Friday, December 30, 2005

The Latchkey Project - Adventure Jewelry

The Latchkey Project 058
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Kiyash and I are thrilled to announce our new project: limited edition adventure jewelry. The Latchkey Project was inspired in part by all those lovely old text adventure games, in which picking up a random key early on always paid off.

1. Wear your vintage key around your neck.
2. Search for the lock your key opens.

Your search kit includes:
~ A vintage key
~ A satin cord, to wear your key latchkey style (33 inches in length, and you choose the color: purple, black, sandstone, pink, or magenta)
~ An envelope of secrets, with handwritten clues for finding the lock your key opens
~ Instructions for use

Optional Adventures:
~ Ask people you meet while wearing your key if they have any clues for you.
~ Let your friends touch it for good luck.
~ Sleep with it under your pillow to dream about its previous owner.
~ Make a list of exciting places where your lock might be waiting for you. Go there!

The vintage key necklace and search kit is $28 USD, with free priority shipping in the United States.


You may wish to read our Latchkey Project FAQ.

We have sold out of our first series of keys; however, a limited edition second series is now available for pre-purchase at the project website. Second series keys will ship on January 16, 2006.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

You're invited to Zombie Village Playtest

You've played Werewolf, or Mafia, or Witchhunt, or one of the many other variations of the classic "Sleep, Accuse, Debate and Lynch" (SADL) circle games. (Yes, I just made up that acronym.)

Now it's time for Zombie Village. What, you ask, is Zombie Village? It's a tournament-style structure for SADL circle games. Because don't you really want to have a formal system for crowning a World Champion of this kind of game? Well, I do. I dream of starting local, say crowning a Bay Area champion, and working our way up to the big global finale. Yes, I'm serious. And you are coming to my apartment to playtest it.

(Never played this type of game before? Worry not. It's simple to learn on the spot. Come play anyway!)

Also, as a design challenge, it's pretty juicy. How do you award points for performance in a game so that no matter what part is randomly assigned to each player, all players have an equal chance of scoring and advancing in the tournament? It's some tricky math, involving lots of fun probabilities and game theory. Way more complicated than Deal or No Deal.

Here, for example, is one potential tournament scoring system. Imagine that multiple games are played simultaneously in different circle; points awarded after each game; and players begin being eliminated after a certain number of games (say, 2 or 3) based on their total points across all games. You work your way up to a final table of Grand Master players, a game everyone will surely want to watch because, DAMN! Those are some wiley werewolf-mafia-vampire-zombie gamers.

Game circles

  • 10 -16 villagers
  • 2-3 zombies
  • 1 caretaker
  • 1 non-playing moderator
  • 1 non-playing scorer



  • If the villagers win, a dead villager receives 2 points.
  • If the villagers win, a surviving villager receives 5 points.
  • A villager who nominates a zombie, resulting in the zombie’s lynching at the time of the nomination, receives 3 points (points awarded at the conclusion of the game.)
  • A villager who nominates an innocent villager, resulting in the villager’s lynching at the time of the nomination, loses 1 point (points subtracted at the conclusion of the game.


  • If the zombies win, a dead zombie receives 2 points.
  • If the zombies win, a surviving zombie receives 5 points.
  • Each time a zombie is nominated and successfully avoids lynching, he or she receives 3 points (points awarded at the conclusion of the game.)


  • The caretaker is scored according to villager point system, plus:
  • The caretaker receives 2 points for each Zombie discovered, denounced to the group and successfully lynched anytime thereafter.
  • The caretaker loses 1 point for each living, undiscovered Zombie at the time of the caretaker’s death.

So, when are you coming to my apartment in Berkeley to playtest Zombie Village? That's a great question. The answer is: As soon as I can get 15 or so other people to my apartment to playtest Zombie Village. Proposed date: Friday, January 13th, evening. ARE YOU GAME?

If you are in the Bay Area and can come to my Berkeley apartment (street parking available, and we are 3 blocks from a BART stop) on the evening of Friday January 13, email me at zombie at avantgame dot com. We're about halfway to a quorum for the 13th, so climb aboard the train to Zombie Village! (OR If you would like to playtest on a DIFFERENT date, let me know. We may do it again, or reschedule as necessary.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

20 exquisite rules. Play along at home!

We've compiled and organized the 20 exquisite rules submitted to our last-minute, new Xmas tradition, game design challenge.

As we work out the kinks in our official Exquisite Corpse Game, which has a working title of "I'm the alpha dog!", we thought we'd shared the 20 rules with you. Feel free to post any ideas or common themes you notice in the comments. You get a bit of an advantage-- we've already sorted them into a decent working order. Of course, we have a bit of an advantage too-- we were drinking Chandon champagne while brainstorming with Kiyash's parents at Xmas brunch today. You'd be amazed what parents can help you think up when they're in a festive bubbly-buzz.

