franklantz_big.jpgThe Basics
Age and occupation. How long have you lived here, where did you come from, and where do you live now?
I'm 40. I'm the Director of Game Design at gameLab, and a Teacher. I've lived here for 18 years. I was born in Kansas City, Missouri. I currently live in Hoboken.

Three for You
1. You teach a class at NYU called "Big Games" which has created the latest craze to sweep the nation (or at least a segment of downtown tech enthusiasts), PacManhattan. Can you talk a little about the class and the development of this game?
The goal of the class was to explore the creative possibilities of large-scale games, things like massively-multiplayer online games as well as games that occupy large real-world settings. The class is about game design - what makes a game compelling as an experience? The idea was to play with the design possibilities that occur when you start to scale up a game's dimensions - spatially, temporally, and in terms of the number of players.

PacManhattan was one of several concepts that the students developed while brainstorming final projects. We fell in love with the idea right away, the only question was whether it would be possible to execute it. About half-way through the project we decided to abandon all attempts to use GPS data and finely-grained real-time positioning systems and instead implement it just using cell phones and voice communication. This allowed the students to focus on game design issues instead of technology, to think through all the aspects of the player experience, so that the game was intense, challenging, balanced, and fun.

2. Previously, you were commissioned to create a large scale urban game in Minnesota. Do you expect the type of demand for these games anytime soon to make them more than one-off events or attention-grabbing headlines?
I created the Big Urban Game with Katie Salen and Nick Fortugno. Like PacManhattan, the idea of the B.U.G. was to transform an urban environment into a gamespace. I don't know if there's a demand for this type of game exactly, but the impulse to make them comes from a desire to explore new kinds of social interaction, to create games that aren't just fictional spaces that an individual player escapes into, but shared spaces that a group of players conjure up by agreeing to look at the world from a different angle. It's similar to what skateboarders do when they decide that a handrail is actually an elevated grinding bar.

To the extent that people will continue to look for new ways of transforming their experience of the world around them, these kind of games will continue to grow.

3. You work at gameLab, one of the premier game design firms in New York. Are there lessons learned from urban gaming that affect how screen-based gaming can be developed?
Absolutely. Whether you're designing a game for a computer screen, a table top, a cell phone, a party, or the streets, the same set of principles apply. How can you make a system that balances challenge and reward, that encourages exploration, that offers players meaningful choices, that is both coherent and surprising?

You only have to look at the wonderful clockwork city of Grand Theft Auto and the virtual sprawl of massively-multiplayer online games to see that the question of games and urban spaces goes both ways: cities inside of games and games inside of cities. It helps if you're an Italo Calvino fan.

Proust-Krucoff Questionnaire
Please share a personal (and hopefully interesting) NYC taxi story.
At one point I wanted to start the rumor that the vast majority of taxi accidents occur within the first 5 seconds of the trip. I was hoping to create the perception of a "seatbelt paradox".

Time travel question: What era, day or event in New York's history would you like to re-live?
I'd like to play chess with Marcel Duchamp.

9pm, Wednesday - what are you doing?
Taking down a massive pot with a well-timed check-raise on the turn.

What's your New York motto?
When I visited New York as a kid with my family a nice man on a bicycle shouted at us: "Go crap in your hat!" I'll go with that.

Best celebrity sighting in New York, or personal experience with one if you're that type.
When I first got to New York, I worked for David Bowie for a couple of years. Once I stole his Plunderphonics CD, made a tape of it and then snuck it back. He never knew.

Describe that low, low moment when you thought you just might have to leave NYC for good.
Can't think of one.

What's the most expensive thing in your wardrobe?
Nothing, I'm a total slob.

Just after midnight on a Saturday - what are you doing?
Getting my aces cracked by sevens over twos.

What happened the last time you went to L.A.?
I drove around. Went to some cool parties - L.A. is great!

Of all the movies made about (or highly associated with) New York, what role would you have liked to be cast in?
Snake Plissken.

If you could change one thing about New York, what would it be?
I would own property.

The End of The World is finally happening. Be it the Rapture, War of Armageddon, reversal of the Sun's magnetic field, or the Red Sox win the World Series. What are you going to do with your last 24 hours in NYC?
Actually, Andrew, I was kinda hoping I could spend that time with you. [Ed.- Really? Okay, but I get to be Pac-Man.]