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September 26th, 2006

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04:51 pm - ASK ME!
1) Meglessness has risen its head once again. Meg has brought most of her belongings over here; four suitcases and duffle-bags, each creeping in just under the 50-lb. weight bracket, with one box air-mailed through and two more boxes on a slow boat somewhere between there and here. After five days here, during which time she managed to pick up a miserable cold, I drove her back to Manchester Airport to fly off to be without me one final time. She's taking care of her affairs in Georgia once and for all; on the evening of Tuesday October 3rd, she sets off for the UK once and for all with her remaining belongings and her kittens. (The kittens have been undergoing six months of intensive administration on the Pet Passport scheme, which means they won't have to undergo six months of quarantine when they get here.)

The trip to MAN was exhausting, as it involved getting up at 0530 the day after two day shifts (which involve getting up at 0516 and 0456) and three nights beforehand with rather too little sleep. The coffee-fuelled journey down was easy enough and waving Meg away was, while sad, less traumatic than usual because the end to the distance is in such clear sight. On the journey back home, I pulled in at a service station, wound the car seat back and had 40 minutes' sleep, though, which was definitely far better than the alternative. The rest of the journey was OK but rather rainy; unfortunately, upon getting home and rushing into the house in order to get a nap, I left my car lights on for 2½ hours before work and flattened the battery. Whoops. Dad saved the day and the next day I did my first jump start.

This time next week, hopefully Meg, the kittens and me will be on the six-hour-plus journey (and I think there is an unstated assumption in those timings that the M25 is being kind) to home in Middlesbrough for good. (For now.) We'll be going from a long-distance relationship to a zero-distance relationship once and for all. This is a wonderful prospect, but it's also very slightly scary; things will change and I don't know how. However, we're going into this forewarned, with eyes open and as well-prepared as possible, so things are likely to change for the easier, the cuddlier, the less dramatic and the more content. A large part of me will miss jetting off to the US every ten weeks, seeing lovely people and living a second life of jet-setting romantic tourist, but it's not sustainable for us, for our budget or for the environment.

Don't admire my bravery too much, though. I'm not leaving every human I love but one 3,000+ miles away; Meg's the one who has followed love and promising prospects to leave her old life behind. (For now.) I'll be doing the best I can for her and for us and I know she will too. Hopefully we'll find ways to reintroduce Meg to familiar faces before long (hint!) as well as having the joy of introducing her to new ones.

2) While I never got into The Office, I did watch Extras series two episode one. It was exquisitely wrong (Keith Chegwin playing horribly-wrong!bigoted!confused-old!Keith-Chegwin was amazing) but very entertaining. Can't wait to see how Dan Radcliffe sends himself up later in the series.

3) The Come Out And Play festival of (generally large-scale) urban games took place in NYC last weekend and it's interesting to see people talk about it. Not all the reviews are positive; for instance, Manhattan MegaPutt (premise: "let's turn Manhattan into one big game of crazy golf / putt-putt") appears to have been abortive, despite being highly promising.

I was particularly interested in Cruel 2 B Kind, a variation on the assassination games that go around universities (etc.) from time to time, partly involving a clever accumulating-teams structure to make the game finish in a finite and reasonable amount of time and partly involving people performing acts of benevolence rather than acts of mock-violence. (The central mechanic could be compared to the duelling system in one of the Monkey Island adventures from the early '90s, if you remember them.) A CNET News.com reported wrote up his experiences and provides pictures from the festival. To me, the game is interesting and I'd love to play it but doesn't go far enough in its choice of benevolences. Issuing compliments is fun, but there's definitely scope for other types of benevolent mayhem to be included in there as well.

