Play and self-loathing for the 22nd century

Tag: BlackBox CPH

Play Journal: BlackBox CPH IV

I broke this post off from my November Play Journal entry because there was simply too much to say. This is what (and a bit of “how” and “why”) I played at BlackBox CPH IV, Nov 21-23, 2014:



1. De usete (The Unseen) – This was one of only two games I played at the BlackBox CPH festival. I wish I had been in more games, but then again, I also wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller… and so on and so on.
De Usete was a special kind of larp; a mix between blackbox and pervasive play, it took place in a bar and featured a live concert by a band one of the game’s designers sings in. The set-up was one of conspiracy, dystopia, and dark psychedelia. The players took on the roles of people in a secret group known as “the Unseen”. Divided into three houses (red, green, and blue) the players spent the night trying to find potential recruits in the audience and bring them into the conspiracy. A minor problem was, of course, that government agents had infiltrated the secret meeting and were among those trying to get accepted into the ranks of the Unseen. Minor problem So, in short, players were either members of one of the houses or potential recruits. These were all distinguished by scarves of the house colors + white for aspirants. There were also a couple of concert-goers who were not active players, though they had been informed that a larp was going on as part of the concert (or vice versa).

I played a member of the blue house. We were the old money, decadent, aristocracy working to keep the Big Brother Pan-European government out of our business. My team members were great — all dressed up and ready to play. As the game went on, we stayed in our attractively lit corner of the venue, summoning aspirants and assessing them. We also did a bunch of drugs. Strange, strange druuugs, man.

The night at Dark Matter (that was the name of the game’s night club) was shrouded in mystery, wrapped in conspiracy, and laced with . We flirted with, challenged, and invited the aspirants to see what made them tick. We tried to influence the other houses to vote according to our will. We also had our own personal missions, which were somewhat separated from the main purpose of the evening. Mine was: “During the evening, you must meet the love of your life”. That’s probably where most of the flirting came from on my part.


OK, so let me rewind and explain the drugs thing before moving on. I really think I should. The way drugs were handled and represented were one of what I see as the two moving parts of the game (the other being the voting system, which I won’t go into because it was pretty standard). So, There were three kinds of drugs: uppers, downers, and p5ych3d3lic5. They were represented by green, red, and yellow gummy bears, and acted both as commodity as well as roleplaying cues to set people off in new directions. This was probably one of the best parts of the game, and it played into how I received a great roleplaying gift from another player. Roleplaying gift? Yeah, you know, when another player just dumps a thing (doesn’t actually have to be a “thing”, just a Thing) in your lap, basically saying: “here’s a thing. Now, make good play happen with it. You’re welcome, asshole”. The gift I received came from a first-time player who circumvented the whole gummy bear thing and played up his character’s advanced drug dealer goals. Instead of accepting that drugs stopped at gummy bears, he went to the bar and got a small pack of sugar. As we were talking about a potential deal, he held it up and told me that it wasn’t like the other stuff at the party, that it would make me see things as they really were. I saw where he was going and gladly accepted the gift by pocketing the pack and plotting when to drop the super drug. By the time Mother Empire started their second set, I ripped the tiny paper container open, leaned my head back and poured the contents into my mouth. So, it wasn’t sugar. It was salt. Who cares? I surrendered to playing a strange and wonderful trip and the flirt I had been working on up to that point went straight out the window, down the street, across the ocean and into outer space. I danced, got… personal with my house leader and made a wonderful fool of myself, all while wearing the wolf mask.

Wait, I forgot to mention the animal masks, didn’t I? Yeah, so check out this video first and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about (as well as some of the mood the larp was going for):

Mmmhmm… There were a couple of animal masks in the club, and I encountered the first one right away when an aspirant turned to me, holding the wolf mask, and asked: “Sir, did you drop this?” This was clearly another roleplaying gift, so I accepted it without missing more than maybe two or three beats. The wolf mask followed me through the larp, sometimes working as a test for aspirants, sometimes simply serving as a mask to put on for a while and walk around in. If you want to know one thing about me, it might as well be this: I have a thing about masks and being masked. Not a shocker maybe, but I’ll take any chance I get to borrow another face for a while.

