1. Introduction
2. Vocabulary: Zone
3. Background
4. Structure
5. Target audience
6. Development strategy
7. Game components
8. Software architecture
9. Hardware architecture
10. Hacks and bugs
11. Design considerations
12. Flexibility
13. Future entertainment
Site: Utrecht
Metamorphosis of Zone
Links and media
Total deZign

Zone Exploration

Game components

Several elements of the game are described below. We believe more elements may be developed in the future to allow creating a more complicated environment.

1. Differences and similarities of virtual and real environments

While it seem possible to recreate virtual environments by all sorts of technical means, the player himself could not follow behaviour models of the virtual world. Virtual reality allows death, super-natural movements, momentary healing and many things physically impossible for ordinary human being. This means our game scenarios may not copy those from the computer games. Player's role should be more passive as we cannot allow the same level of aggression and physical danger. This should be seen as a positive moment urging us to be rather educative than brutal. It is possible to copy puzzle, quest and adventure scenarios but most of the fight, arcade or other violent games are out of our reach. Certain elements, like shooting and being shot are possible, but they will contain faux experiences ("you are dead") and this draws us back into semi-virtuality, while we're trying to be as real as possible.

2. Players' quantities and game configurations:

Solo game: a player enters the Maze alone and passes a quest.

Team game: a couple of players (a team) enters the Maze and performs all the tasks together. It is possible to define certain unique roles and abilities for each of the team members.

Human against human: this option seem possible but problematical. Fake deaths, injuries etc. become the aim of the game and players lose the real experience which is possible in this type of environment. Generally, it is not recommended.

Team support game: one (or a couple of players) enter the Maze, and a "support team" remains in the observation centre. The player(s) in the Maze communicate with the support team which may advice and direct him and even solve certain questions.

Competing teams: two separate teams of players enter the Maze from different sides and compete against each other. The team which gets to a certain point in the Maze first and captures an artifact wins. This game may include support teams as well.

3. Uniform

Main function of the uniform worn by a player is to make him an integral element of the game. It should be designed to make him look properly; it should contain a gaming interface with a small screen and a portable computer; it should contain several sensors and a signal generator which will allow the system to locate the player and communicate with him.

4. Game elements topology

A game in real world may contain different elements with each of them carrying a different function. Majority of these elements are derivatives of the virtual reality and should be designed and constructed from blank. Several basic element types are described below:

Gates separate different parts of the maze from each other. They may be seen as doors between levels. If a certain part of the mission is completed, a gate opens allowing a player to pass through and proceed to the new section of the maze.

Robots allow mechanical movement of certain parts in the maze. They may animate something, change location of devices, move around or even be a separate unit representing an enemy or a friendly figure. They are mechanical devices controlled by the operating center

Informative interfaces are screens, signs and banners in the maze providing information for a player. They may look like computer screens, LED screens, lights and even simple signs.

Artifacts are separate units that may be moved around by a player and used for certain functions. They should contain sensors and may either perform some function or be a part of a puzzle that a player must compose. A particular examples of artifacts are a weapon, a key or a shield.

Plugs are interfaces where a player may connect something to gain a certain effect. For example, he may have a plug in the uniform which may be plugged into another plug found in the maze to raise his "mana" level by a certain amount indicated on the plug.

Mana: a virtual instance which a player may gather, loose and use. Mana is the money, the health and the fuel in the Game. A mission may demand for certain amount of mana to accomplish a task. It may be used to "fuel up" machines or "load" a weapon. As we're not involving terms like "health" and virtual injuries usually seen in computer mazes, this alternative is not related to player's abilities and [virtual] physical conditions. A trap may be a pulsating beam of light which a player should pass without being "shot" by the beam. If he gets "shot" he looses a predefined amount of mana. Mana may be gathered from "mana plugs" that a player finds and connects to them to "drain" mana in the plug and fill his own virtual mana container. The mana plug becomes unactive after being "drained".

Mechanical quests are tasks that should be performed by a player. A result of such quest must be identified by a sensor as positive or negative. For example, a player finds a couple of parts that must be screwed together to make a useful artifact s.a. a weapon.

Golography may be used to generate 3D images in the maze. It must be the best solution for representing "monsters" because it cannot be mechanically destroyed. It allows the images to appear and disappear and also provides a glowing effect that makes them visible in the dark.

