MetaBox 001 - "Work in Progress"

 "AS FIGMENTS OF YOUR IMAGINATION, WE FEEL IT'S OUR DUTY TO LET YOU KNOW... Um... YOUR GAME KINDA STINKS SO FAR."

"AS FIGMENTS OF YOUR IMAGINATION, WE FEEL IT'S OUR DUTY TO LET YOU KNOW... Um... YOUR GAME KINDA STINKS SO FAR."

This is a new blog series that we'll be posting to share regular progress on our ambitions to develop a Meta Olympia Board Game, which we affectionally refer to as MOG.

The intention of Meta Olympia was never to be an isolated fictional news site; it was just a really great and convenient platform for us to world-build our 60-years-in-the-future-everyday in a real time way.  After months of continuous reporting and amassing so many great concepts and artwork, MOG was a natural branch for the property.

What's happened so far

In April, after doing our homework on the table top games market, we decided to whole-heartedly kick off a board game(s) agenda.  Not only are they cool and popular these days, but they are an actual physical thing that requires human interaction, which, in many ways, is a perfect contrast to the current form factor of Meta Olympia which is trapped in digital content and behind-the-curtain simulators.

Michelle and Yili have been driving the project from Vancouver. 

There were a number of main requirements we set going into this project –  We certainly wanted it to be about our Martian sports and to somehow capture the same tone of discovery and the 'coming of age' for a planet perviously devoid of non-essential functions.  Reflecting our backstory and world is, naturally, a key park of what makes it distinctively our own.

After weeks of brainstorming, we leveraged the help of another Vancouver-based game designer, Edward, to help advise on mechanics for the deck building component.  We wanted to incorporate athlete cards as a core component, leveraging the dozens of headshot illustrations we've created, so Edward was able to simplify our ideas and make a first stab at rules and interactions.

Could it fulfill our requirements? Would it be scalable to build into a whole game? Was it going to be fun? 

Of course, you can't expect a few weeks of brainstorming to magically result in a complete and functioning game.  It was, however, an essential pass to really ask those questions, regroup and iterate.  With everyone on our team coming from a design background, we are all aware that it's about the journey.  After all, you just don't know what is going to work until you've given it a go, so valuing progressive failure and embracing trail and error, especially when you aim to find something novel versus just adapting to an existing game system, is fundamental.

At this point, we've gone through 3 iterations.  Yili's been hosting game nights with an all-important wine & pizza budget to bribe/reward our testers.

The kinds of insights we are getting are indicative of where we are in the process:

  • "Too much luck is involved" – which was something that was carried over from the first iteration. The main matchup needs to be overhauled so players can have strategic play.
  • "How about factoring in skill?" – which was in earlier ideas, but was a different mechanic.
  • "Special compatibility characteristic?" – perhaps something that links certain players together to provide unique benefits/bonuses.
  • Playing your hands to determine matches resulted in too much mental accounting –not what we are after.
  • Daisy-chaining the play of cards is more fun, but slower for more than 2 players.
  • The athlete set result in too many draws. So we need to better balance in the deck.

Rather than just refining card play, I've challenged Yili with testing more concepts in parallel.  There could be broader aspects of the game that could resonate and affect how we will adjust or implement athlete cards. 

 Regular play testing lets us scrap ideas early and pivot the game.  Thankfully there is no shortage of people willing to play.

Regular play testing lets us scrap ideas early and pivot the game.  Thankfully there is no shortage of people willing to play.

Diversifying to investigate parallel themes is something I fundamentally believe in.  We don't have a fixed timeline, so we can afford to ideate more before we get fixated on a single path.  Also, our baseline objective isn't to just 'end up with a game', we want to get the most out of the process of 'trying to build a game' because we believe it will result in actually making a game that we are proud of.

