Jan 112009
Life III Box

Life III Box

So been having a nice break here in Bondi, doing all sorts of cool commercial and/or creative non-LAMP projects plus playing some great new games (Fallout 3, Mirror’s Edge, Elder Scrolls/Oblivion etc:) mostly on the PS3 and PC/Mac. Hunting around the non-mall games stores in Bondi Junction I came across a dusty old cross-platform game called Life III: Escape from Reality in the $10 bargain bin. The system specs said it runs on all platforms, consoles & even has some locative real world elements, but is ideally meant to be played as a 24/7 casual game – which struck me as a bit of an oxymoron πŸ™‚

OK so I got stuck into this old game and it became apparent that it had a very intricate and sophisticated engine and was in fact the most detailed MMRWRPG (tm!) (massively multiplayer real world role playing game) I have ever seen. So for those who haven’t played this cool game, what follows is a run down of the game play, various quests/levels and the rewards at various stages.


Gary Hazlitt Level 1-8

Gary Hazlitt Level 1-7

After you log in and give yourself a name and password (that you will of course forget at the next login) you appear in an upper bedroom of a typical suburban house. You have the choice of gender but whatever I choose it still gave me ‘male’ – the first major bug I spotted. At the start of the game you are supposed to receive clear game instructions, but much of what was said was pretty indecipherable across these early level orientation/control levels. A good point, I was surprised from the outset at the quality of the graphics for such an old game – but don’t want to focus too much on that!

Basically what happens at the start is two mentor characters (a man and woman) follow you around and tell you the way the game works. They chastise you if you make mistakes (or what ‘they’ think a mistake is) and encourage you if you do what they consider beneficial to your progression through levels 1-8. There are some funny moments too here as the controls don’t seem to really do what they are supposed too and you end up crashing into walls, speaking at inappropriate moments or dropping items that you need for good health and karma.

Most disconcerting is that you often find yourself randomly projectile poo or vomit which causes you to drop 1 or 2 levels – pretty bad game design here as there doesn’t seem to be a real reason for this. A final point about this level is that there is no obvious button to quit that game, so you have to grind on.


Gary Hazlit Levels 8-13

Gary Hazlitt Levels 8-13

The game box had no manual (beyond the simple how to start leaflet) so as you progress into more complex areas of the game you are really in a fail forward mode (although I did find a few hints using Google ‘game cheat sites’ and Self-Help section in Borders).

There is a little too much emphasis on giving out information (across levels 8-18) with the Non Player Character ( NPC) ‘info’ bots endlessly delivering in chat (or text items for inventory) historical background, do’s and dont’s and communication and number skills. This was particularly boring especially as the two mentors from earlier levels appear every now and then and keep pushing you into these information areas. Only very occasionally the NPC info hubs inspire you with poetry or music – but most mentors said that wasn’t much use in the game, so you can ignore those bots.

I actually found through these levels I was constantly trying to cheat, choosing the break things options, putting them back together or fiddling with my avatar to make it more attractive. This was useful because as soon as you hit level 14 the online MMRWRPG features kick in and you become aware of other players in the 2-3 environments you are hanging around.


Gary Hazlitt Levels 13-18

Gary Hazlitt Levels 13-18

After a few years playing these levels you realise that the mentors have mostly been mis-leading you and you start to only trust other players who are around the same level as you – and so you join guilds and clubs with your new found friends. There becomes a kind of comaraderie as you try to level up together and this leads you off on some cool adventures, exploring nearby buildings, parks, towns and even self-guided trips to the city or guild trips to countries. The game HUD (Heads up display) here is useful as you monitor your various status’s as you play:

  1. The levels of attractiveness to opposite sex
  2. Coolness quotient from your peers/friends
  3. Amount of risk taken
  4. Body Odor (best to keep this low)
  5. Stimulant balance (you have to take as much as possible without going into the red)

One thing I noticed about some of the other players who had been through their tutorial in small country towns and outback areas and as their connection (& transport system) was quite laggy, they were unable to do any of the more sophisticated quests other players were doing. I was surprised this bug made it through q&a as it really needed to be fixed.

