Week 139

The pre­vi­ous week seam­less­ly flowed into this one when on sat­ur­day I sat down to final­ize the deck of slides for Raum Schiff Erde. On sun­day morn­ing, I grabbed a train and five hours lat­er I was in Stell­w­erk, the conference’s love­ly venue. Kind, clever peo­ple, a nice relaxed and friend­ly atmos­phere, inter­est­ing talks, all in all a good event. There is more about what I talked about on the Hub­bub blog. It wrapped up with some music and then we were off to din­ner. Turned in late and got up ear­ly the next morn­ing for anoth­er train. I don’t think I’ve ever stayed this short in a hotel, didn’t even man­age to squeeze in break­fast.

On the train ride, I man­aged to review all of the grad­u­a­tion project pro­pos­als of my stu­dents. These were first drafts, next week they’ll need to sub­mit a final ver­sion after one more round of reviews. Some have love­ly, curi­ous top­ics. (A satir­i­cal news­game, any­one?) I’ll share some of them with you some­time soon.

I had a few hours to take a breather when I got back to Utrecht and then it was off to the HKU Acad­e­my The­atre to pre­pare for This hap­pened – Utrecht #5. This was the first edi­tion of the new year, and also the first in a new venue, which made it kind of scary. But every­thing turned out great. (Read a few reports to get a sense of the evening, if you’re inter­est­ed.) We had pos­si­bly the best series of talks so far (although, of course, they’ve all been great) and a great crowd. I’m already look­ing for­ward to #6.

As if two of these chal­lenges weren’t enough, on wednes­day it was D-day for project Tako (which is part of a big­ger plan that is local­ly known sim­ply as PLAY). I pre­sent­ed the results of my research to a room full of cul­tur­al event orga­niz­ers, games devel­op­ers and assort­ed lumi­nar­ies of the Utrecht city scene. I man­aged to wrap up the siz­able stack of sketch­es only hours before in a final adren­a­line-fueled design sprint. The respons­es were encour­ag­ing, so it seems we can start explor­ing the next stage. But before this I’ll need to anno­tate the deck of slides, include all the feed­back and then we might have some­thing we can pub­lish.

In between and after, it’s been more work at Layar. I’ve been dig­ging into the specs for sev­er­al pro­to­types — lots of sketch­ing there, too — forc­ing myself to con­sid­er mul­ti­ple paths. Some of the out­put has been hand­ed over to engi­neers. I can’t wait to see the results of their devel­op­ment efforts.

Even though all of this is more fun than is legal, I can’t wait for a work free week­end, too.

Week 138

Last evening I was on top of the Neude­flat, to review a draft of a pre­sen­ta­tion I’ve pre­pared as part of project Tako.1 Ear­li­er that day and mon­day I talked to the last two par­tic­i­pants: Cul­turele Zonda­gen (a pro­duc­er of fre­quent city-wide cul­tur­al events that always take place on sun­days) and Habek (a pro­duc­er of local hip-hop events and projects). Most of the pre­sen­ta­tion is in place — lots of rough con­cepts for play­ful cul­tur­al projects — it just requires some last addi­tions and tight­en­ing up to be ready for the city lab ses­sion with all par­tic­i­pants next week.

On tues­day morn­ing I found myself in a room filled with stu­dents, who gave short pre­sen­ta­tions on the results from the ini­tial field research they per­formed over the pre­vi­ous week. Some had inter­est­ing insights to share, rang­ing from the expe­ri­ence of sto­ry in sin­gle play­er ver­sus mul­ti­play­er RPGs to the effects of a play­ful UI on the per­ceived effec­tive­ness of infor­ma­tion appli­ances. Oth­ers were real­ly strug­gling with the devel­op­ment of a brief for their own work. Next up for them is to write up a pro­pos­al for their grad­u­a­tion project. We’ll review a first draft of those next week.

As I’m writ­ing this, I am on my way to Layar again — who had some excit­ing news to announce this week and won a few awards in Barcelona too. Most of my time this week will be spent on a design sprint out­lin­ing a new prod­uct offer­ing. We’ll do a review of that some­where this week, and take it from there. Iterate’s the word. Think­ing through mak­ing.