Take Aways

To wrap up this post, thought we share a few guiding principles.  Though these are absolutely generic in nature, they certainly apply to the MOG endeavour:

  • Committing to make something is hard
  • Cranking out anything can be easy
  • Making something you think is good is hard
  • Making something successful is something entirely different, often independent of being good or bad.
  • Only time can tell how things turn out

Next post, we'll delve deeper into some of these specific themes and share more updates about the Meta Olympia Game project.  Over the summer, we will share specific playable rules and downloadable content so that anyone can try out pieces of MOG for themselves.

If you would like to keep posted on our progress, follow us on social media.  If you'd like to somehow get involved in either upcoming play testing or contributing to the project, contact us!

Cheers.

Phase 2 is Coming

Game-Banner-Post.jpg

This spring, we've started designing and developing Meta Olympia, the board game.

The proof-of-concept that began last August with the sports news reporting will continue and serve as the ongoing background and inspiration for game.

If you are interesting in helping us over the course of game design, we will be actively sharing progress and prototypes on metaolympia.com and an open Facebook group.

You can read more about how we got here in this Mighty Dynamo post.

Stay tuned!

 

Space Is Out There!

 An artist’s impression of the oddly shaped interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua'.

An artist’s impression of the oddly shaped interstellar asteroid `Oumuamua'.

There is no shortage of amazing stuff to remind me why tomorrow is just plain awesome.  Tomorrow hasn't happened yet... and though we are able to feel comfort with simple predictions of our immediate future, the reality is, we know jack. 

Space is vast and with crazy timescales to go around, who is to say what is within the realm of possibility?

Whether it is small asteroids that suddenly, but harmlessly fly by our planet, like 2018 CB did on February 9th; crazy interstellar objects like Oumuamua which was first spotted on October 19; or the discovery of 7 Earth-sized planets just 40 light years away -  there's really no shortage of real-life awesome to fuel our imagination.

 Trappist-1 System

Trappist-1 System

There's nothing like thinking about things like this to put a little perspective in your life.  Even though we are unlikely to ever experience these wonders up front and personal, nothing stops us from digesting such inspiration into practical motivation.

Close your eyes and take a moment to imagine riding an asteroid or visiting nearby star system and suddenly, we are flirting with the impossible.

 

 

Simulator, Stimulator

Last week was the roll out of another sport experiment on Meta Olympia; an individuals-based competition modelled after racing, extreme games, and track & field.

The whole idea behind Meta Olympia is simulating a prediction of the future through a single genre-specific media site.  In this manner, having multiple sports happening simultaneously has always been the goal, emulating a comprehensive property like ESPN.  Though not easily attainable in this pilot stage, it is a fundamental, if not necessary aspect to 'the games of tomorrow'.

 Sketch by Shaun Mullen, capturing the whole mortal vs. Mars vibe.

Sketch by Shaun Mullen, capturing the whole mortal vs. Mars vibe.

This is where Pathfinder Marathon came in.  A sport with an isolated scope, fixed duration and easily relatable would limit the impact of existing resource constraints.  A race totally fit the bill.  What I loved about it was just how completely different it was to football/soccer.

Of course, we had to cook up the lore, the process of generating players that mapped to the demographic distribution of the world, and also create a simple simulator geared towards individual, race-style competition, but without the dependencies of a team sport programmed over multiple weeks and with much more substantial rules and gameplay, it was a much simpler exercise than the MAFL was.

 The probability-based engine created for Pathfinder Marathon.  Inputting competitors and their individual attributes derives the probability of performance against terrains as well as likelihood of injury/death and even loss of will.  The dots represent racer positions over time and the red lines the probability of a player tapping out for whatever reason.

The probability-based engine created for Pathfinder Marathon.  Inputting competitors and their individual attributes derives the probability of performance against terrains as well as likelihood of injury/death and even loss of will.  The dots represent racer positions over time and the red lines the probability of a player tapping out for whatever reason.

The trade off of this type of sport was coverage.  Rather than pacing out games against a schedule, we are forced to run each stage of the race daily... and to report it and generate the art and visual assets.  