Nevertheless, it occurs to me that I have been hanging on lots of other creative people's coat-tails for some time without creating much myself recently. It seems a good goal to try to design an urban game that could be played at Come Out And Play, or some other games convention, even if practicalities make it unlikely that I will be able to attend next year. Here was what I was able to come up with last night; I don't claim it's necessarily great, or even that it could be tidied up to become great, but it's a starting-point - and if we (which would be "anyone who cares to plus me") come up with a dozen starting-points and knock them together a bit then perhaps we'll come up with something legitimately playable.

In the urban game design process, I think it's useful to write down some axioms - some "zero'th rules" that all game designs must incorporate, noting the desirability or otherwise of mutable rules. (Thank you, Mr. Suber.). The ones which come to mind are "Obey the laws of the land" and "A player always has the option to forfeit the game rather than continue to play or incur a game penalty. No penalty worse than losing, in the judgment of the player to incur it, may be imposed". I note that the latter rule does permits game with external stakes so long as the liability is known in advance and players can quit in advance of the liability worsening - a way of ensuring the "consensual" part of "safe, sane and consensual", if you will. (I also note my old mucker Major Fun's seven ways to make games more fun, but I think we need to concentrate on "less worse" as well as "better".) What other axioms ought there to be?

ASK ME!, a Collectable, Customisable Badge Game.

My first thought is that nobody is doing anything with Haggle, and it's got to be possible to come up with a really accessible yet scaled-up version of Haggle.

When I attend game conventions, I am usually given a badge with my name on it. Some conventions issue lanyards, others offer pin badges. Lanyards are probably more popular these days, but I rather like pin badges. I envision a game using circular badges, perhaps an inch or an inch and a half in diameter. These would be made of a cardboard circle enclosed partly in plastic. On one side of the badge there would be a pin with which to attach the badge to the wearer's clothes. (There is a particular design of badges that comes to mind here, but I find it hard to describe.) I anticipate that the plastic covering would be transparent on both sides, so that people can see what is written on both sides of the badge; the innovation is that while the plastic frame would keep the badge together and rigid, it would be annular on the front (non-pin) side of the badge, so that the message on the front of the badge could simultaneously (a) be altered in the uncovered central disc of the front and (b) not be altered in the covered annulus surrounding it.

The game would be played in the background, "behind" (simultaneously with?) all the other games played at the convention. Players might register on a Saturday by turning up at game control, whereupon they would be handed four badges. They would then spend as much or as little time playing the game as they want, before the game concludes at some agreed point. I anticipate holding a stall on Sunday which serves free juice to all-comers; game players can register their position in the game at the same time as getting a drink, and we may be able to use non-players who come to get a drink as a function in the game somehow as well.

I anticipate that each player would get one badge whose front says "ASK ME!" and on the back contains the basic rules to the game - the rules of gameplay, rather than the rules of scoring. Each player would also get three other badges, each of which has some of the rules of scoring and the semi-covered, semi-blank design listed above on the front. The covered parts would advertise the game and the location at which it was being played; the central part would be blank so that the player could customise it according to their preference. The backs of these badges would contain some of the scoring rules of the game; how you decorate the blank parts of the fronts of your badges determines how you score. You wouldn't know all the scoring rules, but by wearing the ASK ME! badge and trading information with other players then you could find out as many of the scoring rules as possible and so devise combinations of badge contents (and, possibly, other things?) that will maximise your score.

Here's a first draft of the rules of the game, for the back of the ASK ME! badge.

1. Wear this badge to find players.

2. Trade badges. Customise badges. Distribute badges.

3. No more than one ink colour, two words or twelve letters per badge front.

4. To score, wear this badge and exactly 3 others, then visit the free juice stall at some location once from 2pm to 3pm on Sunday.

5. Scoring based on visitors to the juice stall and their badges.

6. Top score wins. Winner declared at 6pm.

7, Play nice. Play at least 10 yards from the juice stall.

I think this could be written in small but clearly legible text on a reasonably-sized badge. The ASK ME! logo on the front would not only permit players to recognise each other, but it could encourage non-players to ask players about the game. Let's see if we can make use of viral propagation in real-world game design to attract players!

