Arts / Events / Gaming

Here’s what it’s like to play alien invasion in Philadelphia

The War of the Worlds: Philadelphia game jam at Drexel's ExCITe Center was the first of many.

At the War of the Worlds: Philadelphia game jam.

Artist, actors, app developers and game designers got together to brainstorm and test what a possible alien invasion might look like in the City of Brotherly Love during the War of the Worlds: Philadelphia game jam at the ExCITe Center on Saturday, Dec. 17.
The main concept of the game, which is being designed jointly by the Entrepreneurial Game Studio (EGS) and Swim Pony Performing Arts, is to combat The Forgetting: an alien force that causes a loss of connection between people, their community and the area they live in. The Protocol, a process that promotes human connection between individuals and the community they live in, is used to reverse the Forgetting.
To kick off the event Adrienne Mackey, Swim Pony’s director, primed the teams in the goals of their game prototypes and reminded everyone about the mission of War of Worlds: Philadelphia — to engage millennials, particularly Philly transplants, in the communities around them.
Then the teams set about designing a playable prototype of WOTW: Philadelphia that used the game’s main characters, along with the Swim Pony performers that play them. Frank Lee, director and founder of EGS, joined in and participated in the jam himself.
Attendees could be team Tony Oranto, the 24-year-old vlogger and prankster searching for his missing brother, or team Velma Torrent, a librarian, activist and code breaker. In total there were five characters to side with, and four game prototypes were played by the end of the jam.
Interestingly, the collaborative spirit of making rough drafts of the game elements simulated the same kind of human connection and camaraderie that combats The Forgetting in the game’s narrative.

Prototyping away. (GIF by Donte Kirby)

Prototyping away. (GIF by Donte Kirby)

The prototype game designed by team Velma Torrent leaned into the code breaking and librarian aspects of Torrent’s character, and tasked players with finding codes and solving pictographic puzzles hidden in books in a local library’s stacks. One puzzle led teams of players to discover a building in Philadelphia’s history that has been many things during different time periods.
Tony Oranto’s team had attendees watch a video to follow his drone’s path through the ExCITe office and find where it crash landed. Finding the drone’s crash site would lead to color-coded clues and another video that would further the scavenger hunt in hopes of finding Oranto’s missing brother. When WOTW is fully realized, that quest will have players traveling through the neighborhoods of Mantua, Brewerytown or Olney, engaged in their environment, as they try to figure out the path of the drone and search for color-coded symbols to guide their way.
This first War of the Worlds: Philadelphia game jam went well and it won’t be the last — moving forward EGS and Swim Pony are looking to make sure the event is attended by more community organizations in Mantua. The goal, as creators work toward completion of the game, is to keep the surrounding neighborhood involved in the creative process.

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.

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