So: We'll post our game rules and playtesting photos as soon as we figure the damn thing out. But it looks promising! Really!

20 Exquisite Rules (and who to blame for each)

1. The announcement of the game's start is given by a very loud alarm clock. -Nicholas

2. Players must be nude for the duration of the game. E.Go
3. Players may only have one ear visible during play. –Amber-Joy
4. Only one person can have their eyes open at a time. –Robin
5. You must not touch any furniture while lights are on. –Corvus
6. If you're touching a wall, everything counts for double. –Dev

7. You may take up to two turns in a row, provided that you are not wearing pants. –Mike
8. You may forfeit your turn by performing a "judged" cartwheel. – Zach
9. Everything spoken must contain at least two words that rhyme; otherwise, lose your next turn. –Paul
10. No more than three post-it notes per turn may be added to or removed from the other player's body. –Jason

11. Up to four kitchen utensils can be placed, thrown (underhanded) or dropped, however no two of the same utensil may be in play at the same time. –Ian
12. You may not touch, move, or move past any kitchen implement placed by the opposing player. –Cory
13. If an alert sound (such as a phone chime or doorbell) begins, the player that first grabs an opponent's game object gains possession of that object. –Ken

14. Each round, the trump cards alternate between photographs containing dogs and those containing cats. –Brian
15. If you correctly guess what your opponent has in their mouth, you get to be the alpha dog. –Elan
16. If you have the chicken, you can't play until you draw a club. -Ariock.
17. If a cloud suddenly shadows the apartment each player may suspend one rule for the duration of the shadow. –Dan

18. Should the challenger succeed in stumping his/her opponent, the challenger will gain 100 points and all rights to the last piece of chocolate. – Liz
19. The game is extended for 10 minutes if uneaten chocolate is found. –Madstorm

20. At the end of the game, the loser will take their shirt and hold it in front of themselves, somewhat stretched out, as shown by the picture; the other person will then take all their change in their wallet, purse, etc. and will attempt to fling the change across the room into the loser's shirt. – Caleb

Friday, December 23, 2005

Help us! The Xmas Eve Exquisite Corpse Email Game Design Challenge

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.


Kiyash and I have no Xmas or Xmas Eve traditions, and now that we're married, we think we oughta. So here's our idea for this year: We are going to design a game.

The parameters: A game for two players, that you can play in an apartment.

Here's the thing. We need YOUR rules.

It's going to be exquisite corpse style. Anyone can submit a rule, any rule, but only one rule, and you don't get to see anyone else's. (That's why you have to EMAIL the rule instead of putting it in the comments.) Then, Kiyash and I have to design and play a game that includes all of the rules you submit and still makes sense!

For example, you could send a rule like the following: "No one can leave the circle until the peanut is found." or "Cheating is allowed, but only while you are holding your breath." or "The game ends when one player has both of the other player's shoes."

If you're reading this post and it's not Christmas Day yet, PLEASE send us a rule! Email us at the following address: rules at avantgame dot com.

Oh, the fine print: Rules should not include extraoardinary props that we are unlikely to have in our apartment. Rules should not induce severe physical pain while being implemented. If two or more rules conflict and cannot be reconciled, the first rule received will stand and the latter rule(s) will not be implemented.

(Pictured above: Kiyash at the Hex168 Game Tree. Who needs a Xmas tree when you have an XBox-green game tree? Woo!)

Monday, December 19, 2005

dissertation watch

UPDATE: I have a title. I think. It is:

Ubiquitous Gaming: A Performance Theory of Pervasive Play Networks.

That's right, ubiqutious gaming. Because the vast majority of pervasive games to date have no connection with the original design philosophy of ubiquitous computing, from which pervasive computing and pervasive game design flow. SOME projects do represent and develop that philosophy, and manifest what Mark Weiser and Rich Gold wanted for computing for gaming. Those are the projects I find most interesting, most exciting, most socially benevolent, most progressive. So, yes, ubiquitous gaming. It's networked. It's calm. It's persisent. It maximizes human awareness of the physical environment and the network. So it's time to get old-school with pervasive gaming. Taking it back to the first ubicomp theorists. So stick that in your 'this is not a pipe' and smoke it!


The Dissertation Watch is on.

Page count updated daily (I hope) in the righthand sidebar.

Please check in frequently and hold me accountable for making that number grow.

The plan is to write 1-2 pages every single day (weekdays, weekends, travel days, Christmas, New Year's...) Specifically, I'm holding myself to 2 pages a day until I get one chapter done, just to prove to myself that I can write something. After that, 1 page a day or more when I can swing it.