The backs of the three other badges would contain some of the scoring rules of the game - the rules that map the contents of the fronts of the badges to the scores awarded to the players wearing them. The players would not find out all the scoring rules that apply and so would trade information to find out as many of the scoring rules as possible.

The scoring rules are virtually unlimited. I anticipate there would have to be some common scoring rules which would be distributed to all the players in their initial badge distributions and some uncommon scoring rules affecting small possible bonuses that would be distributed far less frequently. Ensuring all players got reasonably comparable combinations of initial knowledge about bonus scores achievable would be a play balance issue.

Common scoring rules might go something like:

* Red ink scores 90, green ink scores 80, blue ink scores 70, black ink scores 60, no other colours score.

* Letters AEIOU score 10 each, JQXZ score 20 each, all others score zero.

* Most popular ink colour scores +20. Least popular ink colour scores +50.

* Using the same word or ink colour more than once costs all your score.

* Words that you've made up score half, Chambers dictionary words and names we've heard of score double.

* Words we can't read score zero.

Uncommon scoring rules might go something like: (off the top of my head, little attention given to game balance)

* Top 100 US boys' given names score +50.
* Top 100 US girls' given names score +60.
* Presidential surnames score +50.
* World capitals score +50.
* Names of animals score +30.
* Sport team nicknames we know score +60.
* Compliments score +70.
* Two rhyming words score double.
* Two-word palindromes score +200.
* Palindromic words score +70.
* Three letter words score +60.
* Writing a colour in that colour ink scores +100.
* Words ending in AEIOU score +30.
* Words starting in AEIOU score +40.
* Three letters like ABC, BCD, NOP etc. score +50.
* Turning exactly one letter O into a smiley face scores +40.
* Roman numerals score face value up to +40 per badge, zero for 41+.
* Names of numbers score face value up to +99 per badge.
* Double letters score +30 a pair (e.g. coffee = +60).
* Three badges on the left sleeve scores +50.
* Same colour ink and sleeve scores +50.
* Visiting for juice before 2:15pm scores +20.
* Same colour ink and hat scores +30.
* Exactly two people with three matching badges score +40 each.
* Blue-ink badge at the bottom scores +40.
* Badges on hats score +10 each.
* Wearing exactly one badge upside-down scores +20.
* Saying "please" and "thank you" when asking for juice scores +60.
* Asking for mango juice scores +30.
* Players holding hands while asking for juice score +40 each.
* Prove it's your birthday when asking for juice and score +30.

I envision that the rules badges would contain two common and two uncommon scoring rules each and that there would be some division of badges to ensure that each set of three rules badges had all the common scoring rules between them. (Scoring rules would be numbered, but not sequentially, so players couldn't be certain they knew all the scoring rules.) The game organisers would simply have to hand out badge sets (and possibly pens) at the start of the game, serve juice in the juice stall hour and take down details of who was wearing what badge when juice was served. After the juice has been served and badge details are collected, the badge collections are scored and the winner is announced at 6pm.

One aspect I really like is the "distribute badges" clause. We would sell blank badges, in the style of the rules badges, at cost; I think a target cost could be $0.05 to $0.10 per badge. (It would be possible to turn this into a profit centre, but not in the spirit I would choose to foster.) Players might well find that it is in their interest to distribute badges to other people who might happen to be attending the juice stall at the given time and so turn them into unwitting players. Of course, this raises the question of creating badges that are attractive enough that people might want to take them from you, as well as badges that happen to have messages that are advantageous to your position. (One question: what would the consequence be if players distributed bages to the public and lied "Wear this badge at the juice stall tomorrow and you'll be given $100"? Is this the sort of mayhem that we want to encourage? Is this the sort of mayhem we can discourage other than through rule 7 above?)

