1. This weekend sees the fourth annual Come Out And Play festival in New York City. All manner of city-sized fun, from the high-tech to the no-tech. I'm particularly delighted to see lots of "new sport" games, where the barrier to entry from a design perspective is very low. Many of them look a lot of fun to play, even though they would probably benefit from rather greater athleticism than I am able to provide. Blown-up video games are also wonderful, and this version of live-action Pitfall looks particularly great. All manner of puzzle events, as well, plus games played on subway trains. (Snakes on a plane? Werewolf on a train!) It looks insanely great and I look forward to reading more about it soon.
1'. Perhaps we can hope for some of the best designs to make an appearance at the Hide and Seek Weekender in London over 31st July to 2nd August. Will anyone reading this be going - hawkida, jvvw, perhaps? (bateleur has said he'll be running an interesting-looking game on the Friday evening...) I said I would go to this last year and I didn't, so I'm not going to make any promises this year. Honestly, it would probably take the confluence of a few happy coincidences for it to happen, not least a good mood. However, it all sounds wonderful, and I hope it is as good in practice as it sounds. I have a few potential reservations, largely out of a fear that you probably get the most out of it if you've been there from the start, and I fear my views on the interaction of stories and games may be unfashionable. However, I want it to be amazing fun, I want the people to be really nice and I want it just to be a case of "let your fears go, come with an open mind and let your hair down".
2. However, even if I don't go this time, it's heartening to see that it exists for people to attend; it's also heartening that the pervasive games movement is growing in the UK, only (at worst) a little behind that in the US. We know about the activities in London and Bristol (who have the Iglympics upcoming); it turns out - dog-whistle message here - that Birmingham is the next city in the UK to form a focus for the mystery-adjective games movement, with BARG being a monthly-ish meeting to play interesting games. Excellent! All it seems to take is someone with the spoons, confidence, chutzpah and resources to make the movement move; the source material (the games) are already in place. Some day the movement will make it to these parts; if Middlesbrough has a games club broad-minded enough for RPGs, CCGs, miniatures war games and board games, it would seem to be a likely place to start. (At some point, I'll start going back there again.)
2'. However, Birmingham has more than that; last weekend saw it host the third UK Games Expo, which is possibly even more impressively comprehensive still across many of the media we call game: not just RPGs, CCGs, miniatures and board games but also computer games as well. Again I haven't been, but this is partly because much of the action seems to take place in rather an expensive hotel. As with attendance in London: some year, perhaps. I'm not clear if the BARG people and the UK Games Expo people know each other, but they probably should. Ooh, and UK Games Expo features the Living Dungeon, which seems to be LARP without the scary role-playing bits that might form barriers to entry for the mundanes. (Big on puzzles, no rubber swords.) When it says "Inspired by the likes of Raven, Crystal Maze, Knightmare, and for those more experienced adventurers, The Adventure Game", my heart goes pitter-pat. Again: anyone potentially interested for next year?
3. You can barely see the seam in the segue from the last sentence but one to observing that the other day I discovered a Cyberdrome Crystal Maze in a mall in Dubai! This must be the first new one in, ooh, about fifteen years. Apparently the show was popular enough on the English-language expat channel for the attraction to be viable. Some slightly blurry photos towards the bottom show it's the real thing, and not on too tight a budget. This is simultaneously delightful, retro and potentially inspiring for the future - and to manage all three simultaneously is some going.
3'. But - but - combining a fantasy theme with an attraction where you run around an unduly fancy indoor playground with playing old-fashioned computer games, I may have blogged about this before, but Wizard Quest of Wisconsin Dells, WI looks like an interesting one-off. It's unclear whether it's intended to be the first in a series, but 5-wits' Tomb in Boston sadly seems to have been one and done, with even the plan to rotate games falling by the wayside, and even the awesome-sounding Négone hasn't made it out of Madrid. (Shed a tear, too, for all Peter Sarrett told us about Entros back in the day.) Interesting games at family entertainment centres don't seem to have cracked the business model yet, so perhaps the overtly non-commercial approach (frequently funded as any other art event) as espoused by the pervasive games movement might have to be what it takes - and that brings us back to 1 above.
