After attending SDCC for many years now, I find myself in search of something new every year. “New” is a relative term, but I use the word in its purest definition. Legends of Orkney is new. It hasn’t been done before, and the entire project is a transmedia ecosystem at its best. A book series, and a game, Legends of Orkney is attempting to redefine how we experience literature and video games.
At SDCC, I was able to sit down with both the book’s author, Alane Adams (The Coal Thief), and the game’s creator, Brent Friedman (Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, Empires and Allies, Halo 4). I first sat down with Friedman and began to become engrossed in the world he was describing. The first thing Friedman described was how the game will tie into the book series. The game will fly under its own banner as BattleKasters, but has everything to do with the Legends of Orkney book series. So what sets this game apart from the thousands of mobile games out in the field already? Well, Friedman describes BattleKaster as a “location-based gaming experience.” Experience is the operative word here. Friedman continues with his description, noting that “there is something different about playing a game where you actually have to wander around that takes it beyond just sitting there and typing onto a screen.” You read that right, folks. You’re going to have to go outside.
“How is all this possible?” You might be asking yourself this, but you probably already have an idea. Beacon technology was invented by Apple and gave each of their iDevices (iPads, iPhones) a beacon that transmits a bluetooth signal. Eventually, Apple allowed third party developers in to build external beacons. These external beacons were placed out in the physical world and would in turn talk to the iDevices. The same tech now exists on Android. Still with me? Great! Essentially what this means is that it is now possible to take real world cities and turn them into game boards in the game. For example, at SDCC, Battlekasters had taken over the Gaslamp District across from the convention center and turned it into its own game board. SDCC attendees who played were presented with a map of the area showcasing interactive quests. It is then up to players to physically walk to wherever the quest is located and begin their journey.
BattleKasters’ fundamental gameplay is similar card-based games such as Magic: The Gathering. Fans of Magic will immediately feel at home with BattleKasters, however, when you cast a spell in BattleKasters, the game board changes for everyone in the area. But don’t worry, anti-social gamers are still able to play the game anonymously on the street. However, you should beware of these gamers because BattleKasters also allows you to set traps on in the area. Friedman recalls seeing people setting traps in different places and then try to look inconspicuous and wait for people to walk into said traps. This adds to the determination on whether or not you’re playing for the light side of magic, or the dark side. Still, BattleKasters offers a unique dynamic for gamers to become social outside the game. You may meet people playing in your area and you have the opportunity to ignore them, play with them, or play against them. It’s all part of an experience, which is what Friedman promises.
The network BattleKasters uses allows the developers to make changes on the fly. For example, they can increase or decrease the value of a certain item or adjust the rarity of a card. The network is also described as a learning network in which players will be recommended more of what they’re interested in when exploring different types of cards and information.
What also sets BattleKasters apart from other mobile games is its overall goal. BattleKasters sets out to garner interest for the book series, Legends of Orkney. It is Friedman’s hope “to get people to play twenty to thirty minutes, gain all of these different cards, have a couple of characters that are talking to each other, get a little sense of the world with cool animations and make you go, ‘I’m a little curious to know a little more about this world.'” Much to Friedman’s and Adams’ joy, the conversion rate between game to book has been high. Better yet, it is with both BattleKasters and the Legends of Orkney book series that creators hope to create a long-lasting community.
Perhaps the most exciting thing coming out of BattleKasters are its goals in expanding to a global scale as well as introducing a monster battling component. Players will be able to confront monster boss battles, and be able to capture monsters to use in future battles. BattleKasters is available now on iOS and Android, but its campaign and quests are only available at conventions where the BattleKasters team is present. Of course, this won’t be the case for long as they hope the game will be ready for wide release sometime later this year.
The book and the game go hand in hand. If you play the game, you’re going to want to read the book.
– Alane Adams
Red Sun is the first in a trilogy of books that will work with the BattleKasters game. Written by Alane Adams, work on Red Sun began with one simple goal: Write a book her twelve-year-old son could read. A variety of young adult novels came to mind, and Adams settled on something along lines of the Percy Jackson series, but with an entirely different mythology and story. Adams eventually settled on Norse mythology.
The story revolves around a twelve-year-old boy who is also the son of Odin and a powerful witch. The story further came together when Adams discovered the islands of Orkney. For those who aren’t Orkney scholars, Orkney is a real set of islands right off the coast of Scotland. The islands themselves are often the location of Athurian legends and also play home to some of the most powerful witches of mythology.
The boy, having parents from both the light and dark sides of magic, now has access to both skillsets and must now navigate through his own adventure while making conscious decisions of what side of the magic he wants to be on. In this sense, the first book also revolves around the protagonist’s search for identity, while future books will deal with decisions he has made in his pursuit.
The first book was written before the conception of BattleKasters. Since then, Adams has gone back to edit Red Sun in an effort to give certain characters more of a voice in the novels so that their appearance in BattleKasters is more meaningful. According to Adams, the games have affected the books in that it has certainly enriched them by way of expanding the story and different character storylines. Working with Friedman has also spurred the creation of creatures for both the novel and the game. With what Adams and Friedman are promising, the Legends of Orkney world will be huge.
Alane Adams and Brent Friedman are truly at the tip of the spear and it’s going to be exciting to see Legends of Orkney and BattleKasters take off. This sort of transmedia project is nothing but good news for lovers of literature and video games. While there are properties that take advantage of telling stories through different mediums, none do it with as much fluidity as the Orkney team. The team will be making their next appearance at PAX, so look for them there and make sure to get some time in BattleKasters. We’ll update you with any news that’s released. Red Sun is set to release August 4, 2015. You can pre-order the book here.