Cosmonet Games

Martzi Campos and Sean Bloom

Cosmonet Games are a set of digital games that are designed around the idea of an indirect branching narrative. That is, instead of a player making direct choices on the game story (choosing to take the path to the left, saying no to the king, etc.) the player makes the inconsequential choices of everyday life that define the player character’s personality. The story then evolves based on the small choices, having them influence the big, uncontrollable events of the main story.

Originally inspired by a mutual love of personality quizzes (Buzzfeed, specifically), designers Martzi Campos & Sean Bloom wanted to see if a game could be built solely on taking them. Cosmonet is set in a near future in an alternate universe where Russia won the space race. The game takes place entirely on the computer console of Lena, a bored cosmonaut who is stuck in space trying to teach birds how to fly in zero gravity. She converses with friends and family through chat, and conducts experiments, which the player has no direct control over, but in her down time she takes personality quizzes where the player makes her choices. Depending on her results, on such pressing issues as ‘what job should you have’ and ‘what kind of toaster are you’, Lena may or may not save her job, her relationship and the very birds she is training to fly.

Cosmonet was originally created in 48 hours for the Global Game Jam, and left the creators excited to explore the concept of indirect branching beyond the scope of a personality quizzes. They went onto create a longer, more expansive game, From Ivan.

From Ivan, the sister, or more accurately, brother piece to Cosmonet, takes place in the same shared universe as the original but focuses on Lena’s brother Ivan, who works a mundane job on earth as an HR representative. Ivan’s primary focus is on which is the most appropriate greeting card to send to co-workers for various events, and sorting through his mail. If Cosmonet is a love letter to personality quizzes, from Ivan is the same for the epistolary narrative by unfolding entirely in letters and notes sent to and from Ivan.

Both games focus on the idea that how you choose to define yourself creates your story. Cosmonet is how you define yourself internally and how your convictions decide your fate, and in From Ivan it is how you relate to others that affects both the world around you and your own path.

About the Artists

Martzi Campos is an interactive artist. Her work focuses on combing her installation art background with digital technology and interactive design to create magical experiences. She has a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design with a focus on Installation art, and a MFA from the University of Southern California in Interactive Media and Games. Her games and art have been featured at IndieCade, ELO, Experimental Games Workshop, SIGGRAPH, and the Hammer Gallery among others.

Sean Bloom has worked as a game designer and technology lead in the University of Southern California's Interactive Media and Games Division since 2011. His work for the division includes Mission: Admission, a time-management game about preparing for college, Chrono Cards, a card game about historical thinking and the causes of WWI, and Life Underground, a digital dark ride about discovering and identifying microscopic life forms. He regularly teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on game design fundamentals, experimental game design, polishing and publishing games, and game production. He has spoken at the Game Developers Conference, the IndieCade Festival, the Meaningful Play conference, the Games for Change Festival, the Digital Media and Learning conference, and the Digital Games Research Association conference.

Sean also produces games as an independent game developer, including tabletop games, digital games, and location-based installation projects. His work, which has been featured at the Independent Games Festival, IndieCade, Games for Change, E3, and GDC, includes Application Crunch, a card game about the college application process, Spectre, a narrative platformer about memory and dementia, and BOSS Box, a modular AR-powered escape room. Previously, he worked as a programmer at the Institute for Creative Technology, examining the therapeutic potential of virtual worlds. He has served as an organizer and juror for the IndieCade Festival and the USC Games Expo. His focus is on narrative design and motivating social interaction through game mechanics.