Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Rotterdam QuakeCam

I come from a country with a lot of serious earthquakes. It can be disastrous and it can be scary. Ever since I moved to Rotterdam however, I haven't felt a single earthquake. Not only do they not have the deadly ones in this city, they don't even have perceptible ones, and I definitely count that as a blessing. 

Recently I've worked on this mini-project where I made some gifs to picture a super-earthquake in Rotterdam. I have not researched into the geology, I don't know how an earthquake here would ACTUALLY look like, and mine is a very cartoony imagination. These are visualisations of an earthquake in Rotterdam in a cartoony parallel universe. It's one more example of using the real to compose the imaginary. Maybe we can take comfort in the fact that these scenes can only be imagined.

Because of the way these gifs were made, some of them feature pedestrians existing at different points in space, travelling back and forth between these points as if being trapped within a space-time paradox. In such cases the earthquake is also functioning as a timequake.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Urban Gaming: LASER EYES

Consider the giant-size chess-board in Rotterdam Central Library. People come and interact with these objects in a public space, understanding that it is a playable game without needing any instructions. Every time I'm at the Library there are always folks playing chess, maybe newcomers understand the game's playability through observing the example of previous players? I think the more intuitive analysis is that chessboard and chess pieces are, by definition, gaming instruments. This definition is commonly known and accepted in this society. When you see a set of chess, you understand that it is playable, regardless of the set's size. But we know that there is nothing inherently playable in a black/white board or in black/white solid objects of specific shapes. Their playability is socially constructed. They only constitute a game because we agree that they do. Were we to place this giant chess set in a society where no one knows of the game and no one knows the rules, the pieces will probably be understood as works of sculpture.

I've been reading a book on game-design and I've had the idea of developing physical, real-life games for the city. I like to play, as most humans do, and I also believe that playing should mostly be free. In my teenage years I was often bothered by how some of my favourite fun activities costed money, and ever since I've been trying to come up with ways to have fun for free. I guess this game-design project is one of my answers. It's a DIY approach. It is the beginning of a social construction.

The first step was to identify settings in the city that have potentials for specific game-play mechanics. I noticed this spot on Hoogstraat between Binnenroute and Beursplein. I liked the sceneries and the waters, but more importantly I liked the one-platform against three-benches structure. There's definitely something we can work with. 

The second step was to actually decide on the mechanics and bring the game to life. I looked at this place a lot and devised some rules, and alas, the game described below is called LASER EYES. 

How to play LASER EYES v.1.2

  • Make 2 teams with equal numbers of players. The minimum required is 3 players each. 4 is better. Any higher number is theoretically possible and the game gets more strategically complex as the number of players increases.
  • One team will be the LASER team. The other will be the SURVIVAL team. The two teams play against each other. The LASER team aims to destroy the SURVIVAL team at all cost. The SURVIVAL team aims to survive.
  • The two team can agree on the number of turns a game should include. What happens in a turn will be explained later. I recommend a 5-turn-game.
  • One of the players in the LASER team will play the role of LASER EYES. He/She will stand on the declining platform, the LASER STAGE, opposite the benches. At the start of the game, he/she must stare straight down at his/her own feet, and not at the benches.
  • One of the players in the SURVIVAL team will play the role of EYE MASTER. He/She will also stand on the LASER STAGE, two steps behind LASER EYES. He/She can stare at where ever the hell he/she wishes.

  • The other players in the SURVIVAL team will take position on the other side of the water. They must stand directly in front of the 3 benches, not in front of the spaces between them. They may all stand in front of the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy.
  • The other players in the LASER team will take position on the elevated grounds behind the benches, behind the fences. They must stand directly behind the 3 benches, not behind the spaces in between them. They may all stand behind the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy. At the start of a classical 4v4 game, the playing field may possibly look like this:

  • Or like this or any other such patterns:

