Monday, June 29, 2009

Cells - Nantes 1944


Cells - Nantes 1944 was another Medialab project. It's a networked multiplayer game about cooperation, intrigue, and betrayal, in which the players take the roles of Resistance fighters and Gestapo infiltrators in the WWII era France. It's one of my favourite designs so far.

The Team

We had a four person team working on Cells:
  • Jukka Liukkonen designed the user interface and created a set of very athmospheric graphics.
  • Raisa Omaheimo and Jarno Koponen looked into the era and wrote textual content that made you feel you're there.
  • I came up with the original idea and implemented the game in Java.
  • Together, we brainstormed and designed the game mechanics to make it a thrilling and balanced experience for everyone.

Technologies I Used

  • Java GUI programming (Swing, Synth look-and-feel)
  • Java network programming (sockets, serialization)
  • XML for permanent data (read in as DOM)

The Gameplay

The players are divided into two teams, the French Resistance and Gestapo, with different victory conditions. There are a set of targets, such as German military structures, in the game (at the top in the interface). The Resistance tries to destroy those targets while the Gestapo tries to protect them.

To achieve their goals, the Resistance has to work together. For each target, there's a number indicating the strenght of its defences. Only if that many players or more attack the target on the same date, will the target be destroyed. To coordinate, the players have to build a network of contacts, to organize as cells.

The Gestapo players, on the other hand, try to infiltrate these cells, to uncover the dates and targets of the planned attacks. This is possible, because nobody knows on which side the other players are. If Gestapo manages to find out about an attack, they can send troops to protect that target for a day, which will foil the attack.

All of this information is spread in in-game chat sessions between groups of two or more people. The chat is the very core of the game, where a variety of trust games take place as the players try to figure out who to tell what information. In addition to attack plans, they may share their suspicions about others, try to trick spies into revealing themselves... All of this under the constant threat of being listened in by a third party.

To support these core mechanics, there are mechanics for spying on other people's actions, counterspying, and arresting and interrogating other players in Gestapo's name.

The game is all about team play: No individual score is kept. Instead, each player collects points for their team, be it Resistance or Gestapo.

Future Improvements

Despite a lot of people really liking the game concept, it's been difficult to get to play it. To play a meaningful game, you need 10-20 players to play simultaneously, seriously hampering the game's success. In order to fix this, I'm planning to recreate the game as a slower-paced web game, developed on the Java EE architecture. Games will last for days or weeks instead of hours, and real-time chats will be replaced by exchanging messages. Some of the mechanics, especially on the Gestapo side, will probably also be tweaked. The core gameplay, however, will remain the same.

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