Week 242

We have been pursuing a project now officially called KEGANI with a friend in New York for the past couple of weeks. We hope to share a bit more about that but without giving too much away: we have set ourselves a brief to use our type of game design to tackle a specific social issue.

I spent most of the week working on AJI and we did a review of what we believe to be the final sprint for the app. We can then finally submit it to the app store and reveal something that you can actually play with.

We have two workshops over at CIID’s Summer School program about play and creativity which we think are going to be both very valuable and fun for those interested in these themes. One uses ‘Free to Play’ as a way to think about systems and get into game design. The other is an exploration to see what kind of new and unintended uses we can get out of “slideware” to further creativity and learn about design.

ITU

Then at the end of the week Kars was off to Copenhagen to teach at Miguel Sicart’s playful design course. Kars also dropped by CIID to talk about our workshops there and he caught a screening of work from the experimental imaging course given there by Matt Cottam and Timo Arnall. From what I gather he then had a great time spending his birthday weekend there as well. We are both rather fond of Copenhagen and welcome any opportunity to visit.

Urban Spree

Meanwhile in Berlin the A MAZE independent games festival happened as a part of Games Week Berlin. Thorsten and Lorenzo can be proud of their biggest edition yet. It seems to have turned into the go-to event for independent games makers in Europe. Lots of friends from the Netherlands and beyond were over and I managed to attend a couple of talks on Thursday morning.

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Week 241

An intense week, not in the last place because of Alper’s physical presence at the Utrecht studio for the whole week. It was time for another OKR review and we prefer to do those live in meatspace. As always, we graded ourselves, came to some harsh realisations and adjusted course accordingly. Building an applied game design studio unlike any other is no picnic, I can tell you. But still totally worth it.

(Actually, the day before, Sunday, I had also spent working. I assisted with getting the European project proposal about climate change for which we are a consortium partner ready for submission.)

On Tuesday we tested the tolerance of our studio-mates Tupil even further by bringing in Simon to spend a full day reviewing and working on AJI. We are so close to a beta release candidate I can smell it, but as always the final touches take the most effort. It was good to have the whole team onsite, though. We made real progress and got into some of the more gnarly bits of the thing’s design that really require close collaboration between all disciplines involved.

Continuing the trend of touching base with all the folks involved with our operation, we had our first conference call with our associates on Wednesday. Once we managed to get everyone into a Google hangout—which was more trouble than it should be—we had a very productive session sharing our plans for the immediate future and hearing about the same from Sebastian, Ianus and Joris. It’s pretty amazing having such a brain trust to bounce ideas off of. I look forward to seeing what we’ll do together in the future.

That evening we were visited by a group of young Dutch art critics who operate under the name Vuurlinie (“firing line”). Over the course of three hours we had a very stimulating debate about games, play, “digital culture” and so on with our work serving as background. We also demoed AJI and got some very encouraging responses.

Edwin Gardner using Standing during Vuurlinie visit to Vechtclub XL

The next day, Alper and I spent some time thinking about what direction to take in our collaboration with our NYC contact. Later that day we had another conference call, shared our ideas and decided we had come to the point where we are ready to outline one more formally and make it ready for grant application. We’re working on some pretty heavy subject matter in this project so it’s been a challenge to find an approach that is respectful but engaging at the same time.

We also had a visit from Niels to evaluate our work together on KAZUNOKO. Looking back on projects with clients and collaborators is a habit I think is important to maintain because it often leads to great ideas for how to do things differently the next time around. This session was no different.

Satisfied with our progress, Alper and I decided we could afford to take Friday off. We spent a few hours in The Village drinking too much coffee and playing Netrunner. Alper caught on quickly (this was his first game) and ended up snatching victory from me at the very last moment. Afterwards I needed an hour to come down from the adrenaline rush as a result.

Now with a vastly improved rig and four agendas scored

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Week 240

Last week was a solid week of more work on all the things we worked on the week before. The European proposal we are collaborating on is taking a lot of attention. AJI is continuing apace with what may very well be the penultimate sprint before the app goes to the store.

We wrote up our workshop at Lift 14 and we are preparing to publish one more video this week or next. The article with us on gamification in Vrij Nederland is available to read online now (in Dutch) over at their site.

