Maddox: The Retail Rebellion

Point-and-click adventure game

Created for graduate thesis on the psychology of choice-driven narrative

Winter 2012
Role: Designer and Programmer

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Maddox: The Retail Rebellion is a point-and-click adventure game based loosely on my webisode script, "Maddox," seen in the writing section. It focuses on Dr. Robert Maddox, a mad scientist whom the bank forecloses on, forcing him to seek legitimate employment. The game's central theme is the opposition between personal identity and the social obligations of work, as seen through the eyes of the most ideosyncratic human being alive--a megalomaniac genius with delusions of grandeur.

The primary goals of this project were to showcase the concepts behind my graduate thesis on choice-driven narrative, and also to experiment with the concept of "Rule-Following" in cognative psychology as a foundation for narrative-based decision-making. Essentially, the game is based on two different, opposing sets of rules that the player has to follow: one pertaining to Maddox and his personal identity as a mad scientist, the other pertaining to the identity of an ideal, productive worker at U-Mart; both of which feature valid systemic goals, ideals, and rewards. In themselves these rulesets are very straightforward, but together they present contradictory goals and preferences, the resolution of which has precisely one result: comedy. And plenty of it.

Testing Results

In its current form Maddox was tested by ten subjects, each of whom were asked to rate their satisfaction with the decision-making elements of the game on a scale of 1-5. They were most satisfied with the character of Robert Maddox and their ability to influence his identity, which sat at 4 out of 5 almost unanimously, suggesting successful implementation of my chief goal.

The test subjects were less impressed with their ability to influence plot structure, which was rated at a 2.6 (2's and 3's only), though they remarked that it was most likely because of the game's length and development limitations of the game or because they weren't aware of changes they could make. The test subjects' satisfaction with influence over relationships with other characters varied most widely, the average sitting at exactly 3 but the testers' feedback rating anywhere from 2 to 4. It is most notable that if Maddox works at the computer center rather than the storage room, the testers tended to be more satisfied with this aspect, suggesting stronger implementation of Burt's character over Richie's. Nevertheless, impressions of overall contribution of narrative choice to the player's enjoyment was very positive, ranking at 3.6 out of 5 on average--everybody rated it either a 3 or a 4.

The game was then additionally shown to the Savannah College of Art and Design's Game Development Network during a presentation of my thesis. While not a formal test by any rights, this demonstration elicited an evaluation that was consistent with these scores. People felt that Maddox and the way that their choices shaped him were extremely significant and overwhelmingly satisfying, but felt that the other characters needed work or could stand to be more dynamic; a summation that I agree with, as I didn't feel I had the time necessary to flesh them out as much as I would have liked.

All of this suggests that, while my methodology does not alleviate the development burdens of nonlinear storytelling (note that I was the only designer and the only programmer on this project, I was working with Adventure Game Studio, and had no artists until the last two weeks--all things considered I think I did pretty good), I am on the right track to at least employing it in a deliberate and focused fashion. Several test subjects shared anecdotes with me about their lives at work, either reflecting on how they wish they could live as cathartically as Maddox or on more profound aspects of it, which suggests that I successfully employed these principles towards allowing them to explore the game's central theme. One test subject resolved to turn his life around; to stop coasting and merely surviving at work and start trying to find a way to thrive. That one person made the game worth making.

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