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.

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. []

Teaching design for mobile social play

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.

Three cool projects out of the Art, Media and Technology faculty

So a week ago I vis­it­ed a project mar­ket at the Art, Media and Tech­nol­o­gy fac­ul­ty in Hil­ver­sum which is part of the Utrecht School of Arts and offers BA and MA cours­es in Inter­ac­tion Design, Game Design & Devel­op­ment and many oth­ers.

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:

Koe

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.

Haas

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.

Entertaible

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.

For a taste of the project mar­ket you can check out this pho­to album (from which the pho­tos in this post are tak­en) as well as this video clip by Dutch news­pa­per AD.

Full dis­clo­sure: I cur­rent­ly teach a course in game design for mobile devices and ear­li­er stud­ied inter­ac­tion and game design between 1998 and 2002 at the same school.

Ondergrond.org — HKU-studenten aan de folksonomy

Via com­men­taar op een recent artikel op open.info.nl kwam ik op de site Onder­grond – een folk­son­o­my voor / van street art. De site is een EMMA-afs­tudeer­pro­ject van een aan­tal HKU-stu­den­ten. De site daagt bezoek­ers met behulp van stellin­gen en vra­gen uit om bij foto’s van graf­fi­ti en stick­ers tags achter te lat­en. Een inter­es­sante manier om het dilem­ma “waarom zou een bezoek­er taggen” te tack­e­len – het principe doet me in die zin denken aan Hot or Not. Het plezi­er zit hem in foto na foto hersen­loos te voorzien van meta­da­ta. Het risi­co is natu­urlijk dat hier­mee het ontstaan van “metacrap” alleen maar in de hand wordt gew­erkt! Aan de andere kant zijn de vra­gen soms wel wat moeil­ijk, dan moet je goed nadenken, en is het effect van de laag­drem­pe­ligheid weg.

Ik weet niet of Maarten en Sjors Inter­ac­tion Design hebben ges­tudeerd, maar op dat vlak ver­di­ent de site wel nog wat aan­dacht. Het is flink zoeken geblazen in het onder­grondse, de nav­i­gatie is eigen­lijk bij­na niet aan­wezig. Miss­chien dat dit niet de focus heeft in hun project, maar het zou toch mooi zijn als het de tag­ger makke­lijk wordt gemaakt zijn weg te vin­den naar inter­es­sante con­tent!