In this sense, the game plays with the boundary between players and non-players and yet does so in a sense that results in free juice and next-to-free badges for all, with no harm done. What's not to like? What could go wrong? Seriously, what could go wrong, devil's advocates? :-)

Other questions that present themselves:
# Does this sound fun?
# Would you play the game in practice?
# How would you play the game in practice?
# How seriously would you take it?
# Would playing this game interfere with your enjoyment of other games?
# If you could improve either (a) the game or (b) your position in the game through improper gameplay, how would you do so?
# Is trading information inherently fun?
# Is working out high-scoring badge combinations inherently fun?
# Is customising your own badges inherently fun?
# Is distributing badges to other people fun enough that you would do so at your own time and (minor) expense?
# Would you feel put off if you saw people taking the game extremely seriously?
# Is giving bonuses for clothing fun or would you get worried that you needed to go out and buy multi-coloured hats just to score more points?
# What scoring ambiguities can you see?
# Have you got good ideas for other scoring rules?
# How could we make the game more fun?
Current Mood: hungryhungry but playful
Current Music: Katamari Damacy soundtrack

(33 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
Registration is now up as part of spellcast6. Thought you'd like to know. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
Yep, yep! Saw your post, have downloaded it already, am leaning back and tuning in.

Amazing job by, well, everyone but me. :-) (Though it's always easy to be self-critical, and I wouldn't be surprised if everyone else thought they were the weakest link as well as I did.)
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 04:32 pm (UTC)
Weren't people talking about a cheap'n'cheerful ('n', most likely, chavful) Blackpool illuminated!t00bage at some point? Curry in Yorkshire does sound like a fine plan and I promise not to cry off like we did t'other time, but the more t00bs, definitely the merrier.
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC)
First of all, if Meg would like (at any time, now, later, whenever) to talk to people who have moved to foreign lands where they have known just about nobody, invite her to talk to me or to Viv.
1987: Viv moved to Birmingham after we married. She knew nobody there.
1990: We both moved to Vanuatu. We knew nobody there.
1993: We both moved to Hastings, NZ. We knew nobody there.
1999: Viv joined me in Wellington, NZ, where I had workmates but she knew nobody. We moved to a suburb where we knew nobody.

Second, the badge game. A couple of initial thoughts. Where do the coloured pens come from? Yes, I'd be put off by people taking it too seriously. Bonuses should all be badge related. Nothing for other clothes; positioning or badge orientation issues are OK. Will think further.
In the mid 1980s I was at the Greenbelt Festival, where a number of people spent the first days indiscriminately handing out simple badges bearing the slogan "I love Rosie" in a distinctive typeface. On the last day, they spotted people still wearing them, and took them, where possible, to visit an increasingly bewildered young lady, who was introduced to me as Rosie. She was, of course, wearing a badge in the same typeface reading "Everybody loves me". I have no idea what it all meant.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:06 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I appreciate the offer.

Pens - well, off the top of my head, I've found them at 7p each, and I dare say it's possible only to go cheaper than that. Granted, this would not be a game run on a zero budget - perhaps a nominal fee for entry could be charged - but a budget smaller than that of most of the other games.

Other people have said "all badge-related". I agree that it would make things fairer, but in some ways I'm more interested in fun (and cool, to use two words I've been using in conjunction with each other a lot recently, and spectacular) than in fair.

Lucky, if confused, old Rosie!
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 05:22 pm (UTC)
I'm so happy for you guys! It's seems like it was just the other day that Meg was going off on her first trip to jolly ol' England.

I miss you guys! I think I may come visit soon though, if I can find some money. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC)
Many, many happy memories - and it's great to hear from you again! I think of you most times I see a space-bag.

