
The latest story, currently being edited, is ‘The Watchers’ and it focuses on a smaller player and some of the individuals within, giving history, current events and a tour of Shallow Space itself.
There will be more, with the intent to compile a collection that can be released with the game as a value adding extra (because for those gamers of a certain era, nothing was better than buying a boxed game, opening it up and finding it full of juicy extras).
I hope that by the time comes out you will already be in love with the worlds of Shallow Space. If nothing else, we are doing something different from the rest of the crowd.
If you like the look of Shallow Space and want to keep up to date, follow us at shallow.space.