  • When both teams arrange themselves into position, the SURVIVAL team will signal the EYE MASTER, at which point the EYE MASTER will speak the words "Laser Eyes". Upon hearing these words, LASER EYES can lift up his/her head to look at ONE of the benches. This must be a very fast and one-directional motion, he/she should have decided on which bench to look at before lifting his/her head. There's no changing of minds once his/her head started moving.
  • Because LASER EYES has the powers of LASER EYES, whoever he/she looks at will be blasted into smithereens. The SURVIVAL players in front of that targeted bench, AND the LASER players behind that targeted bench, will both be eliminated from the game and must exit the playing field. It can be visualised like this:
  • LASER EYES lowers his/her gaze back at his/her feet. That is the end of one turn.
  • The two teams reposition according to their respective strategies. The SURVIVAL team again signals the EYE MASTER. The EYE MASTER again speaks the words "Laser Eyes". LASER EYES again direct his/her deadly optic energy in the direction of one of the three benches, maybe eliminating some more players.
  • This process repeats for the pre-declared number of turns. In the 5-turn-game, you will play for 5 turns. During these 5 turns, if the LASER teams is completely eliminated before the SURVIVAL team, the SURVIVAL TEAM wins. If the SURVIVAL team is completely eliminated before the LASER team, the LASER team wins. 
  • If BOTH teams are eliminated at the same time, by the same laser blast, the LASER team still wins.
  • If the SURVIVAL team still has one or more surviving players in the field after 5 turns (or another number of turns agreed upon before the game started), however, the SURVIVAL team wins, regardless of the number of LASER players left in the field.
  • When a game is over, the two teams switch position, LASER becomes SURVIVAL and SURVIVAL becomes LASER. They play again. And again. And again if they want to. The fun may never end.
I hope the rules are clearly communicated and you can imagine how gameplay may look like. I will probably only understand the subtleties in player-interaction once I find some people to test it. But in my imagination this is, above all, a strategy game. You see, the key mechanic here is that the Laser team KNOWS where LASER EYES is going to look at, or at least they are more likely to know, because LE is in their team, and they would have agreed on some sort of strategy before the game starts. Maybe they had decided on a pattern? Left-right-middle-right-right? In this logic the Laser team can manage to ALWAYS stay out of the way of the laser blast.

But WAIT, it is not so easy! Although the Laser team knows where the blast will be, the Survival team controls the TIMING. The blast only comes when they decide that it is time, so they have the privilege to REACT to the Laser Team's positioning. A rudimentary strategy for the Survival team would be, therefore, copying the exact positions of the Laser team, and then signal for the blast. If the Laser team could avoid the blast, the Survival team could avoid it too.

But WAIT! If both teams got completely wiped out, the Laser team still wins! Considering this, maybe the Laser team can purposely place themselves in the path of the blast and hope that the Survival team will follow! But if they DON'T follow, the Laser team will be wiped out in vain! Maybe it is then too risky to put the entire team behind one bench? Maybe a 2-1-0 set up is better? How will the Survival team react to that?

If the number of players from each team increases, the risk-management aspect of the game becomes more mathematical. The potential strategic variations become endless. Maybe the Laser team can avoid  the blast for 4 rounds, and then send 2/3 of their team into the blast for the coming round?

There is, of course, also the wild-card that is the Laser Eyes player who may possibly, at a critical moment, play outside of the Laser team's strategy and surprise everyone. This may ruin the play of his/her team, or it may score a sudden win. He/She is in a position of great power and great responsibility. Playing as the LASER EYES may be mentally and physically exhilarating. 

Explaining the game is usually the least fun part of a game. Now that's over and done with, I should probably get some people and start playing. If you have read this post and want to get some of your own friends to go give this a try, I personally encourage you to go ahead. By doing so you would participate in the third-step of the design process, which is play-testing.

Maybe, if you want to, you can also leave a comment here afterwards to tell me (and everyone else) how it went. I would like to read about fun.

EDIT: I have tested the game on paper with a friend and noticed some patterns. Maybe I'll updates the rules accordingly upon future testings. For this purpose I have given the game a version-numbering. 

