Jotting Notes on Linda Holman's GC Summit 2012 Presentation: Resurrecting Aquarius
It's Linda Holman talking about Resurrecting Aquarius. (If these "jotting notes" blog entries make no sense to you, that's because I'm jotting notes based on watching videos of lectures. That link back there is a link to the video.) This means dusting off the Shinteki Aquarius event that had run back in 2004, letting folks play it in 2011. I re-worded liberally, and when that wasn't quite obnoxious enough, I [added comments in square brackets]
It's like re-using materials from another Game Control team, except they're you from seven years ago. So when you make fun of them, you're not exactly insulting them so much as being self-deprecating.
Weren't even sure it was going to be a good idea. Wondered how much work it would be, what tweaks needed—and would folks sign up? Old-timers had played already; could noobs get themselves organized into teams? Had kicked around the idea for years
The original plan was: re-run Aquarius and run Decathlon 7 later in the year. Because of course re-running a game would be so easy. Except you'll notice that Decathlon 7 didn't happen until 2012. Because resurrecting Aquarius was not so easy after all.
Two Shintekians on this project: Brent and Linda.
Brent likes to design puzzles.
Linda likes to scout locations.
This meant: the fun part was mostly already done! Most of what was left was the grind. Aw man.
Puzzles were in old file formats. If you want to tweak them at all, the first step is... import into Illustrator and get the puzzle working there.
Permits and logistical arranging. That permit from that day seven years ago, you can't re-use it.
Felt like about 70% of the work of running a game from scratch. Not as much as running from scratch, but plenty of work.
The puzzlehunt world has changed in seven years: GPS, mobile Google, solving apps. Some locations went away.
Life before GPS Anecdote from 2004: Team LowKey didn't know their way around Palo Alto. One of the puzzles involved driving to a few locations in Palo Alto. An hour into this, they decided to buy a map. It took them a few hours to finish this puzzle. In 2011, everyone's got their electronic map-GPSs, they spend their time solving instead of spending it wandering the streets.
One puzzle's gimmick was anagramming. Back in the day, most teams didn't have anagram solving apps. If they had 'em, someone on the team had probably written that app by hand. Nowadays, anagramming isn't so much about shuffling letters, it's picking choices off of the list your app shows you.
In 2004, one team, The Burninators was much faster on that anagramming clue than other teams. GC, wondering if this team had some super-app asked: how did you anagram so quickly? Did you write some awesome computer program? But Wei-Hwa answered, "Oh, I called Will Shortz."
2004 game used gallery Half to Have It as a location: cool place with a front yard "graveled" with smooth glass fragments. In 2011, that gallery... was gone, a dirt lot with some remnant glass bits. But it turned out the place had moved with a new name, was now The Nest. So that's where we went in 2011.
2004 game started in Palo Alto's Aquarius theater, but it was only big enough to hold 14 teams each weekend. But wanted to accommodate 20 teams each weekend for 2011 game, so went to a bigger space, changed activity to match.
The game players have changed, the games change to adapt Nowadays, more puzzling, fewer non-puzzly activities. Nowadays, shorter drives.
GC has changed, too. More experienced, arguably wiser. Tweaks to logistics and team-management that make things much easier. Also, the LEON (answer-checking app that tells teams where to go next) app is much improved nowadays.
Message in a bottle example In 2004, the paper was far enough down in the bottle such that teams had to smash to get the message out. But in 2011, we're all more sedate, so paper was easy to ease out w/out smashing anything. So: less non-puzzly activity. The puzzle on the piece of paper was tougher in 2011: no instructions, used state capitals instead of just states, had to count dashes... Which makes it a nice, elegant puzzle by today's standards but would have been waaaay to weird for 2004.
A non-puzzly activity that stayed in and stumped some modern-day teams A puzzle consisting of a piece of paper painted on with watercolor... a nice nature scene, but no obvious code. But if you think to wash off the watercolor, another picture is revealed underneath. [I loved this!] Some teams were really stumped—they're used to puzzles, not destroying stuff. "Maybe we should have had a note that told you to ruin it." [Wha– no! Where's the fun in that?]