Also at this point in the game I found most players had already teamed up in guilds but the players that didn’t were mostly trapped with the information bots who had convinced them to do more text based quests, and they were almost playing a different game at this point (should have really been an expansion pack).


Gary Hazlitt Levels 18-20

Gary Hazlitt Levels 18-20

Although the game had its interesting moments, I was still not clear of the goals and at these levels many players found that taking some of the pills and potions lying around on sleeping fellow guild members made everything a little more fantastical and fun – but after a while that didn’t really help with the game goals either. As you level up to 20 things really started to change. Suddenly you are teleported to a unknown city location, wandering streets and without mentors or friends you really start to create the micro game rules yourself (within certain limits set by the community now).

I expect the game designers were not quite sure on the transition here and thought it best to consider anything up to level 20 as training – but I found the earlier levels come across as pretty heavy game play – especially the dating scenarios where you have to constantly deal with other psychotic players of the opposite sex who just don’t want to help you achieve the ‘getting-it-on’ challenge.

But being dropped into what is essentially a different game altogether with new rules and without the ability to save should have been thought through a little more.


Gary Hazlitt Levels 21-35

Gary Hazlitt Levels 21-35

Now this middle part of the game is kind of grindy. Long boring sections where all you seem to be doing is accruing ‘credits’. The game has an economy, and unless you’re one of the players that managed somehow to hack in credits from previous older family players, you really had to struggle to build up enough ‘credits’ to level up particularly quickly or just buy cool things for your inventory. The addition of an online leaderboard certainly helped motivate you as did the many NPC quest givers that you met at parties, subways, taxis, buses etc:

The most powerful quest giver and one that often gave you red herring challenges to accrue credits quickly was the inworld ‘media boards’. These were large TV-style screens placed at seemingly endless locations that showed you how well other players were doing and suggested how you could try some of their quests – which seemed to be focused on how skinny the avatar can be, the best personal transport units or how many players were ‘following’ you (called the ‘fame status’).

The only route that seemed to pay off in this game though was the ‘work’ quest. This involved rather tiresome, mundane activities (reading messages from people, sending messages back, walking around office floors and generally trying to be nice to everyone you met). As soon as you tried to do something adventurous or break the now, quite rigid game rules here your credits fell and you found yourself dropping back between 5 and 10 levels to begin it all over again. The key skill here it seemed was to be friendly and helpful to other players and regardless of any other skills you may have, your credit balance would slowly but surely accrue. One player (who had played this game a few times) told me that having a variety of skills really helps at the higher levels so I spent my non-grind time, building up skill levels in other areas. Some players though were just spending their credits on fast cars, bling and fancy clothes for their inventory and a game place to put all this stuff.


Gary Hazlitt Levels 35-40

Gary Hazlitt Levels 35-40

At level 35 there is a global quest given to all players, and this comes as a bit of a shock – “make a version/clone of you for future challenges”. This had to be taken on, all players at whatever credit or skill level you were at. It seemed you had to find a player of the opposite sex and form a small guild with the sole intention of creating a faction. The small creatures that you make together have similar skill and health traits to you and you have to train them for a particular role – to help you in later quests.

It suddenly becomes obvious that you are now one of the mentors from an earlier level and this is pretty good games design, getting you a lot more deeply involved in the game play. Several players for whatever reason do not complete this challenge, even though they attempt the ‘making’ bit a few times.

But unless you have enough credits, a place to grow the small creatures and a strong ‘credit’ flow in, you cannot complete this. Even so it didn’t seem to affect my game status much as I was a member of several in-game guilds with a variety of interesting quests. But the game writers could have been much clearer in how important or not this particular game quest was.