Whiteboard installation: success

At the end of the week I caught a train to Amsterdam to check out our new digs in Vechtclub XL and attend our Q1 OKR review (hence the new whiteboard). I’ll be trying to catch up with as many people as I can while I am in the Netherlands over the course of the week.

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Playing with Rules workshop at Lift Conference Geneva 2014

We ran our “Playing with Rules” workshop at Lift Conference in Geneva earlier this year. We’d hosted it once before at Mozilla Festival and before that it was part of our consulting repertoire as an exercise for clients. Above is a video of the outcomes we had this time around.

In the weeknotes I link to above there are some takeaways already, but I thought it would be useful to document them here for posterity. We continue to be interested in running this as a workshop at future events, but we try to take iterative design to heart and change things about the format each time around.

In this case, we mainly focused on improving the on-boarding. We spent some time discussing the background of the game everyone started with; a variation of Pachisi known in NL as “Mens erger je niet!” (“Do not get annoyed, man!”). We also tried to create a common frame of reference for the admittedly slippery term “social issue”. Definitions are hardly ever useful, so we provided some description of the dynamics we’re interested in (conflict in society between various groups) and listed some obvious examples (unemployment, racism, widespread government spying, etc.)

Most importantly, we stepped through some example rules changes, which we took from the games created by players at Mozilla Festival. By simply showing the act of articulating a design goal, defining a rules change, playing the adjusted game and finally reflecting on the experience we got everyone on the same page as to the work part of the workshop. This is what we would be doing for the next few hours.

One thing I really like about our setup is that before we get started people can already join a table and start playing the game as it is. This is a superb ice breaker and a natural result of the workshop setup.

Looking back, what stood out for us were a few things:

The starter game might affect the issues participants are inclined to choose. For example, we had a game about road rage, which is a great fit for the setup of Parcheesi, because it already involves a race around the board. We’ve also seen quite a few games about immigration, which again are a good fit because you’re moving pawns from one area on the board into another area. It might be interesting to start from a different boardgame the next time around. Or demand from participants that they pick a theme that seems at odds with the game as it is.

Adapting a boardgame is a very effective way for novices to become acquainted with game design. It is also a great basis for getting comfortable with the notion of iterative design in general. Finally, making a game about a subject, in a diverse group, is an interesting way to facilitate a discussion. It focuses conversation on what can be expressed as systems and what can be modeled in a way that is directly experienceable. In this way, it’s an odd but effective way of rational thinking and empathy combined.

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Week 239

This week, like most recent ones before it, was mostly about AJI. We wrapped up a sprint focused on getting the website in shape, reviewed it and planned a new one. The next sprint is all about “fixing broken windows”. We also decided to start thinking about the story we would tell around the service. Finally, we reviewed Simon’s designs for the next major update of the app and website. The feedback boiled down to “less Adolf Hitler, more Dalai Lama”. AJI is about resistance, but the peaceful kind. Its “look” should reflect that. I expect we’ll need another sprint or two to get to a point where we are ready to invite friends to give AJI a spin and tell us what they think.

Besides this, the article about gamification by Kelli van der Waals was published in Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland. We’re pleased with the result. It’s a comprehensive review of the phenomenon and not blind to its problematic aspects. It also features an interesting case study of a gamification project for a steel factory, by Dutch applied games studio RANJ.

VN edition with article on gamification

Alper finished editing the footage we shot during the Playing with Rules workshop at Lift in Geneva. The video gives an impression of the games made by the participants. They were asked to adapt Parcheesi so that it would say something about a social issue of their choosing. As always, it’s interesting to see what issues are picked by participants, and the design choices they make along the way.

Conversations. Taking time for these is important and social media banter is no substitute. On Tuesday I was visited by Sam in the studio. We caught up over coffee and he subsequently spent the day using our spare desk. Our conversations helped me reflect on some of our recent work and the direction we might take next. And on Friday I had a nice chat with Tom over Skype. His work continues to be an inspiration to the studio so I always enjoy getting a sneak peek of what he’s up to next. It’s also super helpful to share what we’ve done and get his feedback on things.

