Martzi Campos is a research staff member at the USC Game Innovation Lab and professor at USC Games. Her work often combines physical and digital elements to create wondrous experiences. Martzi’s artistic philosophy is, “If I can make something that makes adults feel like they are in a McDonald’s Play Place, then I have succeeded.”
Here are some highlights from our talk with Martzi, edited for brevity and clarity.
What type of work do you do at the USC Game Innovation Lab?
I’ve worked on a lot of educational products, which ties into my educational background. I was a preschool teacher before I came to USC for graduate school. It was really cool to work on a lot of cool projects like ChronoCards, which are two sets of card games that teach kids about World War I and the Revolutionary War. Students learned about the causes behind the wars, which helped them practice justifying facts. They made statements and built their knowledge about both of those topics. I was also a part of a really cool project the Game Innovation Lab did with NASA, which involved extremophiles, tiny microbes that live in extremely hot or cold places. It was cool to build a project around such an exciting topic.
Did you always know you wanted to make games?
I didn’t know it was a job! No one told me! I’ve always loved games. They’ve been a huge part of my life. I credit my younger brother for sparking my interest. During the 80’s, video games were primarily marketed towards boys. I was told, “You can’t make video games. You have to be good at math.” I wasn’t good at math, though, so I chose to major in painting. I loved my arts education. But, I felt something was missing.
I graduated and moved to California. I met someone in USC Games’ Masters program at a Dungeons & Dragons group. She told me about the program, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I knew then that I wanted to come to USC to make interactive media and games! People always say that when you find your place, all the doors start to open up. It was shocking to discover that once I was in a place where I truly belonged, those opportunities did start to open up. I thought, “Oh yeah! They weren’t lying!”
What was your experience working on AR Box?
AR Box was made at an augmented reality game jam that Google and IndieCade hosted. Sean Bloom, Jesse Vigil, and I were asked to form a team together. When are you ever going to say no to a cool game jam?
Going into the game jam, I was skeptical towards AR. I didn’t like the idea of people trying to transpose over the everyday world. Yet, AR has such amazing potential. While brainstorming, we recognized the need for the connection between the physical world and AR. Sean, being the escape room buff that he is, came up with the idea of making an AR escape room. Through AR Box, we gave physical interactions to AR. It’s not just an overlay on the world. When you do something in AR, it affects the real world: lights change, doors unlock, speakers play.
The project started as a haunted library where players had to escape after picking up a demonic book. AR Box was primarily a narrative experience that was tied to the physical world. We tried to give players mystical items that were essentially as close as you can get to the wardrobe in Narnia. That’s when I learned to love AR.
What are your favorite projects you’ve worked on while at USC?
My graduate thesis, Beautiful Corner, was a very personal and expressive project. It was a single player narrative escape room born out of the desire to have a space where you can roleplay a bit. The narrative is focused around that moment in childhood when you stop playing pretend. You return to camp one summer, when either you or your friend stops believing in the imaginary world you built together. What do you do? You return once again, this time many years later as an adult who no longer believes, and discover that magic is indeed real. You have to decide whether to believe or not.
Another big project that I really enjoyed working on was Klaxo Radio Hour. The project was born out of Jesse Vigil’s and my weird mutual obsession with physical computing. Jesse loves radio plays. I love spooky stuff and the Halloween section at Target. It’s an interactive radio drama that’s housed in a real toy radio. You change the channels to help a detective solve the case and rescue the souls that are trapped inside the radio.