One thing you gotta know about the team is we’re family focused, through and through. (Heck, I was reading parenting books when I was 8 years old for goodness sake.) Therefore, when we knew we were going to be making the SeentralPark LARE, I knew I had to rope my kids in. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a hard sell. Me: “I’m going to make an AR game that takes place in Central Park. Wanna help?” Kids: “Uh yeah! What do we need to do?”
We have big dreams for SeentralPark, a lot of “Why has this never been done before?” type things. Those will all come to light in due time, but first and foremost we need to show just what the heck it is we’re building. “Okay, so it’s a LARE, but what does that look like and feel like?” In order to answer that question, I knew we’d have to build a POC/playable demo. Something that gives a taste of just what it is we have in mind. It shouldn’t show everything in detail, but should give a feel of everything that is coming. It should create a sense of wonder and give a magical feeling of its own, that builds atop the magic that is contained within Central Park.
Breaking down the demo area
One morning, after a run in the park, I walked through a small section of Central Park near the East 72nd Street entrance. It’s my daughters’ favorite area because they love to climb on the Alice in Wonderland statue. It’s a tiny little sliver of Central Park as you can see in the image. Central Park is that long vertical rectangle on the left side. The right side shows roughly the rectangle in red that we will explore in the POC. You can see just how little of the park we use and how much bigger a canvas we have yet to explore.
Non-linear Narrative, i.e. Choose Your Path
One thing to remember about what we’re trying to achieve here is not just a narrative, but a non-linear narrative. Meaning you can take any action in any order and still enjoy the experience. You don’t have to start at Point A, then proceed orderly until Point D. Whether you do D-C-B-A, A-D-C-B, or any other combo. A park is meant to be explored at your own leisure, we cannot break that principle. We are building atop of the park’s majesty, not breaking it apart. Each experience is a unique flavor that can be savored on it’s own, but once you’re done with them all, it should feel as a cohesive whole like a meal at a fine dining restaurant: each individual dish is good, but put together with the rest makes for an unforgettable experience.
With cell phone AR, the industry says you get a max of 2 1/2 minutes of user egagement per experience. That means each point of interaction with the user within the park has to be short, which actually is great. It takes time to walk to various parts of the park, even in our tiny little section for the POC. That travel time can be used to rest from the device and enjoy the magical beauty inherently woven into the park itself. We want you to see the park as it is sans overlays, because the character of the park adds to the character of the LARE.
Exploration and Ideation with my Girls
On April 5, 2022, I sat the girls down so we could have a design meeting. Since we’re trying to build this in the open, I recorded that meeting. What I hoped to achieve was to involve them in the creation of SeentralPark LARE elements: characters, mechanics, themes, etc. In the series of video clips below, you will see how we do create them together. Some of the elements we come up with are still left intact several weeks later, while others have been iterated upon even further. It’s definitely cool to see the birth of some things and how wrong we get other things, but that’s the point of the design meeting. We needed to put a stake in the ground, so we could have a starting point and branch out from there.
Mr. Squish E.
Mr. Squish E is our narrator and tour guide through the SeentralPark LARE. It’s interesting to me how little we knew of his personality at this time. There has been so much treatment of his backstory that we’ll share in later posts, that its fun to look back and see him be sorta one dimensional at this point of the design.
We need to capture real world objects in Central Park and digitize them for later reference and usage within SeentralPark. Here is a capture of the arch bench that we talk about in the video clip. I wound up trimming the floor completely from the model data we’ll be using. However, it is cool to see the close up of the squirrel design elements that my daughter points out in the video clip.
There are many levels of play that we’ll talk about in a later post, but one level is a simple exploration model. You just open the app, point it at anyplace within Central Park and collect the items that magically appear. The items have purposes in the LARE, but you don’t have to discover that purpose, much less use them for it. You and a group of friends could just walk around, collecting, trading and having fun with this very simple level of gameplay.
Here we talk about carrots laying in the grass. It plays towards Mr. Squish E’s constant hunger, but also hints at their later purpose. Once we get further into development, one can easily picture various types of carrots, different sizes, colors, etc., not to mention other fruits and vegetables that await our users as they explore.
The White Rabbit
One thing that we’re still unsure about is just how much of a real world object will need to be visible to be recognizable. Due to that and due to time constraints on our self imposed deadline, we opted to use the rabbit vs Alice in our LARE. Kids can climb all over Alice and they should. However, that might mess with our ability to recognize Alice. Therefore, it’s harder to climb on the rabbit, so we went with him instead.
The rabbit introduces another level of play, where you use items from the exploration level (like carrots) to attain a more powerful item from a character (like a pocket watch from the rabbit). Just as we build atop of Central Park, we wanted to incorporate that same layering concept to the game play. Where with each level of interaction you participate in, another layer gets added to the experience. As you level up your participation, the items you receive level up in power and capabilities.
As you can see, the technology is not 100% perfect yet. There are many apps available to capture real world elements digitally. All the scans shown in videos here were made using the Scaniverse app by Niantic. Is this gonna cause issues with our LARE? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We’ll have to see! 🙂
Magic Hat Mechanic
Again, we opt to use a lesser part of the statue within Central Park. While this is the Hans Christian Andersen statue, what we find more useful for our purposes is the duck and top hat. Those have far greater magic potential than an adult human. Teleporting items is fun in and of itself, but again, there’s another level if the player decides to figure it out.
I kinda didn’t capture the top of Hans’ head when digitally scanning. Oopsie! I hope that’s gonna be okay.
Narwhal Character Hatched
It’s odd to look back at this clip. The girl narwhal character (who has a name now but not in the video) is such a central aspect of the POC, that it’s funny to realize that 1) It was a boy at one time 2) It was almost a dolphin. The girls definitely made the right choice by choosing a narwhal though. The whole ball idea has also faded from our roadmap. I can’t wait to introduce you to the character she has become in a later post.
Another thing to note is how we didn’t really fully flesh out what the watch would do until we got to this point of the design meeting. In fact, we even change the power drastically during the few seconds we talk about it.
Meeting Wrapup & Development Timeline
Like any good meeting, this one came to an end. I recapped what we accomplished. I also wanted to the girls to be able to talk about anything else they had on their mind. The only thing they had was an unrealistically fast deadline…like pretty much any real project meeting! LOL
I hope to record more of these moving forward. It’s definitely fun to look back and see progress. Sometimes you think, “We’re not moving forward at all!” You are! It’s just that some changes are so key to the success of the project that your mind just naturally assumes those things were always there from day one. I think our minds do that to help boost our confidence. “Of course we always knew that, it’d be stupid if it wasn’t that way.” likely helps you beat a deadline more so than “We’re so clueless. We’re lucky to have even gotten this far.” Even though, we all likely fell more like the latter one.