Phoenix playtesting session #1

I’m now approaching the half-way stage of my residency at Phoenix Square, however the last 2 days have been beset by various tech and mech crises so it feels like I’m only just getting started!

Last night was the first of my playtesting sessions in which members of the public have signed up to come along and get hands-on with whatever I’ve made.

Due to the slow start I hadn’t got the radio communication up and running, so we did a few experiments using the old faithful sonar goggles instead. After a gentle start in the empty room next door, we headed down to the public space of the cafe/foyer/cinema area.

Having now had their appetite well and truly whetted, my enthusiastic volunteers then wanted to use the goggles out on the streets!

We tried a range of locations and a range of challenges (including bollard slalom and fountain circumnavigation). This was the first time the goggles had been used in such an uncontrolled environment and I was very impressed as the guys’ willingness to try stuff out. As they said, the bar has now been set very high for the next time they’re used!


Corridor Challenge. The challenge being to not end up in either the cinema or the ladies loos!

Market navigation

Using the goggles to navigate from one side of the market to the other.

The video above shows a snippet from an experiment in moving together as a group: the lead person is using their sonar to navigate from one side of the square to the other, but the person behind has their sonar switched off, so they have to listen to the lead’s bleeps in order to be able to follow them.

My photos and video from the session are at

Sonar Goggles and The Blind Fiddler

Paul Conneally has been using his cultural foraging technique to bring together (cf ‘curate’) an exhibition at the Snibston Discovery Museum exploring home entertainment between the years 1806 and 2012.

Paul Conneally, transform’s Cultural Forager, discovered that The Blind Fiddler was painted in the kitchen of Coleorton Hall Farm in 1806 – the same farm that the great poet William Wordsworth lived in with his family. The picture was commissioned by Sir George Beaumont and given by him to the nation and now forms part of the TATE collection.

The exhibition will feature artefacts held by Leicestershire County Council’s Museums Service, new works by Conneally, other artists and local communities where the picture was originally painted.

The exhibition’s starting point is the painting The Blind Fiddler by David Wilkie 1806 painted in Coleorton Hall Farm Kitchen North West Leicestershire.

Starting at The Blind Fiddler, Conneally has linked and shifted to an eclectic range of artefacts and references – one of which gets him to my sonar goggles!

Experimenting with the sonar goggles

A pair of sonar goggles being experimented with at the Hide&Seek Weekender at the National Theatre, 2010

The Blind Fiddler – Home Entertainment 1806 – 2012 opens at Snibston tomorrow (Saturday the 14th of January) and runs until Sunday the 4th of March). Pop along for some Happy Families and maybe a bit of SingStar.

Exploring with MADE

MADE staff did some learning; I did some delighting and bemusing; we all did some brainstorming…

Sonar goggle sampler

I’m one of six artists currently taking part in Fierce‘s Platinum professional development programme. As part of the early doings we each ran a 30 minute workshop to introduce everyone else to an element of our practice.

Since I’ll be using Platinum to explore possibilities for applying elements of playfulness and interactive/responsive technology to my core interest of investigating interactions with spaces, part of my workshop included a chance to sample the sonar goggles I made for the game The Bloop last year. More on what the first part of the workshop entailed later…

Although I was on invigilator duty to make sure everything was running safely etc, I still managed to get in some observation and even take a few photos.

The goggles drew a lot of interest from the other people in that part of the arts centre, and a few people from outside our workshop also wanted to take part. Who am I to say no?!

What’s struck me most, looking back at the photos now, are the different hand and arm positions…

The Bloop at Enter the Arena

As a sign of how busy the last few weeks have been, here’s a blog post about something that happened in August…

My game The Bloop had it’s third outing as part of the BARG event Enter the Arena.

I still feel I’m in a play-testing phase with it, with a few areas yet to be cracked.

Far fewer players this time – which I think worked a lot better – and I also moved the ribbon-tagging down to armbands rather than on the inflatable whales and requested the players played in silence. The result was described by Andrew Wilson as “like a bonkers tea dance”. Here’s some video I shot of one of the rounds:

The Bloop at Enter the Arena from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Yup! That description works for me!

I managed to take a few photos too:

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

The Bloop

Sas Taylor also got some nice action shots!

Bloop @ Barg

Bloop @ Barg

The Bloop galleries

I’ve been compiling photos other people have taken of The Bloop game and sonar goggle experiments I did at the Hide&Seek Weekender into some Flickr galleries.

The Bloop at the Weekender #1
The Bloop at the Weekender #2
Sonar Goggle Experiments at the Weekender

It’s always good to see your events from the perspective of others and there are some really nice shots in there. Here are a selection of my favourites – click on them to go through to the source on Flickr.

Whales Ahoy!

The Bloop

Wining Whale

Hide and Seek

Find Each Other

Thanks again to everyone who took part – either as player or audience.

Two days of sonar goggles at the National Theatre

Last weekend I ran 2 games of The Bloop as part of Hide&Seek’s 2.5 day celebration of all that is playful.

Following oblique coverage in the Guardian and footage of the playtest at Warwick Arts Centre, demand for places far outnumbered the availability, even though I was asked to squeeze another 8 players in.

To be honest I don’t remember a whole lot from the games themselves: the sun shone; a tale was spun; krill jumped as far as they could and the whales swam. There were smiles; there was laughter; there were gasps; there were winces. Loads of people came up to me afterwards to tell me how much fun they had had!

Here are a few snapshots:

A krill pounces.

A krill pounces.

A whale heads from the feeding grounds towards the sound of Serge Gainsbourg.

A whale heads from the feeding grounds towards the sound of Serge Gainsbourg.

A whale makes a bid for freedom.

A whale makes a bid for freedom.

A big thanks to my 3 assistants for fetching barnacles and catching whales for the duration. The rest of my photos can be found on Flickr.

Since so many people missed out on whaling on the Saturday, I took 3 pairs of sonar goggles with me when I returned for the Sunday games. In the hour or two of gaps I had between whispering ‘patatas’, looking for invisible golf holes and trying to find my queen, I invited people to come and try them out.

This quickly turned into trying to find new ways of playing with them. This is what I like about the Weekender: there’s a really nice balance of people who want to figure out new ways of playing; people who will try out those new things, people who will ask “hey, what are you guys doing, can I join in?” and people who will interact from the sidelines in a good humoured manner. Hat tip to Giacomo for his catalytic skills and enthusiasm.

Shireen models the sonar goggles

Shireen models the sonar goggles

Dont mind us, were just trying something out...

Don't mind us, we're just trying something out...

The first experiment that evolved was to release two be-goggled people into vaguely the same space and see if they could find eachother:

The answer appeared to be, “er, not really”.

We soon gained some more interested people, so we then used all three pairs of goggles and had enough extras to act as chaperones for the next experiment. A race across the room to the cordon in front of the doors:

Fun and interesting on a range of different levels and in a variety of different directions!

The rope area became involved in a live link-up game in Delhi so we adjusted our course and the next video is a snippet of trying to navigate about three quarters of the way around the Olivier Foyer:

So much to like! Thanks to everyone who contributed.

Stand by for more sonar goggliness as we build on these experiments to develop a full-blown game…

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!

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