Week 164

I am sat at the stu­dio while around me Fource­Labs are putting the final touch­es to their instal­la­tion for Stekker Fest. I’ll be there tomor­row to hand out but­tons to play­ers. It’s the first in a series of three play­ful addi­tions to three fes­ti­vals that I am over­see­ing — first called project Ebi and now com­mon­ly known as PLAY Pilots. As such I can’t wait to see the response of play­ers. On the oth­er hand, I am sure it’ll be great.

The next project in the PLAY Pilots series is by Zes­baans for the Nether­lands Film Fes­ti­val. I had a few more meet­ings about that one as well, most­ly about get­ting some pro­duc­tion­al stuff sort­ed. It turns out get­ting big screens for a long peri­od of time is kind of expen­sive. Your learn some­thing every­day.

Last week we launched a first ver­sion of the PLAY Pilots web­site, which includes an online game. This week we’ve start­ed rolling out the first improve­ments. I have been plan­ning some changes and addi­tions to the rule­set. We’ve also start­ed work on pulling in the Wip ‘n’ Kip game data.

Apart from this, I have been doing some prepa­ra­tion for new projects; code­named Uni, Maguro and Fugu. More on those as things devel­op.

Week 154

A very low-key, qui­et week this was. Part­ly due to the fact that I took the Mon­day off (gasp!) And part­ly due just to the fact that it’s one of those in between peri­ods. Old projects wind­ing down, new ones start­ing up.

One of those new projects I’ve code­named Ebi. It’s the next step we’re tak­ing with the thing called PLAY that I’ve talked about here before. I’ve been build­ing a team and we’re ready to kick off next week.

I’ve also seen my stu­dents again, dis­cussing the after­math of their mid-terms. Some are mov­ing ahead with­out trou­ble, oth­ers need some help. The trick is to fig­ure out which stu­dent needs which kind of feed­back.

And final­ly, you might like to know I met with Ianus and Alexan­der to talk about the next batch of This hap­pened – Utrecht events. There, it’s a chal­lenge to bal­ance our urge to make each edi­tion bet­ter than the next one with the fact that, essen­tial­ly, we’re doing it all for the fun of it, not for busi­ness.

Week 151

So, some notes for the past week. They will be very short because there is not much to tell real­ly. It was one of those weeks with a lull in between projects, and also vir­tu­al­ly devoid of meet­ings, today being the excep­tion.

I went over to Like­Mind to catch up with my fel­low Dutch­man Mark, who seems to be doing great, liv­ing and work­ing between Copen­hagen and Lon­don. Not the shab­bi­est pair of cities.

I also had anoth­er chat with the guys run­ning the U-Turm project who seem to be mak­ing nice progress with the image track­ing side of things and are now real­ly get­ting into the game design. Which means, as I told them, they need to start iter­at­ing on the rules like crazy, doing paper pro­to­type after paper pro­to­type.

Aside from this I’ve been doing some prepa­ra­tions for PLAY, reach­ing out to cre­ative teams and indi­vid­u­als who I’d like to see be part of the pro­duc­tions we’re going to be run­ning. Get­ting lots of pos­i­tive respons­es so that is great. I also post­ed some back­ground on the work we’ve been doing so far for this at the Hub­bub blog.

Julius and Karel ran a suc­cess­ful sec­ond urban games work­shop in Lei­d­sche Rijn for Cultuur19 last sat­ur­day. We are now gear­ing up to assist with NU Grounds, a games fes­ti­val in the same neigh­bor­hood where there will be sev­er­al urban games on offer. That’s going to take place two weeks form now and should be good fun.

The rel­a­tive qui­et this week has allowed me some time to tin­ker with Pro­cess­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly the Box2D library that Mr. Shiff­man has put togeth­er. I’m just mak­ing a lit­tle sil­ly soft­ware toy with that to kind of flex my flim­sy pro­gram­ming skills. Noth­ing spe­cial but I might post some screen­shots and maybe a screen­cast lat­er any­way.

