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.
The promotion department of the city of Utrecht has its offices here, with stunning views. [↩]
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?
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.
Getting to a train on time is not without its hazards these days, snow and ice make biking to the station extra interesting. [↩]
I managed to squeeze in a visit to the HKUKMT 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.
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. [↩]
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.
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.
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.
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!