In the time that’s left, I’m chip­ping away at the talk for Ham­burg this sun­day. The rough sil­hou­ette is there, now it’s just a mat­ter of build­ing a deck. Should be doable, right? Right.

  1. The pro­mo­tion depart­ment of the city of Utrecht has its offices here, with stun­ning views. []

Week 137

I was out of the game for a day this week due to a cold. Back in the sad­dle now, off to Ams­ter­dam for more work at Layar. I’m going to pick up where we left off last week when the work­shop with BERG fin­ished.

It’s less than two weeks to the next This hap­pened – Utrecht. On mon­day we opened the reg­is­tra­tion and even though we had twice as many spots than last time, we ‘sold out’ in half the time. One minute. Crazy. I met up with Alexan­der and Ianus on mon­day evening to go over the last things that need to be done. We had a look at our new venue too, the HKU Acad­e­my The­atre, which I think is real nice.

On tues­day I went over to Codarts to give a lec­ture on games to music stu­dents (pro­duc­ers, com­posers and song­writ­ers, most­ly). I was invit­ed by Daniël Ham­burg­er, whom I col­lab­o­rat­ed with on the Mon­ster game opera. I want­ed to pro­vide the stu­dents with start­ing points for col­lab­o­ra­tion with game design­ers. So I decid­ed to focus most­ly on the notion of play­er expe­ri­ence, and how game design­ers con­tribute to this, and how music and sound can. It went OK. I start­ed by chat­ting with them about the games they play, so that I could use those as exam­ples in the rest of my talk. That’s a trick that works well, I’ll be sure to use it again.

There’s some more speak­ing on the hori­zon. On mon­day I booked my train to Ham­burg, for a talk at RaumschiffEr.de; a sort of mini-Reboot tak­ing place on feb­ru­ary 21. Read a bit more on that at the Hub­bub blog. Per­haps I’ll see you there?

Week 136

On a train to Ams­ter­dam again, extra ear­ly so that I am on time for the sec­ond day of a work­shop we’re run­ning at Layar.1 It’s being facil­i­tat­ed by BERG’s Schulze and Jones, which is a real treat. With­out giv­ing too much away: we’re work­ing on new prod­uct con­cepts. Can’t wait to see what results from this ses­sion, since it looks like I might be devel­op­ing them fur­ther in the months to come.

I was doing some work this week­end, most­ly plan­ning the upcom­ing months since there’s so much inter­est­ing stuff on the hori­zon. I also popped over to Hil­ver­sum for a look at the games cre­at­ed dur­ing the local Glob­al Game Jam.2 Some 170 peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ed and I think around 40 games were cre­at­ed. The gen­er­al qual­i­ty was quite high. Some of my favorites includ­ed:

  • So It Floats, which fea­tures gor­geous water­col­or art and a bib­li­cal theme. You’re a mon­key try­ing to get Adam and Eve to leave par­adise. The game­play resem­bles ‘s games.
  • SSSSSOS, where you con­trol a tiny space ship try­ing to sur­vive a mas­sive bat­tle between two armies con­sist­ing of swarm­ing space ships. You can get them to engage each oth­er in stead of you by attract­ing and repelling them. It’s all dri­ven by nice­ly tuned New­ton­ian physics and is accom­pa­nied by adap­tive music.
  • Res­o­nance, which was strik­ing­ly well-round­ed for a 48-hour game. I’m not a huge fan of puz­zle games, but this had a good learn­ing curve spread across 14 lev­els. The musi­cal theme was a nice touch too.
  • Save Your Souls, a frus­trat­ing exper­i­men­tal game you con­trol with two mice, each tied to one char­ac­ter run­ning down a track. From play­ing I’ve decid­ed biman­u­al input devices are not for me.
  • What The Faql?, which I liked for its inter­est­ing social mechan­ic. Four play­ers col­lab­o­rate to get a cart from one end of a mine to the oth­er, but one of them is a ‘mole’ whose goal is to sab­o­tage the whole oper­a­tion. This play­er gets a small jolt of force feed­back from his con­troller at the game’s start.

