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Tuesday September 26, 2006

three days worth of Big Urban Games

So, I spent most of the weekend running around the city testing out some of the Big Games that were featured as part of the Come Out and Play festival.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, read this:

A few years ago I was involved in this thing called PacManhattan which was basically a giant game of Pac Man played around Washington Square Park. The idea was to take the concepts behind traditional game design and blow them out - huge gameboards, hundreds of players, games that last for days. The stuff we were working on, combined with a handful of other people thinking and experimenting with large-scale, real-world games fueled some of popularity behind a this genre of "Big Urban Games" (which, more often than not, are amazingly fun and totally change your perception of familiar urban spaces). Anyway, this past weekend, some of the PacManhattan alumn and other ITP superstars put on a Big Urban Games festival called "Come Out and Play" - three days worth of people running around in the streets playing games.

Okay, so over the weekend I got to test out five of the 30 (?) games. Here's a run-down:



#1. Space Invaders 2006 (Friday 8p)

Take Space Invaders, project it on the side of a building so that the screen becomes five stories tall and then add some range-finders and video-tracking that allows a player to control the ship by running around - run left and the spaceship moves left, right and the ship moves right, wave your arms and the ship fires. Awesome (and done by Hawk.H from ITP!)

#2. Cruel 2 Be Kind (Saturday 12:30p)

The one-sentence pitch: "kill your enemies with kindness". 116 people opted in to play (!!) which became 58 teams of two. Each team was assigned a weapon and a weakness via text messaging - a phrase you'd say to other teams to kill them or which other teams would say to kill you. Upon killing a team, they'd join your group and you'd inherit their weakness.

Will McD and I teamed up and got assigned "Have a spectacular day" as our weapon and "Get cheered on in a big way" as our weakness. The game board was 10 blocks (48th Street -> 58th Street on Broadway) and with 116 players it was tough to tell if the people on the street were players or tourists. Well designed, as the game had that perfect mix of sneaking looks at people ("are they tourists or players?"), awkwardness ("oops, they're tourists") and reward ("we caught 5 groups and expanded from 2 people to 20"). Read more here. Also, Joystik recap.



We took an early detour from Cruel 2 Be Kind (btw, we had picked up Christian by this point) and jumped in a cab towards Pier 40 to check out Crossroads, Kevin + Frank's GPS phone game (which is being featured as part of The Good Life exhibit exploring play + public spaces).



While Kevin + Frank gave us the pitch, we checked out the rest of the stuff on display at Good Life - most of which was existing or future-planned architecture... [photo credit: Bradley Walker]



... which normally isn't my thing (me = dumb about architecture), but check out this skate park that is being designed in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Seriously, the whole water-park-as skate-park reminds me of something out of SSX. (Randy, didn't you have some video of kids skating here.... or maybe that was an actual abandoned water park? Huh.)

... and this Mountain Project (Denia Cultural Park) gooing on in Denia, Spain. Looks like they replaced the topology of the original hill and replaced it with a man-made mountain that doubles as a public park. (Did I get that right?)



Oh, so Crossroads:

#3. Crossroads (Saturday 1p)

Two-players, each given a GPS phone and set free in a 4 x 6 grid of West Village streets. The goal is to capture as many intersections as possible. Intersections are captured by standing on a street corner for ~30 seconds with your GPS phone. Once the phone registers that you're actually there, you then "own" the intersection.

There were four of us, so we split into two teams: me + McD vs. Christian + Alba (Mike Sharon's gf).



As you move around, you can actually see your icon (sun or moon - we were the moon) move around with you. Slick, since this is the first time I've ever actually witnessed GPS tracking tech working as promised ("Hey, my dot moves with me on this map!"), but ever slicker as the experience is wrapped within a metaphor designed for the game (sun + moon = Mardi Gras theme?)

Now as you're running around collecting intersections, you need to be conscious of the other players' location as they can recapture your intersections. Each intersection is worth a point (seen in the upper left) and the team with the most points at the end of 30 minutes wins. The wildcard is that skull icon ("The Barron") which is a make-believe player that wanders around the game board flipping the ownership of intersections (and often evening the score pretty quickly).