Gary Hazlitt Levels 40-50

Gary Hazlitt Levels 40-50

OK the game had been pretty stable and bug free up to this point. But as soon as I levelled to 40 some strange things started to happen. Firstly my avatar became pretty distorted (it grew fatter). Regardless of what activities I was doing or how much energy I absorbed, my character just got larger and larger, and slower. Another thing which must have been a serious bug with the questing engine, as many of the new quests were ones I had missed at earlier levels (they seemed pretty boring at the time). Most of these news ones were about teleporting to some distant land and not really doing any game play at all? What’s the point of playing a game if there is no goal? Others involved hanging around chatting with friends and creating new guilds. These had to be comprised of players at the same level as you but even more challenging, with similar status’s – and often those who completed the ‘cloning’ challenge would not be able to team up with those that didn’t.

Other challenges involved tweaking your avatar to convince others around you that you were a level 20-30. This proved harder than it seemed as fiddling with the shape of your nose or the size of your breasts cost a lot of credits with little reward – as after repeating this quest a number of times the avatar would start to fall apart. The game programmers must have had a ball creating this quest.

A key problem through these levels though was the fact that as at the start of the game the controls occasionally didn’t do what you told them and in some social situations rather embarrasing body noises were emitted, or on one occasion I completely lost it in a driving quest at the local shopping mall car park, crashing into several other players. Although these were kind of fun in retrospect, they seemed a quite frustrating at the time.


Gary Hazlitt Levels 50-85

Gary Hazlitt Levels 50-85

Getting through levels 40-50 was very frustrating and lots of earlier game elements started to come into play. The final higher levels involved less adventure and more about tidying your inventory, looking back at machinima re-runs of some of your earlier quests and contacting old guild members to sit and chat in team-speak about those earlier quests. Around level 55 things start to get a bit weird again. The control mechanism all but breaks down and you almost become a noob again as your character starts to emit body waste missiles at various players from several orifices. It is kind of funny at times and others just downright messy. This all changes as you approach level 70 and the game world becomes more and more fantastical.

What you thought was a pretty static city or home environment suddenly becomes ‘elastic’. By that I mean the graphics become almost translucent and everything you see is earlier game elements and lots of glowing light. This makes the rather simple challenges at these higher levels much harder – trying to walk to the shops in a glowing pink hurricane of childhood memories is pretty hard, but you get used to it. As you level up to 70 the final quest is a simple task of ‘letting go’. It wasn’t clear in the game cheats on the web what this was, but it kind of meant, you did nothing for a while and you levelled automatically. A nice touch I thought. So the final element of the game was the game graphics/world dissolving into white and rainbow coloured lights…great music here too btw!


I forgot to mention that when I was at the store they gave me another box for free the Life III expansion pack called “AfterLife III”. – no one had apparently bought this extension to the game as it got bad reviews from religious groups. I told the store I probably wouldn’t get that far, but here I was anyhow. I installed it and low and behold it gave me an extra 15 levels. Now much of this was the same as 50-70, kind of spiritual quests, asking questions about what kind of character you were, analysing the way you did things, how it could be improved and all that stuff. But the interesting thing was at level 84, as you travelled around this ‘celestial’ environment (with wonderful particle effects) you kept getting flashes of another bedroom in suburbia. Yes, incredibly as you hit level 85 you became a noob again, you began the game again, with two different mentors hovering over you. I didn’t really have time to play the whole thing again, and I managed to find the quit option at this point. I did save it for another time though.

I am not sure what happened to the company that created this game, I suspect they fell out of favour with most Life I and II players who found the whole thing rather grindy, difficult and certainly were unable to commit more than 70 or 80 years to it – given there are plenty other games to play which are far more exciting and have much more interesting rewards.

Postscript: SilkCharm just read this and in-between fits of violent giggles pointed me to a cool book (that I haven’t read) called God Game byAndrew M. Greeley Some similarities?

Also if there are any parts of the game I may have missed or have cheats for please comment below! If you have played this game and you want to write a review I will add it to the bottom of the post – please include your player character name so we can hook up in game πŸ™‚ !

Finally, finally – an obvious prototype for the immersive version above discovered on YouTube πŸ™‚ – I can see why they left out the ‘revenge’ bit !

Aug 252008

“Make Games and Virtual Worlds at Australian Film, TV and Radio School” – OK time to wear that other hat as Director of the Laboratory for Advanced Media Production at AFTRS and plug some of the cool new courses we are delivering in 6 months time.


Discover new opportunities to express yourself in an exciting collaborative environment where film meets game worlds. Build your knowledge base on strong foundations of cinematic storytelling, gameplay and virtual environments.

I have been in this LAMP role for over three years now (wow, that long!) and the changes I have seen taking place in AFTRS, a 30 year old establishment, with a new CEO and the move to a sparkling (read: still fixing the place up!) new building are utterly transformative. This new environment has had a positive effect on the desire for Australia’s leading linear ‘story production’ establishment to also become Australia and the world’s leading trainer in cross-over, game/film worlds, is a delight to see.

A range of traditional marketing initiatives will kick-in over the next few months with roadshows, open days and printed press but no doubt the blogosphere will start to reverberate with excitement as a few ‘web 2.0 friendly’ staff trickle the news out to ‘trusting’ recipients.

There are some useful details (also copied below) from the MakeIt prospectus site about the game and virtual worlds courses, and yours truly as a lead creator in virtual worlds and other game spaces, is heavily involved designing these and others. Also other emergent cross-media forms will continue as they have done over the past 2 years at AFTRS and these include Cross-Media Storytelling, Social Media Entertainment, Episodic Drama and Participatory TV. Rather than be ‘extra’ modules though, this time they will be embedded into the many ‘heritage’ areas of the curriculum such as Directing, Screen Studies, Sound and Writing making for a truly integrated cross-media development approach. Things are changing fast here and nice to be a part of positive ‘change’.

My favourite rag SMH πŸ™‚ also covered this shift today in its item “Sharing the Stage” and featured Peter Giles talking about the courses…

“The first of these courses will show students how to work in the virtual environments that are creating films, video games and alternate realities such as the online Second Life. The school’s director of digital media, Peter Giles, says students will look at the creation of 3-D worlds that might be shared by a film and a game. “Eventually games are going to be designed in the same virtual space as the film will be,” he says, citing James Cameron’s sci-fi movie Avatar that will be released in 3-D next year. “They’re launching the massive multi-player game prior to the feature film,” Giles says. “People will get to inhabit that world before they see the film.”

The two hundred students starting here in February will be in for the ride of their lives! Oh I have been nudged, must use the agreed marketing phrases πŸ™‚ Here are a selection “Do you have a story in you?”, “Create Entertainment Experiences of the Future”, “Do you have a passion and talent for screen storytelling?” or “In 2009 AFTRS will deliver learning programs that match the 21st Century needs of the Austrlian screen arts and broadcast community.”

OK some ‘new’ course detail. First, Virtual Worlds…there are no direct links on the micro-site as it is a flash movie but here is a link to the other ‘web 1.0’ site course description.


This multi-disciplinary course develops the skills and understandings necessary for constructing computer generated story worlds for use in a broad range of media industries. Project work will include pre-visualisation sequences for film or TV, virtual spaces for use in massively multiplayer online games and social virtual worlds and rich environments for CG animation or machinima.
By the end of this course students will have experience::

  • Creating a range of pre-visualizations of both real and fantasy spaces
  • Exploring the strong links between real set design and virtual world design from a production and cinematographic perspective
  • Using a wide range of environmental design tools, off-the shelf virtual worlds and the various advanced techniques required for high-end production
  • Exploring spaces and tools designed particularly for multiplayer quest-based game play
  • Creative worlds designed for low end browser-based social interaction through to 3D immersive social virtual worlds
  • Finding stories and locations in game engines and creating a wide range of Machinima

Throughout this 32 week course students will work on several practical projects including a real industry brief.

  • Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers students will investigate areas such as Cinematography, 3D set and landscape creation, Voice Over Scripting and Production, Lighting, Team Production, Character Animation, Game Play and Sound and Music Design.
  • This course provides opportunities to develop creative ideas and projects in a multi-disciplinary environment.
  • Pre-requisites
    • Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:
    • Filmmaking – Such as: Production, writing, animation, cinematography, sound or music design, digital visual effects
    • Interactive Programming and/or Design – Such as: Online Coding, Interactive Design, Installation Art, Social Web 2.0 Development, Offline Scripting, Interactive Production

Course Modules

Course Modules Include:

  • Story and Machinima
    • This module explores new opportunities for storytelling using machinima (a hybrid of ‘machine’ and ‘cinema’), a technique to create movies by using video games as virtual film set.

