Colony Prototyping #2

Thursday came and saw us doing the second round of user-testing for Colony as part of the Platinum showcase.

We walked, stood in smelly corners, manoeuvred in and out of fortified alleyways, got shouted at from cars and stared at from a variety of directions.

It was pretty great.

Moving on from the prototypes I had in March that simply vibrated at random, these prototypes were now loaded with code that made them responsive to their surroundings. Our task for the evening was to find out what that meant when you put that mathematical analysis of data a) into the hands of people and b) in to the streets.

The first group of participants set out to find out how all this works.

Another development since the initial testing was that this time there were two organisms. We’re getting incrementally closer to finding out what it might be like to have that colony of them.

The protoshape I used in March was a “small human sized” pear/water-drop/fish/swaddled baby kind of thing. This had seemed to be an ideal blank canvas upon which to project empathy and from which to project emotions and desires.

Grappling with the over-sized prototype (photo: Pete Ashton)

After a bit of a false start the weekend before, where I had made one that was too darn big, I remade it a lot smaller. And therefore a lot more huggable.

For the second of the two organisms I wanted to try something different, so I added an awkward limb/tentacle thing. Whereas with the drop-shaped blob the feedback vibration motors were very strategically placed along anticipated contact areas with the carrier’s body, the plan for this one was to make something less intuitive to hold and to see how people dealt with it.

A pause at the crossroads

Sash and shoulder; lock and load

Ant probes the streets of Highgate/Digbeth

JV goes for the torso wrap

The photos above show a few of the many solutions people came up with: headwear, neckwear, waistwear and gripped in a variety of different manners. It seemed to me that people were much more inclined to experiment with different ways of holding this creature, whereas with the other … well, this next photo sums up the different modes of interaction very well, I feel:

One blob gets a hug, whilst the other is borne down the street atop of a head

That's not to say that the baby-shape didn't get experimented with too...

A few next steps were identified over the course of the evening:

  • People like data. I need data:
    Of some urgency is the need to log the changes in the data as the blobs are carried around. This is very important in terms of me being able to learn more about how this system works and how to tailor the different reactive responses, but people were also asking me a lot if they’d be able to see the traces of their walks.
  • Reactive responses:
    There’s a lot of experimenting to be done in order to devise the vocabulary of vibrations (and possibly other responses) that somehow convey a sense of rising distress as the creatures are carried through environments in which they are uncomfortable.
  • Reactive responses:
    With the current (no pun intended) set-up I’m limited to having a maximum of 2 vibrating pager motors switched on at any one time. Any more than this and there’s not enough power to drive them and nothing happens – I need to power the motors separately to the arduinos dealing with the data, but still have them controlled by the microcontrollers. I have been pointed towards Darlington transistors.
  • Shapes:
    I need to try more of them. More tentacles? Bigger? Smaller? Fatter? Flatter?

Ashley gets his first buzz as he begins his journey with new companion

As well as a selection of interesting interactions with some of the few other people on the streets at that time, I was very pleased at the way the colony organisms provided an impetus for the testers to interact with their surroundings. Ultimately, this is what the project’s all about.

I've no idea what they're talking about, but I'd like to think it's a discussion about the architectural qualities of the local urban environment :)

A reassuring pat on the back for an organism unhappy to find itself in a narrow alleyway with no clear view of the sky

A corner not normally stood in

Not only not enough sky, but a hefty amount of barbed wire between it and you - no wonder they're not happy

A few moments of paying attention to a rollershutter alcove

Many thanks to everyone who helped get the prototypes working in a technical sense, and to everyone who experimented with and offered feedback on how they worked in a practical sense. More photos can be found in this Flickr set.

Platinum at The Edge

Myself and the other artists from the current Platinum cohort will be presenting our various works in progress at a public event to be held at The Edge on the evening of Thursday 2nd of June.

The artists involved come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and the work on show will range from performance through to endurance; presentation through to exploration.

Rob Jones: My Piece

An exploration into personal fears. This work will involve sharing a series of experiences.

