Hubbub has gone into hibernation.

Sketching a paper toy for a conference

At Game in the City 2009 we hand­ed out cards to all par­tic­i­pants. Here’s a photo:

The nine Hubbub cards

As you can see, there are nine vari­ants. Each has an illus­tra­tion of a fox doing, well, some­thing on the front, plus a quote. The quotes all relate to the nature of real­i­ty in some way.

Part of the card can be tak­en out. As you can see in the fol­low­ing photo:

Hubbub cards with the center bit removed

The part that is removed could be kept as a reminder. What remains is sim­i­lar to a view find­er. You can look through it and take pho­tos of peo­ple, adding their faces to the fox bodies.

We went around dur­ing the con­fer­ence doing exact­ly this. A selec­tion of the pho­tos we took of peo­ple can be seen below:

The rest of this post is a descrip­tion of the mak­ing of these cards, with a focus on the role sketch­ing played in the design. I’m post­ing this because we more or less stum­bled across this form of play by acci­dent. How­ev­er, we manip­u­lat­ed cir­cum­stances so that this acci­dent, this serendip­i­tous encounter of an inter­est­ing form of play, was bound to hap­pen. I think this is a trick of much val­ue to design­ers of games and play­ful experiences.


We were asked by Roger ter Hei­de, chair of Game in the City, to cre­ate some­thing play­ful for the con­fer­ence. The idea was to have some­thing that could serve as a con­ver­sa­tion top­ic. Peo­ple have a lot on their minds at con­fer­ences, so a full game was out of the ques­tion. We could how­ev­er intro­duce a lay­er of obscu­ri­ty, so that inter­est­ed peo­ple could attempt to dis­cov­er the rules that would gov­ern the thing.

Mobiles and paper

(Not “mobiles” as in mobile phones, but mobiles as in the form of sculp­ture made famous by Alexan­der Calder.)

After an ini­tial round of brain­storm­ing we decid­ed it would be inter­est­ing to see if we could get peo­ple to build things out of parts we would dis­trib­ute. We thought we could hand out paper cards from which parts could be removed. These would com­bine to form char­ac­ters or oth­er things, which in turn could be placed on a des­ig­nat­ed sur­face, or bet­ter yet, hung from a huge mobile we would pro­vide. Here’s a con­cept sketch illus­trat­ing the idea:

Sketch of initial concept

So this was all bout casu­al con­struc­tion. We also antic­i­pat­ed peo­ple might get into bar­ter­ing for parts, or start work­ing in teams to cre­ate the coolest pos­si­ble thing.

Hav­ing received a green flag for this idea. We bought some met­al wire and some nice card board and sat down to exper­i­ment. It very soon became clear that con­struct­ing mobiles is no joke. Here’s a failed attempt by myself to cre­ate some­thing pass­able in miniature:

Failed attempt at mobile construction

So we ditched this part of the plan. No way were we going to suc­cess­ful­ly cre­ate a mobile that would look good and work well in the avail­able time.

Paper craft puppets and business card holders

What remained of the idea was con­struct­ing things, pup­pets for instance, from paper. At a sub­se­quent ses­sion, we gave our­selves a few hour to fid­dle with card board to see what we could come up with. We built obvi­ous instan­ti­a­tions of the ini­tial idea, which worked, but weren’t very interesting:

Paper craft puppet experiments

Play­ing around with these pup­pets, we dis­cov­ered anoth­er direc­tion; using them as busi­ness card hold­ers. Here’s a pho­to of one example:

A paper puppet holding a FourceLabs Moo minicard

We aban­doned this idea too though, since we did­n’t see the con­fer­ence’s tar­get audi­ence exchang­ing busi­ness cards using pup­pets. I’m sure you’ll agree.