Damn it!  There's a lot to do!  And for the first few days, there were a few moments of doubt that it was sustainable.

Like all good things, however, you need to get over the hump. 

From a newsroom perspective, after 5 days of reporting Pathfinder Marathon, we now look forward to running the simulator, dissecting the stage, culling the runners that DNF, and seeing how a bunch of meaningless numbers spat out by an arbitrary engine can become the source of meaning and stimulation!

 

Virtual Life and Death

 Portrait of a fallen fantasy midfielder... 2055-2077.

Portrait of a fallen fantasy midfielder... 2055-2077.

Injury and fatality in sports is not too uncommon.  Not only do they often have inherent dangers from strain and physical contact, athletes have these short shelf-lives where they peak and battle time as much as any opponent or advesary.

When Meta Olympia was first conceived, these notions were factored into the profile of players.  It's a probability-based world, so anything is possible and one event can, invariably, lead to another; and everything in the fake world subscribes to these rules of fate.

Recently, the simulator spat out an insanely aggressive week of play, week 20 in the MAFL.  12 injuries across 4 matches with a full range of severity.  For the really bad ones, we decided create formulas that helped define the injury and how it would play out, like whether it gets better or worse and when a player is fit to return to play.  In the case of the Comets vs Immortals match, however, Yamen Warren was involved in an incident with 9-rated injury.  It isn't a 'death' score, which is also possible in the Simulator, but 9 certainly up there.  So much so, we couldn't leave it as just a generic duration of incapacitation.

With a little research on head injuries, factoring in this is the future with more advanced medical services and  also recognizing that colony conditions, though good, less akin to metropolitan hospitals of Earth, we came up with a probability for death which was higher on the first few days and then the risk rapidly trailed off due to the miracles of medical science.

Rolled the dice...  virtual gods gave him a thumbs down: Death.

Wow, really?  As an editor, I wondered, is this a good thing?  This would mean scratching a player off the roster that I invested in generating and having an artist illustrate his headshot?  Do I really want this to happen?

Well, the whole ethos of this project was built around non-deterministic outcomes.  It was about finding out if fake news could be legitimate and somehow meaningful news.  Believing in this, the results are king, so Yamen died with the works; full-blown sobbing parents and a league reacting by postponing the season's final matches, and funeral processions. 

It was pretty weird in our little virtual newsroom.  Many of our contributors remarked how 'sad' this was and if it really even happened.  Weird, indeed... it's not real.  But that we don't control it makes it something a little more convincingly real than had it been a subjective decision.   

We are all spectators to the Meta Olympia world.

It is moments like this where I feel some kind of validation that this could, indeed work, that if the parameters are set just right, stories are born on their own and our job is to nurture them..

The Meta Olympia experiment plays on, one day at a time, 60 years in the future.

 

 

 

Olympic Moment...

Toronto, Canada

 Note to self: remember how effective it is to have screaming and cheering kids at an event. 

Note to self: remember how effective it is to have screaming and cheering kids at an event. 

Yesterday, I had a surreal kind of a parallel, non-future Meta Olympia experience.

My wife, Frances, had to be at the unveiling of the Team Canada Winter Olympic and Paralympic collection for work.  It sounded right up my alley from a sporting, design, and media perspective, so I tagged along.

IMG_3225.JPG

When we arrived, people were just starting to gather.  We were on the level above, so Frances noticed the lead designer of the collection among the crowd.  Her name is Jules Power and she has been responsible for designing the Team Canada Olympic Kits for this and previous years, including Rio, London, and Sochi. 

It seemed a shame not introduce myself, so Idid.

meeting.jpg

Even though she was in the sidelines, it was her day.  She said it was different than designing high-fashion because of the audience size.  Someone walked by wearing a shirt from the London collection and she remarked how it brought back memories.  It must be special to work on a project of this nature.   I could feel an energy that was of that 'sport' variety.  There was genuine anticipation as we waited for the clock to count down.   

