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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

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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:ringbark
Date:September 26th, 2006 04:39 pm (UTC)

The Land Of The Long White Cloud

(Link)
Only in Mongolia, Huddersfield and Sowerby Bridge.
No, they have 'em in Auckland and Wellington too.
[User Picture]
From:jiggery_pokery
Date:September 27th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)

Re: The Land Of The Long White Cloud

(Link)
There is, or was, some sort of Mongolian restaurant in Oxford too, though I'm not sure whether it was a barbecue or more of a wok-fried establishment.

Some day we shall have to compare Mongolian and Southern US barbecue dishes and I would be most amused if the two were quite similar :-)

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