Meanwhile, planning on future work continues. This includes a collaboration with a friend in NYC for which we had another call to pin down the direction of the project, with the intention of applying for a grant in the US. We were also approached to be part of an ambitious project related to climate change. It would be a great chance to use games to communicate about a many-sided issue, which I think they are great at. And finally, we’re working out the details of our contribution to the CIID summer school, which will be a great chance for us to work with the very talented students and faculty of the institute as well as sample the many great things Copenhagen has to offer.

Over the weekend, I continued to practice my Netrunner skills in a set of friendly matches with my wife (god bless her for indulging me). It turns out I am terrible at bluffing to my spouse. Alper, meanwhile, continued his Tough Mudder training at the local bouldering space.

5k run and then morning workout done (blue is happening!) #toughmudder

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Week 238

We are mostly working on AJI right now with lots of proposals and smaller engagements running in between. We are preparing a ton of things for the coming six months varying from new projects, to publications, exhibitions, presentations and teaching engagements around the world. Besides all of that we have also been enjoying the unexpectedly sunny weather in our industrial Utrecht studio and across Berlin-Kreuzberg.

Vechtclub XL lunch in the sun

The rest of the week was spent mostly on AJI which is shaping up nicely and we should be able to share stuff on that with more people and you soon.

Standing

Kars went to Amsterdam to discuss future prospects and we spent a lot of time calling both between us and with future collaborators. I visited some meetups here in Berlin to catch up with what’s happening in the local scene. We did a final review on an article for Dutch weekly Vrij Nederland that should be in stores this week. We think it has become a thorough and balanced piece on gamification and we are keen to see the response it receives.

Visual reference material on the floor during Energiehuis workshop

On Friday Kars went to Dordrecht to do a workshop together with W♥YW and in the weekend I met one of the founders of Ding Dong, an app that has been a Hubbub favorite of late.

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Week 237

On Monday I got several visits from friends, family and colleagues, all curious about my new workspace. It was enjoyable—we even played some Animal Upon Animal with Eelco’s kids—but not conducive to much productivity. I mainly did financial and administrative tasks.

Alper, meanwhile, returned from a much-deserved long weekend relaxing (and drinking coffee) in Oslo. He spent the day catching up on current affairs.

We reviewed the past week’s sprint for AJI the next day. We’ve been working in short, one-week sprints. This is a good way to stay nimble and only focus on the most pressing matters. Later that day, Simon joined us to plan the upcoming sprint focussing mostly on the website accompanying the app.

During most of this Kelli was present to observe how we work by listening in on our calls. I also spent another few hours talking to her about other projects such as CHUTORO and just generally about our take on gamification. She’ll be doing more research and then get to writing (a task I do not envy her, it’s a lot to chew on). I look forward to seeing her article in Vrij Nederland.

Alper discussed business over lunch, and I spent the afternoon trying to tame the Email Beast.

We started Wednesday with a call about a possible new project related to reuse of vacant real-estate. Alper buckled down to work on AJI while I headed over to Jeroen’s new workspace in FreedomLab to go over the schedule for a workshop about a new festival for games and game culture.

The next day, Alper continued work on AJI. I was particularly amused and impressed with the press release he put together explaining what the app does in “Oprah-speak”. Meanwhile, I prepared for and subsequently delivered a lecture at the HvA. This was followed by a critique session in which I got to play a ton of prototypes made by the students in GameMaker.

That evening, I had a ball playing a super villain caught in a bureaucratic nightmare, in a short larp made by former Hubbub intern Arjen. Short larps are an interesting phenomenon—the limited duration coupled with themes diverging from the typical scifi and fantasy fare is inviting to people who’d normally not participate in a weekend-long game.

Paco, one of the many friendly dogs residing in Vechtclub XL

Game room at HvA

On Friday, Simon, Alper and I had another call about AJI, going over the website screens I’d sketched. We managed to whittle my proposed set of designs down to even more of a bare minimum. The minimalism was offset by some exciting interactions that I hope we’ll manage to pull off. They’re quite dramatic.

Alper had another meeting over lunch, and later that day we joined in one more call exploring a possible future collaboration between us and a kindred spirit in NYC. I ended the week with my very first “Bierclub” (Friday drinks) at Vechtclub XL, which was nice and convivial and included locally brewed craft beer.

