Even when my puzzles don't come together, I still bring mirth to all around me.
Some puzzlehuntists at work had gotten to talking, and then yesterday I noticed a tweet:
May's Mastermind Pub Hunt is tomorrow night! We'll be exploring the Hayes Valley/Civic Center area of SF. Please... fb.me/HQBKiGvv— Mastermind Hunts (@Mastermindhunts) May 13, 2013
Wow, a chance to try one of their games, two blocks from the office. Co-worker Tiffany was game to try it and her friend Andrea was going to visit to play board games... but we wheedled her into puzzlehunting instead.
This was not so difficult. Andrea's a puzzlehuntist. (Her husband proposed to her via a puzzlehunt, something which I've stopped thinking of as super-unusual, but rather as sweet. As someone wise once said, a hunt with an audience of one isn't a totally new idea.)
And so we trundled over to Civic Center plaza with its many flags. The Masterminds, Rob and, uhm, the guy who I didn't talk to as much as Rob told us the deal. They were going to give us a sheet of paper with four puzzles and a meta. Each of the regular puzzles solved to a location and had instructions on data to gather from that location.
They told us that usually the end location was a pub; whichever team finished first had a round on GC. This time, the end location wasn't a pub, but they thought we might like it anyhow.
They gave us puzzlesheets. They loaned us clipboards and pencils. And the frenzy was upon us.
I did some anagram-and-add-a-letters to get a street intersection; or rather the first three letters of each of the two streets. We Googled to get some trivia that turned out to be about Fulton; our instructions told us an address to go on that street. I wasn't involved with the other two puzzles: some tricky wordplay that would only work for the right street intersection; so you had to look over the neighborhood map to figure out streets that would fit the constraints. And, given three crosswordish clues, guess three rhyming words; cross them out of a big string of letters to reveal a location in the remaining letters.
The first location we went to was a photography exhibit in the library basement. This turned out to be lucky: the data we gathered here was about half of what fed into the meta.
I should explain the meta. This was important. This was like a wordsearch, except you found words bogglewise. The leftover letters would spell out our end location.
Andrea figured out our end location based on the half of the data we'd got from the library. This meant we could be smart when we picked out our route for the next locations: we knew where we wanted to end up.
(Did I mention that over the weekend I did Mastermind's Riddles of Pier 39 Treasure Hunt? Except I didn't go to Pier 39. Instead, I backsolved from the metapuzzle with the aid of the puzz wordsearch solver. I was kind of glad that the Hayes Valley hunt was handed to us instead of downloaded; it forced us to get out and about.)
Andrea's meta-solving didn't just get us moving in the right direction, it also got us moving faster. We were suddenly rather motivated: the end location was Smitten Ice Cream. At least two of us weren't drinkers, and ice cream sounded a lot better than some pub. We actually wanted to win now. After all Smitten was special, a place to drag visiting out-of-towner ice cream fans.
So we were back in the frenzy, walking fast, trying to figure out when traffic would let us cross busy streets. Hustle, hustle. Get to the spot, find the data, cross it out in the grid. Hustle, hustle. Do it for ice cream.
Reader, we came in first. It had taken us about 45 minutes. (Thus, while it was fun, I was glad that none of us had, say, driven an hour from south bay just for this; if you're going to travel from a distance, probably want to plan to have dinner in the neighborhood or something so you don't feel like you're spending all your time traveling. Tell your SF friends that they should take you out to dinner or something.)
We had a chance to chat with the organizers as we ate our hard-hustled-for ice cream. I asked about corporate team-building hunts. Did companies ever want any psychological team-building stuff? Any specific team-ish things to concentrate on? (I was remembering playtesting a Dr Clue activity which was supposed to point out the value of some particular aspect of teamwork.) But no, most teams just wanted an excuse to get out of the office for a few hours.
Months ago, excellent partly-puzzlehunt-naive team Drop_Table was the (brave!) first playtest team of the Octothorpean Game. It took a long time to incorporate their feedback. The game has many, many puzzles. Thus, when there's a fix-it task that starts "For each puzzle, make sure…" it might take weeks to finish. There were several such tasks; I'd overlooked things that were stumbling blocks to a puzzlehunt-naive team. Fixing those took weeks and weeks.
(If I'd had a better idea of what I was aiming for, I probably could have run a simpler playtest sooner, after having created fewer puzzles. Then those "For each puzzle…" tasks would have been quicker. But I didn't know what I was aiming for; to figure that out, I just kept filling in content.)
Last weekend, excellent puzzlehunt-naive team WBYeats playtested. The lovely feedback was plentiful; but there weren't any every-puzzle-must-change issues or even forty-puzzles-must-change issues. Just a bunch of fix-one-puzzle or fix-the-UI-flow-thusly issues. I finished fixing those just now.
It feels like a milestone. It feels like this thing is at least roughly in the right shape now.
I can stop saying "No experienced playtesters, please!" Before, there wasn't much point fixing regular-playtester feedback: naive-playtester feedback was likely to change each puzzle so much that the relatively-fiddly fix-this-one-detail thingies were likely to get overwritten anyhow. But now I think I'm ready for the detail thingies.