Foto 2014-11-22 00 39 10

Crappy picture, lovely mask

In the end, I put my vote on whoever my house leader led me to. I then replaced the wolf mask and danced blindfolded instead.
None of the people our house voted for ended up being the ones brought into the conspiracy. The houses, having surrendered to drug-induced nihilism, instead voted for the two government agents to join us. This was very, very satisfying. The only way it could have been more PKD-ish is if we would have found out that, without knowing it, we were actually working for the government as well (which was actually a rumor I never had time to engage with, though it started at the perfect moment where all four members of the blue house had dropped the yellow gummy bears (or substances of the sodium chloridic kind). It would almost have been a let down if none of them had gotten in).

All in all, the only thing that didn’t really gel with me was how different the views people had on the level of secrecy surrounding the conspiracy were. I went into the game with the impression that we were going to be mysterious and only have a few aspirants to try and figure out. Instead, almost everyone in the club were part of the game, which gave the whole thing a sort of WoD larp feel to it. In hindsight, I think that my assumptions were wrong, but that the expectations could have been handled a bit better beforehand.



2. All Little Boys are Dead – After getting too little sleep after De Usete, I considered not attending this game, but I’m glad I fought the lazy impulse to just sit at home and went anyway. It was a treat.



All Little Boys are Dead is set in the trenches of WWI and takes the players through one frightful night of the great war. Every player has a partner with whom they share a character. They play different sides of this character, sharing memories and hopes, but differing in terms of personality and psychological response to the war. At any given moment during play, one player in a pair will play blindfolded and the will play mute. These restrictions can be switched in the pair on the mute player’s initiative.
The memories the players share are both roleplaying cues (what they are allowed to talk to the other boys in the trench about) and their hitpoints, indicating the extent to which war has taken its toll on them. If you ever run out of memories, you have to be dragged back from no man’s land (if you lost the memory there), or simply play dead in the trench. You can be given memories by other players, thus jumping back into the game, but the memories are few and getting new ones is risky as it entails venturing into no man’s land and possibly getting caught in an attack.

Oh, and you all wear military helmets to protect you from the dirt being thrown at you by the GMs on the other end of the room every time there’s a heavy artillery attack. Yes, I know this sounds silly, but it turned out to be one of the coolest parts of the game. Every time you heard the ominous whistling sound of an incoming attack, you’d hunker down and wait for the impact. The sound of first the bomb and then of dirt hitting the boys’ helmets was very satisfying.


The trench itself was a thin area along one of the long sides of the blackbox. It was bordered by low stage platforms you had to crawl over to get to the rest of the room: the dreaded no man’s land. The room was full of smoke, dramatic lighting, and the noises and explosions of the battlefield.

So, there we were, blind or mute, crawling around the trench trying to keep close to our partner while finding someone to talk to about going home. One of the points of contention after the larp was whether or not the boys should actually be able to talk about anything other than memories, which was the case in this playthrough. I thought it added a surreal and tiring quality to the game and by the end I just went over my memories to no one in particular, hoping someone was still listening.
The only time the blindfolded character was allowed to talk about anything other than prewritten memories was when addressing the other parts of himself, i.e. the player playing the other half of the same character. Being blindfolded talking to a mute person, the only feedback I got from my partner was physical, but it turned out to be enough. I think we did a good job both exploring the inner workings of our character as well as trying to connect to other people in the trench.


“Riding fast on motorcycle with best friend, Christopher” – a memory


Then, of course, there was death.

Death came in the form of two gangly shapes dressed in rugged trenchcoats and pink gasmasks (as is so often the case with death, right? Right?). Inside the masks were pink LED lights giving the impression that some unnatural light emanated from within the heads of the creatures coming to rip our memories from us. They slowly chased us all around the room until they had taken two memories, potentially leaving players without memories when they left. What made this part effective was the fact that the mute player’s role was inverted. The two halves of a character (i.e. the two players) were not allowed to touch when death was approaching, but the mute person was allowed to shout the character’s name in order to guide the blindfolded player to safety.


Up close, on me, I guess it just looks goofy.

After nearly two hours of crawling around, sharing and listening to memories, hiding from shell attacks, and running from death, I was pretty exhausted. I sat with my back against the wall of the trench and blabbed on about my friend from home and how we used to ride a motorcycle. My partner huddled up to me and just as we took each other’s hands to pray I heard the old, familiar and soothing sound of Nina Simone singing:

“Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel.