Nikki Pugh: Prototypes for Colony

A playful device that aims to gently nudge and augment people’s perceptions of the urban landscape.

Aleks Wojtulewicz: fr36ze

An exploration of the stimulatory effects of adrenaline. The physical act is militaristic.

Sarah Farmer: Cultural Amnesia: what we lost in the fire

A research-led investigation of the cultural history of the arts in Birmingham from the perspective of recent graduates.

Lucy Nicholls: In Preparation for Death

Researching the commodification of the ritual of funeral, while exploring death within its wider social and cultural meaning.

Mark Essen: Club Hot Zeus; BAD MUSIC

John Napier and CLUB HOT ZEUS present BAD MUSIC.

The first prototypes being tested around Digbeth. This time they'll vibrate in response to their surroundings!

I aim to have two prototype organisms there as part of the development of my work in progress Colony. I’ll give a short introductory presentation and there will be a limited number of slots available for you to take the prototypes out for an exploratory walk around the streets of Cheapside.

Do come along if you’re in the area. Free entry; cash bar; FaceBook event.

Making the Colony prototypes landscape aware

Another compilation of Tweets.

These last few weeks I’ve been giving the development of Colony an extra big push to get it as far along as possible ready for next week’s public event.

Having previously been able to get the tech working on a temporary breadboard set-up, the next stage was to solder everything onto a more robust base that can be used inside the organisms that get carried around. The next stage after that was to start carrying it around!

With the circuitry in a shoulder bag, one GPS receiver on my left shoulder and the other in a glove on my right hand with a vibrating motor, I made myself more location aware as I made the 3.75 mile walk to and from work yesterday and the day before.

The code generates a measure of difference between the two calculated positions and then buzzes out a code so I can feel the values as I walk.

Initial findings are: it’s great! Super-exciting to have that extra sense that no-one else is aware of, and you can see the trends in output as you move from one type of terrain to another.

I’ll be refining the code over the next few days and also getting the circuitry into an organism ready for carrying. Do come along to The Edge on Thursday to find out how I’ve got on.


Bloop playtesting this Saturday

On Saturday the 10th of July I’ll be running The Bloop as part of the Hide&Seek Weekender at the National Theatre in London.

Trying out the sonar goggles

Trying out the sonar goggles

Following on from the recent playtest at Warwick Arts Centre and feedback from the players, I’ll be making some changes to the rules and I want to test these out before unleashing the new iteration on the Weekender crowd.

If you’d like to get a sneak preview of the new game and also a chance to try out the sonar goggles I’ve been making, come along to the mac at 4pm on Saturday for a playtest.

You’ll be able to find me in the Terrace Gallery with a host of games people at the bargmeet, once that’s finished we’ll head outside into Cannon Hill Park for an hour or so to try out some Bloop variations.

Krill hunt sonar-navigating whales from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

All are welcome, although don’t expect a full run of the game – this’ll be more about little experiments and tweaking variables. The video above gives you a good idea of what sort of thing to expect though.

It’d be really useful if you could let me know if you’re intending to come along – that way I can bring along an appropriate amount of kit.

See you there! Terrace Gallery (by the stairs) 4pm, moving out into the park until about 5pm. We’ll be the ones with the whales on our heads.

Playtesting The Bloop at Warwick Arts Centre

Warwick Arts Centre: where we discover krill have surprisingly long reaches...

Warwick Arts Centre: where we discover krill have surprisingly long reaches...

Following on from the initial lab and adventures with electronics, it was time to test evolved game The Bloop with some players and see how it was shaping up as a fun thing to play and entertaining spectacle to watch.

I think we did alright!

2 krill tag a whale after getting it on a classical pincer movement

2 krill tag a whale after getting it on a classical pincer movement

Krill await a whale about to leave the exclusion zone around the breeding waters

Krill await a whale about to leave the exclusion zone around the breeding waters

I had several people approach me as I was preparing for the game saying how much they were looking forward to playing it. When asked why, the answers usually related to the ridiculousness of it and how much fun it looked. Considering the game hadn’t been played anywhere yet I consider this pretty good going!