Hooray! You know we'll be looking out for cheap fares, even if we're not so well-placed to use them ourselves :-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 06:34 pm (UTC)
*hugs to you and Meg*

I admire you both so much, just for making this work. And wishing you all the happiness that you both deserve once you're both on the same side of the Atlantic permanately.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:11 pm (UTC)
*grins happily and luckily*

Working so far, and working better and better. It'll never stop being work, but I don't expect it ever to become the sort of work that isn't a joy to do, if you can pick your way through the double negative.
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 07:28 pm (UTC)
You and Meg are, of course, welcome to come and visit sunny Kidlington. See the shiny new kitchen!
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:13 pm (UTC)
Come to Kidlington, we've got kitchen!

Thanks! How about early November - specifically, possibly just after MidCon?
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC)
Is customising your own badges inherently fun?

Yes, very !

Personally I don't much like the extensive use of letters. I think symbols and little pictures and stuff would be cool. I like the smiley rule.

One possibility I'd recommend considering is placing partial rules on some badges for high-scoring tricks. That way you have to find both halves (or all the clues) to a rule before you can implement it.

Another observation: it's in the nature of the game that people will form small alliances with friends. The game should somehow reward more interesting forms of cooperation more highly.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
What I like about letters is that they form words (though, of course, there are always dictionary issues...) and people like wearing badges with words on. It's much easier to get someone to wear a badge with words, especially if the words form a fun phrase, than a load of symbols.

Partial rules is an excellent idea. Thank you!

Hard to know how to arbitrarily reward forms of co-operation, other than through increased information sharing. We could do special tasks where you have to get a group of 20 people together at some place at some time in order for a clue to be revealed to them all, but that strikes me as more text than I would want to fit into one rule.
[User Picture]
Date:September 26th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC)
Kittens, ducklings, and Meg, oh my!

(I couldn't think of a witty way to say "congrats on almost being done with the moving together"...)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:18 pm (UTC)
I think you did. :-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 07:35 am (UTC)
Looks good at first glance! As a "popularization" of Haggle it seems an excellent ambition.

I wonder though if it would be possible to reduce the amount of peering by using eg. combinations of coloured stickers (circles, stars etc) instead of writing words. Said stickers to be available from the stand, also eliminates the need for pens. And they can be removed / covered over more easily than writing can, if someone wants to change their badge on learning a new rule.

I would also restrict scoring to stuff that's actually on the badges, but that's the kind of killjoy I am ;-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:22 pm (UTC)
Stickers are fun, but describing combinations of stickers is instantaenously much more game-y, much less compactly described and much less accessible than describing words.

I rather like the thought of some players who are really into the game going out and performing benevolent mayhem of appropriate sorts to enhance their game position, though of course games where the more you spend, the better you do are inherently flawed. Buying a multi-coloured hat for points strikes me as on the right side of where I draw the fun/fair (not funfair!) line.
Date:September 27th, 2006 07:53 am (UTC)

My next housecon

I joined the local gym recently. One thing I noticed is that on a Saturday night you can hire the swimming pool for a private party (at £70/hour).

I'm therefore currently trying to think of some live-action, swimming-pool-based conversions of games that might work without too much effort. Any ideas? So far I've got swimming-fit-pit :) If I could get a deck of huge floating cards maybe the Chairman's game would be an option too...
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 09:26 am (UTC)

Re: My next housecon

It's not an original thought, but you could hold the world's second (?) ever game of Kapitän Wackelpudding In The Pool!

The aforementioned KW is a dexterity game of loading increasingly many items onto a wooden boat and them pushing them from location to location around a map, possibly with sundry Neolithibum-style handicaps, avoiding trying to knock the items off the float. The pool interpretation works in exactly the same way, except with a polystyrene float instead of a boat and location to location around a pool, with the features on the map replaced by ropes, floating pool toys and sundry other items. If you're interested, I can try to get the full details from the bloke who held the first (?) ever game.

