From Tabitantei to Secret Agent: A Report on the Development of Our New Online Team Building Game and the Creative Process Behind It

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Early next month we will be releasing our newest online team building game, Secret Agent: The First Mission. To give you a taste of what’s in store, the following blog post begins our series of behind-the-scenes looks about the development of the game and the different creative and team building lessons that emerge during the process.  

Over the past month we have hinted that we have a new online teambuilding game in the works. Last week we did a lot of filming and collaboration for this, and it made me think that now would be a good time to talk a little about the development of this new game and how we got here. I think this is interesting from a creative process standpoint, and how this process evolves with different iterations and circumstances. 

Developing “Tabitantei” and the move to online

While our first online game is quite popular, it was in many ways born out of necessity, and under huge time constraints. It was right after the first coronavirus lockdown. We had just closed down our escape game facility, and were looking to find a way to serve our clients online, since many were stuck at home.

So we needed to quickly translate our puzzle concepts into an online format. Those early days of trial and error were actually pretty exciting. Even though we didn’t know what was going to happen and we weren’t sure whether what we were doing was going to succeed, there was a release of creative energy that was inspiring. 

The decision to close our facility in the first place was itself a roll of the dice. And sometimes taking those risks and chances can open up new avenues that you hadn’t seen before. We had always talked about possibly creating an online program, but we had never had the impetus to do so, so those plans always stayed on the backburner. 

With the pandemic as catalyst though, we were pushed into a situation where we had the chance to create something we had been discussing for so long. A lot of our ideas back then were beyond our reach at that point. But in a beautifully circular way, many of those ideas ended up being incorporated into our game this time. 

In particular, we wanted to include more asymmetric puzzles–that is, puzzles where different members of the same team have slightly different information, and need to work together to combine information. For Tabitantei, our original game, that was difficult to do in a new medium. We weren’t sure it would work out, since we were more unsure about online puzzles. We weren’t completely confident yet in our abilities as online puzzle makers.   

This sort of confidence comes from repetition and reflection. The first version of Tabitantei was not our best work, to be sure, but we had to go through that process of trial and error and producing something so that we could see what we were doing right and wrong. In this way, success and failure are not a binary opposition, are not in a zero-sum relationship.  Success and failure are part of the same process of creation, and are intricately intertwined.

Each time we tested our game, we found new things to tweak and add. We made the game smoother, took out a lot of the confusing use of multiple tools, and created a better overall user experience as we became more proficient at website and online game design.

A story is born 

Another major element that we changed was the story. In our earliest versions of Tabitantei Online Team Building, we didn’t really have a story. The concept was always based on traveling through Japan. This choice was in large part due to our experience creating outdoor scavenger hunts for corporate team building events. For these games, having a story is less essential since teams are usually on a tight schedule and the game’s surroundings are usually enough to draw players in to “explore” (for our consumer-based outdoor game, story becomes much more of an important element in engaging players). 

The problem is that without the natural, real-life immersiveness of a location, our online games needed something more to draw players in. So we came to the conclusion that we needed a story. This ended up being the Dogu and Jomon storyline of Tabitantei. However, aside from just creating an overall structure and way of engaging with the game, the storyline also provided us better, more consistent keywords for the puzzle answers. 

Even that story went through some revisions. As we have mentioned elsewhere, the story and the puzzles really have to work together, and in a back-and-forth process of creation. if one becomes too much for the other to handle, it can make the whole game confusing for players.

This time around, we used what we learned from our experiences creating Tabitantei and started working on the story early, around the same time as puzzles were being developed. We also have been working harder at infusing the two together, and working out the kinks of both aspects of the game in tandem. This process has been helped along by out new developer, Jet, who has done so much already to get our game more streamlined and user-friendly.

Lessons learned 

Speaking of which, the story of our newest game is about… secret agents! It’s a good concept that allows us to easily combine mystery and puzzle-solving with travel and adventure. Also, because it’s spies, we can have a more international setting, where players can virtually go anywhere in the world.

The process of coming up with the storyline is already more collaborative than before. It really feels like we have come together as a team, and are viewing the whole process as one, instead of looking at each aspect on our own. 

As a team building company, of course, our goal is to create activities and programs that teams can use to help strengthen relationships. But in the process of creating them, we end up learning a thing or two ourselves. That is, after all, what creative processes are meant to do. 

This is only the beginning of our rollout of Secret Agent: The First Mission, which will debut on December 10th. Until then we’ll be giving you more behind-the scenes looks, as well as more information about the game itself. For more information about any of our programs, including online team building, outdoor team building, and indoor team building, contact us! 

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

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