Week 322

Another simple week in terms of stuff going on.

We devoted the vast majority of our time to Free Birds, putting the finishing touches on the release candidate. We’re getting really close to the finish line now and its a pleasure to be able to tune and tweak things to make them just right.

I also demoed the game to a couple of interested museums on Wednesday and got nice responses from them.

Jumping back a bit, on Tuesday I headed over to Amsterdam again to attend the third State of Flux co-creation workshop.

Finally, Alper played around with Ethereum at a workshop on Thursday.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , | Comments closed

Week 321

This week we had our heads down and kept making good progress in the Free Birds release candidate. Alper wrote code more or less the whole week and I split my time between sketching user interfaces and mapping out what parts of the app need to be localised for each museum which decides to adopt our little game.

Not much else of note happened, to be honest. It was one of those rare simple weeks. So I’ll leave it at that.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , | Comments closed

Week 320

This week was a change of pace from the few quiet ones preceding it: plenty of meetings, work sessions and events with project work picking up again as well.

On Tuesday, I headed to Nijmegen to close off project KOKORO with the client. KOKORO is a digital coach for adolescent mental health. We reviewed the final version of the prototype we created and made note of ideas it sparked for fututure product development. We also discussed what good next steps might be for the client, who are keen to take our direction and push it further.

Later that day I headed to the Buikslotermeer area of Amsterdam Noord to be present as an observer at the second State of Flux co-creation session. As usual it was a pleasure to be surrounded by a hugely diverse group of people all intent on improving their own neighbourhood. And once again we were served amazing food cooked by locals (Surinamese-Javanese in this case).

Second State of Flux co-creation session in Buikslotermeer, Amsterdam Noord

Meanwhile Alper attended Talk & Play to meet Luke Crane of Burning Wheel fame and to play his game Mouse Guard: Swords & Strongholds. Luke is also head of games at Kickstarter and has selflessly championed Bycatch in the US tabletop gaming scene, so it was a real pleasure to see him.

This week we also kicked off the first sprint of the third and final phase of Free Birds’ development. Free Birds is a museum game about civil rights. This sprint is mainly focused on getting a release candidate in shape, which includes making adjustments to the app so that it can be used in multiple museums simultaneously.

Thursday was another busy day. I participated in a workshop at FreedomLab aimed at developing a concept for a serious game about corporate social responsibility. That same evening, I headed to Pakhuis de Zwijger to deliver a talk at the event ‘New Planning Methods’, which I subsequently wrote up.

Placard 'WHO OWNS THE CITY?' at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

New Planning Methods

This is a writeup of my talk at the event ‘Nieuwe Planningsmethoden‘ (‘New Planning Methods’) in Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam on October 8, 2015.

Hello. My name is Kars Alfrink. I am a designer and partner at Hubbub, a small playful design agency, based in Utrecht and Berlin.

Hubbub helps organisations do things with games, play and playfulness. We make playable things with which you can improve yourself and the world around you.

Since the beginning of Hubbub we have been investigating what game design can contribute to life in cities.

This is also the subject of a chapter I contributed to the book ‘The Gameful World’ which was published earlier this year by MIT Press.

Parkour, Pieces of Berlin, Cruel 2 B Kind and L.A.S.E.R. Tag

In my chapter ‘The Gameful City’ I talk about five different ways in which people can use playful tools to improve their living conditions. I call them appropriation, de-familiarisation, socialisation, subversion and formation. This last one, formation, is what I will go into a little bit more now because it is most relevant to our subject.

Creations by James Rojas workshop participants

Formation is about people using playful tools to actively shape their living conditions. There are great examples of new planning methods that try to achieve this. When I was writing my chapter I was mainly looking at methods that enable people to express their ideas about space.

Open Source City, Rezone, State of Flux and Play the City

Other methods try to achieve things like: visualising and making accessible what can be measured about space, educating people about better ways of spatial planning, and fostering collaboration between those inhabiting a space and those planning it.

All of these approaches increase the diversity of participants in the planning process. This is good because it offers a counterbalance to the tendencies of institutions to impose order from above on what they perceive as messy reality on the ground. More diversity leads to more resilience and liveability. I am very much in favour of this. Who wouldn’t be?

I have a big concern though. It applies to most methods I just mentioned but in my chapter I specifically talk about the playful planning tools for collaboratively expressing ideas about new and existing spaces.