And also, I bit the bul­let, installed XCode, and had a go at Open­Frame­works, most­ly to have a look at some of the Box2D stuff out there that is con­trolled with OpenCV (a com­put­er vision library). That seems to be a real­ly nice basis for gam­ing in pub­lic space using urban pro­jec­tions and such. I don’t see myself work­ing in Open­Frame­works though, it real­ly is an increase in com­plex­i­ty as opposed to Pro­cess­ing. Still, by mess­ing with it, I can now appre­ci­ate it bet­ter.

Next week is going to be my last one here in Copen­hagen and looks like it’ll be slight­ly more busy, with anoth­er trip to Malmö and a lec­ture at CIID. After that it’s back to NL. Time real­ly flies.

Week 150

That’s a nice num­ber, 150. One-hun­dred-and-fifty. I like the sound of that. So what’s been going on this week?

I hopped on a plane last Sun­day to the Nether­lands for This hap­pened – Utrecht #6. Wouldn’t miss out on my own par­ty, of course. And I’m so glad I didn’t, because we had awe­some talks by Berend & San­neke, Matt, Sebas­ti­aan and Keez, plus a sur­prise appear­ance over Skype by Mr. Bux­ton. The room was packed, inter­ac­tion design­ers of all stripes were chat­ting away before­hand, dur­ing the break and after­wards over drinks. I had a blast and judg­ing by the reports that have been com­ing in, so have many oth­ers.

Before head­ing back to the Nether­lands the next day I man­aged to squeeze in a few meet­ings. One of those was for PLAY which, now that I’ve wrapped up project Tako,1 is ready to move into its next phase. We’re plan­ning to pro­duce sev­er­al play­ful ‘things’ for a num­ber of cul­tur­al events and tie them all togeth­er with a meta-game. It’s a mat­ter of get­ting all the right peo­ple on board now and get­ting going as fast as pos­si­ble. So I’ve a list of folks to con­tact in the com­ing days.

I think I broke a per­son­al record for the num­ber of Skype ses­sions in one day on Wednes­day, with back to back talks with my HKU stu­dents as well as a plan­ning ses­sion with Karel and Julius for an urban games work­shop they’ll be run­ning tomor­row in Lei­d­sche Rijn.2

And today, after spend­ing Ascen­sion day on a couch, plug­ging away at email and to-dos, I’ll be mak­ing the trip across the Øre­sund to Malmö in a bus full of mak­ers and inter­ac­tion design­ers to attend Thought­Made, which I’m real­ly excit­ed about; an exhi­bi­tion and talks includ­ing a can­dy machine con­trolled by Twit­ter. What more can one ask for?

  1. I need to write a report on that one at the Hub­bub blog soon. []
  2. A new devel­op­ment area of Utrecht I’d say is the clos­est thing to a real-world Sim City project that I ever saw. []

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.

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. []

Are games media or design objects?

In a recent post on the Edge blog — which, if you con­sid­er your­self a games design­er, you absolute­ly must read — Matt Jones asks:

Why should pock­et cal­cu­la­tors be put on a pedestal, and not Peg­gle?”

He writes about the need for games to be appre­ci­at­ed and cri­tiqued as design objects. He points out that the cre­ation of any suc­cess­ful game is “at least as com­plex and coor­di­nat­ed as that of a Jonathan Ive lap­top”. He also spec­u­lates that rea­sons for games to be ignored is that they might be seen pri­mar­i­ly as media, and that main­stream design crit­ics lack lit­er­a­cy in games, which makes them blind to their design qual­i­ties.

Read­ing this, I recalled a dis­cus­sion I had with Dave Mal­ouf on Twit­ter a while back. It was sparked by a tweet from Matt, which reads:

it’s the 3rd year in a row they’ve ignored my sub­mis­sion of a game… hmmph (L4D, fwiw) — should games be seen as design objects? or media?”

I prompt­ly replied:

@moleitau design objects, for sure. I’m with mr Lantz on the games aren’t media thing.”

For an idea of what I mean by “being with Mr. Lantz”, you could do worse that to read this inter­view with him at the Tale of Tales blog.