All the games cre­at­ed in NL and across the world can be found at the inter­na­tion­al Glob­al Game Jam web­site. Have a look.

Most of the con­ver­sa­tions with project Tako par­tic­i­pants are now fin­ished. I had one more this mon­day, with the peo­ple who orga­nize the Inter­na­tion­al Franz Liszt Piano Com­pe­ti­tion.3 Not much else will be done this week, but I’ll need to start pro­cess­ing all the notes in the com­ing peri­od.

Now that the EMMA group projects have fin­ished the next phase for grad­u­ate stu­dents at KMT has start­ed. They have four weeks to devel­op their grad­u­a­tion project pro­pos­als, which includes a research com­po­nent. This phase was kicked off with a sym­po­sium on mon­day about cre­ative process­es in mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary teams. On fri­day, I’ll meet with the group of stu­dents I’m coach­ing (togeth­er with Irene van Peer) and review their plans for a short field study, which they’ll need to com­plete the next week. The results from this will feed into their final pro­pos­als. Can’t wait to see what they come up with.

  1. Get­ting to a train on time is not with­out its haz­ards these days, snow and ice make bik­ing to the sta­tion extra inter­est­ing. []
  2. GGJ NL is orga­nized by my friends at the Dutch Game Gar­den. []
  3. Where, inci­den­tal­ly, I final­ly learned the mean­ing of Lisz­to­ma­nia. []

Week 135

I man­aged to squeeze in a vis­it to the HKU KMT faculty’s project mar­ket in Hil­ver­sum on thurs­day last week. It’s an annu­al pre­sen­ta­tion of work done for exter­nal clients by grad­u­ate stu­dents. I coached one of those projects, which was done for the Nokia Research Cen­ter. They did a good job of pre­sent­ing a com­pli­cat­ed con­cept, which revolves around encour­ag­ing office work­ers to com­mute in a green­er man­ner by track­ing their trav­els on a mobile and giv­ing them a real live plant to take care of with the water they earn based on this col­lect­ed data… You should see it. Oth­er favorites of mine were:

  • Lumen; a series of urban pro­jec­tions in Utrecht which were exe­cut­ed with high pol­ish
  • Home­osta­sis; a beau­ti­ful expres­sive inter­ac­tive art piece cre­at­ed for Cross­ing Bor­der fes­ti­val
  • Paper Cakes; a cool game designed for Wacom’s Bam­boo Min­is plat­form, which the­mat­i­cal­ly and mechan­i­cal­ly makes excel­lent use of the tar­get input device1

The project mar­ket always coin­cides with an alum­ni recep­tion, which means recon­nect­ing with a lot of old friends too.

Project Tako is in full swing now. I talked to two orga­ni­za­tions on fri­day and will be see­ing six more this week. It’s a priv­i­lege to meet all these peo­ple, who pro­duce some of Utrecht’s finest cul­tur­al fes­ti­vals. Lots of ideas for play­ful addi­tions to their pro­grams have already start­ed to emerge. I’ll need to devel­op them fur­ther in the com­ing weeks. It’s also strik­ing how each and every one of them keeps office in a beau­ti­ful build­ing. Bik­ing through my home town from meet­ing to meet­ing reminds me of how pret­ty it actu­al­ly is.

One can nev­er be too busy, so this mon­day we announced the next This hap­pened – Utrecht. The line-up con­sists of Daan Roosegaarde on Liq­uid Space 6.0, Stel­la Boess & Ste­fan Gross on Love Hate Punch, Bas Teu­nisse & Lex van den Berg on Paper Cakes and Govert de Vries on Swinxs. The events is sched­uled for mon­day 22 feb­ru­ary. As usu­al I’ve been scram­bling to get the web­site ready, send out the emails and make sure the venue is all set. Good thing I have Alexan­der and Ianus to take care of a lot of oth­er stuff.

But for the most part this week, I’m con­tin­u­ing design at Layar. The first reviews of some ini­tial bits have been sched­uled so we’ll see how that goes.

