“The Woods” is a mixed-reality, two-player cooperative game that addresses the perils of social isolation by promoting connections between people and actively engaging them through play. Using Augmented Reality (AR) and 4-channel audio spatialization panning, players choreograph their movement in real-world space while interacting with birds, clouds, and other objects in virtual space. In pursuit of a shared goal, players experience an immersive sonic narrative of rumbling storm clouds and disconnected voices that culminate in stories of hope and reconciliation. The design intent behind “The Woods” is to illuminate human connections to others and to celebrate this through collaborative play.
The narrative of “The Woods” is built around the broken relationship of two adult brothers who have been separated and out of contact with each other for a considerable amount of time. One of the brothers in desperate to reach out and reconcile with the other brother is heard leaving a voicemail. In the beginning, players hear only fragments and distorted chunks of the message and are unable to decipher meaning or intent. However, as the game progresses through player collaboration, the message becomes clearer. Ultimately, players hear the message in its entirety and learn that, although the two brothers haven’t spoken in years, both of the brothers yearn to mend their severed ties and reconnect. This narrative of reconciliation between these estranged brothers informs the mechanics of the game itself, with the players coordinating their efforts to one another in pursuit of a common goal. The game is designed such that it is not enough for one player to do all of the work. Rather, success requires the combined work of both players. As players engage one another and contribute to the goal together, the game rewards them with the unfolding narrative of the brothers reconnecting to one another. However, even if players fail to find success during the game, the mechanics reinforce that the two players are still connected to each other.
Locating the bird is the first interaction between the players in the game. When a bird enters the game environment, it comes from outside the playable space and flies into it from behind one of the players, and it is visible to only one of them as it enters the scene. Here, the players must choreograph their moves as they pan their phones throughout the space trying to locate the bird together while communicating what they are seeing to one another. Whether the bird is visible or not, both players are adding value equal to the experience by describing what they are seeing to one another. The second element of the game where verbal and physical coordination is so central is on the branch that connects the players to one another. Because each player controls one end of the branch, neither player can effectively move the branch through space alone. Rather it requires both players. Whether players are in pursuit of the birds or evading storm clouds, their experiences of their coordinated efforts deepen significantly because of this connection between them. In a more recent playtest, the parents of two children who played commented “I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen my kids play together so well."
Papers in proceedings:
Voice Acting and Improvisation
Narrative Design Consulting
Sound Design Consulting
App Development Consulting
Hand-drawn AR marker to put on the floor to mimic the forest floor.
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