Watch The Skies

Take 300 gaming enthusiasts. Put them in a room. Divide them into countries. Add some aliens. Give them far more things to do than they could ever manage. What d’you get?

I’m talking about Megagames. These are large-format live-action roleplaying/war games. I’ve been megagaming for the past year (has it really only been a year), in settings from Renaissance Europe to Ancient Greece. But the biggest, most exciting, MEGA-est of them all is Watch The Skies, a near-future alien invasion game.

Background

The first run of Watch The Skies took place last May. Forty odd people – well, forty odd men, I was the only woman – took part in the game. Rather than explaining it, watch this epic video by Shut Up & Sit Down:

Did you spot me running around in my journalism get-up? I was playing Head of World Media, and was responsible for delivering a regular newsletter to all player teams.

Well, as you can see, it looks pretty incredible. So thought the rest of the internet. That’s why Watch The Skies 2, which took place last Saturday, had THREE HUNDRED PLAYERS.

Arriving

Running late (as usual) for our preferred 15 minute early arrival: myself and friends Tim, Woodrow and Archie dashed around the corner. And stopped dead.

watch the skies 2 queue

More megagamers than we’d seen in our LIVES were queuing outside the Camden Centre (where today’s game would take place).

As soon as we got inside I dashed over to the news table. Today I would be Editor-In-Chief of GNN, one of three news teams that were playing. Our arch-rivals, the China News Chronicle, were settling in one table over. I hadn’t seen Badger News yet. I would have two subordinates, a Political Correspondent and a War Correspondent. Nine news players to keep on top of 30 countries, 5 corporations, the UN, the Vatican, Humanity First (a charity) and of course, 8 alien teams. It was going to be a challenge. Especially since two press players (one of ours and one from Badger) neglected to show.

It was going to be me and Tom (my Politics guy) against the world.

The night before I’d written up a fluff newsletter, and I set to work getting it printed. This was when the technology problems began. The provided computer didn’t want to connect to the internet (aka Dropbox, where my newspaper was stored), and my laptop wouldn’t connect to the printer. The game was underway before our first 40-copy run was making its way out of the (very slow) inkjet printer.

At that point I tried to see if we could get a live Twitter feed up to show #wts2 tweets – probably predominantly from ourselves (@GNN_Megagame) and the News Chronicle (@news_chronicle), although various entities such as the South African Press Office and the UK Scientist also contributed on occasion. I didn’t follow through my request though, and that would be something I’d regret later.

Ready, Set… Go Crazy!

Issue Two never made it off the screen. Our printer ran out of ink after our first issue. We asked Press Control, and someone somewhere was dispatched to get some. I had no idea what the other press teams were doing. Issue Three made it out thanks to the kindness of Badger News, who lent us their printer.

While I was there picking up the copies, I casually mentioned the idea of a merger – the News Chronicle had three players to our two each, and seemed to have a battalion of working technology. By the time Issue Four made it out (with a Russian announcement on the existence of aliens), we’d agreed a deal – they’d come work for us, while China News would get an extra “Ace Reporter” (non-played agent we could send to a country to gather intel).

“How the hell is it lunchtime already?”

Sadly Badger’s employees had to leave us after just one and a half issues. We were down on numbers again. Press Control were breathing down our necks like real journalists, wondering why the hell our next issue wasn’t out yet. I was rude to more than a few people by telling them to go away because their story wasn’t interesting enough. Luckily Issue Six had a real scoop, which Laurence from Badger gave us just as he left – an interview with an alien. This shot us up the rankings, though it seemed like we’d been on top most of the way through, with almost $M30 in our bank accounts. We decided to invest some in some positive PR campaigns.

Some how things seemed to be getting slightly more under control by this point. I don’t know whether my heart rate had just finally caught up with the rest of the room, or whether people were flagging from mental exhaustion. Either way, Issue Seven was a non-event, with our second alien interview falling through. We got it in time for Issue 8, and were so pleased that we almost failed to report the abduction of the entire UN Security Council.

