Playful Design for Smart Cities

Ear­li­er this week I escaped the mis­er­able weath­er and food of the Nether­lands to spend a cou­ple of days in Barcelona, where I attend­ed the ‘Play­ful Design for Smart Cities’ work­shop at RMIT Europe.

I helped Jus­si Holopainen run a work­shop in which par­tic­i­pants from indus­try, gov­ern­ment and acad­e­mia togeth­er defined projects aimed at fur­ther explor­ing this idea of play­ful design with­in the con­text of smart cities, with­out falling into the trap of solu­tion­ism.

Before the work­shop I pre­sent­ed a sum­ma­ry of my chap­ter in The Game­ful World, along with some of my cur­rent think­ing on it. There were also great talks by Judith Ack­er­mann, Flo­ri­an ‘Floyd’ Müller, and Gilly Kar­jevsky and Sebas­t­ian Quack.

Below are the slides for my talk and links to all the arti­cles, books and exam­ples I explic­it­ly and implic­it­ly ref­er­enced through­out.

Generating UI design variations

AI design tool for UI design alternatives

I am still think­ing about AI and design. How is the design process of AI prod­ucts dif­fer­ent? How is the user expe­ri­ence of AI prod­ucts dif­fer­ent? Can design tools be improved with AI?

When it comes to improv­ing design tools with AI my start­ing point is game design and devel­op­ment. What fol­lows is a quick sketch of one idea, just to get it out of my sys­tem.

Mixed-ini­tia­tive’ tools for pro­ce­dur­al gen­er­a­tion (such as Tana­gra) allow design­ers to cre­ate high-lev­el struc­tures which a machine uses to pro­duce full-fledged game con­tent (such as lev­els). It hap­pens in a real-time. There is a con­tin­u­ous back-and-forth between design­er and machine.

Soft­ware user inter­faces, on mobile in par­tic­u­lar, are increas­ing­ly fre­quent­ly assem­bled from ready-made com­po­nents accord­ing to more or less well-described rules tak­en from design lan­guages such as Mate­r­i­al Design. These design lan­guages are cur­rent­ly pri­mar­i­ly described for human con­sump­tion. But it should be a small step to make a design lan­guage machine-read­able.

So I see an oppor­tu­ni­ty here where a design­er might assem­ble a UI like they do now, and a machine can do sev­er­al things. For exam­ple it can test for adher­ence to design lan­guage rules, sug­gest cor­rec­tions or even auto-cor­rect as the design­er works.

More inter­est­ing­ly, a machine might take one UI mock­up, and pro­vide the design­er with sev­er­al more pos­si­ble vari­a­tions. To do this it could use dif­fer­ent lay­outs, or alter­na­tive com­po­nents that serve a same or sim­i­lar pur­pose to the ones used.

In high pres­sure work envi­ron­ments where time is scarce, cor­ners are often cut in the diver­gence phase of design. Machines could aug­ment design­ers so that gen­er­at­ing many design alter­na­tives becomes less labo­ri­ous both men­tal­ly and phys­i­cal­ly. Ide­al­ly, machines would sur­prise and even inspire us. And the final say would still be ours.

Sources for my Creative Mornings Utrecht talk on education, games, and play

I was stand­ing on the shoul­ders of giants for this one. Here’s a (prob­a­bly incom­plete) list of sources I ref­er­enced through­out the talk.

All of these are high­ly rec­om­mend­ed.

Update: the slides are now up on Speak­er Deck.

Recess! 8 – Cardboard Inspiration

Recess! is a cor­re­spon­dence series with per­son­al rumi­na­tions on games.

Dear Alper and Niels,

This morn­ing I read the news that Jason Rohrer has won the final game design chal­lenge at GDC. A Game For Some­one is amazing—a boardgame buried in the Neva­da desert, intend­ed to be played in a few thou­sand years by those who final­ly find it after work­ing down a humon­gous list of GPS coor­di­nates. The game has nev­er been played, it’s been designed using genet­ic algo­rithms. It’s made from incred­i­bly durable mate­ri­als.

I find it iron­ic that a boardgame wins a game design con­test at an event whose atten­dants also drool over tech­nofetishis­tic non­sense such as Ocu­lus Rift.

And I love boardgames. I love play­ing big tac­ti­cal shouty com­pet­i­tive ones at my house with friends on Sat­ur­day evenings. Or small, slow med­i­ta­tive strate­gic ones with my fiance on Sun­day after­noons. I love their phys­i­cal­i­ty, the shared nature of play­ing.

