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Gamecamp

skellington
On Saturday I was at Gamecamp 6, which I thought a few people here might be interested in.

(I seem to have degenerated to LJing solely about games just lately. Sorry about that… although in my defence, they are occupying almost all my work and leisure time at the moment.)

Anyway, so Gamecamp is an unconference, which is like a conference (in that it consists of people with related interests getting together to talk about stuff) but rather than having a predefined agenda, it organizes itself as it goes along without any hierarchy of authority. Any attender can announce and deliver a session on any subject they feel like.

This was my first time attending such a thing, and tbh I didn't quite know what to expect, but it seemed to work pretty well. There was a big piece of wall divided into a grid of rooms vs (half-hour) timeslots, and people just stuck up index cards onto it with what they wanted to do. I guess it would be a bit disheartening if you announced something and then no-one came along for it, but as it turned out all the slots I joined in on (and the one I organized) had plenty enough people.

Actually to say 'the one I organized' is aggrandizing it a bit. The theme of this year's Gamecamp was "Show and Tell, or Run What You Brung. Bring along a game you’ve made, a prototype you’ve got in testing or a work you have in progress, and be ready to show it off and talk about it." Not really knowing what was going to happen, I took along some copies of Shape Up! (as mentioned in this LJ passim), bagged a room slot, and found some people to test it on. Which was cool, although tbh not much different to what I've done at the regular London boardgame playtest group. Next time I'll be more ambitious!

Anyway, so what else did I do? I playtested a game about catching RFID-based electronic fireflies against the clock, from pabadesigns, which was lots of fun but very prone to cheating through over-excitement. I suggested the fireflies should deliver a mild electric shock if you tried to move them illegally. I think Polly was strongly tempted…

I went to a discussion about location-based techniques in mobile games (ie. the phone senses whereabouts you are located, and the game changes accordingly in some way), which was quite practical: basically various people discussing examples of games where it worked well or badly, and their own experiences (most were developers) of the various technical options available. The general tenor of dissatisfaction confirmed me in my mind about not using location-basing in the pervasive games I'm working on, but instead using QR codes and the like to check-in.

That and a couple of slots taken up by talking to friends and to business contacts took me to lunch, when I met up with the esteemed floralaetifica. Which was nice! We pretty much stuck together for most of the rest of the day.

Next up was one about the use of Twine in interactive fiction. I know very little about interactive fiction, and nothing at all about Twine, but there wasn't much else that seemed good in that slot, and I figured I'd learn something. And I did, as it turned into mostly a discussion about in-game narrative techniques in general; different kinds of reveal, player/reader frustration, the implicit contract. Much food for thought.

After that quite sedentary phase though I needed something different, so went to the room that was being used by the Haberdashery Collective. They do what are perhaps best described as grown-up kids' games, like Hide and Seek sometimes do. I think some of them are known to some of you? Anyway, we played some fun fairly-physical games and woke up a bit.

Next was my Shape Up! test slot, which went well and confirmed my good feelings about the game's current state. There's just one thing I want to try (a variation in the scoring, which'll make it easier to see how to score, but more difficult to actually do so) if only to dismiss it from my mind. We shall see.

Then was a discussion about Storynexus. I was in the unusual situation of knowing more about it than most of the other people in the room, having got as far as created a test world and played around with the techniques – although an actual game design idea has withered on the vine thanks to lack of time for me and the other participants. So I didn't learn a lot at that one, but it's still nice to hear about other people's experiences.

We took a tea break here, and then went back to the Haberdashery for more ar$ing about. And that was the end of the show! Pretty much everyone retired to the nearby pub for more chat, but I had to head off after a pint to meet up with TheHattedOne for an Esperanza! design session. (Of which more soon.)

Anyway, so overall it was good fun and I'd recommend it if you have a general interest in games. I would say most of the people there were mostly about computer games of one kind or another, although there were also plenty focusing on board/card games, pervasive games, and interactive fiction. Hardly anyone (or maybe not anyone at all) whose primary interest was in role-playing games (or related things like larp and freeform), though. Which surprised me a bit.

I've been aware of Gamecamp for a few years and tended to think it wasn't for me. Even this year I was a bit doubtful. But actually it was a good fit, as I've got such a variety of game stuff on these days. I even managed to find someone to have a very useful convo with about the educational software business I'm trying to get off the ground. And the mood is not at all intimidating, you're not compelled or even socially-pressured into doing or saying anything. Although one of the mottos is 'there is no audience', in practice I would guess about half the people there didn't 'lead' anything but just listened to stuff and chipped in where they felt appropriate.Which is cool.