  • Audio Worlds
    • Sound and music are important aspects of developing sophisticated story worlds and help to and immerse the participant in any virtual environment. This course explores the potential of interactive sound.

  • The Live Virtual Camera (Pre-Visualization)
    • Pre-visualization serves two primary purposes — to sell a concept and save time and money. Also pre-visualization is becoming an end in itself and the cross-over with high production value machinima is investigated.

  • World as Character
    • Understanding virtual space as being heavily linked to story and also integrated with the film story or game and social characters within it followed by machinima workshop.

  • Social Worlds
    • Designing Social Spaces require cross-over skills between town planner, web designer and psychoanalyst. These particular worlds range from cartoon cut out grids on web sites through to fully immersive photo-realistic spaces.

  • Production Project
    • The Production Project is the means for students to apply the skills, understandings and ways of working they have acquired in undertaking other Graduate Diploma units in their area of specialisation. The Production Project Module may take the form of a group or individual project or industry attachment and is intended to enable students to utilise their creativity, imagination, skills and knowledge in their area of specialisation.

  • Content Incubator
    • This unit is designed to develop the skills of brainstorming and rapid creative project development. Flexibility and adaptability in creative teamwork are a focus of this unit. Students learn to work to a brief under time pressure and develop skills in the visual, written and oral presentation of ideas.

and of course Games Design – again a link to the main site details here.


This intensive one year course enables students to develop the practical skills necessary to design games.
Game Design offers a unique mixture of practice and theory developed and taught by industry experts, mixing classwork, workshops and production opportunities in a creative multi-disciplinary environment.
Students are encouraged to build a course that fits their passions, skills and needs through a structure that allows each student to create a unique specialist pathway by a combination of core and elective subjects, including subjects from new Graduate Diplomas in Virtual Worlds, Animation Directing, Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), and then put that into practice.

By the end of this course students will have had the opportunity to:

  • Acquire skills in designing a wide range of games and experiences
  • Initiate and lead a creative project
  • Explore the role of gameplay and narrative in game design including conflict, goals and managing uncertainty
  • Design characters and environments that effectively support the player experience
  • Experience the dynamics of single player and online communal environments
  • Experience production focused learning in a creative multi-disciplinary environment
  • Learn to incorporate cinematic storytelling into the language of gameplay

Through lectures, demonstrations, masterclasses, and industry guest speakers, students will investigate areas such as narrative space, character, performance, fundamentals of gameplay, and creative leadership necessary to design games.
Pre-requisites: Demonstrated proficiency in one or more of the following areas:

  • Computer programming
  • Fine arts
  • Digital Arts (3D/2D)
  • Interactive Design
  • Animation
  • Creative Producing
  • Game design
  • Filmmaking

Directing Concepts and Skills:

  • A practical and theoretical exploration of the key conceptual knowledge and skills required to lead creative projects

Production Workshops:

  • Work in teams to develop a short production from idea to fine cut.
  • (Shared with students from other disciplines)

Major Project

  • Work individually or in teams to create an original work. Students are encouraged to form teams with students from other disciplines, depending on the needs of the project.

Students will be required to complete 8 electives. Elective topics include:

  • Character and Performance
  • Script and Narrative Structure
  • Level Design
  • Story, Space and Performance
  • Directing Voice Performances
  • Original Property Development
  • Character Design
  • Storyboarding and Pre-visualisation
  • Acting for Animators
  • Casting Techniques and Processes
  • Content Incubator
  • Emerging Media

Modules from the Graduate Diploma: Directing (Fiction and non-Fiction), the Graduate Diploma: Animation Directing and the Graduate Diploma: Virtual Worlds

In addition, students will share Screen Studies units with other disciplines, including genre studies.