So yeah, a good week. It involved a lot of talking and setting up of things for what will hopefully be interesting future projects. It was a bit of a challenge to get my bit in for AJI in between all the meetings and such. I hope to make up for it this week.

Leaving after first Bierclub at Vechtclub XL

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Week 236

Last week was another week working full throttle on AJI which has now been given an official name and domain (to be announced shortly). We setup a scrum list for the week and started working through that and we think that with the current velocity we should be able to show stuff in 1–2 sprints. I kept working on the app while Kars worked on tidying up our web presence a bit and we got external help in from our brother in arms Simon.

Kars was meanwhile also preparing some lectures, one to be given in Leiden, one at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and another at the Playful Design course by Miguel Sicart at ITU in Copenhagen next month.

Meanwhile the guys from Tupil moved into the Utrecht space which we will be sharing with them. I visited the fifth Talk and Play organized by Lorenzo which sparked some interesting discussions about game jams thanks to Sjors’s presentation about it.

Sjors

Then I left for Oslo on Friday to spend my weekend there drinking coffee for this app we made and that was a week.

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Week 235

On Monday I set up my things in the new studio at Vechtclub XL. They had been kept in holding since the move out of Dutch Game Garden two weeks ago. With some help from the kind folk running the space I was up and running around midday. After a short period of working from home and various other places from my backpack it was a relief to have my good old setup back, in a great new space. It’s still a bit empty at the moment, but that will change once the guys from Tupil move at the end of the month.

New studio in Vechtclub XL

Meanwhile, Alper was kicking the tyres of Slack to see if it’d be a viable alternative to HipChat now that it had moved out of beta. He also hacked away at AJI, making it feature complete in preparation for my UI work.

On Tuesday, I had a chat with Kelli about gamification. She’s preparing a piece on the subject for Vrij Nederland, which I look forward to reading. It’s great to have such a subject discussed in a critical manner in mainstream media.

Later that day, I got started mocking up AJI’s simplified UI in Sketch. Alper and I also chatted with Simon about AJI and other things. He offered his help with the app’s UI design so once I’ve put the basics in place he’ll take over to make things look really good (as he’s done many times before on Hubbub projects).

The rest of the week we continued work on AJI. I moved on to updating the UI in Xcode while Alper fixed bugs and solidified the accompanying web app. On Friday we met with Dirk, who is also writing something, an essay about cultural production in the contemporary tech scene, in which he’s planning to use AJI as an example. We demo’d the app to him and talked about the thinking behind it. It was useful to get our heads out of the proverbial bubble and explain our motivations to a relative outsider.

In between, I was interviewed by two students from Hannover who are mapping Utrecht’s games scene and again by a student researching museum games. Alper meanwhile did the rounds of Berlin’s many events, including the UX Stammtisch and a games.net roundtable about branded entertainment.

By the end of week 235 we had transitioned over to Slack, since it really does offer an improvement over HipChat for us. (Mainly thanks to its UI and many out-of-the-box integrations.) Alper wrote up some thoughts about one thing that continues to be an annoyance with these services, though: their user accounts scheme does not accommodate our distributed, fuzzy organisational structure.

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Week 234

Last week I spent all my time working on the iOS app and website for our project AJI. Development has been excruciatingly slow because we never had a free week to just work on the project.

The simplicity of the app we want to make is deceiving even for us. The law of conservation of complexity states that the simpler an application is for the end user, the more complex it is for those making it. Dealing with that in between client work turned out to be unrealistic. Now that we have some proper velocity again we hope to be able to share something soon. It will be good to get this research out in the world where it belongs and this project out of our system.

It was also the week in which we launched our associate program with Joris Dormans, Ianus Keller and Sebastian Deterding supplementing our scope. We are excited and can’t wait what we can do together.

Looking forward to these already

Kars in the meantime was roaming, meeting people to talk about future collaborations and making arrangements to setup the new Hubbub studio at the Vechtclub XL. We will be sharing a space there with our old friends from Tupil which is something to look forward to.

The week ended with a FRIDAYS AT 7 in Utrecht and that was that.

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