The one true evolving entertainment medium is the video game. Just when you think you’ve seen everything, something fresh comes along and blows your preconceptions out of the water. That can certainly be said of Cloud Chamber, a brand new multiplayer experience from Investigative North, a small Danish development team.
Cloud Chamber is described as a multiplayer story exploration game that doesn’t just see you explore an environment or piece together a story. Here, you work with thousands of other players to try and decipher mysteries that the developers never really intend to resolve with black and white answers. The narrative will be split up into Seasons and each Season will link up with others in different ways.
Season One tasks players with finding out ‘Who Killed Ingrid Peterson’, a research scientist who discovered the strange signal. In order to help with the investigation, players will study text and watch media logs in order to get the gist of the story, then it’s up to them how they proceed and engage with the mystery.
The team are clearly onto something as Cloud Chamber stars Gethin Anthony from Game of Thrones and Jesper Christensen from Quantum of Solace in lead roles, so the narrative has some decent sized star-power to back up its fascinating concept. The game has also recently come out of Test Launch in Denmark and was received very well by its limited audience.
We managed to spend some time talking to Christian Fonnesbech, the games’ creative director, to learn more about this intriguing new concept. But also to allay some of the fears we have.
As mysteries are ongoing, it seems like the earlier you purchase the game, the more content available to you. We wanted to know what benefits the game will offer players in the long-term and how the experience is being tailored to someone who picks up the game six months post-launch. We ask Christian if a lack of knowledge of ‘Season One’ will affect their chances going into Season Two?
Here’s his response…
The whole experience is designed around this exact question. The most important thing to note is that there is no single right answer to anything. You will never find a note that says “the butler did it”! Just like we will presumably keep discussing the JFK assassination, players will, in theory, be able to keep discussing who killed Ingrid Petersen and “What is the signal?”. This does not mean that there is no logic or right answer – we know exactly what happened and we know exactly what the signal is… but these facts are not available, anywhere, to anybody. In the end, all you have are your theories and the theories of other players – and these will always be up for discussion. As one writer put it: there are no puzzles, but you are always puzzled.
At one point, during the test launch, we had a player who had written 60 A4 pages of comments, theories and speculations within the game. I decided to reward him by telling him exactly what happened to Ingrid. But, as another member of our team quickly pointed out, “That was just my version…”
The game’s investigative platform is being likened to Reddit, in that other players need to approve and up-vote your findings. This also works the other way; if your observations are irrelevant to the discussion, they are automatically downvoted and eventually disappear. This led us to an inevitable follow-up question: How is trolling combated and could the nature of this system prevent people from progressing with their own investigations? We were keen to find out how Investigative North intend to handle that.
Fortunately, the response was encouraging…
The entire experience is designed around the idea of players actively contributing to the commmunity’s investigation of the mystery… and what we saw during the test launch was that a “club feeling” develops between players who invest time in doing this. This means that people who are trolling or blocking the investigation quickly get reported for abuse. Also, the central mechanic is now like Reddit, so bad discussions – discussions that don’t contribute – just get downvoted and disappear.
When asked whether downvoting could be used as a competitive weapon between players, or if other exploits could be found to discredit people, Christian reassured us that the team will be keeping a close eye on everything…
We will see. We will be watching – and reporting abuse is always an option. But, again, from the test launch, it is definitely not our impression that this is a problem.
Another point that interests us is how the game deals with duplicate theory and how it intends to credit/discredit people. We wondered who would be ‘moderating’ the experience and if multiple threads for the same theory could, in theory, materialise. While the internet is no hivemind, very often people come to similar conclusions and often wish to claim something as their own. Is that competitive nature rewarded?
Since new players come in at the start and need the ability to start threads for themselves, we are giving experienced players a feed where they can keep up with old discussions, that they are involved in, even if these discussions may not be “top ranked” anymore. So new players can start new discussions and have fun there with other new players, even though they duplicate older discussions. At exactly the same time, older players can bring new ideas to older versions of the same discussion that they have been keeping tabs on for months, with the people they came in with. Everybody wins.
Something interesting the developers mentioned in previous interviews is that they would like to encourage people to read outside of the game and follow documentation that is related to locations featured within the story. Effectively, it can make the experience quite educational. And, in doing so, not only could the narrative have more impact on the player’s emotions, giving the story a more three-dimensional feel, but it might also help a player make more informed decision-making. But we wondered if people would be inclined to do that with so many games out in the wild and in an age where there are so many things clamouring for our attention?
If they don’t read-around the subject-matter, could they be at a disadvantage because others have?
During the test launch, we found that very active pore players – players who went out and found articles and linked to them – spent about 25 hours getting through the game. With the new social functions that we are now introducing, we expect this figure to rise substantially for those who really get into it. But when you think of the hundreds of hours that players spend on MMORPGs, Facebook and the like, that really doesn’t seem like it is all that much, does it? We can see that there is definitely a core audience that enjoys going really deep – and who also enjoy hanging out and discussing character motivations as well as life, the universe and everything. As people get more and more used to discussing things in social networks, we think core will keep expanding. It’s the way we live our lives, now.
At the same time, we don’t think the player who isn’t thorough suffers at all. There is a lot of pleasure to be had from just absorbing the media files and watching what others do when they discuss what happened. Just navigating, absorbing and up/downvoting is enough, if that’s your pleasure… It’s a story, you are exploring, after all – and you don’t have to be active to enjoy a story.
That led us into the final question, how much time, roughly, will the player need to spend before they can make an informed judgement on who killed Ingrid Peterson, the main plot-thread in Season One? We wondered if a player can make that accusation at any time or if there are any implications for them doing that then getting it wrong.
The answer was an interesting one…
The pleasure is in the discussion. There is no criteria, wherein you “win” because you guessed right. The only way to win is to convince the community that you are right and thereby gain a lot of trust points. Winning is a question of social achievement, not a question of getting the answer right. On the other hand, if all you want to do is watch the filmed fragments and read the documents, without participating in the discussion, then that perfectly legitimate way to play. Then it becomes more like a single player story exploration game.
The concept is fascinating and we can’t wait to see it in action. Can it be the future of the co-operative game? We’ll find out this Summer.
To learn more, head over here