Here are my notes from Playful.

James Wallis James Wallis (Spaace) woke us all up by blowing our minds. He’s shared his slides (also embedded below) as well as publishing some notes on his blog.

  • Why are they called ‘plays’ when there is no play?
  • 2 types of entertainment: spectacle and narrative
  • OuLiPo
  • The story of Three Alert Peas, first interactive fiction [you can try it for yourself here]
  • OuLiPo treats both the writing and the reading as playful. La Disparition, written entirely without the letter ‘e’
  • Three Alert Peas -> Fighting Fantasy -> Warhammer -> Warcraft

Roo Reynolds was up next (that’s me!). I muttered some un-prepared and technical-hitch-ridden gubbins about my Rock Band MIDI guitar hack. Steve took the lovely photo on the right. Tom Armitage captured some lovely HD footage of what was (for me) the the highlight of the presentation, an attempt at playing Hotel California.

I’ve retro-engineered some slides (essentially some photos of the action and some screenshots of what I was doing at various points during the presentation) which I’ve uploaded to SlideShare along with the audio from my session to make this slidecast. The audience seemed to be genuinely warm and on my side, despite frequent technical glitches with audio and my general air of random ill-preparedness. Thanks for bearing with me, everyone.

Matthew Irvine Brown (

Adrian Hon Adrian Hon (Six To Start) decided not to talk about his specialist subject of ARGs, displayed a touching openness and honesty about a close shave with game-induced alcoholism.

  • Playing Team Fortress 2 between 1am and 3am every day makes you tired but jittery. Solution: alcohol
  • “I started drinking because I was playing Team Fortress 2 a lot”.
  • Then decided to stop
  • Playing really good games can have consequences which change peoples lives

Chris Delay (Introversion Software) talked about Procedural Generation (aka ‘how to make expensive game content when you can’t afford an art team’. He demonstrated some lovely work in his upcoming new game ‘Subversion’.

Eric Clough (212 Box) told us about his (incredible) ‘Mystery of Fifth Avenue‘ project.

Kars Alfrink (Leapfrog)

Kars has shared his slides and transcript on his blog, and his slides on SlideShare. My notes…

  • Design for play is like squeezing a bird. Too loose, it will fly off. Too tight, it will die
  • Film: Dogtown and Z-Boys – pools and skateboards are tools, used to play
  • Streetfighter 2 = “tool for having fun” according to its creator
  • Dourish – “Users, not designers, create and communicate meaning”
  • When designing for play, underspecify
  • Mitchel Resnick – Turtles, Termites and Traffic Jams “What’s needed are microworld construction kits, so that you can create your own microworlds, focusing on the domains you find most interesting”

Alex FleetwoodAlex Fleetwood (Hide and Seek) talked about an interesting project but asked us not to blog about it. Since I (foolishly) stopped taking notes at that point, I have very little recollection of what he told us, so can’t decide if there’s anything I should mention here. Ah well.

Tom Armitage (Headshift) was, as always, both clever and thoughtful. Plus he made me want to play Fable 2.

  • Everything is multiplayer now
  • Social software. Software about people. More than one person.
  • “The important thing is not what I tell you, but what you do with it”
  • Raph Koster – ‘single player games are an historical aberration’ (even single player games are played in a multiplayer context of persistent profiles)
  • ‘The Spectacle’.
  • Jyri Engstom: social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object
  • Layers of metadata. ‘We leak data.’
  • Supercontext. Grant Morrison via Matt Jones.
  • Disproportionate feedback loops
  • Keep the spectacle spectacular
  • The myth of multiplayer. MicroMachines 2 – 8 people in a room around a 14 inch TV
  • The real world is asynchronous.
  • Geometry Wars 2 – Playing online vs sharing highscores.
  • Sync activity with shared context.
  • “I miss it [xbox live] when I turn on my PS2, because I realise that I’m really on my own. Totally alone.”
  • Everything is multiplayer now, but actually Everything always was multiplayer.
  • Sharing context, at least, if not location.
  • Multi play is a sliding scale.

