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  Mixed-Reality Magician Wins ‘Virtual NBC’ Talent Contest  
Posted 2007-06-15 by Tony Walsh
Mixed-Reality Magician Wins ‘Virtual NBC’ Talent Contest
Fish the Magish in Austin Texas, May 2007. Photo credit: Tony Walsh.
SLNN reports that a magician in the real and virtual world has won a million Linden Dollars (worth nearly $4000 USD) through slight-of-hand. Avatar Tuna Oddfellow reportedly cast a quite a spell over audiences of Virtual NBC's "Avatar's Got Talent" contest held in Second Life, and wins not only in-world currency, but a chance to appear on the real NBC TV show America's Got Talent.

I saw Oddfellow's real-world counterpart "Fish the Magish" perform live during South by Southwest earlier this year. He put on a really entertaining show, very much a "classic" magician if there is such a thing. While most real magicians don't reveal their secrets, avatar magicians are a little looser-lipped--Oddfellow told SLNN that his Second Life performance combines custom visual effects and scripts with gestural animations bought via in-world merchants or donated by friends. Pity I missed his virtual show, it would have been interesting to compare it to his real-world show.
  I Wish I’d Had a ‘Knightmare’  
Posted 2007-06-05 by Tony Walsh
Mr. Hon directed my short-attention-span to Knightmare, a mixed-reality TV game show celebrating its 20th anniversary this September. Aimed at and starring kids, Knightmare covered terrain well-trodden by infamous role playing game Dungeons & Dragons.

Game play was quite unique (as described by the Wikipedia). A team of kids were split into a group of guides and a single dungeoneer. The dungeoneer wore a vision-obscuring helmet, and was shown via an in-studio TV screen to the guides. Superimposed on a fantasy background, the dungeoneer relied on remote guidance to get through the adventure safely. I found the game idea really clever, with obvious links to tabletop and computer games--apparently game books and a board game were spun off from the show, making this an early cross-media experience.

I might be the only person in North America who's never seen the show, but in case you're similarly Knightmare-challenged, YouTube's got a mess of badly-compressed TV clips for review.
  Go, Game!  
Posted 2007-06-04 by Tony Walsh
Go, Game!
Obey the phone. It is never wrong.
Today I rampaged through the Mission District of San Francisco with a team of intrepid adventurers partaking in the Go Game, a technology-driven, urban puzzle-hunt with hints of live-action role playing and alternate reality gaming. Six teams of roughly five players each took to the streets, receiving mission instructions from a WiFi-enabled phone, and documenting their follies with a digital camera over a 2 - 3 hour period.

Tasks included a mix of clue-driven scavenging, interaction with non-player characters, and creative performance. My team, for example, had to recreate a famous moment in history with 30 seconds of video footage. We chose the splitting of the atom. Reviewing the footage collected from all teams at the end of the game was good fun.

Overall, I enjoyed the game, particularly since I haven't had a chance to tour San Francisco since arriving last Friday. I found the technology aspect a bit cumbersome, though. One of the co-founders of the game told me that play via any mobile phone is planned, which would really expand the possibilities for the Go Game, although I think the ideal situation would be to play with pay phones or voice calls on mobiles as an option in addition to text. Currently the game is played via text-based instructions and responses, which has its charms, but proved a little clunkier than I'd hoped. If they're going to stick with technology, I'd like to see a locative aspect added. Here's to the continuing evolution of the Go Game, which I understand is also available in my home town of Toronto.
  Live-Action Role Playing Hits Mainstream TV  
Posted 2007-05-31 by Tony Walsh
I just finished watching the premier episode of Pirate Master. Despite what you might think, it's not the latest "reality show" to crest TV's high seas. I see the show as a televised live-action role playing (LARP) game, except that none of the players seem to know how to stay in character.

Pirate Master has everything a good LARP should: A great setting, an intriguing storyline, a rabble of unrelated characters who must find a way to work with or against each other to achieve victory, some of the best props I've ever seen in a game, a solid set of rules, tests of physical and mental skill, and a games-master lurking in the shadows. Can a TV version of True Dungeon be far behind?
  Game Sketching with John Buchanan  
Posted 2007-05-28 by Tony Walsh
While on a working trip to Tasmania, I had the pleasure of meeting John Buchanan, Director of Carnegie Mellon's ETC in Adelaide, Australia. I participated in Buchanan's demonstration of a "Game Sketch" system he's working on with his students. Game sketching is a method of pre-prototyping the basic interactivity for the purposes of playing with game ideas. Although technology-independent, Buchanan and his students have developed a 3D tool where simple interactive systems and play modes can be toyed with. Using this tool, any simple 3D object can be made into a controllable game piece with rudimentary functionality. The tool is destined to be distributed free, without a license, from what I hear.