I'm also looking at not-a-lot-of-unstructured-time in the next few weeks, so we'll see how soon I follow up on that thought. But this feels good.
I attended a talk by some folks from Odyssey Works (the inaugural talk of the Adventure Design Group Meetup). O.W. presented about their art: situations, each with an audience of one. It works like this. O.W. announces that they're considering doing some art. Hundreds of potential audiences (a.k.a., "people") fill out a long survey. One person is chosen as the audience and is subjected to further study. Months later, for 30+ hours some weekend, Odyssey Works puts the audience through a series of crafted experiences. It was an interesting talk; it was recorded. If the recording ever shows up, maybe I'll jot down some notes about it. But now I'm going to jot notes about something that wasn't recorded, some of the after-talk conversation. I'll forget if I don't write this stuff down.
After the talk, I clumped together with other puzzlehuntists who attended. (Fans of meetups would point out that I wasted an opportunity to talk with folks with other hobbies, to broaden my horizons. They'd be right; but on the other hand, I don't get to see puzzlehuntists in non-frantic-running-around and/or exhausted-post-game settings so often. I have no regrets.)
Someone guessed that Odyssey Works was anti-intellectual. The O.W. folks described one performance in which they'd had their audience start the weekend contemplating maps and symbols; but as the weekend wore on, they wore him down: had him carry a rock for some miles; chased him; tied him up; fake-kidnapped him; subjected him to a dionysian revel… Are they anti-intellectual? It's hard to say. We heard about one performance and fractions of others. For this audience, they bypassed the intellect, went for the viscera. Did that reflect a favored method? Or was this rare for them?
Some groups want to bypass the intellect, take the easy route to getting an emotional reaction. The puzzle-huntist who'd brought up the question of anti-intellectualism had gone to some est (nowadays, we'd call it a brain-washing "self-help" group) meetings back in the day. Was this rare for Odyssey Works? Maybe there was something special about this audience. It's hard to know; for this short talk, they gave a sketch of his personality. Did he need a psychological jolt, or was it gratuitous, a cheap shot to make more strongly-affecting art?
Maybe both were true? Was OdysseyWorks more likely to choose an audience that would appreciate the art that O.W. already wanted to make? One member of Odyssey Works likes to work with meat. The audience was put through a Dionysian revel replete with dancing and the rending of flesh. Was the revel her idea? Was it the part of the art which kept her interested in being a creator? If the audience had been a vegetarian and OdysseyWorks had decided not to use meat, would this artist have sat out that performance?
Hundreds of people apply to be the audience of a performance. Do they choose an audience that will react well to the art they wanted to make anyhow? Put aside the applications from the vegetarians; they won't appreciate the meat. If you're working with a sound designer, then by all means include a sound bath into the art, but make sure you choose an audience who will find this moving.
Why even go out of your way to create an emotional experience? Once someone's been through anything for 30+ hours, it will become an emotional experience. If you feel like you've achieved a higher state of existence while struggling through the sunrise to solve a Penrose-tile-grid minesweeper puzzle printed on a huge piece of onion-skin paper, does that mean there's something amazing about minesweeper? Or does that mean that your brain was ready to be amazed after having been kept awake and stimulated for umpty-ump hours?
Why the fake-kidnap? Having ceded so much control over their work to the audience's whims stated on a survey… do the artists want control back? Is it a way to keep a frame around the world? "While he's caged in this van, we control what he sees; when he's out in the world, he might be looking at anything." Does it give more control over the experience? Or just a comforting illusion of control?
If we're not trying to inspire a feeling of epiphany, but instead a sense of challenge and fun, which of these ideas can we rip off?
- Optimize games for discoverability, engagement and monetization
- Lead and manage strategy to optimize revenue and meet financial objectives.
- Innovate on existing games by managing plan, process, build and release and continually iterate.
- Manage product analytics and testing using multivariate analyses.
- Work closely across technology, design, marketing, and customer insights to identify business requirements and manage project deliverables.
- Stay abreast of the marketplace and competitive set.
- Understand drivers behind business performance and identify opportunities.
- Maintain project plan milestones and keep them up to date through coordination with team leads.
- Assure that projects complete according to schedule and within budget.
- Act as the client point-of-contact for all project-related issues.
Back in the 60s, you could witch-hunt Communists to gather and exercise political power; it worked great. HUAC's known for it, but J Edgar Hoover's FBI did it, too. Accusing an enemy of Communism put them on the defensive and built your case that investigating Communists was a worthwhile thing to do: after all, you keep finding Communists... except that the accusations don't stick, but as long as you accuse plenty of other people in-between time, it'll still look like you're doing something important.
Ronald Reagan, back when he was an actor, had a cozy relationship with the FBI. He informed on some people he suspected of being Communists. (Later on, he denied doing this. The book's author and some lawyers had to jump through many FOIA hoops to get FBI records revealing how many folks Reagan fingered.)
