A Map of the Floating City was a web-based multiplayer game created around the oeuvre of Thomas Dolby; it’s launch coincided with the release of Dolby’s new album of the same name. The game combined the trading and collecting mechanics of casual games with an unfolding participatory narrative structure. Players worked collaboratively in location-based ‘Tribes’ to earn entry to a special Dolby performance.
The game in Thomas Dolby’s words (via an interview with Mike Ragogna):
The setting for the game is a sort of an alternative ’40s–sort of a dystopian vision of what Europe might have turned into had World War II ended differently. The game really combines all of the characters, storylines and places that have been in my songs right back to 1980. During the ten or twelve years that I was away from music, down in Silicon Valley, these news groups and forums started to flourish where people would analyze my songs and lyrics. They would take on the roles of characters in my songs in their handles and write this collaborative fiction based around the characters in those songs. I thought this was a great thing, but it was kind of limited to a hardcore audience of just a few hundred people. So, I thought that if I could expand this to thousands or tens of thousands of people, it might be an interesting and different way to set my music apart, and to introduce a new and younger audience to my music.
Media and Technology Used
The entire game could be played from floatingcity.com making it platform agnostic and accessible to the casual player. Gameplay centered on a custom map that allowed players to trade and engage in special place-based interactions called ‘Daring Sorties’ that often involved a puzzle or challenge related to audio of Dolby’s music.
A newspaper-styled blog, the Gazette, allowed players to track the narrative and catch-up on any elements they had missed. It served as a means to navigate upcoming and past events.
Players were actively encouraged to use an in-game forum system to work with other players in their ‘Tribe’ towards common goals and to collaboratively ‘tell’ the story together. This collaborative world-building was compounded during several ‘live events’ played out in chat rooms.
Role: Sailing Master and Project Manager
I coordinated the efforts of the creative team, the graphic designer, and the developers to ensure that the project moved smoothly from written spec to finished product. In this role, I also advised on game design decisions and worked with the development team to find creative solutions to technical challenges. I also ran play tests and worked to evaluate and incorporate feedback from each of these.
During gameplay, I served as a community manager. I worked with the volunteer tribe leaders to spot any issues and implement changes accordingly.