gameplay2011a.jpg

First mentioned a few weeks ago, this year's edition of the Game Play festival at the Brick Theater recently went began. Thus far I've gotten the chance to see two productions: Romeoo and Julietet by EK Machinima Theater and BrainExplode! by Sneaky Snake Productions.

It was Romeoo and Julietet that I was looking forward to the most; the definite highlight of Game Play 2010 was their production of Grand Theft Ovid, in which the ancient Roman poet's tales were given life though "digital puppetry." On stage is a long table occupied by laptops and manned by boys, all around the age of 13; each is an actor who performs via his avatar and in assorted games, which is all projected for the audience. But this time there's only one story, Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, and just one game: World of Warcraft. The end result is something far more focused and refined.

The adaptation is fairly faithful, with only a few minor changes here and there, for effect. Along with how the star crossed lovers are portrayed by an orc and some half woman, half something, of course. Though the primary thrust is a classic tale unfolding in the middle of a MMO that is populated by other players, all completely oblivious to what's happening. The end result is quite amusing; when was the last time you saw a production in which, during a scene between Romeo and Benvolio, a giant spider suddenly appears and starts knocking stuff over?

Alongside the actors is someone who mans the camera, to get the optimal view of everything, and who does a great job of focusing upon the actors yet also capturing the spontaneous action unfolding as well. Unfortunately, compared to Grand Theft Ovid, there wasn't as many random players trying to get in on the action and cause havoc, but it could have simply been a time in which not as many WOW players were handy. So at the very least, each performance will be unique. But overall, it's a fine exercise in improvised theater and dynamic machinima that is absolutely worth seeing.

Though the early running contender for best of show is easily BrainExplode! The concept is this: Ray Pinter is an accomplished game designer that has created the ultimate form of interactive fiction, one that breaks all the previously imposed boundaries. It is during his initial demonstration that he is struck by a blow dart and knocked out. Upon awakening, he is told that a chip has been implanted into his skull, one that will explode in exactly one hour, so me must escape his confines before obliteration. But he's also a character in his own game, and since every game needs players, whom does he call upon? The audience, naturally.

As BrainExplode! unfolds, a microphone is passed back and forth between those sitting in the front row. Ray is in environments, surround by objects and people, which the audience must help figure out and use to his advantage. It's a real life version of titles like Zork and Grim Fandango, and magic that happens on stage is a joy to witness. I'm hesitant to divulge details because the "game" that I saw followed one particular path, and I have the feeling that there are alternative avenues.

Though I will state that Ray must deal with both his rocky personal and professional past, along with his girlfriend, whom the audience must also instruct at times. The whole thing works beautifully for two primary reasons. First, the acting is absolutely top-notch; no only do they process instructions in an entertaining manner, but their interactions with the audience are warm and inviting, with the end result being characters that you honestly want to help get through their crisis.

Though the second reason is perhaps the most important: a familiarity for the grounds they're walking on that is unmistakable and genuine. One of my primary issues with the Wii Plays is how, ultimately, everyone involved was just going through the motions, but those involved with BrainExplode! know the world of interactive fiction and respect it. Thus it truly is a game, and the best compliment I can offer for any kind is, upon watching it in action and others being engaged, you will be begging to be the next person to have their hands on that controller, or in this case microphone.

At the risk of sounding over dramatic, BrainExplode! represents a new standard from which all game influence theater must be judged upon. I highly implore anyone with a passing interest in video games and culture to make it a duty to see this production, and perhaps even participate. Though Romeoo and Julietet is also highly recommended.

To find out more about Game Play and view show times plus purchase tickets, please refer to the Brick Theater's website. In a few days I'll have my second report, covering Mastermind and foci + loci.