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Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
bateleur
20th May, 2013 15:04 (UTC)
Regarding Twine - It's turning into quite an important tool for a reason which I suspect is very much in line with its design goals: it's easy to use. People who not only aren't programmers but wouldn't even be able to handle a non-code-based game design tool can pick up Twine and tell interactive stories. The people complaining about Twine's many shortcomings tend to miss the point that even if Twine is always the worst tool for the job it can still be very useful because sometimes it's the only tool for the job! (And it isn't really always the worst, either. At least not IMO.)
bateleur
20th May, 2013 15:05 (UTC)
(Anyone reading this who has always wanted to write an interactive story but never felt able to, I recommend giving Twine a quick look.)
pengshui_master
20th May, 2013 18:57 (UTC)
Actually twine's not powerful enough - at least not obviously for the IF in my mind. But that's because it needs to have a hideous amount of hidden state tracking embedded.

Having just looked at twine (well the video and the SVN repo) it looks like a well designed system , if anything that simplicity is a bonus for it's target audience.

There are UI elements I want to (and may well) rip out and use in my own MysteryMachine project , but MysteryMachine deliberately has a much greater scope, is less usable at the moment, and less complete.

It is very definitely food for thought though.
bateleur
20th May, 2013 19:14 (UTC)
Yes, indeed.

I think there's quite a bit of room for all sorts of different tools between Twine and Inform 7, which I've also played with and enjoyed.

Another system I've been playing with recently is the (pre?) alpha version of thickishstring, which seems to be trying to bring some measure of accessibility to multi-user dungeons.

What is MysteryMachine? I'm having trouble websearching it for obvious reasons!
pengshui_master
20th May, 2013 19:34 (UTC)
MysteryMachine, is my freeform game writing app, you used to be able to google it easily, but then google started trying to be helpful.

The best link these days is the bitbucket repo "https://bitbucket.org/rgammans/mystery-machine" , before the old Trac installation died there was a wiki about design choices, with some documentation.

(Eek, I've just seen many ,many typos in the README)

It not quite feature complete, the most important missing feature is also preventing it being able to self host it documentation.

In essence it's a wiki database, which you can cut across with template documents (like character sheets) to get different views of the same data. But where it differs it it splits out the databases into objects and attributes (rather than pages). Each object can have a parent from which it inherits a set of defaults.
Attributes support macro replacement of relatively pathed references.

bateleur
20th May, 2013 19:59 (UTC)
Wow! That's an interesting approach - I've never seen anything like that before!
undyingking
20th May, 2013 15:37 (UTC)
Mm, most of the people in the discussion were non-technical, and very enthused about its usability. Having looked at it myself a bit since getting back, I'm pretty impressed.
jvvw
20th May, 2013 16:51 (UTC)
I went to the first GameCamp though haven't been to any since for various reasons - and rather enjoyed the mix of different kinds of games and people. Interesting to hear about your experience!
undyingking
21st May, 2013 08:34 (UTC)
Hope you will be able to again in future!
squirmelia
20th May, 2013 17:25 (UTC)
I've really enjoyed GameCamp the times I've been. Wished I had been able to make it this year.
undyingking
21st May, 2013 08:31 (UTC)
Sorry that you weren't able to (and about the reason why) – hope things are getting better.

Edited at 2013-05-21 08:34 (UTC)
jiggery_pokery
31st May, 2013 21:39 (UTC)
Very interesting! Thanks for sharing the write-up.

Did you get any inkling that another BoardGameCamp might be held at some point, as distinct from a non-specific but as you say mostly digital GameCamp? The GameCamp web site hints at a possible second 2013 GameCamp in the autumn and when they held a GameCamp in Autumn 2010 then it had the board nature, so...
undyingking
31st May, 2013 23:19 (UTC)
I had a bit of a chat with James Wallis at the weekend and he was keen to have another GameCamp in the autumn, but probably again of a general nature. However he did talk about extending the GameCap brand to other events than unconferences: for example a seminar/design sesh, pencilled in for August, at which the guests would be Messrs Knizia, Tresham and Parlett. Which might be of interest.
jiggery_pokery
1st Jun, 2013 12:29 (UTC)
Couldn't they get anyone better?
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )