Archive: Games

Big Game Hunting

We wanted this year’s Playful to be more interactive than ever. I spend far too much of my spare time designing board and card games, so it seemed like an interesting challenge to design something that could be played by everyone at Playful and which fitted this year’s theme of “Hidden”.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last year playing the hidden-role card game “One Night Ultimate Werewolf” (ONUW) which takes the classic party game “Werewolf” and condenses it down into an intense 5-minute experience without losing any of the negotiation, pleading and fun of the original.

Some of the role cards from One Night Ultimate Werewolf

Some of the role cards from One Night Ultimate Werewolf

ONUW has an interesting genesis. Social deduction card games have become all the rage over the last 5 years. Games like “The Resistance” and “Coup” had players trying to work out who was on their side, and what role (and therefore what abilities) they had. Japanese designers, especially Seiji Kanai, further distilled these ideas down into ‘microgames’ such as the multi-award-winning “Love Letter”, a game consisting of just 16 cards.

Some of the role cards from Love Letter

Some of the role cards from Love Letter

The Japanese designer Akihisa Okui applied this microgame ethos to Werewolf, and the idea was refined by American designer Ted Alspach, who made the inspired decision to add an app which played the narrator/moderator role (one of the annoying thing about the original Werewolf was that one person was required to sit the game out in order to play this role).  I could (and may!) write a whole blog just on dissecting a single game of ONUW. For now, suffice to say that I have never known a game that packs such a punch (and so much fun) into such a short space of time.

So for this year’s Playful I wanted to take some of these ideas and design a game that could be played by 300 or more people over the course of a day (we think this may well be the biggest card game ever played in the UK!). There are many interesting factors to take into account with this sort of game.  The three most difficult limitations are that you can’t really have a draw pile, you can’t have turn-taking (people need to be able to wander round and play with who they want in a completely ad-hoc manner) and you can’t have many rules – the game needs to be instantly understandable. You also want to avoid player-elimination, and ideally keep the victory conditions at least partly hidden (because you don’t want the game to be over in the first 5 minutes, or someone thinking that they’ve got a winning hand and then hiding for the rest of the day).  I had 5 or 6 ideas for games… some of the rejects are shown here.

First set of test cards.

In this game you have 2 or 3 cards and try to make the longest word possible. There wasn’t much incentive to swap cards once you’d made a word as it usually meant destroying the word you’d already made.
Second set of test cards.

In this game you try to match a sequence of icons (these are actually symbols from Zener cards used for testing ESP) which are revealed one at a time over an hour or two. This was fun until people realised that there was no way someone was going to trade a card with a partial match.
Third set of test cards.

We tried the icon match game again with more lines (and therefore more ways of matching longer sequences) and a subway-map aesthetic, but it was just too confusing and still suffered from the ‘why trade?’ problem.
Fourth set of test cards.

This version ‘borrowed’ ideas from Lucas Pope’s amazing indie video game Papers, Please. Players swap cards trying to find a matching set of papers (and one in which there are no other ‘mistakes’ such as expired visa dates or mismatched serial numbers). This was good fun on a small-scale test, however we decided not to pursue it because of the amount of work in producing around 1000 unique cards, and the fact that there was no easy way of testing whether the game would work when scaled up to 300+ players. (Of course we would have changed the graphics/theme from Papers, Please if we had decided to take this beyond prototype stage)
Fifth set of test cards.

These are a few of the cards from the prototype for the game we finally went with. It uses some of the ideas from Love Letter, but changes and extends them so that the game will work in a free-form, simultaneous format and scale to hundreds of players.
Near final test card.

Near-final version for one of the cards for our Hidden game.

But in the end, after several playtesting sessions (though it’s difficult trying to extrapolate from 5 testers to at least 300 players), I returned to the design that is closest to social deduction microgames such as “Love Letter” and its ‘sequel’ “Lost Legacy” – though it’s very different to either of those games, to allow for the limitations described earlier, and the game has over 600 cards rather than 16! I’d like to explain it in more detail here, but I think the game will be more fun if people don’t know the rules in advance, so we’ll save the detailed description for another blog after the event (along with an analysis of how successful – or otherwise – the game was!).

A few tickets are left for Playful: buy yours now.

Cold Sun – The rain wont stop play

We are just approaching the final phase of research into a game called Cold Sun. This is still very much in the realms of a prototype, however the initial results both from the point of view of the graphics and the game play are very promising.

The initial idea emerged from a drunken conversation with Canadian developer Jesse Blum and Mudlark founding member Rachel Jacobs while working in Brazil in 2012. We were doing some experiments in a farmhouse in the rainforest outside Rio de Janeiro, the isolation was quite profound, we were 3 hours walk from the nearest road.

The Game Intro Screen

We started riffing on –  what if you woke up alone in a place like this with the rain coming down hard, as it does a lot in this part of Brazil. A lone survivalist, having to piece together what had happened to the world while they were asleep. This is such a classic trope so beloved of games and movies – the loner who wakes to find themselves in a world changed beyond compare. But what was attractive was not only this classic narrative structure but also how weather could play a vital part. Our time in the farmhouse was hampered daily by the pattern of heavy weather, sometimes it was so heavy it seemed to affect peoples dreams. So we wondered if there was a way we could create a game where real weather data was essentially invading the imaginary universe of a game. We also liked the idea of the player being unsure of who they are in the game. Neither male or female, man or beast, they must survive in order to find out the truth of who they are.

What we have come up with is a mobile game that takes real-time weather data from a player’s location and amplifies it in a game universe where climate change has drastically changed everything. Challenging the player to think adaptively, notice weather changes around them in the real world in order to plan their next move in the game.


The text adventure in survival mode

Our research has taken us on many journeys into many approaches as to how you might build a game like this. We have gathered research with a number of partners including Lancaster University, Anglia Ruskin University and Candace Howarth a climate scientist currently working with the Department for the Environment. We have been given insight into stark futures of climate change and have factored some of this thinking into our game world. Topically this information is what is informing recent news reports about the future of the British climate.

Infinite runner in dream mode

We have distilled the research into a game that has 2 modes – dream and survival mode. In survival mode the character has awoken to find themselves on the point of death, they must make decisions in what is essentially a text adventure, to stay alive. Barely able to move and in their confusion and weakened state they pass out frequently at this point the game switches mode to dream mode. In this mode the game becomes an infinite runner where they have to dodge enemies and jump across strange spheres. In both modes aspects of the game play whether it is narrative features or game parameters are influenced by the state of the weather outside the players window.

 

We are releasing the game to a test audience in the next few months, they will test (alongside ratings of levels of fun and engagement) whether they feel a heightened awareness of the real weather as a result of playing the game. Bring on the rain!

Tea Wars

Tea Wars is a game for the office – a fun and fast-paced multiplayer game to settle the eternal debate about whose turn it is to make the tea.


Tea Wars cards, new for 2014.

We designed the game in 2009, when one of our number always said “Yes please” when offered a cuppa, but was never the one to offer. Hence, rather than ask everyone in the room if they want a cup of tea, we now ask them if they want one enough to fight for it.

It’s like Noughts & Crosses meets Battleships, and we’ve play-tested it many thousands of times over the years. And it still works! It gets everyone emotionally invested in the click of the kettle. It fills the office with banter and strategy. It levels the playing field when it comes to kitchen manners.

Each player picks a square, then take it in turns to try and ‘bomb’ other people by naming a square they think someone else is on, e.g “C2!”. Whoever gets bombed first, makes the tea. Boom!


This is how James plays, marking where the others ‘bomb’ to notice patterns.

To celebrate the game’s staying power in our daily lives, we’ve published a set of limited edition Tea Wars card decks so you can experience it too.

In each pack are 50 ‘grid cards’ with which to play (one card per player, good for up to six games). These double up as ‘order cards’ so that the loser can accurately fulfill everyone’s hot drink desires. There are some handy instructions for new players, too.


Pen not included.

If you’d like the chance to bring the battle to your place of work (with a free deck of Tea Wars Cards), tweet us @wearemudlark (including the hashtag #teawars) to tell us how you feel persecuted by the drink orders of your colleagues, housemates, family or friends.

Going Off the Rails

So 2014 is here. A time to reflect on some of the research projects we have been doing in the margins of 2013.

In June Mudlark received funding from the TSB Feasibility Study fund to look at tracking user travel behaviour with the view to building game logic around it. This was a bit of parallel research designed to compliment our previous work on Chromaroma by extending the game beyond the constraints of fixed infrastructure in the form of smart cards and RFID terminals in stations and on buses.

We wanted to explore how a user or player could get an enhanced history of their travel in London and beyond by monitoring their movement and transport habits over time.

We were aware of the success of the Moves app and the effortless way it tracks the different modes of travel from walking, cycling, running and transport. It does it with a near miraculous level of accuracy. We wanted to go a step further and see if we could create a more granular level of detail than is provided in the “transport” type of Moves. We believed by developing our own system we could tease out the fine distinction between: train, underground, bus and car.

Working with the School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science at Queen Mary University we made this happen by utilising and combining sensors and data available on current smartphones – GPS, Accelerometer. We developed an Android App based on a unique algorithm that measures movement patterns and corrects errors in classification through analysis of user movement patterns over small segments of time.


User Interface of Test Android App

Our feasibility test around East London in December with 5 test subjects using Bus, Train, Underground and Cycle, correctly identified transport mode shift of the user with an overall accuracy of 78.5%. This was an amazing outcome for something that was basically only working with the data being generated by the phone from the testers movements.

We also wanted to augment the sensor algorithm with online look-ups of live transport data. To test this aspect we did quick development that used aspects both of the Moves API and the Transport API (a service which provides user routing on the UK’s transport network’s). We took my Moves data generated on my Iphone and then ran queries on the start and end points of journeys with Transport API’s routing service. This produced remarkably accurate predictions of user journey type down to Bus route or train line.
We ran across some issues with it falsely choosing bus instead of train and vice versa. We discovered accuracy was increased by choosing the fastest journey in any list of possible routes between A and B. This would obviously not always be the case. A user may choose slower journeys and so a future addition would include a method to track likely routes based on a user’s past history of travel and how often they may have travelled that route in the past.


Interface showing “Moves” journeys and the journey type predictions

We came to the conclusion that by combining the App with a query of the Transport Api we could reproduce a user’s journey on any transport type in the UK with a high level of accuracy. We hope to explore this more with a future iteration of the app and also integrate some game play in the mix. Watch this space as this develops during 2014.

Month Links: February 2013

Hello, March – it”s really good to see you. It”s been a while. It feels like I hardly got to know February, before it spirited away for another year.

Still, in those brief twenty-eight days, we kicked off three new pieces of work as well as continued work on a good half-dozen live projects. Good, busy days with some exciting things on the go. In the quieter moments, here”s a bunch of things we found interesting and provided happy diversions.

Olafur Eliasson, Model For A Timeless Garden.

- The Light Show at Hayward Gallery is a marvel, and really worth sticking your head in. Even if just for the Eliasson piece above.

- One of the best things so far this year is one of the smallest and simplest: Jargone. Jargone is a bookmarklet that scans websites for jargon language and suggests common, day-to-day alternatives. It”s made by Roo Reynolds and is an excellent by-product of the dedication to simple, clear, quality work being done within Government Digital Service.

- Continuing the “doing simple well” thread, James has gone back to Twitter”s post from last summer about their process in overhauling their mobile site. It”s easy for us to advocate mobile first practices, but how do you go about that when you have half a billion users and thousands of devices to serve across the world?

- We”ve been enjoying the open epistolography of Hubbub”s Recess! project – a published discourse around games between Kars, Alper and Niels.

Asshole Mario 3, Stage 1.

- Die Gute Fabrik”s Doug did a “best games of 2012″ end of year post. Normally you”d expect a top ten of indie, AAA and folk games, but Doug”s list is a brilliantly of 2012 – specific moments of play that stuck out. From a trampoline-controlled mod of Proteus to competitive yoga and the Hokra “world championships”. All incredibly exciting and envy-creating.

- Our thoughts have started about 2013: what it is, what it will look like, who we”d like to speak, things we”d like to hear more about. It”s an exciting bit of the project, the first flushes of romance before the realisation that oh god 400-odd people are expecting a good time. As ever, we”ll be looking for interesting ideas and cold hard cash for sponsorship – so get in touch if you have either of those things.

- A few times I”ve caught James making some odd movements in the corner of my eye; he has been playing with the Responsive Typography demo by Marko Dugonjić. It”s an interesting project, and feels like it touches the ideas about Perceptive Media, not just a straight up “responsive” approach.

- In other face-tracking news, the brilliant Henry Cooke has created Faces In The Cloud – a thing mixing computer vision and humans” tendencies to pareidolia.

Sruli Recht A/W 13, Runway Presentation.

It”s been an excellent month for apocalypse fans, the best since December. I read a very cold, but beautiful, collection of graphic short stories recently published by Fantagraphics, Beta Testing The Apocalypse. It”s part Ballard, part design fiction, part straight up comics. Never seen architecture used so well as a character in comics.

- Channel 4 have put out plenty of paranoid drama lately, in the form of Utopia (eugenicists, preppers & conspiracy theorists) and Black Mirror“s pop-apocalypse of glowing rectangles.

- Utopia led me to this excellent article in the NYT about TEOTWAWKI (“the end of the world as we know it”) and the prepper scene in New York. Particularly interesting in the post-Sandy context.

- Black Mirror (for all of its many, many, many failings) has provoked a few discussions in the studio. One of particular interest is its approach to interaction design, which seems at times insightful (who doesn”t want the curved digital drawing board?) and sloppy (the mixed metaphors of tactile and gestural interactions clearly come from a Surface Tablet user).

- Black Mirror is interesting in terms of how non-designers are designing interactions that are eventually adopted. That has seen us revisiting the excellent post by Einar about wifi in Sherlock, an interesting read about how Minority Report has locked people into bad IxD, obligatory Dan Hill post about world building, as well as this wonderful blog looking at HUDS and GUIs in film/games. All of which is very helpful for unnamed project #2.

AND FINALLY

To advance the cause of the world, Al Gore wants you spam climate change deniers.

- Things that have been in our ears: , , .

- A great reason to get a Little Printer from BERG.

- A blogging platform designed for transience.

- Richard took the black, in his “finest” Sean Bean accent.

- An archive for a classic of Modernist design, Vignelli”s NYC TA Standards Manual.

- A “mood data sculpture” that waters (or not) a Rose of Jericho based on scraped feelings.

- Machine manuals out emo tumblr users.

- A nice bit of IoT that processes a lot of complex data to let you know the best route to work.

- Russell”s back in café”s, revisiting some of his greatest hits.