Hello Operator

A high-stakes game of telephone switchboard operation.

A million calls are made a day in this town. It's our job to make that happen.

Seems straight-forward, you might be thinking. Call comes in. They tell you the recipient. You connect the call, disconnect it when they're done. Nice and easy.

Hah. I doubt you'll survive your first day.

Hello Operator is a time management sim in the vein of Tapper or Diner Dash. You're tasked with working a manual telephone switchboard in the 1920s. Connecting a single call is easy; managing a dozen increasingly-impatient customers while you only have three or four phone lines is much harder!

The game itself is played on an actual vintage telephone switchboard from 1927, a refurbished Western Electric 551-A. You'll listen to callers using a vintage telephone handset, connect calls by physically connecting patch cables between ports, and receive feedback through a series of status lights.

If you're interested in the hardware, I've written a blog post about wiring it up.

Earlier prototypes of the game used a custom-built controller made out of wood, machined steel, and professional audio components.

Narrative Experiments

Beyond the aforementioned time management sim, the Hello, Operator! hardware is also home to a few experiments in multilinear storytelling. What happens when you as the operator have the ability to listen in on your customers' conversations? How can we make sure that you get to take part in a coherent and enjoyable story, no matter which conversations you choose to listen to or ignore? How does the visceral physical interaction with the hardware shape your emotional response to the story?

We're experimenting with what sorts of narratives can emerge from this weird form as part of my research with the Playful Systems research group at the MIT Media Lab. Stay tuned!

How Can I Play It?

Hello, Operator! will be featured as part of the alt.ctrl.GDC exhibit at the Game Developer's Conference from March 16-18, 2016.