Our Latest Work
We’ve made a lot of progress recently on the Super Going iPhone app, and it’s looking great.
It’ll be our first mobile application and it improves a lot on the current web-only interface, making Super Going easy to play anywhere. You’ll be able to choose missions and complete them right on the phone, and we’re adding in a mission-of-the-day feature for the indecisive. We’re looking for beta testers to try it out – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.
The situated games we design are simpatico with smartphones, and it’s cool to finally explore the possibilities. We want to come up with innovative ways to use GPS and compass functionality as part of games, and hopefully incorporate those features into Super Going. But we are also mindful that the technology is only a means to an end, and that our games must be fun without demanding that you stay glued to the screen to play.
The Wanderers Union 8Z this past Saturday took 26 intrepid wanderers through El Cerrito, Richmond, Berkeley, Albany and Kensington.
You may be wondering why all these people are holding celery stalks. We sent them up to the Little Farm in Tilden Park to feed the animals!
We put on these events to encourage people to take time to explore the incredible variety of spaces around them, in a manner that is not constrained by ordinary routes, errands, or the desire to get “somewhere” in particular. We use what we learn from Wanderers Union in all our other games and projects that involve public space. The moments of discovery, the empowered self-direction, and the benefits of physicality inform our work.
Every single time we organize a Wandering, we find incredible environments hidden in plain sight. These places confirm our mission to promote play and discovery in the real world, instead of focusing on virtual worlds or screen-based play.
The Situate Expeditionary Force is traveling to Austin March 9-14 for a panel on Journey to the End of the Night, followed by the first ever game of Journey in Texas. It’s going to be an exciting, crazy to place to run a Journey, and we’ve assembled a crack team and designed an awesome course. Come to the panel, and play the game!
If you’ll be in Austin, get in touch via Twitter and we can meet up.
All games strive to create an engrossing atmosphere that pulls you into the world of the game, whether it’s the helicopter sounds and realistic blood in Call of Duty or the fantasy art in Dungeons & Dragons. Games that do this well create powerful, memorable experiences for players. Street games have a unique advantage in this respect, because the settings they employ are real rather than virtual. The player is quite literally immersed in the game world, using all five senses to absorb information and make strategic decisions. The setting has the power to create an atmosphere and tension that doesn’t just *seem* real, but *is* real. It’s a powerful tool that is too often overlooked in street game design, in favor of rules and interactions that are designed to take place in a “generic” space. In this post, I’ll discuss how atmosphere and setting can guide design, through the lens of the survival horror game Strawberry Hill, which Sam and I put on at the 2010 Come Out & Play festival in San Francisco.
First, I want to say that I’m not against field games that are designed to be played in a park or other generic open space. I’m just FOR games that embrace the “situated” quality that is special to real-world games – those games that, rather than seeking out a blank canvas, use existing neighborhoods, businesses, transit systems and people to build a world. I love games that allow me to have a new experience in a place I’ve been to many times before, or games that take me somewhere I never would have visited otherwise. For me, these “situated games” transcend the artificial divisions between spaces designated for work, play, or commerce. They also, at their best, minimize any need for self-conscious imagination. The player is deeply immersed and reacts on the level of the unconscious, experiencing the space as holistically part of the game experience.
Strawberry Hill’s genesis is in my love for survival horror video games like Resident Evil. I played these games a lot as a teenager. Resident Evil’s intent is to scare you, to make you dread what’s around the next corner. You are completely on your own in a haunted house full of grotesque zombies and mutant dogs. You have extremely limited resources with which to survive. I turned off all the lights while I played to create the perfect atmosphere. Sometimes I shrieked when a monster surprised me by clinging to the ceiling, or emerging from a sewer grate.
I thought, how would I make a real-world survival horror game?
The setting was crucial. It had to be scary, and had to make players feel isolated, while still being easily accessible for Come Out & Play. I wanted it to combine a natural wooded environment with human buildings, just like the Resident Evil games. It had to have some kind of boundaries so that players would not wander outside the play area. I knew the game would be played at night (the original concept was that it would start at midnight, but that wasn’t practical).
Sam and I began looking around Golden Gate Park, and almost immediately happened upon Strawberry Hill, an island in the middle of Stow Lake. It was love at first sight. The play area is entirely enclosed by water, with only two stone bridges as exits. The island itself is a hill that extend a couple hundred feet up. There is a creepy fenced-in man-made lake in the middle, as well as a man-made waterfall. The island is inhabited by all variety of skunks, ducks and crows, and there are subtle but creepy signs that people may be sleeping there as well (although after visiting several nights, I don’t believe this to be the case).