At this point, Dave Mal­ouf joined the fray, post­ing:

@kaeru can a game be used to con­vey a mes­sage? We know the answer is yes, so doesn’t that make it a form of media? @moleitau”

I could not resist answer­ing that one, so I post­ed a series of four tweets:

@daveixd let me clar­i­fy: 1. some games are bits of con­tent that I con­sume, but not all are

@daveixd 2. ulti­mate­ly it is the play­er who cre­ates mean­ing, game design­ers cre­ate con­texts with­in which mean­ing emerges.

@daveixd 3. think­ing of games as media cre­ates a blind spot for all forms of pre-videogames era play”

@daveixd that’s about it real­ly, 3 rea­sons why I think of games more as tools than media. Some more thoughts: http://is.gd/5m5xa @moleitau”

To which Dave replied:

@kaeru re: #2 all mean­ing regard­less of medi­um or media are derived at the human lev­el.”

@kaeru maybe this is seman­tics, but any chan­nel that has an ele­ment of com­mu­ni­cat­ing a mes­sage, IMHO is media. Tag & tic-tac-toe also.”

@kaeru wait, are you equat­ing games to play to fun? But I’m lim­it­ing myself to games. I.e. role play­ing is play, but not always a game.”

At this point, I got frus­trat­ed by Twitter’s lack of sup­port for a dis­cus­sion of this kind. So I wrote:

@daveixd Twit­ter is not the best place for this kind of dis­cus­sion. I’ll try to get back to your points via my blog as soon as I can.”

And here we are. I’ll wrap up by address­ing each of Dave’s points.

  1. Although I guess Dave’s right about all mean­ing being derived at the human lev­el, what I think makes games dif­fer­ent from, say, a book or a film is that the thing itself is a con­text with­in which this mean­ing mak­ing takes place. It is, in a sense, a tool for mak­ing mean­ing.
  2. Games can car­ry a mes­sage, and some­times are con­scious­ly employed to do so. One inter­est­ing thing about this is on what lev­el the mes­sage is car­ried — is it told through bits of lin­ear media embed­ded in the game, or does it emerge from a player’s inter­ac­tion with the game’s rules? How­ev­er, I don’t think all games are made to con­vey a mes­sage, nor are they all played to receive one. Tic-Tac-Toe may be a very rough sim­u­la­tion of ter­ri­to­r­i­al war­fare, and you could argue that it tells us some­thing about the futil­i­ty of such pur­suits, but I don’t think it was cre­at­ed for this rea­son, nor is it com­mon­ly played to explore these themes.
  3. I wasn’t equat­ing games to play (those two con­cepts have a tricky rela­tion­ship, one can con­tain the oth­er, and vice-ver­sa) but I do feel that think­ing of games as media is a prod­uct of the recent video game era. By think­ing of games as media, we risk for­get­ting about what came before video games, and what we can learn from these toys and games, which are some­times noth­ing more than a set of social­ly nego­ti­at­ed rules and impro­vised attrib­ut­es (Kick the can, any­one?)

I think I’ll leave it at that.

A game as a museum as a game

Over at Non-fic­tion, Juha writes about a hypo­thet­i­cal game that sim­u­lates muse­um man­age­ment. He asks:

Could this be an inter­est­ing approach to open up muse­ums and learn from our cur­rent and future audi­ences? Could a game be a muse­um? Could a muse­um be a game?”

I think the sim­ple answer to all these ques­tions is yes. But I’ve always been more inter­est­ed in the how of things. So I’m lead to won­der…

Con­tin­ue read­ing A game as a muse­um as a game

What the hubbub is

There’s some move­ment over at the web­site for my new ven­ture. I men­tioned Hub­bub before: it is a design stu­dio I am set­ting up for phys­i­cal, social games that are played in pub­lic places. We hope to address social issues and the like using these games.

Recent­ly…

Today's harvest

Also, we’ll be doing some­thing play­ful and run­ning a work­shop at the upcom­ing Game in the City con­fer­ence in Amers­foort.

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