Sandy Spangler (Sony) delivered a bit of a corporate sales pitch, but it ended up being quite interesting anyway. Especially the videos of the history and early prototypes. Sandy claims that Sony “created a new genre: Physical and social gaming” (may seem like a stretch, but remember this was 2003 – a long time pre-Wii)

  • Sandy is a game designer with Eye Toy team
  • 2003: Eye Toy Play for PS2 (collection of controller-free mini games + webcam). Won a Bafta
  • 10,500,000 Eye Toy cameras in Europe alone
  • Dr Richard Marks, ‘the father of Eye Toy’
  • Early research and demo work: Video effects, Augmented reality, Colour tracking for augmenting objects, Player augmentation
  • Design mechanics rather than games
  • Lots of prototypes and robustness testing. Does it break? Is it fun?
  • What’s next: colour tracking peripherals. Played with real toys
  • Pom Pom Party (pink and green physical pom poms). Cheerleading game.
  • Eye Toy Hero (sword). Story driven adventure. First-person gameplay (feedback from seeing floating object; no need to reflect the player on-screen)

Eric Zimmerman (Gamelab) talked about games as an emerging forms of literacy

  • Literacy: creating and understanding meaning
  • Games design is an interesting model for thinking about understanding the world. Not being addressed by education today, but will be dominant in the future
  • Three components of ‘game literacy’: Systems. Play. Design.
  • Play is the driver of innovation
  • Showed Gamestar Mechanic demo – launching early next year.

Matt Biddulph (Dopplr) talked about tinkering with games controllers and has already put his slides online:

I for one welcome our new Wiimote carrying overlords

  • Wii – cheap consumer electronics
  • Johnny Lee at TED. 5 months from lab to commercial game
  • Today, anyone can make something interesting without needing a fabrication lab
  • Arduino – handy way of joining the real world with your computer. Easy for software hackers to control hardware
  • MIDI – it’s about getting a flow of date from one point to another
  • Reading Oystercards – recent examples of Oystercards as unique key for voting
  • BBC DABagotchi
  • Laser Harp
  • ‘Giving the blind computer a view of what’s going on in the room’.
  • Nintendo DS – current generation of Nintendo is doing a lot more with a lot less
  • DS Brut – arduino-like hardware addon for homebrew DS
  • Book: Making Things Talk – emphasis on friendly, anthropomorphic interfaces

Iain Tait (Poke) talked about high-scores.

  • First game with hi scores, Seawolf – 1976
  • Star Fire – first time you could put your initials
  • Localised bragging rights within the realm of that machine
  • Twin Galaxies – International Scoreboard
  • Documentary: King of Kong – a fistful of quarters. “I wanted pretty girls to say “Hi. I see that you’re good at centipede”
  • 1982 – high scores are a metaphor for prowess
  • What do they mean in 2008?
  • Scoring as children: gold stars. Now: 5 a day. Alcohol units: That’s just counting, no ascribed value
  • Pay slip as score
  • Am I Hot or Not, Rate My Poo, eBay, LinkedIn,, …
  • Going from Abstract to Actual, from Metaphors to Measures, from Simple to Complex, from Designers to Everyone as scoreres, from In Game to In Life

Jolyon Webb (Blitz Games) talked about teeth in video games. I’d seen the (incredibly powerful) dying man tech demo video from TruSim before (last year, in Coventry) but it’s very very good, and still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This was a funny presentation, mainly about teeth.

  • A few facts to get started: 1: have face tracking working with webcam. 2: DS screens are pressure sensitive, a feature which a homebrew art app [Colors!] takes advantage of
  • TruSim demo video. Not aiming for photo realism but to provide a better connection
  • Teeth are difficult. Translucent, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. Rigid, but with flexible cover (lips)
  • Why are they so badly done? Because designers don’t care?
  • Perfect teeth (celebrity and model teeth) are often what’s used in CG and games
  • The body is made up of what’s internal (skeletal structure) and external (muscle)
  • A little bit of ‘snaggle’ adds realism

Kieraon Gillen is an editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, which I’m duty bound to like, because they linked to my ‘LEGO is full of WIN presentation earlier this year, which surprised me as it’s not in their usual field; PC games). Kieron seemed slightly flustered, but made some very astute (and very funny) points about games.

  • On speaking at a games conference: “Its like asking a teenager to present at a porn conference. I’ve seen it all, but I’m not equipped to talk about it”
  • Plagiarism and videogames aka ‘ripping stuff off is awesome’
  • EVE Online – no level structure. It’s flat, yet no-one else is learning from it
  • Why has nobody ripped off the Sims?
  • Learning from other people is good.

In short, Playful was a brilliant conference, and I had an amazing day.

2 replies on “Playful”

  1. All the epic poems – the earliest examples of literature we have were interactive or semi interactive. That’s what comes of having an audience (kings) that is much more powerful than the story teller (itinerant peasants, living off their wits) in the real world.

    That’s what we need. Story tellers aware of the power of the audience.

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