Just being on Strawberry Hill at night is a special experience. The fact that it’s in the middle of an urban area makes it even more unique. In fact, while we were playing Strawberry Hill at Come Out & Play, the Giants clinched the pennant, and San Francisco erupted in noise – screams, shouting, cheering, honking. Players commented that it was as if zombie apocalypse had taken over the city. It was the type of happy coincidence that frequently occurs when a situated game is in the position to absorb and highlight environmental changes in a positive way. The light rain during Strawberry Hill was another example of this – it added a creeping gloom to the game experience and enhanced the setting, rather than detracting (as it might have from a game meant only for generic sunny conditions).
Strawberry Hill’s flavor worked to synergize with the setting and atmosphere. The game was vampire-themed: players had to protect themselves by finding stakes and garlic hidden around the island, while avoiding vampires lying in wait. Their overall goal was to find three “vampire organs” cached in challenging locations like nooks in trees or under rocks. The players used flashlights and headlamps, creating tunnels of light where they couldn’t see anything in the darkness around the edges. The vampire flavor brought together the setting with the props and roles to create a single experience in the mind of players, and made rules easier to understand (e.g. “you kill a vampire with a stake”, instead of “you kill an attacker with a token”).
I think as this form of gaming expands we’ll see more and more games that are tied to specific places and settings, and that’s a great thing. My hope is that pervasive game designers will select out-of-the-ordinary settings that synergize well with their game, and will utilize real spaces to add a unique experiential layer on top of the gameplay. The game I’ve played that did this the best is definitely the Games of Nonchalance, which used all sort of incredible real environments like office buildings, parking lots, alleys, stores, and parks to create an extremely special interactive narrative experience.
I hope that more designers will follow in their footsteps, and for those of you who do, I want to be the first to play your games.
Thanks to everyone who came on Saturday to the Wanderers Union 4Z!
We had 63 finishers, making it our largest wandering yet.
The course focused on the southern portion of San Francisco, taking us to City College, Mt. Davidson, the outer Mission and Portola.
It was an incredible start to the season. We’re couldn’t be more excited for the 8Z in March and the rest of the events we have planned for 2012. Thank you to Tyler Nguyen, Jackie Hasa, Orion Kellogg, and Yoshi Salaverry, who helped plan this event and are working on the future wanderings as well.
Here are a few more pictures from the day, taken by intrepid Wanderers:
There are variety of ArtGameLab missions to do, some of which take place at SFMOMA and others that can be done anywhere. Players have created some great missions of their own online, and on physical cards in person as well, which we’ll be picking up tomorrow and adding to the game.
All in all, the first couple weeks have been fun and we’re looking forward to adding more missions to the game as new exhibitions open up.
Sam (@sam_lavigne), Yoshi and I (@iankizublair) planned out the course today for the 4Z wandering on Saturday, February 18. It’s gonna be swell. Explore the southern expanse of San Francisco over the course of a leisurely 4 hour walk, possibly with some bus rides thrown in.
Meet at noon at Pebble’s Cafe across the street from Glen Park BART.
Check out the Wanderers Union website for more info on the event.
Do you like extremely long walks? Then join us for the 2012 season of Wanderers Union, our non-competitive long-distance wandering club.
During a Wanderers Union event you are tasked with reaching a certain number of Zones by foot or public transit within a time limit. In the 4Z (or 4-zone) Wandering you must reach 4 out of 5 possible zones within 4 hours. In the 8Z you have 8 hours to reach 8 zones, and so on. Wanderers Union is loosely based on randonneuring, a French style of self-supported long-distance cycling. Last year’s 3 events were incredibly fun and edifying and I’m even more excited for this season.
I’ve just re-launched the Wanderers Union website where you can find the 2012 schedule, maps of old courses and learn more about the philosophy of the club.
We’ll be having four events this year (one per month), starting with a four-hour wandering on February 18th at noon, and ending with an epic 24-hour experience on May 19th.
These events capture the Bay Area in a way no other experience can. More details to follow, including the start location of the first event.
|Event||Date||Start Time||Time Limit|
|4Z||Sat 2/18/2012||Noon||4 hours|
|8Z||Sat 3/17/2012||Noon||8 hours|
|12Z||Sat 4/14/2012||Noon||12 hours|
|24Z||Sat 5/19/2012||8PM||24 hours|
We launched Super Going at SFMOMA’s ArtGameLab exhibition on Saturday. The opening reception brunch was great – we met the designers of some of the other games in the exhibition and played their games. Fun! Thanks to all our awesome friends and Super Going players who came out.
