SCOOT Episode One. Summary and Reflection.

In SCOOT World a creature will either challenge you to an online game for Agent Status… or… send you into your own local environment to seek out authentic mission information.

Image above: The Soldier Ghost of 1939: “Legend has it that, in 1939, an adjutant fell from one these mounting blocks when his horse became uncontrollable. The adjutant died after he split his skull and his ghost is said to haunt the Artillery Drill Hall.” This historic legend informed the first SCOOT story line mixing history and fiction across real and virtual worlds… basically As an Agent of SCOOT you must assist the soldier who has become a ghost in both worlds. Players act on his behalf to complete a mission for him.

SCOOT was first attempted on a small scale as a welcoming event for Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students to the newly developed Creative Industries Precinct (CIP) in Brisbane. My initial interest in creating a LBG was to study how an event of this kind could re-invigorate peoples everyday connection to place. I was concerned with how to offer an alternate experience in (and about) the place to trigger the imaginations of the players (QUT students) and inspire a feeling of inclusion and membership in that space. The CIP had a potential problem in that it appeared very new and very precious… not the key ingredients for feeling at home.

The very first iteration of SCOOT was designed to occur over 3 days of game play. Initially the University had wanted the game to go for 2 weeks. However, this was not feasible especially since there were too many unknowns about the hosting of such an event. Having reviewed The Beast ARG (Microsoft), I realised that to keep players engaged for that long would require the design of hundreds of challenges…. And as experienced during I like Frank in Adelaide (Blast Theory) game, it may be difficult to sustain the access and cost of such an event if the technology was not reliable.  However, I did realise that it may take more than a single day for the game to gather momentum especially in a University context where the potential users day is often busy with meetings and classes. The University had also insisted on a prize for the winner of the game event. This imposed a particular dynamic on the game, making it competitive. As such SCOOT had to allow for as many players to complete as well as provide an absolute way for a winner to be established. I would have preferred that the motivation to play SCOOT was simply because it would be fun, subversive and social. However, offering prizes proved to be an effective way to get initial registrations.

To follow is an outline of the first iteration of the creative work, namely SCOOT. As with DBR, the first episode will be described first in terms of it’s

  • SETTING – the components of the location/place in which the first episode is designed and hosted
  • INTERVENTIONS – the components of the game
  • ITERATION – reflections of the first event as it relates to post-events

Episode One: The Setting

“The Creative Industries Faculty is located at the Kelvin Grove campus and Creative Industries Precinct. Individual artistic talent is given space to grow within some of the best performance spaces in the country. Augmenting these spaces is an impressive array of technical equipment that reflects industry standards.” http://www.creativeindustries.qut.edu.au/about_us/facilities/ 5.5.09, 3.50pm

SCOOT was first designed for students of the Queensland University of Technology in the Creative Industries Precinct, Brisbane Australia. The brand new CIP is situated in a new mixed community urban development known as the Kelvin Grove Urban Village, in Brisbane, Australia. The university rhetoric was one of access and creative engagement:

“It provides a unique opportunity for designers, artists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to easily connect and collaborate with others to create new work, develop new ideas and grow the creative industries sector in Queensland.” http://www.ciprecinct.qut.com/about/ 5.5.09, 3.45pm

However, as many urban theorist will agree, having smart infrastructure in place, no matter how ‘state of the art’ ‘on its own will not create the kinds on innovative milieux that encourage people to interact and participate’ (Charles Landry and Franco Bianchini The Creative City, Demos Publications, London UK). As such, I offered SCOOT as a potential way to engage students at QUT in the new precinct. This is when it was first realised by myself and potential stakeholders (QUT Precinct’s Management) that SCOOT was a clear opportunity to introduce students to the new ‘digs’ in a fun, social and novel way. In order to maximise the students’ sense of involvement it was decided to include a number of students in both the design process and as key characters in the hosting of the SCOOT event.

“The planning and design approach is usually urban. Significant emphasis has been placed on creating a permeable, connected, integrated, adaptable and highly-legible layout of buildings and public streets and spaces.” Integrated Master Plan Summary. Department of Housing, QUT, Kelvin Grove Urban Village. Pdf download available from http://www.kgurbanvillage.com.au/vision/masterplan.shtm 5.5.09, 4.00pm

This first episode initially was viewed as an experiment. I simply wanted to know what might be required to design a Location-Based Game and how the inhabitants of a site might value it. I learned very quickly the stakeholders in any given place are diverse and all have varying levels of influence. Having been involved in the curation of graduate exhibitions at the university, I had knowledge of the potential resources of the site and access to the key managerial and technical personnel. This made the University site an obvious place to start. It just so happened that the University had just completed the construction of a brand new precinct. It was suggested that a mobile phone game might be a fun way to orient the students and staff to their new ‘digs’ and an informal way for people to meet as a community in ready-made proximity.