I also love them for the inspi­ra­tion they offer me. Their inner work­ings are exposed. They’re a bit like the engines in those old cars I see some of neigh­bours work on every week­end, just for fun. It’s so easy to pick out mechan­ics, study them and see how they may be of use to my own projects.

I recent­ly sat down to revis­it the game Cuba, because our own work on KAIGARA involved an engine build­ing mechan­ic and Cuba does this real­ly well. KAIGARA doesn’t involve any card­board, but that doesn’t mean we can’t draw inspi­ra­tion from it. On the con­trary. It’s like James Wal­lis recent­ly said in an inter­view at BoardGameGeek:

My games col­lec­tion isn’t a library, it’s a toolk­it.”

Kars

Week 176

As I was start­ing to write this a dis­cus­sion broke out on dra­matur­gy and game design. So I got side­tracked debat­ing sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences between dis­ci­plines and most impor­tant­ly what they have to offer to each oth­er. The room was filled with inter­ac­tion design­ers, game design­ers and folk with a the­atre back­ground.1 So that was inter­est­ing.

More mix­ing of dis­ci­plines: on tues­day I spent a day work­ing on Buta with Irene van Peer, a prod­uct design­er with a tremen­dous amount of expe­ri­ence in the health­care domain. We sat down and man­aged to push the work for­ward through lots of sketch­ing and mak­ing. Next up is more work with pigs and farm­ers on site.

The rest of this week was tak­en up by work for PLAY Pilots (Monobanda’s Band­jes­land for Le Guess Who? is turn­ing out great), the Pam­pus project at the HKU, and a few meet­ings for new projects on the hori­zon.

I have been pay­ing atten­tion to my calo­ry intake the past few weeks. It turned out this was far too low. Now that I am eat­ing much more I find myself being able to cope with less sleep, more stress and just gen­er­al­ly feel­ing much bet­ter. Which also makes for more plea­sure tak­en from my work. Who’d have thought food could be such an upper?

  1. Wieger and Syl­van, interns at Hub­bub, study Design for Vir­tu­al The­atre and Games at the HKU. []

A quick look at Tweetakt’s playful installations

Twee­t­akt is hap­pen­ing in Utrecht at the moment. It’s a youth the­atre fes­ti­val, real­ly push­ing the lim­its of what we think that means. As an exam­ple, they’ve pro­vid­ed space for sev­er­al instal­la­tions at the fes­ti­val cen­tre on the Neude. I went over for a quick look today — even though I know most of the cre­ators per­son­al­ly and am famil­iar with sev­er­al of the pieces. They’re all free and open to the pub­lic, so if you’re in the area, you should go too.

Knikker­baan

Medialab Utrecht's Knikkerbaan at Tweetakt

Made by a few prin­ci­pals at the Medi­al­ab Utrecht. Push a but­ton and a mar­ble starts rolling down a futur­is­tic look­ing track. Halfway through it enters a scan­ner of sorts, and is con­vert­ed into a vir­tu­al coun­ter­part vis­i­ble on a screen, only to emerge phys­i­cal­ly after some time again. At the end of the track, you get to keep the mar­ble.

It’s hard­ly inter­ac­tive, but does look kind of impres­sive and of course, mar­bles are always fun.

Kleurkamer

Monobanda's Kleurkamer at Tweetakt

A new ver­sion what is becom­ing a clas­sic by the trou­ble­mak­ers at Monoban­da. A beam­er, a white decor and wiimotes enable you to paint with light. It’s a sim­ple premise, the exe­cu­tion is ser­vice­able but the result is quite mag­i­cal. The addi­tion of white jack­ets for peo­ple that want to become part of the can­vas is a real nice touch.

Block­blaz­ers

Fourcelabs's Blockblazers at Tweetakt

Made by my friends at Fource­labs, this is the one that hasn’t the ben­e­fit of a spec­tac­u­lar phys­i­cal shape but is the most fun to play. It’s a com­pet­i­tive plat­form game playable with eight peo­ple at the same time with some clever social and phys­i­cal touch­es. Scor­ing points is reward­ed with a big pho­to of your­self that is shown for a few sec­onds, and the game wraps around two big screens that are back to back, forc­ing you to move around and com­pete with the oth­er play­ers for phys­i­cal floor space.

It’s nice to see this kind of stuff at a the­atre fes­ti­val. I hope the pieces will do well — despite the fact that not all of them have been placed and pre­sent­ed to the pub­lic in the best way — so that we’ll get more of this stuff in the years to come.

