Back in April I finally got to go to play at the Sandpit.

One of the games I played before dashing off to get the last train was Shrine – the 2nd iteration of the Playmakers project to crowd-source contributions towards developing a new pervasive game.

Did I mention the train journey home? Good. It was quite a long one and I had lots of thinking time to mull over what I thought of the game and how it might be improved.

I think the game’s been played several times now with varying rules that I’ve not really been keeping track of. Key components are (I think) 3 teams of about 15 players, each (teams, not the players) with a flip video camera on a large tripod and running around to film different objects/actions/people within a set time to score points. The teams then assemble together to watch all three videos being played back at the same time and some sort of scoring takes place.

BFI, May 2, Playtest #3b from Hide and Seek on Vimeo.

These are the main areas that have been identified as needing some thought (reproduced from the Ludocity forum):

  • So, the video playback – is it fun to watch, should it be more fun? How should people be filming? Is there some way to make the videos… prettier, and if so is that a desirable end, or should the focus be purely on making it easy to score?
  • One of the problems with the basic game is that it’s very open to one player grabbing the tripod and running off, and some of the players feeling peripheral or not having anything to do. Should there be more roles for specific players? Different jobs to do? The traitors were a step towards this, as were the encoded clues, but should it be clearer, more extensive? What should the different team members be doing?
  • How is the game introduced, how should the rules be explained? Should there be actors? Pieces of paper in envelopes? Skywriting (we can’t actually afford this)? Should it be part of the game, or clearly set apart from it?
  • So, there’s a tripod. There’s a video camera. There’s a brightly-coloured feather-duster. But maybe there should be something else… a mobile phone, ringing with extra tasks, or letting teams communicate with each other? Some sort of tiny computer doing… something? GPS tracker?
  • The game will be played at the H&S Weekender around the Southbank Centre, and it’d be nice if the basic game could work in a variety of locations, but what’s happening in the space? How far should people go, and what’s there when they get there? Is there a secret dance extravaganza that they need to find and film? A hot air balloon (this is another thing we can’t actually afford this)? Something happening, something installed, something participatory, something they need to create themselves – what’s there?
  • At the moment, there’s the tripods; there are sports bibs. That doesn’t have to be the case. Maybe there could be different costumes for different roles within a team; or maybe the people presenting the game need costumes, or someone running around the space as a target has a costume, or something else entirely. Maybe the tripod isn’t a tripod, but an enormous teddy-bear. Maybe it’s a balloon that’s gradually inflated over the course of the game. Maybe it’s a perambulator with a goldfish bowl inside, who knows?
  • One problem with the game as it stands is that there’s not that much of a feeling of good gameplay being rewarded. The balance of points for filming targets and opposing teams isn’t right; adding extra ways to get points (for example, by identifying traitors successfully) doesn’t necessarily work with the rest of the game. So, how should scoring work – how many seconds of filming another team’s tripod, for example, should be equal to successfully finding all the targets?
  • How should all these different components fit together?

I like those questions a lot. Seems to me it’s a basic arsenal of interrogation for any game designer to ask of any game they’re designing. Bing! Preserved here for future reference!

In this particular instance though, the two I’ve homed in on are how to make the video work (in terms of making it watchable and also making it scoreable) and also how to ensure that all team members have roles to play.

Meanwhile, I’ve recently made and used The Anticipator. Techy GPS thing hidden innabox in such a way that it becomes a prop for getting a group of people to work together as a team. Round 1 was with primary school children and now I’m thinking about how to apply this to BARG-related stuff.

So, something I want to explore that can easily be attached to a live project with real design criteria and real deadlines.

…I spent the weekend doing some rapid tinkering ahead of meeting up with some of the Hide&Seek folk at an event tonight…

I now have a working prototype for something I’m calling the Synapse. It’s basically a portable arduino-powered device that buzzes and flashes out a sequence of warnings and cues for players to do stuff.

Because the timing is now independent of any filming taking place (when I played Shrine it was done off the flip’s counter: cunning, but caused a few problems) players can take their time to get into position and check the equipment is all working ok. The LEDs and buzzer also make it really easy to sync up multiple films.

The only thing left to do now is to figure out how to use it…

Here’s my first test:

Synapse test #1 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

I was struggling before with matching up the concept of the film documentation and the style of game-play. They didn’t seem very compatible somehow and the end result was some meandering video that [during the scoring for the version I played in] wasn’t in step with those from the other teams and just wasn’t that interesting to watch[Disclaimer: I haven’t particularly watched any of the video from the other games. They might be very different …or that may underline my point…].

I had a bit of an epiphany when I changed the way I was looking at things and rather than seeing a game followed by a scoring phases that conveniently produced some film documentation too, saw it as teams competing to produce the video that would beat the other videos.

That and seeing the collated videos as a film that therefore needed moments of tension and conflict and suspense in order to keep the audience interested. (Humour’s a given in this situation, I reckon.)

So, each team has a task to do. It could be filming objects or actions; it could be finding things; it could be collecting objects. It’s the background action of putting balls in holes. (Collecting physical objects would make it a lot easier to score this aspect, rather than the durational stuff we were trying to do in Shrine.)

Interjecting into this are the unnecessaries – the tasks you have to complete when the Synapse gives you a very defined time limit in which to do them in. These are like jousting an invisible opponent – you either have to be the best imaginable or put your fate down to chance… Will it be rock paper scissors, will it be doing the best improvised dance routine or will it be waving a flag at a checkpoint?

The synchronised unnecessaries where each video component goes head-to-head with the others are what potentially start to make the videos into a film.

I have plans for how to develop the synapse as a way for making several people work together, but for now let’s just get some feedback on what we’ve got so far…