However, I was not convinced that the existent communities were aware of the potentials of the site. Even if they were, it is not apparent how they were to access these global digital facilities. It became evident that this was an opportunity to design a location-based game that would explicitly intervene in and reveal the physical and telematic infrastructures of the site in an effort to increase a sense of access and agency for the local inhabitants.

SCOOT was promoted in a local newspaper as a way for “new inhabitants of Kelvin Grove to orientate themselves in the neighbourhood and introduce them to the histories and services of the broader village”. Kurb Magazine. 2004. Brisbane: QUT

The selection of the first site for SCOOT was opportunistic. At the time I was teaching interaction design at the Queensland University of Technology and was sharing a house with Karen Wiley who was responsible for all of the events and exhibitions at QUT. At the time Karen was involved in all of the events leading up to the launching of a whole new campus with a newish urban village ethic. The Creative Industries Precinct was to become the new home to the university staff and students of the creative industries disciplines including visual arts, music, fashion, acting, dance and communication design. SCOOT became the first event leading up to the launch to orient everyone to the new features of the site.

Episode One: The Game Components

  1. Virtual World – a facsimile of the real space, transformed into a two dimensional cartoon world This became known as SCOOT WORLD. SCOOT WORLD was situated on line and was where students would receive game missions to be resolved on the new site (CIP).
  2. SMS Pathway – a series of SMS clues and solves that corresponded to a ‘node’ (point of interaction) in the real world.
  3. Interactive installations – experimental sculptures with various modes of input.

The Alert Drone is my favourite SCOOT sculpture. This sculpture was originally intended to be placed inside the entrance to the Precinct’s largest lecture theatre. In order for the players to be able to read the scrolling LED letters in the small window, they must first hold down the green button on top of the sculpture; but in doing so, they release one of a number of random sounds which explode loudly from the many speakers inside the structure. This proved far too disturbing for some University members, and soon the sculpture was moved to a less invasive space. But for a moment, the players experienced the pleasure of subverting the accepted protocols of institutional space.

Once all of the physical challenges had been resolved, the players could be found in the various computer labs on site where they continued to play the virtual games in an effort to gain ‘top score’.  To communicate with other players off-site, the participants could all communicate through a SCOOT discussion forum. The forum was also a place where players could contact SCOOT agents (the development team) to ask any questions concerning the game rules or their individual progress. Players could also send messages to each other on-site by sending SMS text directly to digital message boards (plasma screens) throughout the site.

Above all, SCOOT offered students the opportunity to explore parts of the new Precinct that previously felt unavailable to them. It was particularly satisfying to witness students from many different cohorts meeting, competing and collaborating while realising new ways to exploit their environment with simple technologies.

Episode One: The Event, As it happened

Pre Game:

Students received an email informing them of an impending doom to their brand new campus and were invited to ‘Assis or prepare for chaos’

For each event players are invited to become special Agents of SCOOT. Below is the marketing text for SCOOT Episode One at the CIP.

“…rejected by her own world, Omega Carnega has new plans for YOUR world. You have two choices, prepare for invasion or put an end to this crazy carnival…

Somehow Omega and her fellow agents have AGAIN found a way to access the secret tunnel that connects our world to the virtual world of SCOOT! They have foolish ideas, and if they are successful, your world will become the new Headquarters for Omegaʼs dodgy Carnival. They have broken a sacred pledge to never travel through the tunnel and now both worlds have become unstable! If you decide to take up the challenge, you will become part of a great effort to stabilise the worlds and become winning legends of SCOOT. To do so, you will need to find and solve clues in BOTH worlds while using secret SMS frequencies for vital communications between interactive sculptures, virtual worlds, dodgy characters and other human agents.

To qualify as an agent, you must be equipped with a mobile phone device and have fearless skills to beat the agents of SCOOT at their own dodgy games.”
For details go to http://www.scootgame.com

Start Game:

On day one of any event, the players receive a series of SMS clues that lead them on a path of discovery at any of the given locations, beginning at a computer interface where they receive their first mission information from SCOOT WORLD characters (http://scootworld.com).