Work now so you can play later

There’s a lot going on at the Leapfrog stu­dio, which explains at least in part why things have gone qui­et around here. How­ev­er, I want­ed to take the time to alert you to some upcom­ing events that might be of inter­est.

An urban game in the Rotterdam city center

On Sun­day Sep­tem­ber 27 around 50 young peo­ple will play an urban game I designed for Your World — Rot­ter­dam Euro­pean Youth Cap­i­tal 2009.1 It is part of a two-day event called Change Your World, which enables groups of youth to set up a new ‘move­ment’ with finan­cial sup­port and advice from pro­fes­sion­als. You might want to hang around the Rot­ter­dam city cen­ter dur­ing the day, to wit­ness what is sure to be an inter­est­ing spec­ta­cle. More info should show up soon enough at the Your World web­site.

A pervasive game in the Hoograven neighborhood of Utrecht

Around the same time, from Sep­tem­ber 18 to Octo­ber 11, you’ll be able to play Kop­pelkiek in the Hoograven area of Utrecht. This is a game I’ve cre­at­ed for the Dutch Design Dou­ble pro­gram.2 To play, you take pho­tos of your­self with oth­ers in a range of sit­u­a­tions and upload them to the game’s web­site. It’s designed to sub­tly per­me­ate your dai­ly life. With the help of our play­ers we’re hop­ing to cre­ate a col­lec­tion of pho­tos that pro­vide a unique look into life in the neigh­bor­hood. Do join in if you’re in the area. Also, we’ll have a playtest on Sep­tem­ber 16. If you’re inter­est­ed in play­ing a round or two, drop me a line.3

Data visualizations of silence

I’m wrap­ping up some data visu­al­iza­tion work I’ve done for the artist Sarah van Sons­beeck.4 Sarah’s work revolves (amongst oth­er things) around the con­cept of silence. Alper and I took a dataset she gen­er­at­ed dur­ing a few of her ‘silence walks’ using a GPS track­er and a sound lev­el meter and cre­at­ed a num­ber of sta­t­ic visu­al­iza­tions in Pro­cess­ing. Some of the out­put can be seen at the exhi­bi­tion Een Dijk van een Kust. More will prob­a­bly be on dis­play at anoth­er occa­sion. Also, I’ve learnt some new tricks that I intend to share here soon.

What else, what else…

  • I’m still mean­ing to write some­thing up about the work that went into Mega Mon­ster Bat­tle Are­na™ but it will have to wait. I attend­ed two of the three shows and enjoyed both through­ly. There’s some pho­tos up at the opera’s web­site.
  • We’re in the process of fin­ish­ing up the This hap­pened – Utrecht #3 videos. Once they’re all done we’ll add them to the event’s page on the .org site along with the slides. Plan­ning for our fourth event has already start­ed. Mark your cal­en­dar for Octo­ber 26 and sub­scribe to our newslet­ter so you won’t miss the registration’s open­ing.
  • And final­ly, I’m slow­ly but sure­ly giv­ing shape to a new ven­ture which will focus on the use of play in pub­lic space to effect social change. Its name is Hub­bub. The crazy design­ers at BUROPONY are devel­op­ing a sweet brand iden­ti­ty and a first place­hold­er site is up. Stay tuned for more news on that.

That’s about it for now, thanks for your atten­tion. I promise to pro­vide con­tent with more meat and less self-pro­mo­tion in upcom­ing posts.

  1. Karel Mil­lenaar, game design­er extra­or­di­naire at Fource­Labs and a fel­low res­i­dent of the Dutch Game Gar­den, has helped me out on this one. []
  2. I’ve asked Tij­men Schep of Pinep­ple­Jazz, NetNiet.org and the new Utrecht medi­al­ab to be my part­ner on this one. []
  3. Around the same time a lot of oth­er inter­est­ing stuff relat­ed to design and soci­ety will be going on, such as the third edi­tion of Utrecht Man­i­fest, the bien­ni­al for social design. []
  4. I was turned on to this gig by the ubiq­ui­tous Alper Çuğun. []

Buildings and Brains at the Nijmegen Design Platform (NOP)

It’s been a few weeks since I pre­sent­ed at the Nijmegen Design Plat­form (NOP), but I thought it would still be use­ful to post a sum­ma­ry of what I talked about here.

Update: it took me a while, but the slides that accom­pa­nied this talk are now up at SlideShare.