  1. The HKU and Wacom first met at This hap­pened – Utrecht #2. It’s also been nom­i­nat­ed for an IGF stu­dent award, so we could not resist invit­ing this project to the next edi­tion. []

Week 134

I’m writ­ing this in the morn­ing on a train from Utrecht to Ams­ter­dam. I’ll be mak­ing this trip more often the com­ing weeks, since I signed a con­tract with Layar on tues­day. I’ll be rein­forc­ing their UX team, doing inter­ac­tion design on exist­ing and new parts of their ser­vice. As is often the case with these kinds of engage­ments, there’s not much more I can say at this time. I’m sure there will be inter­est­ing things to show and talk about lat­er on though.

In the time that’s not being tak­en up by Layar this week I’m get­ting going with project Tako. I’ve been call­ing the orga­ni­za­tions select­ed for the project and sched­ul­ing meet­ings. The first one — with the peo­ple behind Uit­gekookt; a culi­nary fes­ti­val — is set for this fri­day. It’s a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about how you can bring a play­ful per­spec­tive to (in this case) cook­ing and food, I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to it. More meet­ings will be hap­pen­ing next week.

Also on fri­day, I’ll attend an eval­u­a­tion of the Mount Ever­est project, which was wrapped up last week­end. I went over to the fac­ul­ty to see the pieces the stu­dents had cre­at­ed and was blown away by the cre­ativ­i­ty and tal­ent on dis­play.

If I had to pick one favorite it’ll have to be the group that set up a spoof shop — called Extreme­ly Safe — where you could come in and have your pic­ture tak­en at a haz­ardous loca­tion of your choice. It was a play­ful ser­vice — you real­ly did get that pho­to, plus a sheet of help­ful point­ers for telling the tale of your trav­els to friends and rel­a­tives — but once you were in, an impromp­tu per­for­mance took place too, com­ment­ing on con­tem­po­rary obses­sions with break­ing rules and push­ing lim­its.

Good stuff.

Week 133

We (Marin­ka, Evert and I) wrapped up the Move It project on fri­day with great suc­cess. I spent the day in a the­ater watch­ing 24 con­cept videos of new street sports. The one that scored the high­est was also my favorite; a team sport that involves bounc­ing a ball off the sides of an alley, includes the ref­er­ee as a bounc­ing sur­face and allows the audi­ence to par­tic­i­pate by bat­ting balls that leave the play area back into field. It’s called Bounce Ball, check out the video on Vimeo.

This week I’m spend­ing most of my time act­ing as men­tor on anoth­er project at the Utrecht School of the Arts (at the the­atre fac­ul­ty, to be exact). First-year stu­dents from all cours­es there (act­ing, writ­ing, stage design, etc.) have one week to put togeth­er a pro­gram that will be open to the pub­lic on fri­day. The project is titled Mount Ever­est and revolves around the theme of peo­ple going to extremes and trans­gress­ing lim­its (as moun­taineers often do).

It’s nice spend­ing this much time in the the­atre fac­ul­ty, since this is the new venue for the 2010 series of This hap­pened – Utrecht events. I’m get­ting good vibes from the phys­i­cal space, I think it’s a great fit for our thing. I’ve met with Ianus and Alexan­der to make fur­ther plans for the next edi­tion (which is planned for 22 feb­ru­ary). Most of the pro­gram is tak­en care of so we’re on sched­ule for mak­ing the usu­al announce­ments and send­ing out invi­ta­tions to the guest list.

I’ve also met with Karel to dis­cuss project Una­gi. This is a small game design event — an exper­i­ment real­ly — that was born from the many dis­cus­sions Karel and I tend to have over our reg­u­lar din­ners. The goal of Una­gi is to cre­ate a place where Dutch game design­ers can meet, and where we can get a feel for what the state of the art of the dis­ci­pline is. It also involves food.

I’m also slow­ly but sure­ly get­ting up to speed with project Tako. Hope­ful­ly this week I’ll man­age to plan most of the meet­ings that I’ll be hav­ing with the peo­ple behind some of the city of Utrecht’s major cul­tur­al events.

