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October 12th, 2002

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04:50 am - Good game! Good game!
Not a reference to Bruce Forsyth, or indeed lambertman's fine Brucie icon. (cf madlori's Napoleon icon - blimey indeed.) Two very interesting games with TV connections to discuss briefly tonight, though.

Remembered to watch episode two of Late Night Poker's new sixth series and happily it was just as good as I remembered it from the past. The show is so action-packed. It gets through possibly fifteen or twenty hands of No Limit Texas Hold 'Em in an hour, a condensed version of perhaps three or four hours' play; each one is its own satisfying miniature drama. The commentary is particularly fine, but not overdone - the commentators know when to keep quiet as well as when to point things out and, frequently, the funniest ways to do so.

In last night's episode, Surindar Sunar played imperiously taking an early chip lead through aggressive play and ruled the roost from seven players down to two. (I think the show is at its most exciting when there are perhaps four or five players left.) John Duthie absolutely dominated once the action got down to heads-up; even though he had to play from worse than a 2:1 chip deficit, he didn't put a foot wrong and ended up on top. Freak hand of the night saw a short-stacked lady go all in with 44, only to be called by someone with TT. The flop came T 4 X but the second 4 came out on the turn, so her quads beat his full-house. A rarefied atmosphere towards the top of the poker ladder! (Said lady, Vicky Lincoln, played very tightly all night and finished third. Her AK didn't stand up against QQ when neither player got any help anywhere down the line.)

Something for everyone last night. The catchphrase fans even got the traditional dealer button explanation from colour commentator Barney Boatman. Brilliant, brilliant show. The only place where the show loses marks is its tie-in SMS game, which is effectively SMS video poker. (Draw poker, jacks or better.) Each game costs 50p to play, but you can't get any returns for playing; instead, your final hands earn you points and points earn you a position on the online leaderboard, with no prizes even for the winners. Poor.

There are probably some pertinent gambling restrictions at work here but I perceive that the gambling laws of the land are getting more and more eroded with time. After all, some British betting shops now permit you to bet on roulette. I haven't been in to see how this works (after all, if you wanted to play roulette, surely you would use it as an excuse to get dolled up and swank off to a casino?) but presumably they have one nationally televised roulette game every, I dunno, ten minutes which you can bet upon from bookmakers' shops around the country. It's pretty degenerate.

Unrelated quickie matter: am probably off to play board games in Durham Castle tomorrow afternoon. I don't expect to get much chance to explore the town and see the new toll road or other nice Durham folk.

Wanted was a two-series wonder game show which ran on Channel 4 - the same channel, incidentally, as Late Night Poker tonight - in '96 and '97. In the cold hard analysis of day, it didn't really work properly; it had two different bits which didn't gel together. One bit was running around the country without getting caught, which worked. The other bit was hiding in a phone box in a town without getting caught, which didn't work quite so well. All the same, it was tremendously exciting and quite ahead of its time. The good burghers of ukgameshows voted it the ninth best UK game show ever, which is about right, and four places above the peerless Interceptor, which is about wrong.

It was one of the few UK game shows which built up their own little Internet fandom - which, at the time, was as simple as a number of people who posted to the same message board, back in the days when a show's message board would not attract a ridiculously unuseable number of posts and when there was a reasonable chance of many of the posts being of decent quality. It was a happy time; indeed, I managed to get to meet hawkida at a Wanted taping and make her acquaintance. Indeed, hawkida got one of her web pages onto the show (back in the days of '97 when the Internet was still a big deal) and got me a name check on the show, but that's another story.

(/me waves at hawkida)
(/me hopes that hawkida will get to see this)

Blast Theory are a bunch of artists who make fairly conceptual interactive art installations. They are most famous for Desert Rain, a piece on the Gulf War themed in the style of a video game. (It appeared in Middlesbrough earlier in the year, but I didn't go and see it as it was on a weekend when I was away at a games convention. Eheu. There are some fairly full spoilers available which make it sound interesting.)

Tying the two together, Blast Theory put on a piece of art in Sheffield late last year called "Can You See Me Now?". It was akin to the phone box game from Wanted, only more mobile and with many players at once. It has nothing to do with TV, but with a bit more thought, it probably could do.

Imagine, if you will, an overhead view map of Sheffield city centre. You, sitting at home, can move a figure - the game character you control - about this map. However, four Blast Theory artists are moving around Sheffield for real. They have handheld computers showing them where the game characters are in Sheffield. The artists attempt to occupy the same real space in Sheffield that the game characters do on the map. If they do, then they have captured you and you are out of the game. You can follow the artists' progress chasing you through GPS systems that they are carrying, plus you can listen to audio streams of their walkie talkies. This interaction of online virtual play and physical real-life play is referred to as "Mixed Reality".

Don't know how it played as a game, but it's a heck of an interesting concept. Their future plans sound even more interesting: "Bystander" will see you travel a real city taking instructions from via a mobile device to try to track someone. "Members of Blast Theory will be communicating with you via the web to guide your progress. Your journey might lead you into private homes, warehouses and unexplored side streets. Bystander is where virtual reality gaming gets real." Mmm... sounds a touch Knightmare-ish. "Uncle Roy All Around You", coming next year, will build upon their two games to date for a mixed-media online/offline co-operative manhunt. Very, very interesting. Now that's participatory performance art.

Until then, if you have a GPS unit, you can always play in the Geocache Fox Hunt. If you understand what I mean by geocaching then this will make much more sense.