In Game:

There, they soon discover that a parallel world exists that is a distorted facsimile of their local environment. The buildings and grounds are similar yet mutated and it is inhabited by a number of odd characters. Early in the game the players realise that there is a tear in the fine fabric that separates the world of SCOOT from their real world. Players also soon discovered that some SCOOT inhabitants are planning to bring their sinister carnival to the real world. They have begun by sending strange objects from the virtual world into the real world. In order to repair the damage and avoid invasion players must seek out help, solve clues, and complete various challenges.  Some of these challenges were in the physical world where the players had to seek out these strange objects (interactive sculptures) and SMS particular solves back to SCOOT, while other challenges occurred in the virtual world of SCOOT in the form of puzzles and games.

The developers came into contact with the players often throughout the 3 days of play. They would interact with players explaining what SCOOT was about and how they are involved. This was a big part of developing a connection between the new cohort of students and the continuing students. The game was made to feel like it emerged from their own community and demonstrated a possible way that they may imagine a collaborative practice within their study area in the Creative Industries.

Around Game:

Scoot provided various means for players to communicate both online and in the site. There have been discussion forums where players would discuss difficulties in finding or resolving clues. In both sites there were large public displays that we used to indicate directional prompts with character animations. Other uses for public displays included SMS message boards, which allowed players to communicate on site. Naturally they began using it to express gratuitous textual graffiti, but soon started to use it strategically to assist or decoy other players.

The event was split up over 3 days to give all students a chance to complete the challenges. Each day a new mission began with an early morning SMS challenge. At the same time, new characters and games were revealed in the virtual world.

End Game:

If all of the quests are completed, the local sites are saved from the destabilising effects of an attempted invasion. However, this does not mean that Omega Carnega and her carnival groupies will not attempt another breach in another place… hence the next episode…

Post Game:

There was a lot of chatter. Friends made.

The narrative is continued by the players as they were a continuing cohort of students who were also proximity members of the new urban village. SCOOT could be used as an excuse to continue connections.
Many players are now developers and have been on the team for another 5 SCOOT Episodes.

The Story of the Episode One was then told at the Next Wave Festival.

Here we met curator of ACMI. Helen Stuckey is now a major contributor on the SCOOT crew.

Email message from the winning student

Hey Guys, I’d just like to say a massive thanks to everyone out there who entered scoot, and who ran scoot because i had so much fun along the way, and met some really great people. I know everyone who entered worked really hard and i sort of feel guilty for winning it, because so many peoples efforts deserve to be rewarded. i really really appreciate this prize, and i really appreciate all of you who felt just as silly as i did running around campus taking two looks at anything that looked remotely out of the ordinary! Cheers to everyone…” (Spunkster personal email communications: 12.05.2004 21:34)

Email message from key collaborators

“Hello All.  Just wanted to say thanks for the experience that the Scoot project has given me personally.  It was
great to work with talented and dedicated people from a  variety of fields, and see the fruits of the labor bringing  a successful result.  Good luck in all future creative endeavours!! All the best, Craig Gibbons.”
(personal email communication 14 May 2004 08:42:53)

“Another personal thank you to all for having the opportunity to work with a great variety of skilled and passionate  people. Scoot became a real talking point amongst students  and staff and its success just goes to show that there is a lot of interest in these kinds of interactive works and  events (games are here to stay). So many people have expressed their interest in Scoot, but  they have also expressed interest in possible future Scoot- like incarnations. Going by public demand and interest, such  an event just has to happen again in the near future…  doesn’t it?
Best of luck and huge well done to all involved.”
Yang Wong (personal email communiaiton Fri, 14 May 2004 18:54:29)

Episode One: Key Design Implications

Although much was learned at each episode, Episode One was the most significant learning experience. As it was the first attempt, many assumptions were tested.

1. Visible game landmarks were highly valuable:

That the installations became essential sites for player interaction. Some installations were considered mentally or physically challenging… while other nodes became dynamic sites of performance. This became a much bigger focus in the following games as the performance nodes offered great potential for players and developers to meet, compete, converse, tease, trick, assist etc.

