The spring_alpha project
"spring_alpha" is a networked game system set in an industrialised council estate whose inhabitants are attempting to create their own autonomous society in contrast to that of the regime in which they live. The game serves as a "sketch pad" for testing out alternative forms of social practice at both the "narrative" level, in terms of the game story, and at a "code" level, as players are able to re-write the code that runs the simulated world. The original narrative is based on a series of drawings by Chad McCail, "Spring" and "Evolution is Not Over yet", which also shape the game's visual style. The original stories and images become a framework that is fleshed-out by people's own ideas and experiences. The basic aim of the game is to change the rules by which the society in that world runs. This is done through hacking and altering the code that simulates that world, creating new types of behaviour and social interaction. How effective this becomes depends on the players' ability to spread these new ideas into the society.
In its name, the project combines the title of one of Chad's drawings with the term 'alpha', referring in part to sci-fi dystopia's such as 'Alphaville' but also derived from software development. 'Alpha' software are early proof-of-concept versions in which ideas are first formed. 'spring_alpha' is a game in permanent alpha state, always open to revision and re-versioning. Re-writing spring_alpha is not only an option available to coders however. Much of the focus of the project lies in using game development itself as a vehicle for social enquiry and speculation; the issues involved in re-designing the game draw parallels with those involved in re-thinking social structures. "spring_alpha" is innovative in its approach to the use of gaming as an artistic medium and in developing a form of creative practice that incorporates aspects of "open source" development into both the creation of the work and the way in which it is engaged with by the audience. "Open source" is an approach to software development that grew out of the hackers movement, it emphasizes the sharing of knowledge and code, and pursuit of innovation through collaboration.
The project is being realised through a series of development modules. Each module is a self-contained smaller project that focuses on specific development issues such as research, software creation, and public participation. In module 1, for example, a prototype version of the game was built. Other modules focus on working with local communities to develop game characters and scenarios reflecting their own responses to the ideas of the narrative.
The project provides free access to the code and tools being developed through it. We are also providing documentation of how the project is being realised as it progresses. We are testing out and demonstrating new ideas about what a game can be, how it gets made, and what gameplay can involve.
This site provides copies of the original story and drawings, documentation of the modules, software downloads and information for developers.