Monday, 16 December 2013

levels of reality

I liked this ad for the simple reason that it is a billboard inside a billboard. The augmented reality element is a big thing for the PS4 and the ad communicated the idea of gaming-as-AR pretty well. What it also does is inviting the imagination to explore what AR can potentially be. Wouldn't this ad be more relevant if the city depicted on-board IS Rotterdam? If the battle-scene on the ad takes place IN this very location in the city? If the hands holding onto the ropes are actually my hands? In the not-so-distant future where AR technology had matured and google-glass-style vision-alteration devices become prevalent, this type of location-specific and/or viewer-specific advertisement may become standard. You and I can configure our visions in different ways, such that when we look at this billboard we will see different things. Hell, we might not need a billboard at all. Ads can literally hide behind every corner and then pop out to individually scare you like some intrusive reality-TV asshole.

AR facilitates a post-modern definition of the world. What's the difference between hallucinating an unicorn and seeing it on your AR glasses display? In both scenarios the horny fucker is only visible to you. It does not exist in the objective reality. Maybe the objective reality will soon become too boring and therefore obsolete.

In accordance to the perspective of this blog, I may in fact argue that the objective reality is ALREADY boring and obsolete. Why look at anything as it physically IS, when with mindfulness we can see so much more? The human consciousness is naturally capable of AR. Take the example of Feng-Shui: Asian geomancers and their followers observe and analyse geographic elemental energy-flows that are not objectively measurable. These Feng-Shui considerations are often seriously taken into account by architects in Asia, as they design their buildings and cities. They see a relevant reality that the uninitiated ones cannot, and then they operate in this reality. We may say that to study Feng-Shui is to enter and engage a specific FS AR. Now imagine a Feng-Shui app developed for the Google Glass. This app can use geolocation and google maps coupled with a database of Feng-Shui rules, to calculate and display the Feng-Shui qualities of any place on the planet. What it really does, however, is only conveniently presenting a visualisation of an augmented reality that already exists in geomancers' minds. This app does not create an AR, but rather translate an existing AR into visuals that are accessible to everyone.

Having access to the visualisation of Feng-Shui does not make one into a geomancer, for seeing does not equal to believing nor understanding. But it does make both of those processes easier. I imagine that such an app would make a great education/visualisation/initiation instrument.

While we talk about visualisation instruments we may also discuss a different technological approach. Instead of a fabricated digital reality that only exists on screen, we can create tangible scale-models. Scale models are definitely real objects in the objective reality, but at the same time they are also representations, and there is tension in this duo-quality of theirs. In the setting of the Blaak Markthal construction site, we see the arched structure existing in 3 different levels of reality. There's a small representation inside of a bigger representation, set in front of the REAL SIZE THING. The size is, of course, not the only differentiating factor, as each of the two representations draw attention to different aspects of the building, while the actual building is not complete (although it is more complete now than it was when I took the photos). The models represent a Markthal in the future, which as of this moment does not exist yet. They communicate a reality that objectively is not yet, but one that already exists in the minds of city planners and architects and construction workers, and also in the schedule.

Now what if I create a model for a reality that only exist in my own schedule, and you create one that only exists in yours? When we do, are we also creating a style of ARs according to our subjectivities? In a previous post I mentioned Kraków Szopki. These models, although not to-scale, are meant to represent some aspects of the city of Kraków, according to the individual craftsman's interpretation. They take inspirations from local architecture and culture and construct these elements into an imagined amalgam reality. Of course in the objective reality Jesus wasn't born in any cathedral or castle in Kraków, but in the AR of Szopki he was born in Kraków many many times.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Library's Chinese Dragon & Kraków Szopki

I grew up in a Christian family and to this day I'm very thankful that my parents were not EXTREMELY PARANOID about it. A group of our Christian family friends were, though, and I remember that they would throw a fit whenever they see an image of a dragon anywhere. They believed it was the power-insignia of Satan and advised everyone to avoid the sight of these things. Consider that we were living in a Chinese cultural environment, this extreme sensitivity to the iconography of the Beast was inconvenient to say the least. The ethnic Chinese sometimes like to identify themselves as, if translated into biblical terminology, Descendents of the Serpent. We love dragons and we have them as decorations everywhere, especially in traditional settings. When these radical Christians go out on the streets during Chinese New Year they grow very distressed. 