Jules described the challenges to putting together the collection.  Not only the technical and functional elements like keeping the athletes warm, but working with a limited colour palette.  Yes, in Canada we just have red and white.  She described having to get creative and using lots of heathered greys.

I can imagine the responsibility that one must feel when having to dress the team representing your country She mentioned how it was all done with local vendors, so everything Team Canada wears is appropriately made in Canada.

The designs aren't exclusive for the athletes either, so there must be immense pressure to create a collection that resonates with the patriotic consumers-at-large.  Being an Official Outfitter isn't charity work, so appeal to the mass audience is a must.

The collection was revealed with pageantry.

Participating athletes included Marie-Michèle Gagnon, Brendan Green, Marielle Thompson, Taylor Henrich, Gilmore Junio, Kelsey Serwa, Max Parrot, John Morris, Rachel Homan, Dustin Cook, Chris Klebl, John Leslie, Brian McKeever, Graham Nishikawa, and Michelle Salt. 

It included Village Wear, Opening Ceremony Wear, Podium Wear, and Closing Ceremony Wear.  Even though I am familiar with this from having watched so many Olympics in the past, seeing it presented this way lets you appreciate how deliberate it is - designed and orchestrated.

 Welcoming Press to the stage... how could I resist?

Welcoming Press to the stage... how could I resist?

I got a few good shots, but it was more about checking out these meta humans.  They are representing a lot up there, out there, and you can feel it, like layers on an onion.  

It is funny asking an alpine skier "could I get a twirl, please?".

I'm sure it must have had a little zoo-animal vibe for these Olympians, but they were all great about it.  Especially Max Parrot and Rachel Homan sweating in their full winter-lined Opening Ceremony gear.  It was hot, I was hot, so they were moreso.

IMG_7653.JPG

Would I have guessed 6 months ago that I would voluntarily attend the Team Canada Olympic Kit launch?  Nope, but it just goes to show how things work out in their own amazing way.

Not only was this immersive research, it lived out a mini media experience of a slice of cultural phenomenon directly related to, but not in itself, a sport... which is, in many ways, the cool part about Meta Olympia.

Congratulations to Jules, her team, and HBC on rolling out an excellent collection.

kit-collage-2.jpg

Month Marker...

It has been over 4 weeks since we have been running Meta Olympia live and so far so good.

It would have been hard to imagine just a few months ago what it would actually bve like operating an adhoc newsroom and coordinating with so many different collaborators from around the world. 

More fascinating, I don't think we expected how quickly our imaginary world would deceive even ourselves... the more we write about this fake, generated-world, the more we realize that it is about as real as anything else... or do I mean, meaningful?

Sometimes when I find myself wishing the simulator spit out another result or hoping to see more more activity from a particular player, I am reminded how awesome it is that we faithfully accept the machine's outcome.  Our creativity is not to make-up the over-arching plot of Meta Olympia, rather, our craft is in all those subtle, human details.  

From a design perspective, I am a fan of constrained requirements.  Projects that have no constraints, endless budgets and open themes can quickly become unstructured flights-of-fantasy.  Here, we play the cards we are dealt... whether it be the simulated scores, our tight content budget, or our explicit choice to run in real-time to this parallel 60-year-in-the-future timeframe.

Things are progressing naturally and it feels pretty freaking good so far.

Here are a couple of highlights from the last few weeks: 

We got a great write up from GAME OF NERDS.  My favourite line:

Who knows, one day this could be the way we consume all digital media, through real time world building sims bringing us that much closer to the future of humanity and civilization.
the-guys.png

I also got to be a guest on the Geed Hard Show last Friday – Episode 382.  Andrew Young invited me to the live broadcast and it was really a pleasure to just talk about the project casually with Andrew and James.  They were super generous and enthusiastic.

You can stream the recorded show from HERE.  My segement start at 43:25.