2. Players will self govern the game if there is a space for their voice:

I had intended that the forum could be a space for players to communicate any issues they were having and also could be an opportunity to gather some informal feedback by observing the discussions. To help players, myself and other student collaborators posed as players so that there was minimal disturbance to the narrative or suspension of disbelief. But surprisingly, players volunteered various roles as mentors assisting other players… and in some cases regulating ‘fair play’. On a number of occasions players went to the forum to try to coerse answers to clues from other players so that they would not need to come to the site to solve it themselves. Although most of the players were peers, they refused to assist stating quite clearly (and loyally) that it is “the whole point of the game” to ‘be there”. This demonstrated a loyalty to the games intentions and to the other players that were making an effort to ‘stick to the program’.

3. It is critical to publically broadcast player status to motivate competition

Players seemed dissatisfied that there was not a leader board posted in SCOOT WORLD. The only status information presented was there own game score and how many nodes/clues completed.  Clearly the players had found many ways of revealing their avatar names to each other and wanted to have it made quite public, their identity and position in the emerging community of SCCOT players. In the following games we published much more complex status reports of all of the players… paying particular attention to the top 20 players at any given time. Some players and developers found it a game in itself to watch and predict the leader positions in real time as they changed constantly over the days of game play.

4. Players will be motivated to appropriate local spaces independently

There was already evidence that the game had given the players an increased understanding of their access to the university spaces. This was especially enhanced by the knowledge that their class peers had been involved in the interventions that SCOOT set up. Most of the University computer labs were transformed into game bunkers reminiscent of video arcades and LAN parties. This was my intention, but I had underestimated the will of the students to express ownership over the spaces. It was very satisfying to know that SCOOT had instigated such behaviour… especially since the labs were normally only viewed as resources with many security restrictions applied. But now they had an event endorsed by the university via the game, providing the impetus to act more independently and communally. The game did not require them to be on location to play the virtual games, but many stayed on site to engage with each other and keep a running commentary on the games progress.

5. The perception of SCOOT as co-conspirator is a fine balance

I also realised that as a designer of what at first seems to be an intervention in place… I was also complicit in the maintained of the authority built into the place…. It was a balance to provide a break in behavior on behalf of the inhabitants (students) while not putting anyone at risk.

So SCOOT requires to be a con-conspiritor on behalf of the players… as subversion of the space is key to loosening the feeling of membership, ownership and hence loyalty. But SCOOT also has a responsibility to the institution that has allowed the game to happen. Although they are aware that subversion is part of the attraction for students, they also are aligned with duty of care for not only the students, but for the building and resources… and staff on site. They wanted the students to feel like they could subvert… but with minimal actual disruption to normal daily university activities.

6. SCOOT may have favoured interacting with the site more than with the players

It was important to observe that each game interface, be it an installation, animation, web game, etc was both an entry to the community and a continuance of it.??? For example if they met at an installation, they could recognise each other an continue interaction in a game lab or discussion forum and vise-versa.

7.  The game motive was lost in the ineffective communication of the narrative

I had underestimated the communication of the narrative. Many of the players were only concerned with competing rather than immersing in a narrative. I assumed that the narrative was not important to the players because it had not been continued in a consisitent way throughout the days of play. The players did however remember and relate to the various characters. It was now my intention to increase the interaction with the characters and make them play a greater role in the communicating of the narrative. This was improved significantly by the third epidode in whivh character story animations were embedded throughout the sites and were a constant part of the game experience. All installations now also told a story rather than simply challenged with a game. The characters have become the main narrative device. Their own histories and connections held clues to the games intentions… of playful intervention and spatial transformation. The narrative would need to be more explicit in the visual components that relying on text.

Episode One: Key Outcomes

Key project outcomes emerged in the form of processes, methods, terms of reference, interfaces, systems and other media. Design artefacts that are the result of a reflective practice. These design artefacts could be distinguished as process artefacts (collaboration templates, integrated scripts, technical specifications) and game artefacts (virtual world, animations, interactive installations, custom applications).

  • processes and templates to assist, record and integrate location analysis (technical and content audits) , data collection, script development, reporting to collaborators and design specifications.
  • initial aesthetic designs (graphic, sound and narrative)
  • virtual world development (terrain, buildings, props and characters).
  • Methods for mapping game path in the real world
  • Terms of reference for communicating with all the various collaborators
  • Game structure and rules (for integrating results between the virtual and real world interactions)
  • Game interfaces including registration, log on, game play, player discussion forum, score and status interfaces
  • Methods for observing and evaluating game events (technically, player experience, stakeholder needs.) Particularly interested in identifying moments of delight and surprise experienced by the players and the developers.
  • Ways to articulate the game to different interested peoples (through multiple promotional opportunities and public presentations both before and after the event.)

