At yesterday’s game lab (a team effort from Fierce, Screen West Midlands and Hide&Seek) I finally got a chance to try out the whale hat I’ve been making. By which I mean I got other people to try it out!
The whale hat was conceived in response to Hide&Seek’s call for games relating to the theme of ‘international‘. I wanted to develop a game based around the idea of epic whale migrations, where the person playing the whale navigates around the game space using echolocation.
Using a sonar range-finder commonly used in robotics, I hooked it up to a RBBB running Arduino code that generates different patterns of beeps depending on how close objects are in front of the hat-wearer: a continuous loop of 4 beeps when there’s something within 50cm; 3 beeps when there’s something within 1m, 2 beeps, 1.5 metres etc
During the game lab I first got a chance to try out the experience of wearing the hat (complete with headphones and blindfold) and then I roped in the other attendees to help me try out some simple game mechanics. The sorts of things I had written down in my notes as things to explore were “finding objects”, “avoiding objects”, “detecting stationary objects” and ” detecting moving objects”.
Game #1: Whale invaders
Kind of a slow-moving version of the arcade game space invaders: the whale (in the hat) can move from side to side and has to try and ‘catch’ the krill (other players) who are approaching steadily.
If I were to try this again, I might try and set the krill off on their journeys with bigger intervals between. As it was though, this was a beautiful visual spectacle with the gradual advance of the krill contrasting nicely with the clumsier movements of the whale!
Game #2: Seek the krill
This time the krill remained stationary and the whale had to move around trying to locate them.
We talked about what might be motivating the krill (we found ourselves using many phrases we hadn’t anticipated using that day!) and also identified that we kind of needed to justify the sonar more. For example, it would have been possible for the whale to have caught the krill just by walking up and down and waving their arms around at random. We also toyed with the idea of limiting the number of grabs per game.
Although the krill aren’t doing much during the game, I love how you can see all the different emotions they’re (silently) going through!
Game #3: Whale seeks krill seeking plankton
Trying to give the krill a role that couldn’t be performed equally well by a chair. Now the krill are allowed one step per click and have to gather as many plankton (small pieces of paper) as possible whilst avoiding being caught by the whale.
Game #4: Nuclear krill
A shift from object detection to object avoidance. Now we’re justifying the sonar and it’s starting to feel more game-like!
The whale has to avoid the er, the whatever they are. The other players are probably no longer krill, but in the absence of any other term we ended up calling them nuclear krill to signify that they were something not very nice.
The whale’s objective is to get from one end of the playing area to the other.
The nuclear krill are trying to block the whale’s progress. They are allowed one step per clap (approximately every ten seconds) and can move across the playing area, but not up and down it.
We also tried a variant of this where the nuclear krill could only move across, until the whale had passed them, at which point they became locked in to a ‘vertical’ line and could then only move up and down. This change was made to try and prevent redundant nuclear krill. Bad things happen when nuclear krill get bored…
If I can get to the stage where I can build a few more whale hats then the next thing I want to try is having multiple whales. We discussed how having one whale trying to get from A to B at the same time as another whale trying to get from B to A would make things more of a challenge for the nuclear krill and would also reduce the problem of redundancy.
Overall I’m happy with the experience of being the whale (another one of those unanticipated phrases!). I like the combination of vulnerability with the almost super-hero power of being able to see by sound.
I love the spectacle of the game as seen by an audience. All of the versions we tried worked well at this and I think slowness and silence could be a really nice contrast within a busy event environment where this could eventually end up.
That leaves the krill. How can I make life for the krill more interesting?