The concern is this: When the participants are done playing and the plan needs to be turned into reality, how do we prevent people from going back to business as usual? It is likely that old power structures will reassert themselves. The danger is that our new planning methods are simply used to get buy-in from people after which they are no longer a full partner in the proceedings.

So I am interested in making our new planning methods a little bit more dangerous to the status quo. Giving them real teeth. All in the interest of effecting widespread and sustained change.

For this to happen, designers of new planning methods must consider policy as a material to work with. I’m thinking of tools that produce new ways of organising planning, in stead tools that produce new plans.1

One source if inspiration would be Nomic, a game in which changing the rules is a move. It was created to illustrate the reflexivity of law. Imagine a new planning method that models current planning policy and asks participants to then make changes to it. The outcomes can then be used as a starting point for implementing actual policy changes.

An example of designers daring to grapple with policy is Playful Commons. This is a project to create new permissive licenses for public space. Think Creative Commons but for space. Here are urban designers and game designers who consider policy, law, rules as a material.

So that’s one way to give our methods more teeth. But I think we should also look beyond any single method. We’ve got all these great new ways of planning. It’s really exciting and there seems to be real momentum in this area in the Netherlands. Now I think it is time to start connecting the dots.

Conceived, perceived and lived space

We should try to close the loop between methods that focus on conceived and perceived space, and methods that focus on lived space.2

3D Print Canal House, Straatlokaal, Godsbanen and The Harbor Laboratory

To be more specific, I am thinking of all the things that are happening in digital fabrication, temporary programming, temporary building, and new spaces for creative work. I am wondering what might happen if we take these things and connect them with the new planning methods I’ve been talking about so far.

What excites me is to think about creating permanent spaces in our cities where experts and non-experts alike can come together to plan, prototype and evaluate new ideas for improving our surroundings at a 1:1 scale. For lack of a better word let’s call them ‘SpaceLabs’. Permanent places for the convivial production of space.

New embodied and social planning methods

Such SpaceLabs connect working with conceived space and perceived space with lived space. They connect plans we make for new spaces and observations we make about existing spaces with the subjective experience of spaces. Now all of a sudden our new planning methods become embodied and social.

We have all these new planning methods now. And they are great. Now, I invite us all to take them and to start building a new planning practice.

Thank you!

Links to Projects Referenced in Slides

  1. Hill, Dan. Dark Matter and Trojan Horses: A Strategic Design Vocabulary. []
  2. Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace: Expanding the Geographical Imagination. []
Posted in Featured, Talks, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 319

Not much to report this week.

For Free Birds we made plans for the next sprint, writing user stories and grooming our backlog. We hope to start the work on this soon.

For TEDASUKE I had a final meeting with our client SodaProducties and talked through their next steps with them, in particular what to look out for when hiring an agency.

I finally got around to writing up the work we did on Camparc. It was fun going through the archives and seeing all the effort put in by the team. It was hard to boil it down to 1000 words, but I managed.

On the social front, I went over the the annual Dutch indie games exhibition ‘Indigo‘ to catch up with friends from that scene and to get a feel for the state of the art. In my opinion Chalo Chalo, Metrico+ and Unfated lead the pack.

In Utrecht, the week was closed off drinks at the monthly Vechtclub XL ‘bierklub’, soaking up the final rays of sun on what was probably one of the last lovely evenings of the prolonged indian summer we’ve been having.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Making Camparc

This is a writeup of how we went about making Camparc, a panoramic camera ball.

The story starts in July 2014 when STRP asks us to make a public space game for a ‘scene’ — one of the events leading up to their 2015 biennial. They were looking for something eye-catching, accessible to a broad audience, fun for both participants and spectators, and of course it would need to be about tech in some way. The game would be played in the Strijp-S area of Eindhoven, the Netherlands.

We cycled through a number of concepts together. An early idea was focused on doing things with large balls and maybe tracking them with cameras. A later concept was titled ‘Selfietopia’ and proposed a playground filled with camera toys for making selfies with.

Selfietopia

Camparc sketch

Ingredients from those earlier concepts came together in Camparc: camera toys such as Panono and Bubl. New ways of seeing such as goal-line technology. The pleasure of playing with a huge ball in both Katamari Damacy and the earth ball games of the New Games movement.

Camparc moodboard

It was our hope Camparc would let people playfully explore new ways of technologically augmented seeing, and that it would give people a tool with which to explore the Strijp-S area in new ways.

