• "Eons ago, in 1996, Next Generation magazine asked me for a list of game design tips for narrative games. Here’s what I gave them. Reading it today, some of it feels dated (like the way I refer to the player throughout as “he”), but a lot is as relevant as ever. I especially like #8 and #9." Jordan Mechner is a smart chap; nice to know he was on the right lines so long ago.
  • "A rain-proof planetarium machine could be installed in public, anchored to the plinth indefinitely. Lurking over the square with its strange insectile geometries, the high-tech projector would rotate, dip, light up, and turn its bowed head to shine the lights of stars onto overcast skies above. Tourists in Covent Garden see Orion's Belt on the all-enveloping stratus clouds—even a family out in Surrey spies a veil of illuminated nebulae in the sky." This is lovely, though no idea if it'd, you know, work.
  • "Noticings is possibly one of the first services to integrate the Yahoo Geoplanet Data deeply". Tom explains how we're using Geoplanet inside Rails. Really good stuff if you're interested in that geo malarkey
  • "if the Choose Your Own Adventure books are just another Finite State Machine, it should be possible to use some of the same techniques to examine their structure." And so begins a lovely, lovely post on data visualisation, and what visualisation can tell us about the changing editorial strategy of CYOA books. Be sure to check out the "animations" at the top of the page. It's all very beautiful.
  • "I’ve always taken pictures of street furniture, signs, adverts, shop fronts, and other such trivia. I always felt a bit strange about posting them, but noticings seems to thrive on such things. I worry a little that I’ve annoyed people who liked irregular, but “better”, photographs, but hopefully there’s value in noticings, too." Paul is nice about noticings. I "get" his points about feeling like it's interrupting your photostream, but I enjoy the new things I discover more than I care about the disruption, and I hope other people feel that way, too.
  • "Maybe it’s just me (I don’t think so) but this is precisely the sort of thing we always hoped people would build on top of the Flickr API." Gosh, thanks, Aaron. Although: everything else in this post is also awesome. Aaron has a wonderful way of building segues, and not only from topic to topic, but from idea to code to idea and so forth.


28 August 2009

One of my challenges to myself for 2009 was to make a game.

I bang on about them enough on here, and in the real world, but I’ve never actually made a game – at least, not one anyone else has ever played. I decided that needed to change. And now it has.

Noticings is live. What’s Noticings? Well, the about page explains it pretty well:

Noticings is a game about learning to look at the world around you.

Cities are wonderful places, and everybody finds different things in them. Some of us like to take pictures of interesting, unusual, or beautiful things we see, but many of use are moving so fast through the urban landscape we don’t take in the things around us.

Noticings is a game you play by going a bit slower, and having a look around you. It doesn’t require you change your behaviour significantly, or interrupt your routine: you just take photographs of things that you think are interesting, or things you see. You’ll get points for just noticing things, and you might get bonuses for interesting coincidences.

You play Noticings with a camera, Flickr, a single tag, and making sure your photographs are geotagged. That’s it. There are no points for value judgments or aesthetic opinion; there’s no win-condition (though you might temporarily be top of a leaderboard for the past seven days, or for a neighbourhood, or for a city).

Tom and I had batted around the idea of some kind of game like this for quite a while, and it went through several different phases of complexity and big-design-up-front, showing it to select friends who had smart ideas, and thinking about how to Get It Done and perhaps get paid for it.

And then we threw most of that out of the window (for now) and just made the damn thing work. It went live with one simple rule: you get ten points for a noticing. Then we invited some friends – many of whom have been playing this game for years without knowing it – and waited to see what would happen.

There’s some elegant engineering that means it’s dead easy to roll out new rules, which we’re doing, slowly, along with changes to the code and the site. Some of the forthcoming rules will be obvious; some might be curveballs. We might not tell you about everything up front. You might have to challenge yourself a little to get the more interesting bonuses. We might change everything in a bit.

It’s fun working on a game whilst people play it, and for now, we make no apologies for the work-in-progress state.

And it’s fun to start seeing the world with a slightly different lens; seeing something that might be a good noticing, or recognising something you’ve seen in the game that you want the bonus points for re-noticing. I’m getting much more diligent about uploading cameraphone pictures; I’m getting much less precious about my photostream; I’m taking more pictures as a result. It’s interesting to see a game that encourages you to see patterns and collect the world in photographs, much as Martin Parr or Tom Phillips have done. It’s fun to see more of the city around you.

So, a work in progress. And: it now needs more people to join in. We took the temporary password off this morning, and now, anyone can join in. You can play anywhere in the world – we’ll be doing some interesting stuff around places, I hope, to make it easier to see stuff that’s near you (rather than just all over the place) – and we’ll see how it goes. You might also want to follow the Noticings blog, where we’ll keep people updated with new rules as they happen, and changes to the game.

It’s 2009, and I’m working on a game, and it’s already making me very happy. Let’s see what happens next.