I really enjoyed Dialogues in Motion, by Ben Carpenter and Sudhu Tewari, which involved listening in to the conversations of other visitors to the museum and making gestures when you hear keywords. Jackie and I captured words like “space” and “intensity.” It was fun trying to determine where certain words were likely to come up, like “scale” in the Richard Serra exhibition.
And of course I loved The Peculiar Scholarship of Dr. Bedcannon, by the Elsewhere Philatelic Society. These mad geniuses (including a former SFZero player) are continuing the work of Nonchalance and the amazing Sara Thacher with a very cool ARG experience at SFMOMA. I was lucky enough to playtest it, and I had a blast.
Head over to SFMOMA to check out all the games, and be sure to play Super Going at SFMOMA.
Journey to the End of the Night has continued to grow and change throughout the past 5 years, and the Halloween 2011 game was the largest yet with 1,800 players. It was as enormous, crazy and chaotic as that number of players would lead you to believe. We were armed only with dedicated volunteers and hard-won experience.Yet in the end we pulled it off and had one of the best games yet, thanks to a few strategic rules changes. In this post, I’ll talk about those changes and scaling a real-world game as it grows.
Here’s the TL;DR, if you don’t have time to read the in-depth post:
- The non-linear course was great. It reduced lines at checkpoints and players enjoyed the additional strategic dimension.
- The resurrection point caused an unforeseen problem – all the initial taggees went to be resurrected, causing a lack of chasers for the first 30-60 minutes of the game. This problem was solved by quick thinking by Rubin (@rubin110) at the resurrection point, who made players get two ribbons (tag two other players) before they could be resurrected.
- The chaser killer was not effective because too many players were unaware of the new rule. If we want to use the chaser killer again, we will need multiple chaser killers in distinctive costumes who are introduced before the game starts, so players know to fear them.
I’ll assume that readers are familiar with the rules/gameplay of Journey. If not, you can read about them here.
Ever since it was first played in 2006, Journey has been designed with a linear course. Why? Because in the original concept, you must survive an impossibly challenging “journey” from one place to another, like an adventure hero (think Frodo). The first course started at the Ferry Building in San Francisco and ended roughly 10 miles later at a bonfire on Ocean Beach. We loved the bay-to-beach symmetry. We loved that it takes you across the whole city. It fit perfectly into the high concept of the player experience. In terms of goals, a linear course gives players bite-sized known objectives. They have certainty about where they need to go next. It simplifies the gameplay. It makes a lot of sense.
Now add over 1,000 players. All of a sudden, the early checkpoints are swamped with hundreds of players at a time, all of them clamoring to get a signature and get out on the course again. The players form lines. Then they wait in the lines, sometimes for 15-20 minutes, sometimes longer. Waiting in lines is not fun at all. We frequently couldn’t get in communication with the volunteers at the checkpoints because they were too swamped to pick up the phone. That meant that we couldn’t dispatch people to help out with the crowd. If we signed people through too efficiently at early checkpoints, later ones would get swamped with masses too.
Our first solution was to split the first checkpoint into a 1A and 1B, and let the players pick one. This worked to relieve the stress at checkpoint 1, but put a lot of stress on checkpoint 2. At Rubin’s Journey in June 2011, he also created 2A and 2B. The lines were not too bad at that game, but I did have to wait for about 15 minutes at checkpoint 3.
The idea of a non-linear course has been around for a while. I believe that Survive DC may have done one first, and I talked to one of the organizers Thomas about it. Anyhow, we had reservations about doing it because we were worried that people wouldn’t know where to go, and that the experience would lose the “journey” feel. Additionally, designing a non-linear course is challenging, especially when the start location borders a body of water like Justin Hermann Plaza.
However, we decided that with an expected crowd of up to 2,000, we needed to adopt a creative solution and make the non-linear checkpoints work. It also had the added benefit of keeping the route design fresh for us – things can get a little routine after running the game in San Francisco so many times. This benefit should not be overlooked when iterating a game that you’ve worked on for years, as keeping it fresh and exciting for yourself is the key to continuing to grow the event. Sometimes change for the sake of change can be a good thing, since a happy designer creates happy players.
Here’s the course:
We tried to design a course that would allow players to make meaningful strategic decisions about what order to visit the checkpoints. There are many viable ways to get between the closest four checkpoints (LP/PP/FW/BT). If you are killed in this area, you are going to be relatively close to R, the resurrection point, and will get a second chance at surviving. The final two checkpoints, MG and the endpoint, are fairly linear, and most players visited MG last (not all however!).
