By Ian McNeely
"The doors are now sealing.
The doors are now sealed."
-Municipal Bunker #509 Control Droid
This weekend we held our first playtest of The Bunker, our newest immersive where guests collaborate to survive a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Guests' decisions were directly responsible for the procedurally generated narrative full of lies, decapitations and cannibalism. More on that in a moment...
Joining us in the Bunker:
Devon Caraway. Actor/Director/Long-time collaborator with BGI.
Molly C. Greene. Theatre Artist/Writer/Dramaturg.
Brough Hansen. Actor/Playwright/Park Slope celebrity.
Elise Lebreton. Actor/Playwright/Long-time collaborator with BGI.
Iya Megre. Attorney-at-Law (specializing in litigation) and distinguished megagame aficionado.
Our goals for the playtest were to measure audience engagement, test the practical functions (i.e. locations, items, etc...) and search for the ever-elusive "proof of concept". There's nothing more nerve-wracking than throwing your baby in the pool to see if it swims.
I wasn't sure if we could successfully suspend disbelief with our prototype of homemade cards and handwritten notes, but I was very happy to watch people get onboard. The feeling of the bunker was intense for the first half, but struggled to sustain as pressure seemed to decompress. The next version needs to progressively ratchet up the stakes (like the well-made play of yore).
We induced players to embrace political intrigue, passing and rejecting popular referendums, but ultimately, we needed more possibility space, more specific ways players could come into political conflict. Our "secret objectives", while useful for initiating opposition, didn't have a sustaining quality to keep the game going. Again, we were hemorrhaging momentum, slowly relaxing into entropy. When it was all said and done, our 100 minute design had clocked in at a sluggish four hours. Clearly, the next iteration needs a timer and a merciless rising action.
The nuts and bolts of exploring the wasteland and gaining resources too heavily favored random luck. Players would wander off, draw a card at random and, accrue a bunker full of junk without advancing the tech tree to one of the victories. Mea culpa. But how does a designer give enough direction without making it feel like the game is "on rails"? This is why we playtest. Back to the drawing board for round two on Saturday, January 20th!