Just this weekend, I had the fortunate experience of taking part in a small gaming convention in my town called Nanocon. Each year we have an event called iDig, where notable people from the gaming industry come and speak. This year, I got to meet and personally speak with Richard Dansky, Ken Rolston, Matt Forbeck, Geoffrey Long, and Kristen Maxwell (if you don’t know who they are, I would suggest looking them up; they all have wonderful insights and experience in the field of game design). ‘Games Across Media/Transmedia’ was the topic of discussion this year, and I wanted to share my opinion on it as well as have a place to synthesize and process what I learned.

What is Transmedia?

For those who are unaware, transmedia is a term which is best used as an adjective. The act of transmedia story-telling involves having a narrative span across many different types of media. This allows for players/readers/watchers to engage in their favorite worlds in as many different ways as possible. As a game designer, it is very important to understand this, because making a transmedia game is an extension or part of a story which may not be present in that particular game.Our job as game designers is always brought back to immersion. That’s our goal, and transmedia story-telling is a beautiful way to enthrall our fans.

Examples of Transmedia Games

Halo, Assassin's Creed, Warcraft, Starcraft, The Matrix, Star Wars, Star Trek are the most recognizable transmedia franchises. Everyone knows bad transmedia when they see it. I guarantee that all of you have encountered a terrible movie which was a based off a game, or vice versa. Books made into movies, games made from comic books, comic books turned into movies, movies turned into games – these are all ways of transferring from one media to the next. Since you all recognize the terrible ones, I want to point out Batman: Arkam Asylum. This is a game which we discussed during Nanocon that is one of the most successfully done transmedia games. Kristen Maxwell mentioned that it is essentially a Batman simulator, which, in itself, is what makes the game highly enjoyable. When a player is coming into a game to experience life like Batman, that player should be able to do everything Batman can do – and just as easily! If a player cannot accomplish a task as easily as their character is supposed to, that ruins immersion and is just frustrating to the player. Obviously, there needs to be some sort of challenge, and that is where the quests come in. Throughout the storyline, you are constantly being tested with your knowledge of the core mechanics as you use them to fight multiple enemies, glide through buildings, and track down clues.

Another good example would be Injustice: Gods Among Us. With a riveting story-line, great gameplay, and sick graphics, this game is just insanely badass and fulfills the want to engage within that world. (This, as I’ve said, is the whole point of transmedia story-telling!) I feel excited to see the amount of newer games which successfully move stories into the area of video games. Having a satisfied feeling of playing a character you love to read could be considered the ultimate fantasy of the fan boy/girl. To achieve this, we must make sure that our games don’t suck, and players actually want to engage in them. So, how exactly do we do this?

Some Ways to Make Transmedia Games Successful

Matt Forbeck spoke about the ability of making choices in a game. In a movie, choices are static, they will never change – no matter how many times you watch The Lion King, Mufasa will always die. So, when transferring stories into a game medium, you must find a way to make those choices intriguing to the player. One example Forbeck gives is that in the Walking Dead game, you can choose to shoot a man’s son who is infected, or force the dad to do it himself. With this choice, the player is faced with a moral dilemma. This kind of moral gray area makes everything far more interesting than a straight black and white choice.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to make a successful transmedia game is to either continue a story from the world or make up a new one. A lot of games are adaptations of books, movies, or comic books and because of that, fans have a much higher expectation of the product. Not only that, but they have a solid (successful) version to compare it with. When you create an entirely different story, or part of a story which hasn’t been touched on yet, the player will not be expecting it to be a certain way. Of course, there are key elements that need to be in the game to make it recognizable. To demonstrate – the Iron Man game was largely a failure because the company couldn’t get Robert Downey Junior to do the voice of Iron Man. Now, we all know that RDJ is not actually Iron Man, but because of the success of the movies, he has literally become Iron Man in the eyes of many. Noticing details like this can be the difference between a transmedia game that is amazing, and one that totally flops.

Immersion and Satisfaction

If you’re anything like me, you have that one franchise which, if you could, you’d jump into any kind of media that allows you to access and experience that world. Almost everyone who games has this feeling, and that is why transmedia story-telling is so vital to do well. Once in the industry, I will strive to create immersive and ridiculously satisfying worlds to explore. What types of transmedia games would you like to see? What makes you enjoy a transmedia game? The more information I collect from gamers like you, the better games I will be able to make for you! So throw it all at me, I want to hear what all of you have to say on the topic.