It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good”

The lights went up in the room. Dawn had come and I walked out of the game,  hand in hand with the other half of my character, smiling.
I wish the music and noise would have been louder, though…

Considering the length of this post, I reckon my only attending two games at BlackBox CPH IV actually was for the better. Thanks for reading. And thanks to the organizers of BlackBox CPH IV! I’m happy I could be part of it.


Play Journal: November 2014

Ah, Novemeberr, the misspelled month. The cold carefully creeps closer and my alliterations are clearly cleverly cunning as ever. What does this have to do with the Play Journal? Nothing, of course. Should I actually be writing my term paper? Yes, but let’s just get this over with. If, for some reason, you want more once you’re done here, check out my BlackBox CPH post, which was originally part of this post. Blablablablabla! Aaaaand here’s stuff I’ve played in Novemibör 2014.


November means the teddy is back at one of the stops of my commute.

Prototype tests:
November saw our game design group move into full, actual production. In keeping with our sacred bible and guiding star, Tracy Fullerton’s Game Design Workshop, we went for an early playtest. We’ve also made sure to test a bit for the other groups, both for the goodwill (favors for favors etc.), but also because it’s exciting to test clunky shit and then watch as it grows (or slowly folds into a miserable little pile of secrets)

My words exactly! – I am so used to playtests being an exercise in civility/not crushing someone’s hopes all too much that I was pleasantly surprised by this prototype. Not only is it one of the few (if not the only) boardgame designs among all of the game design teams, it’s also really good and has been good from very early on. Second playthrough wasn’t as smooth as the first one, though. This was mainly the fault of feature creep probably brought on by the game being more or less finished at such an early stage. Idle hands and so on and so on.
My Words Exactly! is a word association game with a couple of clever twists. Not only do you try and get a player to guess what word is currently ”taboo”, you also try to predict what words other players will use to try and make the guesser get to the right word. If you predict well enough, you get the chance to basically steal the initiative and lead the guesser towards the taboo word, scoring points for both of you.
This is a game I’d really like to play with people (no, I don’t consider other game design students people, #sorrynotsorry). It has the tension of time-attack games, the deliberation and strategy of a tactical and competitive game, and the maniacal laughter of people (i.e. not game designers) I usually only meet in dreams.
KobraKitez – One thing I really appreciate in a design is when it’s clear that the people behind it have made an effort to use the platform’s affordances to their advantage. KobraKitez (apparently only a working title) does this in a couple of different ways. In this handheld touchscreen game, two players face off in a sort of “coopetition” where they try to gather as many points as possible by shooting creeps spawning all around the screen, shoot ’em up-style. The big twist is that if either of the spaceships are destroyed, the game is over for both players. A second, tinier twist is that at certain points, the game allows for the view of the game to be rotated by the two players actually rotating. This comes in handy in boss fights, where the main creep actually has to be avoided by rotating.
It’s been exciting to see this thing grow and become a game in its own right, rather than a 2P version of one of the most classic game types there is.


Concept art for You & Eye. You’ll get the pun if you disregard the upper pair of doodles.

You & Eye – This is my group’s game. It’s a local multiplayer game for 2-8 players, supposed to be played in a party setting or wherever local multiplayer nerds gather. The main version of the game pits you and a teammate against a team made up of two other players. You share a controller with your teammate and use one stick each to control an end of an elastic rope. Together, you swing, roll, jump and tumble around trying to kill the other team, get through their levels and make it all the way to the end with a McGuffin-thingy.
We brought christmas beer for the Alpha test, but our professor didn’t drink it. He did hold it, though, and we’ve made our other testers hold cans as well… as a proof of concept, I guess. Though we have a couple of technical issues, the core gameplay is solid, hectic and makes people scream. These are all good things.


The joys of playtesting

Nordic Game Day 2014:
As w00t Pop-Up‘s first official gig, we headed to Vallensbæk library to play games with people there as part of the Nordic Game Day. Apart from some technical setbacks, it went well.


Baking with Friends. Cake in the making.

Baking with Friends – I wrote about this game last month, and apart from me being a bit better at it (I actually made a cake instead of a hotdog this time!), not much has changed. That is to say: I still like it a lot.


The magnificent Babycade!