I'm a huge fan of Big Games that ask you to engage/ explore a public space but to do so in a frantic, non-exploratory mindset (er, PacManhattan). Will and I were literally running from intersection to intersection - dodging cars + people + pets - in at attempt to collect as many intersections as possible. Here's a quick video of us running around W 10th Street (ironically, right past my old apt), which unfourtinately ends just as we pass these people on a corner who are like "Er, what are you guys doing?".

Will tries to give them the pitch before we were like, "Gotta run, The Barron is right behind us!" (um, the make-believe ghost, remember?). [video]



ps: We won. Alba and Christian claimed they ran outside the map border and the app crashed. Whatever(, sore losers). [photo credit: Bradley Walker]

ps2: You I think you can play till the end of the week (Oct 3) so check it out.



#4. Manhattan Mini Putt (Saturday 4p)

A MiniGolf course that's about 20 blocks long? Sure! Too bad we got there too late to sign-up (no more putters left). We watched for a bit as people whacked the Nerf golf balls down 7th Street but then decided to just get something to eat (Tiny's!).



Fast forward through a nap and some college football and I headed back to EyeBeam (Come Out and Play's HQ) for a 7pm panel featuring some brand name game-design superstars (Jane McG, Frank Lantz, Katie Salen). I took notes...



... and then ran off into the Make Out Room with Xtina. EyeBeam has this exhibit of time-lapse video of Manhattan landscapes on display till the end of October (Oct 21). Each of those colored screens in the background is a 10 x 20 projected video - each of which is pretty amazing. Go check this out too.



Post EyeBeam, me + the Glowlab Girls hit up the Nokia afterparty down at Chelsea Brewing. Three free drinks, some free pasta and five chicken wings later, Sara convinced some biz dev guy to let her walk off with this Spliter Cell statue (girls = nerds). Some nice lady from Capcom gave me her Street Fighter 2 themed business cards (me = nerd too).



What next? Took a cab downtown, met up w/ Kevin.K and crashed K1's birthday party. Had a little trouble finding the place due to some text-messaging address mixups. We eventually figured out that the apt with the half-empty 40oz brass monkey outside was prob our best bet.



Got to the roof just in time to catch Jonathan taking a do-over on a failed attempt to launch an empty bottle across the street onto the neighboring roof. With the throwing of bottles *now banned* from K1's roof (I'm sure there's a good story here - JJ $$$? Will McD?), Jay hand-selected a corn muffin to approx match the official weight of said bottle.

Here, JJ surveying the challenge.



... and, defeat. For the record I predicted that the muffin would crumble apart as it decended from its arc. Yee-haw for Frat Boy Science Fridays Saturdays!



And next! To Akshay's Penthouse party. No pics of the MIT kids roughing up the guy in the mustard costume. Next time.

This pic? Reasons why you shouldn't ask us to keep an eye on your fancy phone.



And Sunday, day three of the Big games marathon brings us to...

#5. Payphone Warriors (Sunday 12p)

My favorite of the five. Five teams of four, each played armed with $2.25 in quarters. The goal is to capture as many payphones as possible on a 4 x 3 grid (just off Washington Square park) by placing calls from those phones (when you place a call, you have to enter your three-digit team id). Once you capture a phone, it starts spitting out points for your team (1 point / minute), though if you abandon the phone another team can reclaim it. Awesome as it's got the perfect mix of strategy, running around like mad and being a nusance to pedestrians on the street.

Me + Christian formed a team with two other kids. Our main goal was to *destroy* the Dream Team consisting of Frank (prof) + Mattia + Greg (game organizers) and Daniel.T (reporter). I had played Payphone Warriors last year when I was a guest critic for Frank's Big Games class at ITP, so I had a little bit of strategic advantage to pass onto my team (#1. don't blow through your quarters too fast).



After 25 minutes, winners announced. I don't think I need to tell you who won when I've got this pic of a reporter interviewing Christina Christian on his winning strategy. We also got a shoutout in CNet's coverage of the game (sweet).

And that's it. Grabbed brunch w/ JJ post-game to check out his new moustache (or rather, lack of monstache). Took a nap. Watched the Pats game. Ate at Schillers. Took another nap. Action packed Sunday!


Tue 9/26 @ 11:37 AM | # link| Comments (3)
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