4. Because sports are just games written large, I remain fascinated by the forthcoming United Football League, playing gridiron football from October 8th and quickly looking to expand outwith its initial US base. Taking on, or even attempting to establish counterpart status to, the venerable National Football League is probably the biggest challenge in sports league organisation going, unless the FOTA (Formula One Teams Association - but not all of the teams) teams do decide to split and start their own series. UFL Access is documenting the UFL's progress and now is a really exciting time in terms of lots of little announcements. It's all factual, and it's going to happen; the league is doing really well at making lots of wise little decisions and dodging the bullets that took down all the other major would-be NFL counterparts - and UFL Access is doing really well at documenting progress. The UFL is taking on a task so vast that there are still hundreds of reasons why they might not make it, but they're doing really well at making good decisions so far.
5. One of the UFL's emphases is on condensing their product into a three-hour slot for TV. Similarly, Twenty20 cricket is an overtly TV-driven product. (Apparently the Indian Premier League features a 7½-minute "tactical break" for commercials half-way through each innings, the equivalent - I suppose - of breaks at the end of the first and third quarters...) TV audiences' expectations provide a bigger incentive than ever for sports to reformat themselves in a TV-friendly fashion. Athletics - track and field, if you will - is particularly interesting in this regard. There are, arguably, 24 classical events in athletics; with one exception, the men's athletics program has consisted of those 24 events at each Summer Olympics of the past fifty years. Three sprints, two middle-distance, one steeplechase, three long-distance, two hurdles, two relays, two walks, four jumps, four throws and a combined event. The women's program is almost an exact counterpart, with the baffling (and unwarranted) omission of the longer walk.
However, a full athletics program is more than most viewers seem to want. The European Cup events provided, and the European Team Championships (even more so) will provide, two four-hour chunks of athletics. Forty scored contests will be held: both men and women will do the classical twenty-four, minus the two walks, the decathlon, the marathon and with the 10,000m race slashed to just 3,000m. It takes a real long-distance fan to watch the whole of the 5,000m, so the final attempts in the long-jump contests are programmed against it, as well as intermediate "devil take the hindmost" eliminations providing interest during the race. I'm looking forward to that in a couple of weekends' time, but two four-hour sessions are still a lot to watch. My wife may agree with me on this one. :-)
Accordingly, there are some other attempts to condense athletics into TV-friendly formats. The IAAF are championing the "Diamond League" series of one-evening athletic events, each of which has to provide "a 2 hours live TV feed". The way they're doing this is to cut the programme down to just sixteen events, with half competed in by men and the other half by women. (Alternate meetings in the league switch the two around.) Take the European Cup's twenty events, lose the relays (shame!), lose the 3,000m and - most controversially - lose the hammer throw. The IAAF's sample timetable still looks three hours long, so presumably the two-hour live show they're talking about will feature as-live recorded highlights from the jumps and throws edited in among the races.
Shorter still is UK Athletics' "Super 8" format. Eight teams, two hours, twenty-two events: men and women each do two sprints, two middle-distance, the short hurdles, three jumps, two throws and a medley relay. (Standard medley relay fallacy: how good your short-distance runners are isn't nearly as important as how good your long-distance one is.) The first event using the formula took place in mid-week and the format seemed fundamentally sound, even if counter-programming it against England v. Andorra at football may have got it off to a bad start, and the competition uniform may have caused sponsorship woes ruling some of the top competitors out very late. Domestic athletics team competitions are sadly low-profile in this country; this professional made-for-TV format may not thrill the purists who prefer fuller-featured contests run as amateur competitions, but I know I like the sound of it!
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