A woman from the church had a fight with my grandmother on a visit once, when she insisted that my gran should get rid of these double-blue-dragon porcelain vases in the living room, preferably have them shattered, so that the Beast will not have power over her house. Gran, also a Christian, thought this woman was ridiculous. She never smashed the vases and they haven't spoke much ever since.

Funnily enough, I have come to realize that the woman's line of thoughts wasn't COMPLETELY unreasonable. In the words of Alan Moore, "The one place God inarguably exists is in the human mind.*" For a people whose culture and daily symbols are saturated with Dragons, the Christian God needs to aggressively invade ("evangelize") their mental realities in order to occupy a relevant mindshare. And what's more aggressive and invasive than physically smashing your competitions? If there comes a day when Apple can convince their fans to physically smash up PCs and android phones whenever they see one, commercial brands will have truly become our new gods. I'm sure brands have had their eyes on those thrones for a while.

Inside the Rotterdam Central Library, on the 3rd floor, there is a great Chinese Dragon hanging overhead. It was first installed in the tourist information centre (VVV) in late 2012 as a part of the promotional campaign for this China Light Festival in Rotterdam, but they have moved it here after the festival was over.

Its bones are made of metal wires and its flesh a composition of coloured fabric shreds. The Dragon's real construction material, however, is wishes. The sorcerer, or in this case probably a promotional campaign designer, had came up with a ritualistic practice where everyone who visited the VVV could write a new year's wish on a piece of fabric and tie it onto the Dragon's bones. Started as an empty, hollow and colourless skeleton, the Dragon had been given colour and form through the transforming acts of wishing. This is a straight-forward symbolic process. The Dragon had been given life.

In many magical traditions across cultures, people gather the bones of dead animals and/or persons and perform certain rituals on them, which enables the people to interact, on some level, to the dead bodies' original masters. If the communication is conducted correctly, the spirits of the passed can allegedly come back to aid us to divination, protection and various other ends. In the Dragon's case, no real dead body parts were used, but instead an entire artificial body is created in a symbolic procedure. As the Israelites had forged the Golden Calf**, Rotterdamers had patched together a Dragon that according to some has the very shape of Satan himself. Although it was not worshipped per se, it WAS entrusted with people's wishes. Surely most people were not seriously expecting their wishes to be fulfilled by the actual ritual, but on the other hand Abraham's God takes these little things very seriously.



I only had the idea to write in this terrible conflict frame because, as a part of the Polish-month activities, there's also an Kraków Szopki exhibition going on in the Llibrary. As per my understanding, Szopki are traditionally hand-crafted miniature models depicting the Nativity in the setting of Kraków-styled historical architecture. It's very Christian and very Polish at the same time. Elements of folklore and biblical stories are combined into the craft and designs, and within these Szopki cultural interaction and tension both contribute to the aesthetics of one narrative . These models are going back to Poland after the exhibition (Jan 6th) and I encourage everyone to go take a look while you can.

As Szopki are tiny buildings, the public library is just a bigger building. I think it is exciting that in these shared cultural sites, symbols from different backgrounds and religions old and new all stand their grounds and vie for our attention. In a multi-cultural society that is also an information society, every public space is an arena for ideas, and as ideas do battle, symbols are some of their most powerful weapons****. And then, if we take advantage of an Asiatic martial-arts metaphor here, every battle is also a conversation.

Also I don't know where else to fit this into the post but in one of the Szopki, Death and the Devil BOTH came for King Herod's soul because he fucked up big time. This has gotta be the worst-ever double-trouble scenario and I thought it's absolutely hilarious.

*    Alan Moore, "From Hell" (1999)
**   Exodus 32
***  Google automatically generated this gif for me what the hell
**** Kieron Gillen, "Dark Avengers: Ares" (2010)