Context As one of Facebook’s respected partners and following a pitch win in 2018, Biborg were selected to work on the creation of a brand new AR (Augmented Reality) game that launched in January 2020. Available worldwide on mobile devices, the idea was to create an engaging, deep and progressively more challenging narrative puzzle game on Facebook's Instant Games platform that integrated their Augmented Reality (AR) features using Spark AR studio.
Since its launch in 2016 and after being in closed beta for a year and a half, Facebook officially opened their Instant Games platform to all developers in March 2018, allowing them to build games for the Facebook news feed and Facebook Messenger.
Objective Primarily targeting developers but also public users, the objective was to demonstrate what Facebook can offer with the combination of the Instant Games platform and Spark AR tech. The goal was to create a richer and more complex game experience that combined the best of both worlds.
Creative solution and idea There are so many avenues to explore with regard to AR gaming, but Biborg were given the opportunity to start with a blank sheet to tell the story they wanted. Biborg decided to blend two game types to create something new in the AR sector: a branching interactive drama that incorporated puzzle solving. Two key decisions made early in the process was that the AR had to feel completely native within the game's narrative (e.g. using the phone camera felt natural within the story) and that the lead character had to be 'you' rather than forcing the player to embody a protagonist.
The game plays out over several days and is set in the near-future where technology exists to connect people's brains via a mobile app called Cogito. Much like ridesharing, people can pay you to harness your brain processing power by solving puzzles on the Cogito platform - by completing puzzles, you give the paying clients a brain boost. In the game, you sign up to Cogito to earn a bit of extra cash and very quickly get involved with a mysterious client who opens the door to a dark and dangerous world which puts you and your brain in immediate danger.
From story to script, art direction to puzzle design, and development to AR effects, it took the team nearly 10 months to finish the game.
At Biborg we work almost exclusively with gaming clients, so we’re used to promoting the games and stories of established writers and studios. This time, we were the creators. Cogito was a fantastic project that pushed the whole team to think deeply about story, character and game design all at the same time. Writing a game that combines branching narratives and AR puzzles was a challenge but one we’re already itching to take on again.
When we started talking about creating a game that blended a text adventure with AR, it seemed like a natural fit to write a story set entirely within an app. From there, it was a real pleasure to be able to let the idea run wild with a team that – whenever possible – tried to say 'yes and...' at every turn. The result is hopefully something that speaks to our weird, phone-addled times.
As a designer, it's always a super interesting exercise to think about how to merge two different concepts so that the whole becomes something more than the sum of its parts. And that's what Cogito is, really: a combination of text message based storytelling and clever AR puzzles. It was a lot of fun to help set up the narrative frame that would best serve the experience, and to reflect on the mood, rhythm and underlying meaning the puzzles should convey.
We also created a custom interactive narrative writing tool to develop and create the game. We had needs which were not covered by any public solution and a lot of ideas to create something simple yet powerful, focused on interactive narration and dialogues.
You can write dialogues, choices, store or modify variables to react later to your previous choices, easily manage huge projects with interconnected scenes. The editor was designed with non developer profiles in mind. It was successfully used by pure writers or narrative designers with no development skills. Biborg even turned it into a generic tool and also used it to produce content for narrative bots on Discord.
Cogito was an awesome project for the whole team to work on. We had a clear objective to demonstrate the capabilities of AR technology in the context of an Instant Game, but we all had the creative freedom to do so. We were given the opportunity to create a fully fledged narrative game and not just a technical demonstration.
Working on Cogito was something very unique that went beyond what we normally do. Facebook gave us the opportunity to create a game using their existing tools and were extremely supportive along the way. Being in the position of a game creator is extremely frightening and satisfying at the same time. Coming up with the story from scratch, we didn’t know if people would like it. Now that it’s finally out, I can’t wait to hear what people think!
Try the game (on your mobile to access all AR features).