Many different things had to come together in the final experience. For example, getting a video stream from the balls to show up on an LED trailer turned out to be non-trivial. But here I will talk about the design of the hardware and I will also go into how we created anamorphic puzzles for people to play with.

The Gilliam-Dyson Direction

So the starting point was to do something with big balls. We went on a hunt for a good base and eventually settled on water balls. They are large, transparent and afford opening and closing. Perfect for our purposes.

The notion of transparency and seeing the tech inside of the ball lead to a direction for the visual language which was equal parts Terry Gilliam sci-fi prop and James Dyson vacuum cleaner.

Terry Gilliam × James Dyson

We worked with Aldo Hoeben on this project. He was responsible for the design and development of the balls as well as the software behind them. The cool thing about working with Aldo was that he has a background in industrial design, has an artistic practice focused on projection mapping and panoramic photography and is a 3D printing enthusiast to boot. In other words, his unique set of skills was a perfect match for the challenges of this project.

It was Aldo who starting from my Gilliam-Dyson direction created the brightly coloured custom 3D-printed parts which give Camparc its constructivist look. It is an aspect of the project I am still very proud of. More than once during a conversation with a player about ‘how it works’ was I able to simply point to every single component and talk them through it.

Detail of Camparc's 3D-printed components

Another neat aspect of the balls is that all the hardware is suspended in a ‘poor man’s gyroscope’. The weight of all the components keeps the camera more or less upright all the time. The wobbliness of the camera gives the images some welcome dynamism, emphasising that you are indeed looking at footage from a rolling ball.

Anamorphic Puzzles

Throughout the project and actually still now, there is a tension between free and directed play. We were interested in giving people a shared bit of ludic public furniture. But we were also curious what kind of games could be played with this new plaything. In addition, we were very interested in taking over the area we would be playing in with some kind of visual markings.

One obvious starting point for a more structured playful activity to offer players was anamorphosis: “a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image.”

Geometric perspective-localized painting by Felice Varini

The Camparc balls would be streaming a donut-shaped video to an LED trailer in the middle of the play area. We thought it would be cool to create geometric drawings that would appear to float in the camera image.

As is often the case in our projects, we then needed to invent a process that would enable us to do this. In the end we managed to pull it off with an interesting assemblage of off-the-shelf software and hardware and lots of masking tape and patience.

We used an iPhone on a tripod with the same panoramic lens attached to it as we would be using inside of the balls. We made sure the lens was more or less at the same height as it would be in the ball. Using airplay we then streamed the camera view to a macbook and we used a simple app to overlay the image we would be drawing on top of the camera feed.

Camparc anamorphic drawing test

Then it was a matter of finding a nice spot to draw our anamorphic puzzle and masking it out (which involves lots of checking and rechecking between the drawing and the image on the macbook screen). At the game’s run on Strijp-S we used spray chalk to fill in the shapes.

A shout-out to our friends at Pony Design Club who did an excellent job on all the visual materials for Camparc and who also painstakingly created the final set of anamorphic puzzles at Strijp-S for the game’s event.

Anamorphic drawing at Strijp-S

The end result looked very interesting and people enjoyed figuring out how to place the ball exactly so that the image kind of popped into view on the big screen.

People playing with anamorphic puzzle

A Tribute to ‘Planet Pass’

I could not let the opportunity pass to stage a tribute to one of our sources of inspiration, the New Games movement. So in addition to free play with the ball and the anamorphic puzzles, we scheduled a few games of Planet Pass with the people in attendance.

It was a rather glorious experience. We also captured the footage from these sessions, a few clips of which made their way into the final video.

'Planet Pass' in the New Games book

Camparc

I found it very interesting to see how we managed to get an increasingly large group of people to join us just by starting to play the game and inviting people to help us out. The scale of the Camparc balls affords collaborative play so very easily. Outside of the Planet Pass sessions there were many occasions where people would spontaneously start to play together.

Camparc

This is another quality of the project that I am rather fond of. Camparc is a playful technology which very elegantly lets people step into and out of playing alone or together.

Mark II

So that is the story of the making of Camparc. After this first version we were commissioned to improve on it. This second version, which we decided to name ‘Camparc Mark II’, was released as part of the STRP biennial. The most notable change is that we exchanged the large screen for a VR headset. Once again we encountered many challenges during the making-of. But that is a story for another day…

Posted in Articles, Featured, Making-of, Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 318

Let’s start at the end. On Thursday and Friday I participated in a two-day workshop on the future of energy at FreedomLab. Meanwhile, Alper moved apartments. I learned a lot about the nuts and bolts of our energy system and came away optimistic about the switch to renewables. Alper learned a lot about how to get a washing machine down a flight of stairs.

