Announcing a hybrid game opera for Monster

I nev­er thought I would make an opera. But now I have.

A bit of Monster

In a few weeks time the above mar­ket square in the town of Mon­ster will be trans­formed into an are­na where fight­ers duel each oth­er using their pet mon­sters. If this sounds famil­iar, it is no coin­ci­dence.

Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na is one of 11 operas pro­duced by Dario Fo to cel­e­brate the fifth anniver­sary of the West­land munic­i­pal­i­ty. Dario Fo spe­cial­ize in cre­at­ing music the­atre in close col­lab­o­ra­tion with the local com­mu­ni­ty. They asked com­pos­er Daniël Ham­burg­er to cre­ate the opera for Mon­ster. The brief was to do ‘some­thing’ with the town’s curi­ous name, and to make it a pro­duc­tion that would appeal to youth by ref­er­enc­ing games cul­ture.1

Daniël in turn approached me, since he had lit­tle affin­i­ty for games, and want­ed the piece to not only be about games, but to be a game itself. So that’s what I helped do. By turn­ing the game design prin­ci­ple of embed­ded nar­ra­tive inside-out, we’ve man­aged to cre­ate a struc­ture in which we can both tell a sto­ry using a script, and have per­form­ers impro­vise using game rules. Those rules I designed as a prop­er game. I could give you those rules and you would be able to play it your­self.

So there will be fights, and they’ll not be script­ed. You won’t know before­hand who will win, and nei­ther will we. There will also be a sto­ry, about a hero­ine fac­ing off with a bad guy, in the best game and mar­tial arts film tra­di­tion. Sieger M.G. was our third man, the piece’s writer. A rap­per turned poet with a life-long games addic­tion, there could be no bet­ter fit.

What’s prob­a­bly most excit­ing to me is that on top of the impro­vi­sa­tion­al chore­og­ra­phy of the duels, a live band will use a rule set of their own, com­posed by Daniël, that takes the game as it unfolds as its input to impro­vise. How’s that for adap­tive music?2

It might all go hor­ri­bly wrong, or it might become a won­der­ful spec­ta­cle. If you are like me and would like to find out which it will be, head to Mon­ster for one of the shows. They’re sched­uled for:

  • Thurs­day 18 June 20:30 (try­out)
  • Fri­day 19 June 20:30
  • Sat­ur­day 20 June 20:30

Tick­ets are 15 Euro and can be bought at the venue. Once the show is over, I’ll post some more detailed stuff about the actu­al work I did. Stay tuned.

Mega Moster Battle Arena flyer

  1. There would be tons of kids from local high schools to work with. They also want­ed to use the local fire­men choir. Oh, and aer­i­al work plat­forms too… []
  2. One of the sources of inspi­ra­tion for Daniël was John Zorn. []

Play, story and recombination

A bunch of Lego bricks

Dom­i­nant mod­els in IA: space + sto­ry” was one of the notes I took while at this year’s Euro IA Sum­mit. I’ll get into space some oth­er time. Con­cern­ing sto­ry: Basi­cal­ly it strikes me that for a dis­ci­pline involved with an inter­ac­tive medi­um, so often design­ing is likened to sto­ry­telling. I’m not sure this is always the most pro­duc­tive way to approach design, I actu­al­ly think it is very lim­it­ing. If you approach design not as embed­ding your sto­ry in the envi­ron­ment, but as cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment where­in users can cre­ate their own sto­ries, then I’d say you’re on the right track. An exam­ple I tend to use is a game of pok­er: The design of the game pok­er was cer­tain­ly not an act of sto­ry­telling, but a play ses­sion of pok­er is expe­ri­enced as (and can be retold as) a sto­ry. Fur­ther­more, the com­po­nents of the game can be recom­bined to cre­ate dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions of the basic game, each cre­at­ing dif­fer­ent poten­tials for sto­ries to arise. I’d like to see more design­ers approach inter­ac­tive media (dig­i­tal, phys­i­cal or what­ev­er) like this: Don’t tell a sto­ry to your user, enable them to cre­ate their own.1 Real­ize users will want to recom­bine your stuff with oth­er stuff you might not know about (the notion of seam­ful design comes into play here). When you’ve done a prop­er job, you’ll find them retelling those sto­ries to oth­ers, which I would say is the biggest com­pli­ment you can get.

1. Or to put this in Marc LeBlanc’s terms: Don’t embed nar­ra­tive, let it emerge through play.