LAZA KNITEZ!! – We brought the trusty ol’ Babycade with us to Vallensbæk and I managed to play a couple of games before the whole thing crashed due to USB hub overload bullshit. I’ve mentioned before, and it’s still true, that I have a hard time giving n00bs a fair game in LAZA KNITEZ!!. I usually am OK at feigning incompetence (haha, yeah… I’m “feigning”), but I think that the fact that you always move forward in LK makes it harder to stay passive. This is of course part of the wonder of the game as you’re forced into tense situations all the time, but I’ve beaten people even when I didn’t use the controller AT ALL (!!).
JS Joust – I would probably skip saying much of anything if it hadn’t been for these guys taking jousting to the next level:


OK. ’nuff said about Joust. Moving on!

Towerfall: Ascension – One of the mainstays of the indie Local Multiplayer scene, Towerfall is basically required play for our game design group. This was the first time I tried the game with four people, but I don’t feel I have enough experience with it to say much of anything.

Speedrunners – Another LMP game we tried out for our game design. This was interesting, but like with Towerfall, I’d like to play it a bit more before saying much. It sounds like I need to throw a ITU LMP party.

Luftrausers – For procrastination time, make it Luftrausers time. That is all.

Paraversume – Tried it for potential use in my term paper, but it hadn’t stolen the stuff from its predecessor (The recently shut down Shadow Cities) I was hoping for, so I decided not to use it.

Arcana – Tried it for potential use in my term paper, but decided not to use it. Won’t play again.

Nidhogg – Our game is turning out to take quite some inspiration from Nidhogg, so some of the development time is spent playing and analysing it to better understand our own game.


Just had to put this somewhere. It has nothing to do with anything in this post. You’re welcome.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl – I finished a narrative analysis of S:SoC for school early in Novemibherrr and didn’t play it more after that, but I could probably lose myself in this game if I had the time. I could even forgive the use of the fucking amnesia trope.

Toca Boca stuff (4 games) – First off: a wonderful thing about the Toca Boca apps is that their designers call themselves play designers rather than game designers. It shows in the games. Second, these apps are a whole bag of fun. I spent a good part of an evening getting into all of them myself. The music band app is crazy, and it fits the age category very well.


Pictured: not a toca boca thingy

Malmö Play Club Session – I finally, finally, finally made it to another Play Club session. I seem to average on less than once a month, and that’s just too seldom. Here’s a list of games I remember us playing, but don’t feel like explaining:
Sound and Fury. Bleed tag; 1,2 looking for 3, 4 for 5,6; Chip Chipoing; Bleed Tag + ambulance; Sausages/Fläsk; Say Yes!; Wink Murder.

Mutant: År Noll – My one continuing RPG campaign continued with a session wherein we used our mutations a lot more than ever before. This pushes the system to a point where I wish it would push back, but the consequences seem a bit too weak. Every time you push a roll (rerolling), you run the “risk” of getting more mutation points, but once you reach the max (10) points, nothing really meaningful happens. Aaanyway, the system has a couple of strange holes that keeps bothering me, but I get to play with good people and that makes up for it.
This session was climactic in several ways. The first, and a bit less interesting, was that I finally changed character archetype from “mutant with dog” to… Zonstrykare (basically a STALKER) Which I reckon will be a bit more useful. The second big and amazing thing that happened was that one of my fellow players drove a PC-PC conflict pretty hard and it ended up in him retiring his character. My mutant and his came to blows (almost physical) on a lot of issues that we both feel has been the result of the system and color of the game basically encouraging PC psychopathy. This is a thing we reveled in throughout the first couple of sessions, but once it became clear that we weren’t getting stopped by NPCs, we realized that in order for our characters to become playable, we had to push for that ourselves. So, the result was bittersweet and satisfying in that things were resolved without actually reaching much of a conclusion.


Hit the Hat – This was probably the one of the first proper games for lil’ M. We play with cards and memory bricks all the time, but the focus is mostly on learning numbers and colors of cards or building farms (yes, for toy animals) out of the bricks. A funny and fun thing about playing more structured games with kids (this one being 3,5 yrs) is that it forces you to reevaluate what you think is most important about the game. It’s not always what it says in the manual. This time (and most times, I hope), it drew me towards finding the well-played game. Doing this is helpful for anybody exploring games and what makes people play them, but doing it with little kids doesn’t leave you any choice but to play along, as it were. If you don’t, they’ll adjust by either finding a strategy that works within the game or leaving.


Hit the Hat!

If you’ve read this far you’ve… read this far, I guess. The map is the territory and so on and so on, right?