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. []

The theory and practice of urban game design

A few weeks ago NLGD asked me to help out with an urban games ‘sem­i­nar’ that they had com­mis­sioned in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Dutch Game Gar­den. A group of around 50 stu­dents from two game design cours­es at the Utrecht School of the Arts1 were asked to design a game for the upcom­ing Fes­ti­val of Games in Utrecht. The work­shop last­ed a week. My involve­ment con­sist­ed of a short lec­ture, fol­lowed by sev­er­al design exer­cis­es designed to help the stu­dents get start­ed on Mon­day. On Fri­day, I was part of the jury that deter­mined which game will be played at the fes­ti­val.

Lec­ture

In the lec­ture I briefly intro­duced some thinkers in urban­ism that I find of inter­est to urban game design­ers. I talked about Jane Jacobs’ view of the city as a liv­ing organ­ism that is grown from the bot­tom up. I also men­tioned Kevin Lynch’s work around wayfind­ing and the ele­ments that make up people’s men­tal maps of cities. I touched upon the need to have a good grasp of social inter­ac­tion pat­terns2. Final­ly, I advised the stu­dents to be fru­gal when it comes to the inclu­sion of tech­nol­o­gy in the stu­dents’ game designs. A good ques­tion to always ask your­self is: can I have as much fun with­out this gad­get?

I wrapped up the lec­ture by look­ing at 5 games, some well-known, oth­ers less so: Big Urban Game, Con­Qwest, Pac-Man­hat­tan, The Soho Project and The Com­fort of Strangers. There are many more good exam­ples, of course, but each of these helped in high­light­ing a spe­cif­ic aspect of urban games design.

Work­shop

Next, I ran a work­shop of around 3 hours with the stu­dents, con­sist­ing of two exer­cis­es (plus one they could com­plete after­wards in their own time). The first one is the most inter­est­ing to dis­cuss here. It’s a game-like elic­i­ta­tion tech­nique called VNA3, which derives its name from the card types in the deck it is made up of: verbs, nouns and adjec­tives.

Students doing a VNA exercise

The way it works is that you take turns draw­ing a card from the deck and make up a one-sen­tence idea involv­ing the term. The first per­son to go draws a verb, the sec­ond per­son a noun and the third an adjec­tive. Each per­son builds on the idea of his or her pre­cur­sor. The con­cept that results from the three-card sequence is writ­ten down, and the next per­son draws a verb card again.4 The exer­cise resem­bles cadavre exquis, the biggest dif­fer­ence being that here, the terms are pre­de­ter­mined.

VNA is a great ice-break­er. The stu­dents were divid­ed into teams of five and, because a side-goal of the sem­i­nar was to encour­age col­lab­o­ra­tion between stu­dents from the dif­fer­ent cours­es, they often did not know each oth­er. Thanks to this exer­cise they became acquaint­ed, but with­in a cre­ative con­text. The exer­cise also priv­i­leges vol­ume of ideas over their qual­i­ty, which is per­fect in the ear­ly stages of con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. Last but not least, it is a lot of fun; many stu­dents asked where they could get the deck of cards.

Jury­ing

On Fri­day, I (togeth­er with the oth­er jury mem­bers) was treat­ed to ten pre­sen­ta­tions by the stu­dents. Each had pre­pared a video con­tain­ing footage of pro­to­typ­ing and play-test­ing ses­sions, as well as an ele­va­tor pitch. A lot of them were quite good, espe­cial­ly con­sid­er­ing the fact that many stu­dents had not cre­at­ed an urban game before, or hadn’t even played one. But one game real­ly stood out for me. It employed a sim­ple mechan­ic: mak­ing chains of peo­ple by hold­ing hands. A chain was start­ed by play­ers, but required the help of passers-by to com­plete. Watch­ing the videos of chains being com­plet­ed evoked a strong pos­i­tive emo­tion­al response, not only with myself, but also my fel­low jurors. What’s more impor­tant though, is that the game clear­ly engen­dered hap­pi­ness in its par­tic­i­pants, includ­ing the peo­ple who joined in as it was being played.

An urban game being played

In one video sequence, we see a near-com­plet­ed chain of peo­ple in a mall, shout­ing requests at peo­ple to join in. A lone man has been observ­ing the spec­ta­cle from a dis­tance for some time. Sud­den­ly, he steps for­ward, and joins hands with the oth­ers. The chain is com­plet­ed. A huge cheer emerges from the group, hands are raised in the air and applause fol­lows, the man join­ing in. Then he walks off towards the cam­era, grin­ning, two thumbs up. I could not help but grin back.5

Happy urban game participant

  1. Game Design and Devel­op­ment and Design for Vir­tu­al The­atre and Games []
  2. point­ing to this resource, that was dis­cussed at length on the IGDA ARG SIG []
  3. devel­oped by Annakaisa Kul­ti­ma []
  4. An inter­est­ing aside is that the deck was orig­i­nal­ly designed to be used for the cre­ation of casu­al mobile games. The words were cho­sen accord­ing­ly. Despite this, or per­haps because of this, they are quite suit­able to the design of urban games. []
  5. To clar­i­fy, this was not the game that got select­ed for the Fes­ti­val of Games. There were some issues with the game as a whole. It was short-list­ed though. Anoth­er excel­lent game, involv­ing mechan­ics inspired by pho­to safari, was the win­ner. []