5. Timing

Every game must have a time frame. One of the possibilities is that player(s) have to order a game before entering the maze. This could be a "cheap" 15 minutes mission or a more complicated and more expensive alternative. Certain bonuses in the game may include time extention.

If a mission is not complete within a given time frame player either fails or may have a chance to add more time to his mission which may appear as an option on his portable interface.

6. Game scenarios.

As mentioned above, violent and brutal scenarios should be avoided because of the reason we cannot make them real. Most of the scenarios should be derivatives of the sites where a game will be constructed. Generally, all the scenarios are putting a player into an adventure maze where he must perform certain tasks to complete a mission. Each game mission may consist of several tasks, the Maze may be divided into levels where a player must complete a certain part of the mission to proceed to the next level.

7. Game tasks' examples:

Labyrinth: a player has to find a certain location or a way to the next level. He may find a "treasure map" of some kind or be guided by his computer or a support team.

Trap: a place in the Maze impossible to pass through without taking some action to disable the trap or to pass it safely in alternative way.

Key: a player must find a key to open a door to the next level. The key itself may be composed of several parts and the player must connect them together to activate the key. An assembly scheme must be provided. There are two ways of detecting if the key assembly is correct: first, each part of the key may have a terminal that, if connected with other terminals, closes a circuit that sends an impulse to a sensor responsible for the correct assembly detection. Second, a door or a device that should be activated with the key has terminals that send a positive signal if connected with the key's terminals in a proper order. If the key doesn't work a player should disassemble it and try to fix the assembly mistake. In this case the key may be a passive device and the door - active, which is preferable, considering the key is being carried by a player and may be powered by batteries only.

Password: a player must solve a puzzle where the answer is a password opening a door. This is a logical task not requiring special technology at the site. A door may have a code lock or a computer interface where the password should be submitted.

Shooter: a player has a weapon and has to hit a target. The target might represent an enemy and may be animated (a robot) and be able to shoot the player back. This task will work better if there's no possibility of physical contact between the player and the target. As mentioned above, if a player gets "shot" he looses mana. A player may find a shield that may be used to cover a sensor on the uniform responsible for "being shot". Important to notice that the uniform should contain several sensors of this type and the shield may not be too big to cover all the sensors altogether.

Repair: a passage in the Maze is destroyed or blocked, the player must repair/clean it to pass through. It may require some physical strength.

Lot: on his way through the Maze a player may meet a device that urges him to choose a certain way out of several options. A result is the scenario (or a part of it) is being shuffled and the player must go in a certain direction (a door opens) which may become a shortcut or a complicated root.

Timer: activating some device may trigger a timer. For example, opening a door starts a countdown and a player has to run to another door which opens somewhere and closes when the countdown is over. Timer missions must be reasonably simple.

8. Sound

Except for the obvious option of placing speakers in the Maze to produce sound effects and even spoken messages, an accent should be made on providing array of natural sounds. This may include dripping water, squeaking doors, working engines, metal floors resonating with the player's steps etc. Not background music but background noise may add a proper mood for this type of space, again with the noise being produced by a mechanical device, not a speaker.

9. Light

The maze should be rather dark. A player may wear a weak spotlight (a part of the uniform) to assure he may walk through the maze without stumbling upon walls and other elements. The darkness should be sufficient to allow visualising different small displays, indicators and other lighted devices. The artifacts and items which may be activated should be lighted either by an external source of light aimed at it or by an internal led or lamp. This allows a player to locate the "active" elements of the game in the maze. An "unactive" device or door may stay unlighted until a certain task is complete. A major target might be strongly illuminated to emphasise it's importance.

Utrecth, Cereol site.

Nataly Gorodetsky-Engel, sketches for Zone game scenario, 2006.

Stalker, computer game, screenshots.

Utrecth, Cereol site, soya plant interior detail.

Stalker, computer game, screenshots.

Utrecht, railway museum, train engine detail.

Zone Exploration game simulation, picture taken at the cellar of Aorta architecture center, 2007. Uniform by Nataly Gorodetsky-Engel.

Stalker, computer game, screenshots.

A functional key for a Zone Exploration game, metal, plastic, semiconductors. Sergey Engel, 2007.

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