Recognised an opportunity for the development of new IP and expertise amongst the collaborators who were innovating processes and technologies.

The artefacts that have developed the most in further episodes have established themselves as key intellectual properties of SCOOT. Most significantly the scripts, virtual world, consoles games (experimental interactive installations) and communications custom application (SMS and player statistics).

The Integrated Scripts that have developed into a series of script templates related to specific moments in the process of design and development (geotagged data collection during site analysis, related media scripts and finally integrated geo-data, media, communications and logic script).

Episode One: Conclusion

My initial interest in creating a LBG was to study how an event of this kind could re-invigorate peoples everyday connection to place. I was concerned with how to offer an alternate experience in (and about) the place to trigger the imaginations of the players and inspire a feeling of inclusion and membership in that space.

The visual components need much more consideration. They need to communicate the intentions of the game without relying on descriptive bodies of text that are problematic for a SMS based game. It is at this point that an effective method was required to imbue game assets with the narrative themes.  Game assets were primarily graphical and interactive. However, it was apparent that the Carnival theme was appropriate. The menagerie of animal characters taking over a site with carnival trickery is an effective device to communicate ideas of playful disruption.

I quickly realised that SCOOT offered an opportunity to take a much deeper look into the potential impact of games in everyday environments, in particular as a device to subvert established conventions that perhaps limit peoples perceived role as cultural participants. Not all positive aspects of games would be transferable to physical space, nor would all spaces have the specific dynamics that would provide an insight to everyday cultural practices.

Selecting aspects of gaming and appropriate locations was the least of the issues involved in such an undertaking. This exegesis represents the theoretical influences and creative processes that were involved in the creation of SCOOT as a public intervention. The key objective of undertaking a theorectical and philosophical approach to creative practice was seen as an opportunity to improve current methods in an ultimate effort to maximise the impact of the work, given that the work will incorporate multiple formats and disciplines.

Since my practice had been actively within the field of communication design and game design, I decided to begin with a deeper look at issues surrounding urban spaces that SCOOT would inevitably need to consider. This would assist me sharpen the way I selected aspects of games to design both the creative process and the resulting artefacts for public interaction and reflection.

At the same time my concern was finding a framework that would sustain the values of the work throughout a long and intensely collaborative processes as well as sustain the connection between the theoretical study and creative outcomes. Riceours threefold mimesis in combination with a reflective practice approach, provided me with the creative limits and opportunities that I sought. Riceours insights were of particular importance as SCOOT is essentially an interactive narrative experience for both the developers and the end users.

An important early finding was that ‘narrative’ was the essential ingredient that connected all the theories and processes… key elements of narrative such as … provided a focus for the iterative process of making and evaluating every SCOOT component and interaction… not only for the end user but for the developers and other stakeholders.

Refining Practice

  1. The analysis of the site: first version intended to be broad in order to gather as much relevant data and identify and test which data specific to the site was authentically required to design an effective experience for the players. Major areas were over estimated, while others were underestimated.
  2. The Scripts: were initially over theorised. Scripts needed to be separated to cater to specific development activities and relevant to the collaborators involved in any intersecting activities. Clent versions of the scripts needed to contain information only pertanent to them. During the first episode, this was still an unknown. However, after a few episodes it became increasingly clear to limit the information as the clients felt compelled to share the scripts to many involved parties/departments in their organisations. It was essential to manage the material that they would give feedback on.
  3. The collaborations: it was essential to identify key values of the project and communicate the same consistent story to all involved as an agreement. Provide communication processes and interfaces that suited individual and group interactions. Support media and process documentation. Clearly identify, acknowledge and discuss individual incentives to collaborate on SCOOT (to learn, to meet other students, to add to the folio, to achieve status in their creative community, meet and learn from experts involved).
  4. The design communication: most significant learning of the first episode to impact the focus of the study. Identified that a great deal of the design intentions were not appreciated by the players. The narrative was often overlooked. Therefore it was identified that a more effective model/method would be reauired to maximise the effectiveness of all of the game artefacts. The game interfaces that the players encounter need to have more of the design intentions compressed into each and every component as an opportunity to communicate.