A mad person will drive 2,000 miles around the UK from Bradford to John O'Groats to Land's End to Wales back to Bradford, via 56 given waypoints, between the 7th and 10th of November. You have to try to find his car en route. You can send a SMS message to a phone number and in return will receive the current location (degrees, minutes and seconds), direction travelled and speed. From repeated readings of this (but not repeated too frequently!) you can intuit which road the car is taking and attempt to intercept said car. If you catch said car, you follow it until it takes a fairly frequent break. On this break, you then shake the target's hand and confirm that you have found them - you might also care to donate to Children In Need, the BBC TV charity telethon, at the same time. Why is this happening? No real reason other than just for fun.

Lots of hugely interesting game idea fragments though. Some day, someone will come up with the right combination of them and produce The Best Game Ever. Sorry, that should be The Best Game Yet.

Keep 'em peeled...
Current Mood: happyhappy
Current Music: Lupin III '78 - Ventura (Bemani 3-65 stuff c/o brakusjs)

(5 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2002 12:49 am (UTC)

Cool Stuff !

An area to watch in coming years, I think. Scope for tie-ins also with things like NokiaGame and even the tourism industry...

I think you're being a bit too fanboyish about Interceptor, though. I thought it was a fantastic idea in outline, but let down by the clumsy game mechanic of having shot sensors only on the backs of the packs. Maybe this was always the intention, or maybe they found out during playtesting that things were much too easy for the Interceptor otherwise, or maybe they just felt it was their best chance to get the Interceptor in-shot at the same time as the players. But for whatever reason, I felt it was a big mistake and cost them much of the atmosphere the game might have had.
[User Picture]
Date:October 12th, 2002 04:44 pm (UTC)

Re: Cool Stuff !

What applications to tourism did you have in mind? I imagine that you could do some sort of fantastic, atmospheric game around somewhere like Portmeirion, but I think the game type will probably always be a little too esoteric for the mass market. (Could the game be stripped out? Could there be some sort of unique interactive guided tour of Disneyland guided by a virtual Jiminy Cricket or Tinkerbell shared at the "single party of visitors" level, perhaps?)

Me? Fanboyish? I'm shocked! ;-)

I've been thinking about Interceptor's backs on and off all day and suspect it probably wouldn't have made very much difference. On a few occasions, contestants attempted to protect themselves by lying on their backs; if they had had front sensors, then they would probably have had to devise rather more elegant ways to hide, but that would have been about the only consequence. It would have also looked very ungainly. It's also not a complete solution; where do you draw the line? Shoulder sensors? Head sensors?

I'm also not sure whether the tech would have been feasible or not. It is generally believed that the tech really was purchased from the army. (I think I've heard the term "Hayes gear", or "Heyes gear", used on a few occasions, in the context of military quality laser tag.) At the time (the show was broadcast in the summer of '89) the first generation of arena laser tag games had come and nearly gone in the US. See http://lasertag.org/general/history.html passim though that timeline is hardly complete.

Indeed, the Photon centres of that first wave were more sophisticated in a number of regards, though very much less flexible, than most of the laser games that survive today. The state of the art is probably Laser Force, but even the tech there hasn't changed much for possibly 3-5 years and it seems to be the overall conclusion that a very vast majority of players are far more concerned with the quality of the facility and the overall experience in terms of customer relations than they are with the range and quality of the different games on offer. LF has some very interesting-looking games, though, and I should like to try them out in good company some day. Alas there are only two LF centres in the UK, in Peterborough and Falmouth.

Some day I will write very much more about laser games, but not tonight. Am knackered.
[User Picture]
Date:October 13th, 2002 01:39 pm (UTC)

Re: Cool Stuff !

Tourism apps I had in mind were nothing very clever, actually. It just occurred to me that relatively urban areas with little to recommend them to traditional sightseeing types could create a 'yoof' tourism industry for themselves by running cool and innovative "wide games" around their locale supported by the kinds of systems you describe.

Regarding interceptor - smarter pack sensors are not really the issue. Suppose that you give the game a spy theme and the Interceptor has a camera. If he gets a clear enough photo of any of the competitors, they're out. Does that work any better ?
[User Picture]
Date:October 13th, 2002 03:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Cool Stuff !

Now that's a fantastic phrase which I hadn't come across for about six months and of which I needed to be reminded: wide game. A Google has proved fascinating and fruitful. Many thanks.

Why should wide games be restricted to children? For that matter, why should most of them be so derivative and frequently combative? Is there a useful distinction between "wide game" and puzzle hunt"?

Could some sort of entertainment centre which prided itself upon its relative emphasis upon accessible wide games work as a business proposition? Could, say, paintball players (who, I perceive, generally fancy themselves as rough-and-tumble up-for-everything types) be interested in playing a wider variety of interesting games?

The Entros model - restaurant + interesting games - didn't work. (Lookit! Lookit!) Something should, though.
[User Picture]
Date:October 13th, 2002 03:41 pm (UTC)

Re: Cool Stuff !

Spy Interceptor: well, you're getting back to Wanted territory. The "clear enough" metric may be difficult to discern. However:

Suppose there were some sort of chase game in which contestants were dispatched wearing clothing upon which a phone number was printed. This clothing could not be tampered with. Members of the public who encountered the contestants could phone the number and (get into the draw to...?) claim some sort of reward. We might well get to see the contestants eye' view from mini cameras. There is some mechanism by which the crucial phone numbers are not transmitted over TV. (I'm thinking along the lines of polarised light here, but some sort of chromakey would probably work with rejigging, or painting the number in gloss on matt, or vice versa. Or something.)

Handwave, handwave, tweak, tweak. The devil is in the details, but the potential is definitely there.


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