More activities: wading in a fountain, burying your teammate in sand. Some teams grumbled, but most were into it.
Back in 2004, there were traditional game locations: Gates of Hell at Stanford's Rodin statues; South San Francisco sign park. Those traditions don't hold true today; players would have asked "Why are we at these non-watery places for this water-themed game?" [Yeah, I would have asked. It's not like SF lacks for watery places.]
Also used a new location: battleship memorial at Land's End. Had the side effect of changing the driving route to be much shorter, nice for teams who don't like driving.
2004 game had a blinky-lights puzzle. But you could only see it at night, so fast teams had to wait for it. And if too many teams got there at the same time, they were all scrunching in to see the data—kind of a mess for the 14 teams of 2004, would have been worse for 20 teams each weekend of 2011.
2004 game had a remote-control boat activity at Stow Lake. Turns out that's illegal, whoops. So didn't do that in 2011.
Would teams play? Oh man, lots of folks were spoilered on that "little fish" clue that had been a sample on the web site for years. What if nobody was both qualified to play and motivated enough to put together a team?
Wow, two weekends' worth signed up! Thanks, game community!
More teams each weekend, but original game had 5 core GC and 2011 game had just 2 core GC (and a lot of volunteers). [Wow.]
Overall, a good thing
good Lots of people got to play. [Yeah! Since this meant that I got to play, I think it was totally worth it.] An excuse to improve some things. Many folks who'd played in original volunteered.
not-good Folks who played in original didn't get a new event. High ratio of grind:fun stuff.
Proof it's worth it: Ran Shinteki Disneyland again in 2012. And ran Shinteki Decathlon 7. Dare to want it all.
I asked: OMG how did you figure out where the glass-gallery place had moved if all you had to go on was the empty lot with some glass fragments?
There had been an antique shop next to the outdoor gallery; that was still there, and the antique shop people knew where the outdoor gallery had movied.
JeffWa in Seattle asked: Hey we still do destroy-the-clue stuff for Microsoft Intern events. But yea, you don't see them in other contexts? Why not?
I dunno. Afterwards, nobody fills out a survey and says "my favorite activity was when we weren't solving puzzles, but were running around acting silly." [Maybe it's because interns are more awesome than fogeys who worry about destroying data?]
Corey asked: Did you still have all of your notes from back then? Or did you have to re-solve some of your puzzles to remember what the answers were?
I'm going to let Brent answer this one.
Brent: oh man, we had this old puzzle that Martin wrote, and I just banged my head against it for hours trying to solve it. We had some notes from then, but not about everything. Nowadays, we're much better about keeping notes. Because you re-use ideas: we might re-use a decathlon idea for a corporate event. You want to be able to get back into what you were thinking quickly
Corey: any advice on how to take notes that make sense seven years later
Linda: Playtester notes help a lot, because they can remind you of the process.
Brent: Also, Linda puts together notes for the location volunteers; those notes are great, and they've often got the gist of the puzzle. For dealing with old file formats: keep a pdf of the printout. PDF hasn't changed meanwhile, nor is it likely to change much in the future.
Bearded dude in Seattle who I kind of recognize but I don't know who he is: How much work is it going to be to revive Shinteki Disneyland?
Hopefully, not as much as Aquarius. It will have been just three years since the original (versus seven). Disneyland hasn't changed as much as the world-at-large.
Disembodied voice who might be Sean Gugler: Other games from that era you might revive? Decathlon 1?
Yeah. But not this year. This year for sure: Decathlon 7. [And she kept that promise, yay]
Brent: and we might even go further back. We ran a bunch of weekend-length games back before we ran these one-day events. And teams of today could probably get through the puzzles of a 90s-era 30-hour event in just 10 hours. [Hmm, maybe if there was a lot less driving?]
JeffWa in Seattle asks: So you were pleasantly surprised at the level of demand? Is this a sign of lots of new people playing?
Sure. Then again, Brent points out that a lot of those 2004 teams have dissolved, so the level of interest might not be zooming up as fast as you think. And seven years is a long time to let new folks come along.
Brent: Demand for Shinteki Disneyland 2012 has been higher than expected, tho.