I spent Thursday to Saturday at Broadway cinema. As part of the Near Now initiative funding programme Know How had it’s final, hackathon-style, event. Six teams from the cultural sector joined forces with developers and pushed their existing ideas (that had been grown over the last six months) all the way to the prototype stage.

Together with developer Graham from Wiseman Designs I had joined the 3-people strong QUAD group from Derby (John, Rob and Seb). They wanted me to provide insight into mixed reality game design. QUAD is similar to Broadway here in Nottingham (where the event took place) as it is a cinema, gallery, cafe and workshop. Each year they organize the Format festival. It is the biggest photography festival in the UK – they have around 200,000 visitors over the course of a month. However, they still want to engage their audience even more and entice people to visit as many of the about 30 different venues as possible. So they decided to accompany the festival with a game.

The basic idea before the start of the workshop last week was a game with a detective theme (as the theme of next year’s festival is Evidence this fits quite well) – but the exact details were still undecided.

Using Dixit
Interacting with the game depending on your current elevation.
Using VNA
Balancing plates on the antenna of an old-school tv trying to fix reception.
I decided this would be a great opportunity to once again bring out my ideation cards and see how they keep up when there is actually something at stake.

At first we did some warm-up exercises. We randomly drew three Opportunity Cards (that talk about interesting game elements of mixed reality games). In order to nudge us into a certain direction I had brought two additional card sets: Dixit (actually Dixit Odyssey, a fantastic board game with very evocative image cards) and VNA (Verb-Noun-Adjective, a ideation card system for game design developed at the University of Tampere).

We came up with a total of 6 ideas in about 25 minutes, and then started working on the actual game design after a presentation by my supervisor Steve Benford about the Carolan guitar and quite delicious lunch.

Snapshot after the Oppportunity Card session with some Evernote post-production.
Snapshot after the Oppportunity Card session with some Evernote post-production.
Final game design
Final game design
One of the most important things we discovered during this session was the fact that while we could use a lot of technology built into the phone, the actual game would (hopefully) be way more fun if it engaged the players in a more physical way. In effect, when players come to a venue they get a mission that requires them to interact with the artwork on show. Maybe they need to find a picture of a poker game and turn the depicted cards into a code. Or maybe they find a phone number they have to call and they can use the aforementioned code to access the voice mail. Which tells them the code to a real safe placed somewhere in the exhibition. This focus on the physical aspect of the game also allows us to create a variety of interesting riddles without the need for sophisticated technical implementation.

The Opportunity Card session lasted for about 45 minutes and we then followed it up with about 30 minutes each of throwing Question and Challenge Cards around to further refine the game design – and identifying the really important aspects. After a final trimming on the morning of day 2 we taped all cards we wanted to keep onto a whiteboard to remind us of the state of the design.

From now on we were in production mode – developing assets for the game, writing code, preparing the final pitch. One thing that was really important for us was also the notion that the game would not cease to exist after the Format festival but instead live on as a service that other festivals could use to produce their own games (with the same basic mechanics). This would make the whole idea sustainable, something that was important for the Know How programme in general but also of course for QUAD.

Rob and John gave a very energetic and convincing final presentation Saturday afternoon, and Graham had created a very functional Android prototype of the game – I hope they will be able to secure enough funding so we can play a game in Derby next year.

Big thanks to Broadway and Snook for organizing the event, to my team for a great fun while working and to the other teams for creating a magnificent atmosphere during three intense days!

Know How at Broadway
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