You have Alper to blame for this. Alice started it, many followed (some well worth reading) and now the meme has crossed the pond it seems. I know, we’re a bit slow in NL. So, what am I thinking about?
My upcoming holiday, which will be the first break in over a year. I am planning to completely unplug, which I am both dreading and looking forward to. It seems the longer I am self-employed, the harder it gets to just leave work behind for an extended period of time. It seems crazy to be worried about the continuity of my business when I’m only away for a week on a freaking Wadden island.
Today marks the last day of final exams at the HKU and I am lead to wonder about the future of design education as it happens there and at other similar institutes around the world. It often seems too closed off from the outside world, too insular. I am looking forward to tangling with this subject matter more in an upcoming project with River Institute.
Choosing has never come easy to me. In the past I have found it painful to choose between disciplines, skills to develop, projects to work on. And at some point I sort of decided to stop forcing choices and find ways to have them all mesh. I think that finally I am getting to a spot where I am comfortable in not choosing. So now I wonder why that is, what the value of refusing to choose is and what that means for creative disciplines.
I am essentially pessimistic about the future of this world. I have a very hard time conceiving of any future, in fact. Recently I found myself in a workshop aimed at making plans for an event in 2015 and I was totally lost. Having learnt this about myself the next question is how to act — I don’t wan’t to “play dead” as Bruce Sterling would say — so what’s the alternative?
Since it is at the core of my business I am thinking a lot about domains where games could go next. I am thinking a lot about citizen engagement, particularly when it comes to public policy, but I am mostly stumped about making inroads into that area locally.
I graduated from the Utrecht School of the Arts in 2002. Now, less than seven years later, I am mentoring a group of five students who will be doing the same come September this year. I took a photo of them today, here it is:
From left to right, here’s who they are and what they’re up to:
Christiaan is tech lead on Hollandia, an action adventure game inspired by Dutch folklore. His research looks at ways to close the gap between creatives and technologists in small teams, using agile techniques.
Kjell is designing a series of experimental games using voice as their only input. He’s researching what game mechanics work best with voice control.
Maxine is game designer on the aforementioned Hollandia game. Her research looks at the translation of the play experience of physical toys to digital games. (In of Hollandia, you’ll be using a Wiimote to control the spinning top used by the heroine.)
Paul is building a physics-based platform puzzle game for two players. His research looks at the design of meaningful collaborative play.
Eva is making a space simulation game with realistic physics and complex controls. She’s researching what kinds of fun are elicited by such games.
Practically speaking, mentoring these guys means that I see them once a week for a 15-minute session. In this we discuss the past week’s progress and their plans for the next. They’ve set their own briefs, and are expected to be highly self-reliant. My task consists of making sure they stay on track and their work is relevant, both from an educational and a professional perspective. It’s challenging work, but a lot of fun. It forces me to make explicit the stuff I’ve picked up professionally. It’s also a lot about developing a sense for where each student individually can improve and encouraging them to challenge themselves in those areas.
I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ll deliver come September, when it’s their turn to graduate, and go out to conquer the world.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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. [↩]
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. [↩]
Last week, the group project I am coaching at the Utrecht School of the Arts kicked off. The project is part of the school’s master of arts program. The group consists of ten students with very different backgrounds, ranging from game design & development to audio design, as well as arts management, media studies, and more. Their assignment is to come up with a number of concepts for games that incorporate mobile phones, social interactions, audio and the web. Nokia Research Center has commissioned the project, and Jussi Holopainen, game design researcher and co-author of Patterns in Game Design, is the client. In the project brief there is a strong emphasis on sketching and prototyping, and disciplined documentation of the design process. The students are working full time on the project and it will run for around 4 months.
I am very happy with the opportunity to coach this group. It’s a new challenge for me as a teacher — moving away from teaching theory and into the area of facilitation. I am also looking forward to seeing what the students will come up with, of course, as the domain they are working in overlaps hugely with my interests. So far, working with Jussi has proven to be very inspirational, so I am getting something out of it as a designer too.
The range of projects on show was broad and wonderfully presented. It proves the school is still able to integrate arts and crafts with commercial and societal relevant thinking. All projects (over 40 in total) were by master of arts students and commissioned by real world clients. I’d like to point out three projects I particularly enjoyed:
A tangible interface that models a cow’s insides and allows veterinary students to train at much earlier stage than they do now. The cow model has realistic organs made of silicon (echoes of Realdoll here) and is hooked up to a large display showing a 3D visualization of the student’s actions inside the cow. Crazy, slightly gross but very well done.
A narrative, literary game called ‘Haas’ (Dutch for hare) that allows the player to intuitively draw the level around the main character. The game’s engine reminded me a bit of Chris Crawford’s work in that it tracks all kinds of dramatic possibilities in the game and evaluates which is the most appropriate at any time based on available characters, props, etc. Cute and pretty.
A game developed for Philips’ Entertaible which is a large flat panel multi-touch display that can track game pieces’ location, shape and orientation and has RFID capabilities as well. The game developed has the players explore a haunted mansion (stunningly visualized by the students in a style that is reminiscent of Pixar) and play a number of inventive mini-games. Very professionally done.
Saffer fails to mention any good IxD schools outside of the US and UK. Which is a shame for all of us European designers. Reimann mentioned Ivrea’s now defunct IxD institute.
I’d like to start by pointing to my courageous little country’s Utrecht School of Arts, which has been teaching IxD for 15 years now (!) and today offers both BA and MA programs. They’ve recently branched off into game design, which has been quite successful.
Full disclosure: I was a student at the same school from 1998 – 2001 (BA IxD, MA Game Design) and am now teaching a course in mobile game design.
Any other good IxD schools in Europe that you know of?