I thought it was a right giggle when I played it at the time, but even if there were (say) 12 of us playing, it needs a bit of evangelism to convince other people it's £6/hour per person's worth of giggle.
Date:September 27th, 2006 12:34 pm (UTC)
Well, y'are welcome to visit here any time you like, aren't you? Lovely people and the rest of us alike...
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks! We certainly enjoyed meeting you for lunch and the offer is much appreciated. Never say never... :-)
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 02:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure why I'd want to share, trade or distribute badges. It seems to me that an optimal strategy in this game would be to ask as many people as possible what their rules say and note them down, then design the badges just before going to the juice stall to have them scored. (There might be some mileage in involving another person with the design, if there are rules that reward collaboration, but the likely result of that is that both will be working to the same set of rules and will end up with similar scores.)

I suppose asking other people what their badges say can be achieved by swapping badges, but it's blank badges that are being swapped here, while I had imagined that you were referring to the trading of badges with designs on them.

Some of your rules have me confused.

* Words that you've made up score half, Chambers dictionary words and names we've heard of score double.

Are we doubling (or halving) the score for the individual word, or the total for the badge, or what? Including or excluding the colour? Some of the rules depend on two or more badges, which makes the score for one word difficult to define. And some of the other rules overlap this one somewhat (for example, all names of animals will be in Chambers, and Presidential surnames will be "names we've heard of"). And if it's neither a dictionary word nor a name you've heard of, and it's not a word I made up, what could it possibly be?

* Exactly two people with three matching badges score +40 each.

Is it "player A has a set of three and player B has a different set of three" or "the six badges of players A and B contain a set of three matching badges" or "there is a one-to-one correspondence between the badges of player A and those of player B"?

Actually, now I think about it, it must be that last one, because:

* Using the same word or ink colour more than once costs all your score.

Perhaps I'm just a dunce, but it actually took me a long time to work that one out.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Ian!

You're certainly along the right lines, but there is deliberately an issue about obfuscation here. What incentive is there to tell people accurately what the rules you know are? This is why trading badges is encouraged, to provide authenticity. (Faking apparently-authentic badges becomes a tactic, but probably a tactic too far. It would be mealy-mouthed to quibble whether that comes under "Play nice" or not.)

Are we doubling (or halving) the score for the individual word, or the total for the badge, or what?

For the word, I'd have thought.

Including or excluding the colour?

Including. It's sort of a BODMAS order of priority, operated backwards.

And some of the other rules overlap this one somewhat (for example, all names of animals will be in Chambers, and Presidential surnames will be "names we've heard of"). And if it's neither a dictionary word nor a name you've heard of, and it's not a word I made up, what could it possibly be?

I don't see that as problematic, but you may well be well ahead of me here. Essentially I want a situation where there may be convincing arguments to submit, say, STUART and there may be convincing arguments to submit, say, XYZZY X. People submitting badges with jumbles of letters which aren't words is a little bit less fun than people submitting badges with words, but if it's immediately an uncompetitive option than we're missing a trick. Ideally we would want it to be a nearly competitive option, or a competitive-under-some-circumstances option.

Of course, there may well just be bad combinations of scoring rules which would have to be ironed out, but I'm more interested in the structure here for now.
[User Picture]
Date:September 27th, 2006 10:35 pm (UTC)

Two answers and a new fan

[User Picture]
Date:October 4th, 2006 08:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for introducing me to the idea of Haggle! I don't think I'd play it, mind you, but like Nomic I'm delighted to have met the *idea*.

ASK ME! sounds like similarly open-ended fun. I wouldn't envy the scorers even with just the common ruleset -- a lot of work to produce scores with apparently arbitrary differentials. A lot of work for the designer, too, to balance the points awarded. But fun for the participants with nothing too crucial to deter playfulness.

I wonder if a subgroup of players would devise a rival ruleset, or at least criteria for scoring? (-:

Two LJers who might be interested in ideas like this, or in whose ideas you might be interested, are kevan [kevan_rss] and Andrew Chapman [hatmandu] whose thoughtplay was responsible for devising the murder mystery at the only stag party I've attended.

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