Following on from our first experiments a few weeks ago, on Friday we (Tarim and I) ran a short playtest of the system we’ve been developing to measure what will eventually become the extent to which the critters are connected to the rest of the Colony.
I built the circuits from before into some tupperware containers in order to make them more suitable for being jollied around the city centre, and we added a feedback system of heartbeats to indicate how panicked (lonely) the critter (tupperware) was feeling. If the critter became so removed from the rest of the group that it was no longer able to receive the radio signals from any of the other critters, then the heartbeat reach a ‘hammering’ state – something it could only sustain for 23 seconds before the critter died. So, if your heartbeat gets that fast, you have to quickly find someone from your Colony. Really quickly.
We repurposed the LEDs from before into ‘lives remaining’ indicators and also built in a mechanism by which dead critters could be reincarnated so they could rejoin the playtest: once dead, if you could surround yourself with enough colony members you would be revived. Only up to 5 times, though.
Our first group was given the task of making their way to the centre of Millennium Square whilst making sure they had exactly four lives remaining when they finished their journey.
There was an interesting split in the group nearly immediately, but we did manage to reconvene in the square and reincarnate those who needed it.
The second playtest involved a slightly longer walk over to Castle Park. In order to seed a few conflicting dynamics within the group, we gave different people different target numbers of lives to end up with.
I think I had only one spare life for the whole journey, so at one point I ended up diving into a lift with one of the other playtesters in order not to get stranded alone upstairs in Watershed.
This longer challenge had a coulple of distinct phases to it: initially our tendency was to walk together in clusters, chatting, however as we drew closer to the park and people realised they still hade lives to lose, things got a bit more interesting, with people dashing down side streets, crossing over to the other side of the road or making a quick dash for the church.
Some of us even finished up with the right number of lives!
The next variant was to allow people to choose the number of remaining lives they were going to aim for. This resulted in some extremes of behaviour as some frantically tried to first die off and then re-join with enough other colony members to reanimate.
I’d donated my tupperware critter to a fresh playtester who had tracked us down at Castle Park, so I was in a purely observational role for the return journey. I really enjoyed a little exchange where someone hid behind a tree, then crept up on someone she knew was trying to lose a lot of lives, preventing them from doing so. Apparently this dastardly life-preserving tactic didn’t go down so well as shortly afterwards both players were spotted sprinting down the road – I assume one trying to get away from the other!
We tried a few experiments in Queen’s Park to see how big the colony could get and then we headed back to the Pervasive Media Studio for a chat and a debrief.
It seems the technology mostly worked as expected, so we were able to mostly focus in on the psychology of the experience: at what points did it feel like a game; did the critter’s perception of separation from the group match with your own; how did the task of losing/preserving lives affect your awareness of the location of the rest of the group?
It was a very interesting chat with lots to think about now as we start to move the mechanics closer to what will eventually be integrated with the GPS-based movement behaviour. All looking very promising for a first playtest though, and it was great to see an actual colony moving around the city for the first time!