There are plenty of more activities and stories on the way... behind the curtains too!

Enjoy!

 

Hello World!

Today, we quietly turned on Meta Olympia and it now officially exists as its own property for the general public to see.

Like so many wonderful things, Meta Olympia is the result of a series of completely unexpected circumstances. As an idea, it didn’t exist until randomly muttered in a casual pub conversation. As a project, it has been a work-in-progress for but a handful of months, supported by an ever expanding motley crew of contributors that faithfully believe “it’s worth a shot”.

From my perspective, when disparate ideas and people somehow magically coalesce, that is the kind of normal that I want to make part of my life. 

There are countless people who have influenced Meta Olympia, so this endeavour was only possible because of their encouragement and belief.

I must give a special shout out to Tinker Hatfield.  Tinker and I met years ago when he started getting deep into digital drawing.  We’ve kept up over the years, but he did me a super solid by generously offering his time and expertise to review all the first round concepts back in April.  As a super star designer and as a guy that knows a thing or two about sports, his feedback, reactions, and advice were invaluable to nudging the project forward.

 Tinker Hatfield going through EVERYTHING at Saint Simon Coffee Company in Portland.

Tinker Hatfield going through EVERYTHING at Saint Simon Coffee Company in Portland.

With that, let me share a few things that we, the people who have been living part of our lives 60 years in this future, believe:

  • We believe space exploration and NASA are cool
  • We believe sci-fi should be an everyday kind of thing… not isolated to shows, games or stories, but part of mainstream culture
  • We believe that through our lens of sports, more kids will find new interest in STEM
  • We believe we can make a machine that makes cool jobs for humans
  • We love news and we believe we can make a platform that bridges fantasy and reality with meaningful content
  • We believe in imagination… that people can and will be inspired by our simple blend of words and art
  • We believe Meta Olympia can influence people today
     

Fan Expo Canada 2017

We have a busy week ahead of us.

Pre-launching Meta Olympia corresponds with lots of great activity at this year's Fan Expo Canada in Toronto; Now the 3rd largest pop-culture convention in North America behind San Diego and New York.

We held our Meta Olympia Night Dinner Soiree last night for 35 guests and media.  It was a blast to have an intimate and chill gathering to celebrate and make new pals.

Today, the convention opens in the afternoon and we'll be there supporting our friends at ArtStation.  Just as they broke the barrier into the top 1000 most visited worldwide online properties according to Alexa, I'm really proud to be helping them with their first exposure at a public-facing event.  It is an incredible opportunity for ArtStation to be among the artists in Artist Alley as well as attending the show as a press outlet.

I have the privilege of being the moderator at the Panel with an incredible line up of industry experts in the creative & M&E space.  Leonard Teo (CEO and co-founder of ArtStation) will be joined by Thomas Heerman (Senior Director from Autodesk M&E), Nacho Yague (Senior Concept Artist), and Tim Warnock (Artist and co-founder of North Front).  With the theme of "Breaking in and Staying in the industry", I'm expecting a really insightful cross section on talent, technology and industry trends.

Visit us at the ArtStation booth #655 by Artist Alley or join us at the panel on Saturday, Sep 2 at 11AM in theatre 701A.

FEC-Panel.jpg

I'm also a very proud sponsor to this year's RAID Studio Social.  This exclusive creator and industry party has been hosted by Rámon Pérez and crew for years, but this is the biggest event they've ever held and has a completely outrageous guest list... all for the purpose of great times and casual hang out.

RAID studio has also been a huge supporter to Meta Olympia.  This launch features incredible work by Rámon, Marcus To, and Nimit Malavia.  I'm also excited about the opportunity to work with Anthony Falcone who has recently come onboard to contribute on the writing team.

It's a been a crazy ride to get ready for this... so appropriate that it will stay crazy. 

After Fan Expo, We'll also be attending Elevate in Toronto and New York Comic Con on October 5 & 6.