Part of a video game, part reality show and part animated series, a new project to be broadcast on Facebook wants to change thinking about interactive TV. “Rival Peak,” which will run daily for 12 weeks, allows for different levels of user interaction, and unfolds as a text thread that will transform based on audience input.
At first glance, “Rival Peak”, which started on Wednesday, might remind you of “The Sims.” Only here we do not control the characters as much as we urge them to keep going. It also deviates from the sentiment inspired by choosing your own adventure to numerous live-action attempts to merge games and television, including a number of relatively high examples from the Netflix streaming program.
Instead of stressing big life or death options, Rival Peak seeks to engage in a more continuous and fun way, hoping to form emotional bonds between viewers and players by encouraging intelligent, synthetic characters to read, say, a book or display tent content. If it works, it will be a seamless amalgamation of gaming and TV by leveraging the power of the former – that is, regular commentary and community engagement, rather than wondering how a TV show could be more like a game.
It’s “an experiment,” says Facebook’s vice president of planning and strategy, Matthew Henick, indicating whether it looks more like a show or is more inspiring will depend on how active the fans are.
“There will be familiar display styles for reality shows, be it“ Survivor ”or“ Big Brother, ”with gaming elements alongside them, Henick says.“ They’ll be sharing the games segment. At the top level, this is an interactive reality show that uses elements from games and uses a game engine. “
Of course, part of the reality show’s appeal is seeing real people make bad choices. In “Rival Peak”, the participants are animated characters painted in bright colors, and they all show off a cartoonish look inspired by clay. There is a core story and a lost-like mystery that will gradually reveal itself, but in order to succeed the audience will need to form a connection with these characters in the same way we do in the animated movie.
This is where the gameplay component comes in. The hook would be gently pushing the characters along and seeing how (or if) our options compared to other viewers.
“People want their choices to be important,” says Stefan Bogaage, chief creative officer at dj2 Entertainment, the company that jointly produced “Sonic the Hedgehog”, and is working to bring a number of game features to cinema and television. Bugaj, a veteran of the no longer existing studio Telltale Games, who has worked on popular feature games like “The Walking Dead,” helped moderate the “Rival Peak” story series.
“The big differences – the big fluctuations – often go unnoticed or underappreciated,” Bugage says when asked about a lesson from working at Telltale.
And so, in “Rival Peak,” we’ll tap and tap, depending on the screen we’re using, to influence the character’s actions and dialogue and then sit back and watch it unfold. The show will be running live for eight hours every day, but it’s supposed to be in the background – expect relaxing music – with viewers popping up and out to see what the characters wanted and what choices the community made. Actor Wil Wheaton will host a closing show every week to reach key story points.
“What people really want is an interest in personality and an impact on the character’s journey,” says Bogaj. “The big plot moves have been written, but how they are executed is influenced by user input. The most directly noticeable results that users will change are those who are left out every week. But that requires us to focus the story on these changes.”
The more I dive into “Rival Peak”, the more it reminded me of one of the first PC games I loved, the mid-1980s Activision game called “Little Computer People.” I was astonished when I was five at the relaxed lifestyle of the little digital goblins that lived in our basement desktop. Most of the time they would go about their business without interacting with me, which allowed me to play the role of a divine voyeur while I was kindly playing with their domesticated and virtual lives.
“Rival Peak” is in this ongoing series, from “Little Computer People” to “Tamagotchi” virtual pets. It just has a Pacific northwest environment with a basic narrative that draws inspiration from “Survivor”. 12 in-game characters will be presented challenges and resources to find while exploring the wilderness.
The project will definitely lean into the middle, even introducing elements that might look like glitches in the game, only to reveal that in-game characters then talk about what turned out to be a bug. These puzzles are, of course, fuel to get the audience talking, discussing and creating a different personal drama.
“Even if they aren’t living action characters, even if they don’t do a lot of profound things, they just become a part of your world,” Bogaj says. “It’s the Tamagotchi effect. Like, what did the Tamagotchi cat do? Nothing. But people cried when Tamagotchi died. So there’s just the ability to spend a lot of time with the character and relax with her. That’s a big boost I don’t think many people look at. This is continuing.” It can be part of your life in a way that does not require much of your attention, like a tamagotchi or a fish bowl. “
If “Rival Peak” finds an audience, the hope is that it will not only show the power of live games streamed through the cloud, but also integrate TV-inspired storytelling and interaction. It’s an area full of experiences, from Netflix’s “Black Mirror” episode “Bandersnatch” to games like “Quantum Break”, which try to switch between gameplay and live action.
“If this experiment succeeds, it will start to open the door to a new kind of storytelling,” says Henick of Facebook. “It is a social mode among viewers, an interactive between you and the creators themselves. I hope there will be more of these. I hope we allow users to create their own accounts. I think the key is that people are the center. People drive the story rather than just negatively receiving it.”
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