Stumbling across the cards

It was dur­ing this same ses­sion that Julius cut a hole in a piece of card board and drew a very rough ren­di­tion of a char­ac­ter on it. Here’s a pho­to of the the man in ques­tion using this very ear­ly pro­to­type of what would become the Hub­bub card:

Julius and the first version of the cards

We con­tin­ued tin­ker­ing with this idea. Cre­at­ing a ver­sion that had a remov­able top, for instance:

Two shots of Karel with a prototype Hubbub card

It was clear this added fea­ture would only make for more has­sle and did not add much to the fun. So we set­tled on the sim­ple, orig­i­nal ver­sion. And made a few more mod­els. Like this one:

Julius with another version of the Hubbub card

So by play­ing around with the mate­ri­als we would ulti­mate­ly be work­ing in, we came across an inter­est­ing form of play. The spe­cif­ic type of play we end­ed up with emerged more or less by acci­dent. But choos­ing to sit down and tin­ker with the stuff the even­tu­al prod­uct would be made of was a con­scious decision.

I’ve left out sev­er­al oth­er options we gen­er­at­ed dur­ing these ses­sions. We went for quan­ti­ty, not qual­i­ty. Here’s a pho­to of more of the things we made:

All the things that were made during one of the paper tinkering sessions

Sketching the cards and production

What was left for us to do was plan the cards for pro­duc­tion. We had to fig­ure out what kind of illus­tra­tions would go on them and how many vari­a­tions we want­ed to do. (Ini­tial­ly, I thought it would be cool to go for 23 vari­a­tions. Ulti­mate­ly we set­tled for nine.) We also want­ed to add some text to each card, so we had to come up with some­thing suit­able there.

A plan of the cards

Sketches of the cards

Since the cards would dou­ble as call­ing card for Hub­bub (which we planned to sort-of-launch at the con­fer­ence) we thought it would be suit­able to go with fox­es as char­ac­ters for the illus­tra­tion. (Rey­nard the Fox is our trick­ster fig­ure of choice.)

The­mat­i­cal­ly, we thought it would be inter­est­ing to play off the AR hype. The cards would be our take on aug­ment­ed real­i­ty, and show that true aug­men­ta­tion hap­pens between peo­ple’s ears. To under­score this, the illus­tra­tions would be a bit sur­re­al and the texts would be wit­ty quotes com­ment­ing on the sub­jec­tive nature of reality.

Both Karel and I explored many, many vari­a­tions for the fox­es. We thought it was impor­tant the fox­es would be doing stuff, because play is about verbs. (I went through a large list of hob­bies for this.)

Sketches of the foxes for the cards

Sketches of the foxes for the cards

Karel did a great job on the final set of illus­tra­tions. From this point onwards we hand­ed over to our friends at BUROPONY. They did all the graph­ic design of the cards, and han­dled the printing.

I’m very pleased with the end result, and was hap­py to see peo­ple at the con­fer­ence play with them. We kept peo­ple a bit in the dark about what to do with them at first, but they fig­ured it out. One of the biggest com­pli­ments was some­one who came up to me to show he had fig­ured out what the cards were good for, obvi­ous­ly proud of his achievement.

Many thanks to Roger ter Hei­de and Game in the City for giv­ing us the oppor­tu­ni­ty to make this thing for the con­fer­ence. Also thanks to Karel Mil­lenaar and Julius Hui­jnk of Fource­Labs for their con­tri­bu­tions to the design. And a shout out to the BUROPONY crew for the ace graph­ic design.

Addendum: the quotes

As a bonus here’s a list of the quotes we used on the cards:

  1. “Real­i­ty is that which, when you stop believ­ing in it, does­n’t go away.” — Philip K. Dick
  2. “Real­i­ty is mere­ly an illu­sion, albeit a very per­sis­tent one.” — Albert Einstein 
  3. “Real­i­ty leaves a lot to the imag­i­na­tion.” — John Lennon
  4. “I reject your real­i­ty and sub­sti­tute my own!” — Jef­frey Byron as Paul Brad­ford in the 1984 film Rage­war. Made famous by Adam Sav­age of MythBusters. 
  5. “Imag­i­na­tion is the one weapon in the war against real­i­ty.” — Jules de Gaultier 
  6. “I’m not crazy about real­i­ty, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.” — Grou­cho Marx
  7. “Real­i­ty… What a con­cept!” — Robin Williams 
  8. “Every time I close the door on real­i­ty it comes in through the win­dows.” — Jen­nifer Yane
  9. “Real­i­ty isn’t what it used to be.” — Wal­ter Truett Anderson
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