Last but not least, tomor­row I’ll be assess­ing the group project I’ve been men­tor­ing at the Utrecht School of the Arts’ grad­u­ate school for art and tech­nol­o­gy since sep­tem­ber. Also, on fri­day, the group will present their work to Jus­si Holopainen of Nokia Research Cen­ter, who is the project’s com­mis­sion­er. The project is titled EcoW­ay, and revolves around the design for a play­ful expe­ri­ence for com­pa­nies that want to encour­age their employ­ees to com­mute in a green­er man­ner. Here’s a pho­to of the group with their pro­to­type. Look close­ly and you’ll notice it includes a herbar­i­um with prop­er live plants.

This will be a bit­ter­sweet end­ing to a chal­leng­ing but reward­ing teach­ing expe­ri­ence. What most stands out for me with this project is how a prop­er team was formed from what start­ed out as a col­lec­tive of indi­vid­u­als thanks to a hands-on, think­ing-by-doing approach.

Week 132

I’m tak­ing up the chal­lenge Matt Webb post­ed in his last wee­knote of the year 2009 and will be post­ing wee­knotes of my own here for the fore­see­able future. You can expect stuff about design work I do at Hub­bub, teach­ing at the Utrecht School of the Arts and per­haps bits about This hap­pened and oth­er side endeav­ors.

So this is week 132 of my free­lance career. I start­ed on July 1st 2007, which coin­cid­ed with a move to Copen­hagen (I’ve moved back to Utrecht since).

Most of this week is tak­en up by a work­shop — titled Move It — I’m run­ning togeth­er with Evert Hoogen­doorn and Marin­ka Copi­er at the Utrecht School of the Arts. All first year stu­dents of the games and inter­ac­tion cours­es are par­tic­i­pat­ing, around 130 in all. That’s a crazy num­ber, it’s real­ly tax­ing, but also a lot of fun. Lots of good vibes when we’re all in the same room. The assign­ment we’ve giv­en them is to design a new sports expe­ri­ence. It should take place in the cen­tre of Utrecht, and they should not only design the play of the sport, but also the expe­ri­ence of the audi­ence, the ref­er­ee, book­mak­er, etc. We kicked off on mon­day,1 today was open Q&A, tomor­row will be a mid-way review and on fri­day they’ll present the final game in the form of a three-minute video. There’ll be 24 videos in total, all post­ed to this Vimeo group. I’m real­ly look­ing for­ward to the end results.

Oth­er than that I’m hop­ing to get start­ed prop­er­ly with a con­sult­ing project I’ve code­named Tako.2 It’s about explor­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for play­ful addi­tions to the pro­grams of some of Utrecht’s major cul­tur­al events. The project’s com­mis­sioned by the city of Utrecht. I’ll talk more about it once the work is under­way.

What else… This being the new year, there’s plen­ty of recep­tions. Today I attend­ed one at the Utrecht School of the Arts. Tomor­row I’ll be at the month­ly lunch organ­ised by the Dutch Game Gar­den3 which’ll prob­a­bly involve some new year shenani­gans.

I was also doing the oblig­a­tory finan­cial admin that comes with the start of a new month, a new quar­ter and a new year (thank god there’s noth­ing spe­cial relat­ed to this being a new decade). Invoic­ing, that sort of thing.

Also, I sent out a mes­sage to some of my old friends in Copen­hagen, since I’m plan­ning a six-week stay there in spring. I’m hop­ing to do some work there. Have heard back from a few already, so that’s encour­ag­ing.

There’s also more than the usu­al amount of meet­ings to talk about poten­tial new projects. All quite inter­est­ing and excit­ing, who knows what’ll come of those.

So that’s the first wee­knote out of the way. It’s inter­est­ing how doing this increas­es my aware­ness of all the stuff that’s going on. It’s hard not to feel a lit­tle over­whelmed. I hope it’s of some inter­est to you though.

Onwards!

  1. I ran a brief ideation ses­sion using a design game devel­oped by Jus­si Holopainen et al. at the Nokia Research Cen­ter. []
  2. I’ve got­ten into the habit of nam­ing new projects after Japan­ese seafood. []
  3. Which is where I have my stu­dio. []