From anecdotal player feedback, they really enjoyed the added strategic dimension to the game. They were given a lot more freedom over their movements, and many players eagerly told me about the clever routes they’d come up with to evade chasers. In my opinion, Journey has always been one of the more strategic street games around, and adding more strategy seemed to be a good thing (at least for players who reached the end – I didn’t talk to a lot of players out on the course).
How did it impact the checkpoint lines? It was GREAT for reducing the load at checkpoints. All of the volunteers running checkpoints reported that they were never overwhelmed by traffic, and were able to keep lines to a minimum. With 1,800 players at the October 2011 game, that’s a major success.
Overall, the non-linear course was a success and I think we’ll do it again in the future.
Every single time we run Journey, we try to figure out ways to get the survival rate higher. We want people to make it to the end and win! However, we don’t want to diminish the visceral thrill of being chased and caught. All of the possible solutions we’ve come up typically sacrifice some of this thrill.
We’ve done mobile safe zones (under an umbrella), get out of chasing cards (give to a chaser, they have to pause for 30 seconds during which time you can escape), and resurrection points. In the past, they have been very involved and never on the manifest. We decided to do it in a much more straight-forward fashion this year. It appeared on the map, so players could find it easily – in the past, they had to get a clue from a checkpoint.
The resurrection point this year was a classic case of unintended consequences.
I got a call about 40 minutes into the game from the checkpoint at Fisherman’s Wharf.
“There are players here already who said they haven’t seen any chasers. They’ve already been to two other checkpoints.”
This was a first in Journey. Usually we are dealing with having too many chasers, not too few. I quickly realized that the players who had been tagged by our initial chasers must be going to the resurrection point rather than chasing anyone. As the initial chasers are told to tag only a small handful of players at the start, there was probably no one chasing out on the course. This was a huge problem since being chased is the most fun part of the game, and we didn’t want people finish without even seeing a chaser.
I called Rubin at the resurrection point and sure enough, people had been coming to get resurrected. He thought fast and came up with the idea to make players bring two ribbons if they wanted to be resurrected. This would ensure that each resurrection would also create at least two kills, expanding the chaser base by creating the normal exponential growth of chasers throughout the game. This idea was crucial because we had about 200 resurrection ribbons to give away, and without the two ribbon policy, we could have had no chasers for a looooong time.
Once Rubin put this policy into place, the chaser population spread healthily through Chinatown and North Beach, and the vicious tagging characteristic of all past Journeys returned in force.
Other than this hiccup, the resurrection point was a hit. We had a 19.4% survival rate (350 out of 1,800), which is VERY good for Journey and higher than past years. Part of this was a short course, part of it may be attributable to the non-linear design, but most of it is probably the resurrection point.
One bonus note is that players who survived without being resurrected proudly told us at the end. It was an extra badge of honor to make it without resurrection. If we actually kept full logs of who finished, it would probably make sense to record this.
The chaser killer was the most fun new idea from this Journey, but the one that crashed and burned the hardest. It was first pioneered by Survive DC (with whom Sam and Sean will be presenting at SXSW in March), and worked great for them. Basically, the chaser killer can tag chasers, who are then permanently out of the game. They can also tag players. They are the force of ultimate chasing out on the course. But here a combination of large crowd, multitude of new rules and bad costuming doomed it.
The goal of having a chaser killer is twofold:
1. Disperse large groups of chasers so that players have a better chance of surviving areas crowded with chasers.
2. Scare chasers so that they are less complacent, and have dramatic tension in their game experience.
This year, as chaser killer, I failed in the first, and provided the second only to a very small number of chasers.
The biggest issue for me was that not many chasers actually knew the rules about the chaser killer. I would run up in my chaser killer costume, and they would be like, “Huh? Who are you?” What followed next was an awkward, clumsy “Read the rules!” interaction that ended with them saying, “So, uh, should I run away?” Bad bad bad bad bad gameplay.
Chasers have a very strong feeling of safety and invulnerability in Journey, because it contrasts so much with the experience of being a player. The chaser killer conflicts with that. Chasers will only feel scared and run away if they are sure that there’s a danger, a very obvious danger.
Next time, we need to have multiple chaser killers so that chasers have a higher probability of running into one. This will make them more aware of the rule, as other chasers will warn them. We need to present the chaser killers to the players at the beginning (“Watch out for these HORRIFYING CHASER KILLERS!”), and we need the chaser killers to be very visible in matching costumes.
The takeaway here for me is that not many players actually read the rules, beyond a simple understanding of the basic mechanics, and experience design needs to take that into account.
If you played in Journey Halloween 2011, or any Journey, or organized a Journey before, and have thoughts on the new rules, please comment below!