Bloop headwear: perhaps a contributing factor to perceived levels of ridiculousness... (photo courtesy of Marie Foulston)

Bloop headwear: perhaps a contributing factor to perceived levels of ridiculousness... (photo courtesy of Marie Foulston)

There were a few issues with a wave of exhausted batteries for the music, but other than that the tech worked well, with only one on-and-off-again required for the sonar goggles. We’re oh so nearly there with the game design but all the major ingredients are in place and what remains are tweakings rather than re-thinks. A big thanks to everyone for their feedback and also to Hide&Seek and Fierce for hosting.

I didn’t get much of a chance to stand back and observe, but I shall leave you with a few short videos to whet your appetite for further iterations of the game. I’m talking all over the second one I’m afraid, because two security guards came up and asked me what was going on and then were curious to find out more. Job done!

Lone whale hunts feeding grounds from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Krill hunt sonar-navigating whales from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

If anyone’s got any photos or video from the game that they’d like to share, I’d be very grateful. Give me a nudge with a link in the comments or send me a message.

The Bloop at Warwick Arts Centre

This Saturday evening I will be running the first plays of my new pervasive game The Bloop at Warwick Arts Centre.

The event is the Hide&Seek Sandpit, run in association with LIFT, London International Festival of Theatre, as part of Fierce’s Interrobang programme.

In practical terms, what this means is that you can come to Warwick Arts Centre (at the University Of Warwick in, er, Coventry) for 6pm and take part in a whole host of games and playful things, for free!

Sonar goggles

Sonar goggles

The Bloop (set in the deep ocean off the coast of Chile) will be the first public outing of the sonar goggles I have been developing. If you are playing as a whale, you will be using these goggles to navigate the playing space by sound rather than by sight.

There will also be colourful ribbons, inflatable whales and bothersome krill.

Hope you can come and join us for an evening of fun and challenge!

Welcome to 50°S, 100°W

The narrative of pervasive game The Bloop.

Throughout the Summer of 1997, underwater microphones used by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration thousands of kilometres apart detected the anomalous sound known as The Bloop.

Extremely loud and low frequency, this noise defies explanation. Scientists have yet to identify its cause: we have no knowledge of a creature large enough to make a sound of this type.

Whatever it is, it’s still down there.

Welcome to 50°S, 100°W.

Whales traverse the deep waters off the coast of Chile on their seasonal migrations between breeding grounds and feeding grounds. Relying solely on their instincts and use of sonar to navigate these murky depths, the whales nonetheless perceive that something a little odd is going on around here.

The krill here – normally a tasty snack for the whales – seem motivated with a strong sense of purpose. When The Bloop calls to them they move in unison in a way the whales don’t quite understand and yet intuitively understand should be avoided…

Humpback Whales Feeding 1

More experimenting with the sonar goggles

Ant trying out the sonar goggles at fizzPOP yesterday. He said he had very good spatial awareness and could tell where he was in the room, this video was a little experiment with his awareness of where I was.

(If you listen carefully you can hear the different beep patterns the goggles make depending on how close things are to them.)

Sonar goggles

Following on from last week’s pervasive games lab, some or all of Hide&Seek, Fierce and/or Screen West Midlands awarded me a grant to develop the sonar stuff into a game to be played at the Sandpit event at Warwick Arts Centre this Saturday. (Not quite sure who to thank, but thanks!)

So, it’s been full steam ahead to turn the whale hat prototype into something that will survive a game. Several games. Maybe some of them outdoors in the British summer…

materials gathered

For various practical and arty reasons, the hat has been replaced by goggles. For financial and logistical reasons, the Arduino RBBB I used in the prototype has also been replaced by a bare bones equivalent on stripboard.

Here’s the finished circuit, the goggles and the first unit being user tested…

finished circuitry

sonar goggles

user test

You can see other photos in this Flickr set of the build process.

There’s still a lot of soldering, spraying and sticking to be done to get ready for the weekend, but several people have used the googles now and I’m really pleased with the result. Join me at Warwick Arts Centre from 6pm this Saturday to experience the game – which is undergoing a similar evolutionary process!

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