By Issue 9, I had no idea what was going on. If I heard anything, anything at all, any strings of words that might make sense, they went on Twitter. My final lead article was a conspiracy piece about an attack on Tokyo. It featured a photo of Hitler. I don’t even…

Anyway, here are all the newspapers:

After the game finished we discovered that the News Chronicle weren’t printing actual newspapers. That explained how they scooped us on Twitter so often… speaking of Twitter, here’s the best from the day:

Top News Stories

During phase two:

I don’t even…

First (Press) contact:

Double bullshit?

The Boomerang Asteroid:

Was this even true?

Typo

Cannot be bothered with professional phrasing any more

#MoonPope

Fifteen minutes before Tokyo was destroyed:

Next Time

I will start by saying I 100% enjoyed the game. Would do again, even if nothing changed.

Having played a sole press player, the multiple teams was very exciting for me as it made it much less of a semi-control position and more of a played position. The level of camaraderie and all-in-togetherness with Badger was awesome, the level of competition and mild hatred and begrudging respect with News Chronicle was epic.

However there were some issues with the role as it stands, ranging from minor annoyance to potentially catastrophic. I think Press was perhaps the most demanding role in the game.

Firstly, I think there should be more Press players. There wasn’t really a single moment that I got time to myself to actually write down the news I had (that’s to blame for all the typos, as I was half-typing, half-listening). The first WTS was stressful but I wasn’t being spoken to every single second. I had to be very cut-throat about who I even let speak to me, which did feel rude, and I’m sure I missed out on a lot of the flavour by only being able to listen to the salient points.

Ideally I think there should be one press team (of two or three players) per continent. That way countries have a clear cut choice over who to go to with their news… though if, say, an African country is trying to build an alliance with France, they might go to the European news. If they don’t like how their local paper is presenting them, they may go to a competitor. It will mean less stress for the press players too, as they don’t have to concentrate on the global picture – though they will obviously want to keep an ear out for major scoops from other places.

The second biggest issue was the technology. If we’d have two PCs each and a working laserjet printer or photocopier, then we could have got papers out every round. As it is, we managed 8 papers in 9 rounds (plus one at the start of the game) which I don’t think is too bad – but GNN were the only team to manage this.

As I mentioned, I wish I’d tried harder to get a Twitter feed up on the big screen, at least some of the time. After all, it’s possible that this size of Megagame doesn’t work well with a printed paper at all (though I really do love that element of it). A live feed would make it incredibly easy for players to take a moment or two to catch up on the news, and for the Press to stay motivated to keep churning news out on a regular basis. I think it would have to be restricted to press players only, through use of a press-only hashtag, though.

However, at odds to what other Press Players have said in their reviews – I found it fun from start to end. I loved the pressure. Perhaps it should be spelled out more in the briefing that the game would be such high intensity for the Press, but I for one adored it.

At the very least, it’s making me feel considerably calmer about Live Tweeting at Guildford Means Business (in my day job) – it simply CAN’T be as stressful as that was!

5 thoughts on “Watch The Skies and Get Ready for Something MEGA

  1. Fantastic write up! I was playing the President of Venezuela, and its very interesting to see the game from the perspective of other roles.

    I think your idea of having a news team per continent is a pretty good one. Alternatively, have the same 3 rivals with a correspondent per continent?

    I think once we realised that the news teams were posting on Twitter, someone on our team said that they should put it up on the big screen, so I definitely agree with that. That said, we did heavily need the turns to be up there as well.

  2. I was foreign Minister to one of the Alien factions. If I had known, that there was a twitter feed, it would have made me feel more connected to the earth-game. We had almost no Information about what was going on down there.
    Really enjoyed reading your newspapers afterwards. Thanks for posting.

    (#MoonPope got to be the most brilliant Hashtag I read in a long time!)

  3. As a representative of Humanity First, In turn one, I tried to be patient while the tech issues were dealt with. It must have been frustrating for Becky (as I know it was for me on several occasions). I was trying to keep the GNN media centre as our “chosen” source of information dispersal (Global News, for a united Humanity), when the sheer level of technical issues kept us from exchanging information very much. In the end I had to use the other networks too, otherwise I could not maintain my promises to various allies for good PR.

    All in all I think Becky (and the other news players) did an awesome job with a role that wasn’t necessarily integral to the main plots, but certainly provided flavour (much how HF felt, most of the time)

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