A lit­tle con­text: The NOP run fre­quent events for design­ers in the region. These design­ers most­ly work in more tra­di­tion­al domains such as graph­ic, fash­ion and indus­tri­al design. NOP asked Jeroen van Mas­trigt — a friend and occa­sion­al col­league of mine — to talk about games at one of their events. Jeroen in turn asked me to play Robin to his Bat­man, I would fol­low up his epic romp through game design the­o­ry with a brief look at per­va­sive games. This of course was an offer I could not refuse. The event was held at a love­ly loca­tion (the huge art-house cin­e­ma LUX) and was attend­ed by a healthy-sized crowd. Kudos to the NOP for orga­niz­ing it and many thanks to them (and Jeroen) for invit­ing me.

So, what I tried to do in the talk was to first give a sense of what per­va­sive games are, what char­ac­ter­izes them. I drew from the Hide & Seek web­site for the list of char­ac­ter­is­tics and used The Soho Project as a run­ning exam­ple through­out this part. I also tied the char­ac­ter­is­tics to some the­o­ry I found inter­est­ing:

  • Mix­ing dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy with real world play — I empha­sized that ulti­mate­ly, tech­nol­o­gy is but a means to an end. At Inter­ac­tion ‘09 Robert Fab­ri­cant said the medi­um of inter­ac­tion design is human behav­ior. I think the same holds true for the design of per­va­sive games.
  • Social inter­ac­tionRaph Koster once said sin­gle play­er games are a his­tor­i­cal aber­ra­tion. It is clear much of the fun in per­va­sive games is social. In a way I think they bridge the gap between the “old” board games and con­tem­po­rary video games.
  • Using the city as a play­ground — Here I could not resist bring­ing in Jane Jacob’s notions of the city as an enti­ty that is organ­ised from the bot­tom up and Kevin Lynch’s work on the men­tal maps we cre­ate of cities as we move through them. Cities play a vital role in facil­i­tat­ing the play of per­va­sive games. At best they are the main pro­tag­o­nist of them.
  • Trans­form­ing pub­lic spaces into the­atri­cal stage­sets — This is relat­ed to the pre­vi­ous one, but here I made a side­step into the embod­ied nature of play­er inter­ac­tions in per­va­sive games and how embod­i­ment facil­i­tates read­ing at a dis­tance of such actions. In a sense, the social fun of embod­ied play is due to its per­for­ma­tive qual­i­ty.

After this, I tried to show why design­ers out­side the domain of games should care about per­va­sive games. This I did by talk­ing about ways they can be used for pur­pos­es oth­er than ‘mere’ enter­tain­ment. These were:

  • Enlarg­ing per­ceived real­i­ty; you can cre­ate games that play with the way we cus­tom­ar­i­ly per­ceive real­i­ty. This was inspired by the talk Kevin Slavin of Area/Code deliv­ered at MIND08. Exam­ples I used were Cross­roads and The Com­fort of Strangers.
  • Chang­ing human behav­ior for the bet­ter; think of the Toy­ota Prius dashboard’s effect on people’s dri­ving behav­ior. Exam­ples of games that use feed­back loops to steer us towards desir­able goals are Cryp­to­Zoo and FourSquare.
  • Crowd­sourc­ing solu­tions; games can sim­u­late pos­si­ble futures and chal­lenge play­ers to respond to their prob­lems. Here I used Jane McGo­ni­gal’s ideas around col­lec­tive intel­li­gence gam­ing. The exam­ple game I talked about was World With­out Oil.
  • Con­vey­ing argu­ments pro­ce­du­ral­ly; Ian Bogost’s con­cept of pro­ce­dur­al rhetoric isn’t spe­cif­ic to per­va­sive games, but I think the way they get mixed up with every­day life make them par­tic­u­lar­ly effec­tive chan­nels for com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas. I used The Go Game, Cru­el 2B Kind and Join the Line1 as exam­ples.

By talk­ing about these things I hoped to pro­vide a link to the audience’s own design prac­tice. They may not deal with games, but they sure­ly deal with com­mu­ni­cat­ing ideas and chang­ing people’s behav­ior. Come to think of it though, I was doing a very old media style pre­sen­ta­tion in attempt to achieve the same… Oh well.

  1. Join the Line is a game stu­dents con­cep­tu­al­ized dur­ing a work­shop I ran. []

This pervasive games workshop I ran at this conference

A few things I got peo­ple to do at this year’s NLGD Fes­ti­val of Games:

Paper sword fight

Fight each oth­er with paper swords…

Hunting for a frisbee with lunch-boxes on their heads

…and run around with lunch-box­es on their heads.1

This was all part of a work­shop I ran, titled ‘Play­ful Tin­ker­ing’. The mys­te­ri­ous Mink ette — who amongst many things is a design­er at Six to Start — and I got peo­ple to rapid­ly pro­to­type per­va­sive games that were be played at the con­fer­ence venue the day after. The best game won a mag­nif­i­cent tro­phy shaped like a spring rid­er.

