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!

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!

Prototyping games for the whale hat

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!

Andy gets to be whale for the first version of the game, unaware that krill Laura is trapped between him and the mirrored wall behind!

Andy gets to be whale for the first version of the game, unaware that krill Laura is trapped between him and the mirrored wall behind!

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.

The electronics that power the whale hat.

The electronics that power the whale hat.

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

Prototyping games for the whale hat #1 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

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

Prototyping games for the whale hat #2 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

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

Prototyping games for the whale hat #3 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

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

Prototyping games for the whale hat #4 from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

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?

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