Bad News is an installation-based game that combines procedural generation, deep simulation, and live performance. Set in the summer of 1979, gameplay takes place in a procedurally generated American small town with over a century of simulated history. When an unidentified body is discovered in the town, a mortician's assistant—the player—is tasked with tracking down a next of kin to inform him or her of the death. To do this, the player explores the town and converses with its residents to discover the identities of both the deceased and next of kin, as well as the current location of the latter. Whenever the player encounters a town resident, an improvisational actor reveals himself to perform the character live, adhering to the character's generated personality, life history, and knowledge. Bad News is designed to showcase the humor, drama, and tragedy of everyday life.
James Ryan: Designer, Developer, Wizard
Adam Summerville: Designer, Guide
Ben Samuel: Designer, Actor
Michael Mateas: Mentor
Noah Wardrip-Fruin: Mentor
Bad News was created by a team of PhD students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with combined experience in artificial intelligence, social simulation, and improvisational acting. The game was originally intended as a live-action prototype that would guide content creation for a fully digital game. However, as we began to playtest the experience with a variety of users, we were impressed by how deeply immersed many of them became in exploring the town and meeting its residents. We were particularly touched by how emotional players seemed to get when delivering the eponymous bad news to the next of kin; many of them struggled to search for the right words, with audible hitches in their voices. Inspired by these performances, we decided to develop Bad News as a standalone experience. To do this, we bolstered its emotional potential through staging and other means, and adjusted its framing to give players of all backgrounds the tools to role-play in the world successfully, regardless of their performance or improvisational experience.
Though we hope that by exploring the town and seeing how many lives a single death can touch will elicit tender, somber feelings in the hearts of our players, we also understand that death is a very sensitive subject. One of the advantages of utilizing a live performer is that the tone can be adjusted in real-time to match the needs of the player. Thus, though the actor will attempt to find ways to raise the emotional intensity, the safety and comfort of the player is always at the forefront of the actor’s mind. Through an honest portrayal of death and a deep simulation of a run-of-the-mill small town, we hope the game helps players to appreciate the small joys, sorrows, and absurdities that make life so rich, complex, and beautiful.