Some exer­cis­es we did dur­ing the work­shop:

  • Play a name game Mink ette had made up short­ly before the work­shop in no time at all. This is good for sev­er­al things: phys­i­cal warm-up, break­ing the ice, demon­strate the kinds of games the ses­sion is about.
  • Walk around the room and write down imag­i­nary game titles as well as names of games you used to play as a child. Good for emp­ty­ing heads and warm­ing up men­tal­ly.
  • Walk around again, pick a post-it that intrigues you. Then guess what the game is about, and have oth­ers to fill in the blanks where need. Then play the game. This is most­ly just for fun. (Noth­ing wrong with that.)
  • Analyse the games, break them up into their basic parts. Change one of those parts and play the game again. See what effect the change has. This is to get a sense of what games design is about, and how chang­ing a rule impacts the play­er expe­ri­ence.

Participants brainstorming game ideas

Par­tic­i­pants brain­storm­ing game ideas

Peo­ple then formed groups and worked on an orig­i­nal game. We pushed them to rapid­ly gen­er­ate a first rule­set that could be playtest­ed with the oth­er groups. After this they did anoth­er design sprint, and playtest­ed again out­side the room, “in the wild”. All of this in less than four hours. Whew!

The games that were made:

  • A game that involved hunt­ing for peo­ple that matched the descrip­tions on post-its that were hid­den around the venue. You first need­ed to find a post-it, then find the per­son that matched the descrip­tion on it and final­ly take a pho­to of them for points. This game was so quick to play it already ran at the par­ty, hours after the work­shop fin­ished.
  • Crowd Con­trol’ — com­pete with oth­er play­ers to get the largest per­cent­age of a group of peo­ple to do what you are doing (like nod­ding your head). This game won the tro­phy, in part because of the fero­cious play­er recruit­ment style the run­ners employed dur­ing the playtest.
  • A sail­ing game, where you tried to maneu­ver an imag­i­nary boat from one end of a space to the oth­er. Your move­ment was con­strained by the “wind”, which was a func­tion of the amount of peo­ple on either side of your boat. It fea­tured an ingen­u­ous mea­sur­ing mechan­ic which used an impro­vised rope made from a torn up con­fer­ence tote bag.
  • The lunch­box thing was impro­vised dur­ing the lunch before the playtest. A stu­dent also brought in a game he was work­ing on for his grad­u­a­tion to playtest.

We set up the playtest itself as fol­lows:

The room was open to any­one pass­ing by. Each game got their own sta­tion where they could recruit play­ers, explain the rules, keep score, etc. Mink ette and I hand­ed each play­er a red, blue and yel­low tid­dly­wink. They could use this to vote on their favorite game in three sep­a­rate cat­e­gories, by hand­ing the run­ners a tid­dly­wink. Peo­ple could play more than once, and vote as often as they liked. We also kept track of how much play­ers each game got. We hand­ed out prizes to win­ners in the dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories (a lucky dip box loaded with piña­ta fillers). The most played game got the grand prize — the spring rid­er tro­phy I cre­at­ed with help from my sis­ter and fab­ri­cat­ed at the local fablab.2

The spring rider trophy and tiddlywinks all set for the playtest

Spring rid­er tro­phy and tid­dly­winks ready for some playtest­ing action

It was a plea­sure to have the elu­sive Mink ette over for the ride. I loved the way she explained what per­va­sive games were all about — being able to play any­time, any­where with any­thing. I was also impressed with the way she man­aged to get peo­ple to do strange things with­out think­ing twice.

We had a very ded­i­cat­ed group of par­tic­i­pants, most of whom stuck around for the whole ses­sion and returned again for the playtest the next day. I’m very grate­ful for their enthu­si­asm. The whole expe­ri­ence was very reward­ing, I’m keen on doing this more often at events and apply­ing what I learnt to the work­shops I run as part of my own games design prac­tice.

Happy, happy winners!

Hap­py win­ners of the spring rid­er tro­phy flanked by Mink ette and yours tru­ly

  1. May­hem ini­ti­at­ed by Evert and Marin­ka. []
  2. I still need to write up the process of the trophy’s cre­ation. []

Stay hungry, stay foolish”

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:

Bright young bunch

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.