The FBI, rather than investigating crimes and keeping the peace, ended up fanning the flames of protest. UC Berkeley's Free Speech Movement started out as a protest on the school's ban on political speech on campus: if you set up a card table with pamphlets about some political cause, you got kicked out. This turned into a protest which died down when the school's head conceded the ban was a bad idea—something the substitute-head had done while the real head was out of town. But Hoover's FBI was eager to paint Berkeley's students as Communist dupes; a reporter who they often used for leaks soon published an article about Commie students defying the school administration; this led the UC regents to lean on the school administration to stand firm. And so the FSM didn't fizzle out, but turned into protests, organized protests, and eventually over-reactive rioting and over-reactive police shootings and… And you kind of want to put the book down so you can take a breather and calm down a bit.
The FBI played fast and loose with the facts. They went behind the scenes to get suspected radicals fired: they'd send an employer a message saying that so-and-so had been accused of being a Communist—but not mention that they'd investigated the accusation and found it untrue. If you're thinking "It's not the FBI's job to get radicals fired," you're right, this was part of the FBI's COINTELPRO New Left program, illegal persecution of folks who, in hindsight, turned out not to have deserved such. This was the program who tried to shut down the Civil Rights Movement, to blackmail Martin Luther King.
My parents were in Berkeley around this time; I now understand some of their views. They don't think much of Ed Meese. Before he became attorney general under Reagan, he was a deputy District Attorney who prosecuted student protestors; when he got involved in planning police response, things were pretty much guaranteed to get out of hand. If police got out of hand, reports of violence could then be used to declare the situation out of control, and in need of more control. Reagan ran for governor on a platform of clamping down on Berkeley's subversives. But he chose to blame students rather than the FBI and a DA.
It's well written, but it's a difficult read. Good people suffer, innocents get stomped by Hell's Angels, shot by riot police, accused of treason. A politician uses these innocents as scapegoats, and eventually becomes president. Now it's 2013; Bradley Manning uncovered evidence of a murder and exposed it; the USA government prosecutes him. If it weren't for our history, we might think our government was justified somehow. But now what can we think but that it's another attempt to shut down someone who dared point out where we have gone astray?
- She's not Nordic, but Czech. She works with Court of Moravia, which runs LARP events. Since LARP is obscure in .CZ, many of her players are n00bs.
- Her own first LARP didn't go so well. Her friends told her to dress up and look for other players "downtown" late at night.
- She never found any other players, who were all at a particular spot her friends forgot to tell her about.
- She was alone because nobody thought to appoint the new player a guide.
- [I wonder: why did she stick with this hobby? -ed.]
- When setting up a game for new players...
- In the first part, have an NPC give the players a lot of guidance
- Design the game with a structured narrative arc and let the players know that arc ahead of time
- It's not realistic, but it gives them a better idea of how to act, and that's what they're nervous about.
- The Gamemaster can be a guide—not just running the game, but also helping the players know what to do, what their choices are.
- Tell folks to bring their friends. It's the friend's first game, but they're not alone, they're with someone they know.
- Invite the press to games for PR. [She doesn't mention this, but this also give some n00bs a better idea of what they're getting themselves into -ed.]
- Produced a video showing people LARPing, including someone asking n00b-ish questions
- Three reasons to like newcomers
- They listen. If you tell them instructions, they don't think "Aw, I don't need this, I already know what's going on"
- They are focused. They want to do it right and don't take it for granted that they will.
- They are natural. They're not skilled actors; they're putting more of themselves into their characters.
- Talked to a lady who'd been put off by most paper-and-pencil RPGs because rules assumed a male audience. But the Vampire game rules examples used ladies in half their examples; this helped her feel welcome.
- When designing a game, ask yourself: Who's it for? Who will feel welcome? Who won't feel welcome? Who won't even be able to participate?
- His day job is LajvVerkstaden, which he can totally pronounce, which runs educational LARPs for schools. The kids can't opt out, so if the game doesn't make them feel welcome
oh well, the little stinkers have to play anyhowhe feels extra sorry.
- The Three Ways
- 1. No Wall of Text In LARPing as in life, copious documentation is not a feature but rather a warning sign.
- 2. Gender-neutral roles The kids can pick their roles, so don't build a gender into any role. [I guess this means I could role-play a fishwife, perhaps the only historical role I have the skills for -ed.]
- 3. Elf ears for everyone He ran a LARP in which some kids played goblins. He got some costume-ish elf ears for the goblin players to wear—but the ears were all colored for white folks. Not even in Sweden does that work for all kids.
- Listen to your players. If you're messing up on the inclusiveness and your players try to tell you, will you pick up on it?
- Think about your design choices; don't get complacent.
[If you're guessing that inclusion's on my mind as I try to figure out what features of puzzlehunts are off-putting to potential new players, you're right. The good news: already pretty gender neutral. The bad news: nobody gets elf ears -ed.]
OK, here's a Gaming Industry Insight I haven't seen other people talking about. There's been a lot of hullaballoo about modern games requiring an always-on internet connection. Look, even if the game program didn't require it, do you really think you could get through a modern computer game without an internet connection? News flash, Einstein, all the walkthroughs are on the internet. Printed-on-paper "Game Guide" books aren't really a thing anymore.
Oh man I bet someone already pointed that out. I should go back to reporting on books, there's less competition.