As with any kind of sketch, the purpose is to boil a concept down to its essence by removing distractions. The multi-user tool actually relies on live puppeteering and moderation--not unlike tabletop or live-action roleplay. In this way, play situations can be changed on the fly without downtime resulting from having to create new assets or scripts. The demonstration in Tasmania actually involved live performance (I played a ninja!) as a substitute for the tool, which was having trouble with limited network bandwidth. The experience was a bit similar to what I know as "paper prototyping" which often involves sketched elements moderated by a human controller.

I plan to add game sketching--without any kind of computer-based tool--to the game design courses I'm teaching. I already focus on a series of basic interaction design exercises, but I think sketching would be a useful bridge between these and full-fledged game prototypes. It's important for students to understand that good games boil down to good game play, regardless of presentation. Thanks, John, for introducing me to game sketching!
  Play ‘Cruel 2 B Kind’ In Your City  
Posted 2007-04-13 by Tony Walsh
Local ARGitecht Lindsay Mills sends word of a Toronto-based session of live-action game Cruel 2 B Kind to be held May 4, 2007. The "benevolent assassination" game was co-created by veteran designers Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost, and involves launching random acts of kindness against others. Hopefully other players, but since no information is given about one's assassination targets, it's a bit hit and miss, resulting in a spectacle worth signing up for even as an innocent bystander.

Lindsday says that on May 4, "sign-in starts at 7pm, game is from 7:30-8:30pm. It's free to play, all that's required is one cell phone for each team with txt/SMS capabilities because it's how teams send in their kills for points." The Toronto edition of Cruel 2 B Kind is intended to help promote the upcoming ARG-like TorGame event, planned for launch later this year. Other Cruel 2 B Kind locales this spring include Santa Monica, Seattle, and Gothenburg.
  TorGame 2007 In the Works  
Posted 2007-04-05 by Tony Walsh
TorGame, a grassroots group of Toronto-based creatives, is gearing up for a second year of ARG-like play on the city's streets. I was involved a little bit in the early and late stages of the group's Waking City game, which launched late in 2006 with around 100 players grouped into 20 teams. A handful of the participants blogged and photographed the proceedings. For many players, this was a first encounter with ARG-like play--a mashup of live-action role play, puzzle-hunts, and urban exploration. I have a feeling TorGame's second year will be even better than the first.

TorGame is holding a meeting on April 12, 2007 at the Lillian H. Smith Library for those interested in getting involved.
  Haute Wii-Mode  
Posted 2007-04-05 by Tony Walsh
Haute Wii-Mode
Photo by Mesq. CC Licensed.
Check out this clever way to play Wii Sports (tennis, specifically): Real tennis is emulated through the position of real gamers, a grid on the floor, and a double-sided screen where the net would normally be. There's something very appealing to this brief series of pics posted to Flickr by Mesq. I'd like to see more sheet-thin windows into gamespace--the double-sided aspect is particularly suitable to the game at hand. Earlier this year I wrote about potential application of double-sided mobile screens in gaming--Mesq's pics are a great example of how this could work with a larger-scale display.

[Update: as a side-note, I have no idea why I titled this entry "Haute Wii-Mode." It sounded good at the time, but a few hours later it makes no sense.]
  Redpoint Ventures:  Smart Money, Virtual Worlds  
Posted 2007-03-29 by Tony Walsh
I'd like to thank Redpoint Ventures for graciously inviting me to a gathering at a swank Tribeca restaurant last night. The Menlo Park-based investment firm was in town for the Virtual Worlds 2007 conference, and took the opportunity to meet with a group of major players and other brainiacs in the virtual-worlds space. I'll spare you the name-dropping, but it was a pleasure to share an evening with the team from Redpoint and the invited virtual-worldists (hat tip to Glitchy for "worldist"), many of whom I hadn't yet met in person.

The guys from Redpoint are taking a hard look at opportunities and challenges in this space after having already invested in Gaia Online. In my opinion, there's been a lot of crazy money thrown at virtual worlds lately (and much more to come), but Redpoint and a few other investors like Charles River are playing it smart.
  The ‘Static’ Experience:  Location-Based Audio Drama  
Posted 2007-03-26 by Tony Walsh
Theater-savvy Torontonians will be treated to the launch of Static this week, basking in a "multi-media, interdisciplinary experience" that brings a combination of audio drama, theatrical vignettes, dance performance and interactive installations to York Quay Centre. Via MP3 players, Static's audience tunes into the thoughts of a central character for a tour around the venue, absorbing the event's sights and sounds.

I hope to be able to attend a performance, as I suspect Static may synergize well with alternate reality gaming, pervasive electronic gaming, and live-action gaming. Even knowing as little as I do about what Static has in store of me, I can imagine how an experience like this could easily be made more game-like. Not that I think theater is necessarily improved by game-play, just that I can't help but look at a cross-media experience like Static and think of gaming.

Continue reading: The ‘Static’ Experience:  Location-Based Audio Drama
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