Earlier in the week I attended the first of a series of co-creation sessions organised by State of Flux, aimed at developing a new temporary program for the Buikslotermeerplein area in Amsterdam Noord. I was there to observe their process. Once all the sessions have finished we will develop a concept for a translation of this process to a tabletop game, the aim of which is to enable others to reprogram the public spaces they make use of everyday without expert help. This is project HENDO.

On the Free Birds front we prepared the latest release for distribution to the Airborne Museum. The game now allows players to share game content to Museumkids and we had to make sure it also works with that website’s live environment. Meanwhile, Alper spent some time researching how best to go about implementing a future improvement to the game’s chat user interface.

On to our side projects: We sent out a Bycatch newsletter to customers and subscribers. (Sign up here to receive the next one.) For Cuppings, Alper and Simon made a list of final things to fix for the next big release.

Over the weekend I headed over to Ianus to lend a hand with his annual apple harvest and Alper had coffee and beers with @neb and friends.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 317

A quiet week for once, now that we have wrapped up most of the current projects on deck. The slower pace took some getting used to even though it is a welcome change from the constant pressure of the past few months.

On the Free Birds front, we made some final fixes to the build we finished the week before. The client came over to the studio for a sprint review which went very smoothly. Later in the week the team convened for a retrospective which once again yielded some useful learnings to apply to our process in sprints to come. By the end of the week we had groomed our backlog a bit so that we are all ready for the next and final phase of the project.

For Bycatch, we prepared a newsletter to be sent out soon (sign up here). We talked to Lekha about her experiences at XOXO. The game was a big success at the tabletop event. We also fulfilled some more orders and I took some time to make our website favicon retina with thanks to Mr. Gruber.

Alper made use of the downtime to do some work on a next release of Cuppings which I’m told will drop soon. He also had Lorenzo over for a sneak preview of his talk on Japanese minigames.

Lorenzo Pilia talking about Japanese minigames

Finally, Alper put some words together on his blog about conversational user interfaces, a trend we’ve been following and also applying to some recent projects, including KOKORO and Free Birds.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 316

Another week largely taken up by Free Birds. The whole team (Alper, Tim, Niels and myself) worked together on finishing another release, which we did with only a small bit of overtime on Friday. With each sprint we learn more about the intricacies of Unity’s UI system.

We also delivered a spec and a budget for TEDASUKE, which the client will use to back up a grant application for the product’s development. We used a list of user stories as a light-weight specification. To arrive at a budget we then assigned a size estimate to each story (using t-shirt sizes) and for each size we assigned an average amount of hours for the disciplines involved. The whole process was relatively painless but did yield the required amount of detail.

In the lead up to Lekha’s presence at XOXO we updated the Bycatch website with a link to our artist statement and an endorsement from Lea Schönfelder. Perhaps most significantly, we quietly switched to charging our customers in dollars in stead of euros, for various reasons too boring to go into here.

I updated the page for Camparc in our portfolio to include the excellent video made by Sylvan of our run at STRP this year. I also added a description of how the whole thing works now, as well as some more photos.

And finally, on the weekend Alper visited some new spots for an upcoming update of Cuppings.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 315

Last week once again was very much a heads down kind of week. Alper more or less exclusively worked on Free Birds. We also talked to the client about the next phase of the project, which kicks in after we finish this sprint, and involves scaling up to multiple museums. Furthermore, we prepared a bug fix release, and we received a first batch of surveys from players of the Airborne Museum beta, which were largely positive.

On the Bycatch front, I taught around 30 people how to play the game at a Hacking Habitat event. People seemed to enjoy it, and much discussion happened during and after playing the game, which was a lot of fun to see happen.

People playing Bycatch at Hacking Habitat Life-Hack Marathon #3 'How to Cross Borders'

On to the remaining smaller consulting engagements. For SHIJIMI I attended a pitch for the production of the concept we helped develop. For TEDASUKE I drafted a spec for the product we’ve helped envision in an agile manner, by whipping up a list of user stories. And finally, for KOKORO, I tied up a few loose ends left over from the previous week’s delivery.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments closed