I'm treating this very much like an AA thing. I am still overwhelmed by the prospect of doing the entire dissertation, while continuing to make good stuff for 42 and galavant around the world on the lecture and conference circuit. BUT somehow I managed to convince myself that I could wake up and handle writing 2 pages that day. And I convinced myself that I could probably wake up the next day and write 2 pages, but really I am just taking it one day at a time.

So I have 2 pages to write today. I'm not sure what I'll be writing about, probably more on Rich Gold and Magritte's magical ubi-pipe...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Invented! Chicken Soccer Bowling

Originally uploaded by Avant Game.

Chicken soccer bowling is just like regular bowling, only it's played in a hallway, with a goalie, you bowl both balls at once, and there is a stuffed chicken involved.

How to play Chicken Soccer Bowling:
1. Find hallway.
2. Obtain children's plastic bowling set.
3. Recruit "goalie."
4. Give goalie stuffed chicken to hold between his or her knees.
5. Bowler hurls 2 plastic bowling balls at the pins, consecutively or simultaneously. Bouncing off walls allowed, but no throwing!
6. Goalie stands behind pins and attempts to block balls from knocking pins over.
7. Goalie must not drop stuffed chicken from between legs.

For finer points of gameplay, including strategies for both bowler and goalie, click through annotated Flickr photos here.

Invented by Jane and Kiyash at a birthday party on 12.3.05. Welder's mask optional.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

no such thing as the perfect play

Pervasive game designers, take note.

It has not yet been widely recognized, but I believe it to be true: We have much to learn from coaches of large sports teams. Directing live gamers in a pervasive play experience is a skill and art that has much in common with the practice of coaching live sports.

This thought has been simmering in my head for awhile, but a NYT Magazine article about a maverick, extremely playful college football coach, brought it to a boil today.
"There's no such thing as a perfect game in football," Leach says. "I don't even think there's such a thing as the perfect play. You have 11 guys between the ages of 18 and 22 trying to do something violent and fast together, usually in pain. Someone is going to blow an assignment or do something that's not quite right."

Putting literal differences aside, metaphorically this passage speaks volumes to me as a pervasive designer. The Leach's pragmatic mindset is just one example of the benefits of a coach mentality for pervasive game designers. There's no such thing as a perfect play, especially when you get a lot of gamers together, excited, adrenaline rushing over playing in such an unlikely and public space, and the emergent factors associated with Big pervasive games... so how do you prepare the players, and build the live gaming system, to adapt? How do you design for imperfect play?


Last night Kiyash and I went to our friend Zach's birthday party and invented a game called Chicken Soccer Bowling. Designed to be played in hallways. It was a blast. A full report, with photos, rule sets and a starter mod list coming in the next blog post.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Subliminal Twinkeez vs. Night of the Living Dead

November 2005 039
Originally uploaded by Avant Game.
Kiyash's new music video had dropped... here!

It features the Subliminal Twinkeez, an amazing underground Bay Area hip hop duo, and public domain footage from George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. If you look very closely, you'll also spot me in braids and a pink backpack as part of the zombie flashmob that comprises the first half of the video.

Behold the rhyming zombie goodness.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Graveyards are the new payphones

Originally uploaded by misuba.

Tombstone Hold 'Em player-created art has arrived!

I am stuffing EVERYONE's holiday stockings with these genius shirts. Thanks, Cortana and Misuba!

FYI: The line "Graveyards are the new payphones" was coined by a Tombstone Hold 'Em player in our Last Call Poker puppet master chat last night. For those of you curious for some behind-the-scenes game design chatter, the complete transcript is here.

Also, if you missed it, one of my favorite articles on the graveyard games: "Last Call Poker Celebrates Cemeteries" from CNET's Daniel Terdiman.

In all of the high-profile drama about the big city live events, you may also have missed the subtler, modular game missions that were sending players to historic and local graveyards anywhere and everywhere. A dozen live-action puzzles and 20 persistent real-world missions (completed over 500 times by players all over the world) made up the other two arms of the pervasive campaign for Last Call.

Designing the "anytime puzzles" in specific locations and "anywhere missions" that could be accomplished in any culture's local cemeteries was as challenging as creating and executing the Tombstone Hold 'Em supergames, and in some ways even more satisying. During the design process, I got to work most closely with the game's lead writer (Sean Stewart) on the anywhere missions; I designed the actual gameplay action, and Sean found game characters whose personalities, psychologies and backstories best suited each mission. And during the game itself, the modular missions, especially, gave players more creative freedom to interpret and game the whole notion of cemetery play. I love the personal risks they took as a result-- the inteventions they made, and the way they touched the serious spaces with heartfelt play.

You can still see both the anytime puzzles and anywhere missions, along with player submitted photos and documentation of their gameplay, here. Just click on the cemetery name for the puzzle, or the mission name for the instructions and player-submitted solutions.