Week 155 & 156

I have some catch­ing up to do with these. What can I say, things got in the way of writ­ing last week’s notes.

These past two weeks I have been push­ing to get a new project, code­named Ebi, off the ground. It is the next step in my involve­ment with the PLAY project in Utrecht. I’ve put togeth­er a team con­sist­ing of Alper, Bernard and Simon to build a game that will tie togeth­er sev­er­al oth­er play­ful things that will take place over the com­ing months at sev­er­al Utrecht events. We’ve had our kick-off and are now in the midst of the first sprint, with deliv­ery of a first rough sys­tem by the end of next week. Copy is being writ­ten, soft­ware is being devel­oped and designs are being made. It’s a plea­sure to see this ad-hoc team com­ing togeth­er so fast and get­ting down to busi­ness. That takes real skill, in addi­tion to the crafts­man­ship each brings to the table.

Oth­er than that, project Buta (anoth­er code­name) start­ed this week, which is a research thing at the new Design for Play­ful Impact group at the HKU. We’ve been doing field research and have been sketch­ing and pro­to­typ­ing ini­tial ideas. The sub­ject mat­ter is kind of con­tro­ver­sial, so I can’t share too much about it, oth­er than that it involves pigs. Yes, pigs.

In between, I dropped by the pre­sen­ta­tion of the U-turm project, a stu­dent project where I act­ed as advi­sor on. The demo worked nice­ly. With some addi­tion­al work on the game design I am sure it will be a hit in Dort­mund. I also attend­ed Layar’s one-year anniver­sary event, where sev­er­al things were unveiled that I had some part in, such as the all-new float­i­cons.

Look­ing ahead, I’ll be busy with Ebi for the next month or two and will also have to take some time to move into a new stu­dio, that I will be shar­ing with Fource­Labs in the new Dutch Game Gar­den on the Neude. Ace loca­tion, nice space, can’t wait for that to hap­pen.

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 149

I’m writ­ing these notes on a train to Malmö for a change. I was there this wednes­day and am back again to have a chat at Illu­sion Labs. I was put in touch with them by Ham­pus of The Aston­ish­ing Tribe, whom I vis­it­ed on wednes­day. TAT’s an inter­est­ing group, spe­cial­ized in the design of inno­v­a­tive mobile UIs. Their Rec­og­nizr con­cept video made quite a splash in AR cir­cles ear­li­er this year. I once gave a lec­ture on play­ful UIs at their office and even though noth­ing con­crete is in the works it would be inter­est­ing to col­lab­o­rate some more on that top­ic some time.

On wednes­day I also met up with my friends at InUse, whom I did some work with when I was last in Copen­hagen. That project dealt with appli­ca­tions of mul­ti­touch in a real-estate project. Over a Lebanese buf­fet lunch Mijo and I most­ly mused on what’s changed in UX con­sult­ing land the past few years and how that might devel­op into the future. We talked about ‘peak com­plex­i­ty’, the inter­net of things and strate­gies for design­ing deeply net­worked things. Good stuff.

To wrap up that day, I had a sur­prise meet-up with Karin of Ozma, (again thanks to the awe­some con­nect­ing pow­ers of Ham­pus). Ozma is a game design stu­dio work­ing very much in the same spir­it as Hub­bub, with a focus on “gam­ing beyond the screen”. It was very encour­ag­ing to dis­cov­er a com­pa­ny that’s been suc­cess­ful­ly work­ing in this space for the past four years. (And they’re not the only one, in Swe­den alone there’s also Fabel, The Sto­ry Lab and Grul…) One of the things we talked about is a cool plat­form they’re devel­op­ing for urban games that is not GPS-based, but runs entire­ly on SMS and is there­fore very use­ful for work­ing with tar­get audi­ences who do not have access to high-end phones (i.e. teens and tweens).

That wednes­day I head­ed back to Copen­hagen, my mind suit­ably blown, as you can prob­a­bly imag­ine.

Oth­er than that I have been enjoy­ing Social­square’s hos­pi­tal­i­ty on the Vester­bro­gade. Mar­tin, Mag­nus and I spent some time hash­ing out the details of the work­shop we’ll be doing and we man­aged to nar­row down the ques­tions we’d like to answer to a man­age­able set. I’m keen on hav­ing part of this project’s out­put be share­able with the world; in what shape or form we have yet to deter­mine.

My active involve­ment with Layar has gone on hold for the time being, but at the same time the first bits of my work for Layar are find­ing its way into the world. They’ve launched a new ver­sion of their app, which now sup­ports paid con­tent. (Android is out, iPhone should fol­low soon.) This was one of the first things I worked on for them, before mov­ing on to stuff that’ll hope­ful­ly see the light of day some­where over sum­mer. Design­ing the paid con­tent stuff involved deal­ing with a ton of depen­den­cies on process­es behind the scenes. It was an inter­est­ing chal­lenge to make it as fric­tion­less as pos­si­ble. Plus, the mobile pay­ment ecosys­tem is itself an inter­est­ing beast to deal with for a while. I also found myself design­ing for sev­er­al mobile plat­forms at the same time, which can real­ly mess with your head; both Android and iPhone have their own ‘gram­mar’ of inter­ac­tion (or more pre­cise­ly, one of them has some­thing resem­bling a prop­er gram­mar, the other’s is more accu­rate­ly described as a pid­gin). So design­ing in par­al­lel for both is a bit like speak­ing two lan­guages at the same time. Con­fus­ing, even to a Dutch­man.

All this, plus some more Skype calls with my HKU stu­dents (remind me to share some details on their work next time), anoth­er Skype ses­sion with the U-Turm group and the very final prepa­ra­tions for This hap­pened – Utrecht #6 took up week 149.

Week 147

Well, the vol­cano did mess with my flight. Despite that, I am still writ­ing this from an apart­ment on Birkegade in CPH, where I’ll be spend­ing the com­ing 5–6 weeks. Here’s what my work­space looks like:

What my CPH work space looks like at the moment

Trav­el­ing here took up the whole of wednes­day. We went by train; Utrecht to Duis­burg, Duis­burg to Ham­burg, Ham­burg to Copen­hagen. They put our train on a freak­ing boat for a bit. That was dif­fer­ent.

So I’ve been set­tling in. Get­ting a bike, recon­nect­ing to old haunts, that sort of thing (I was here for a year in 2007–2008).

Apart from that, I’ve been tak­ing care of some last bits of work for Layar, doing some prep for This hap­pened – Utrecht #6 (reg­is­tra­tion opens Mon­day!) and talk­ing to my HKU stu­dents. I also had a first meet­ing with a group of Medi­aL­AB Ams­ter­dam stu­dents who are cre­at­ing a play­ful urban pro­jec­tion for ISEA2010 in Dort­mund.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a city to explore.