Went Out and Played

21 June 2010 | 0 comments

Maze used in the game Cross My Heart and Hope to DieOne of our eternal complaints at Hide&Seek – along with “we’re out of milk again” and “this game doesn’t have enough balloons” – is that, as designers, we often miss out on playing games ourselves. Which is part of why I was so excited to go to Come Out & Play, New York’s annual festival of street games. The other part of why I was so excited, of course, is that Come Out & Play is really pretty great.

Like our own Hide&Seek Weekender (which it was one of the inspirations for), it provides two and a half days of new games from a pile of different designers. This year there were 39 games, which is, you know, kind-of a lot – too many to write about in any sort of orderly manner, certainly, so I’m just going to concentrate on a few of my personal highlights…

The opening night party: I don’t usually like parties very much! I’m the grumpy one sitting in a corner – or, more often, the not-grumpy one sitting at home saying “I sure am glad I’m not at a party”. But this was a party that made even me happy: hundreds of excited people poring over the programme; loads of games that were fun to watch as well as to play. The laser-reflecting game OMMRPG is several years old now, making it a classic in pervasive gaming terms, and it remains as engaging as ever; Humanoid Asteroid was unfeasibly charming, with joined-arm humans in the roles of asteroids, a guy in a trolley as the spaceship, and white glowing lights outlining the whole scene.

Cross My Heart And Hope To Die: Gosh, this was a gorgeous game. Gorgeous to look at, and gorgeous to play as well. It took place in a maze made of enormous hanging swathes of red fabric (see the photo at the top of the post), which three players chased through – each trying to catch one player, and fleeing from another. To complicate things, each player had two guards armed with ominous staffs, who could block passageways and force chasers or chasees to reroute.

There were a lot of things to like about the game (it won a special jury award for, in essence, general awesomeness), but I think my favourite element was the way the beauty of the physical setting was focused so much on the players rather than the spectators. There are a lot of games that are pretty to watch, but more often than not, the prettiness is most obvious to people outside, looking on; for Cross My Heart, observers saw some pretty fabric and some dark shadows, but the full red-tinted-light chasing-silhouettes flapping-air experience was reserved for the players.

Judging: CO&P gives a number of awards – Best New Sport, Best Family-Friendly, Best Use of Space, and a good few others. I was on the panel, which meant, in essence, that I got to spend two hours sitting around and arguing with ten other people who all cared a lot about games, game design and the festival. I was expecting it to be interesting, and educational – I wasn’t expecting it to be one of my favourite parts of the weekend.

Humans versus Zombies: HvZ is an enormous game. It’s played on hundred of college campuses in the US; it brings its own dedicated player-base, with its own unnervingly huge nerf guns, wherever it goes. It would have been easy for the guys who ran it to turn up, sit in a corner, and do their own thing; but instead they really went out of their way to make sure it worked not just on its own terms but for the festival as a whole (for example, the festival venue and all other games were safe zones, with both zombies and humans immune from attack). Within these constraints, they still managed to make sure their fiercely enthusiastic players had plenty to do, with a pile of CO&P-specific missions. And who doesn’t like seeing a ramshackle arts venue beseiged by idle zombies?

And then there were dozens of other lovely moments across the weekend…

  • Trekking many, many blocks in search of a footstool shaped like a banana, for a dramatic food shot in the GOurmet Game (we came fourth, out of five – possibly this wasn’t the best use of our limited time).
  • Scrabbling around trying to grab a pile of big felt letters and then slapping them down to read “GIANT REINDEER HEADS INVADE, OH NO”, in BIGTWEET!
  • The fact that there was a game with an exclamation mark in its title every single day (Kaboom! on Friday, BIGTWEET! and Shabbat-put! on Saturday, and Square Root! on Sunday)
  • Watching two official Guinness World Record staff members, in official Guinness World Record yellow jackets, stand with crossed arms and unimpressed faces as we failed to break the world record for longest line of over-and-under players (there were 32 of us, which in world-record terms is pretty tiny – but on the other hand, at least we were playing with a four-foot bright red ball).
  • Being entrusted with the Giant Come Out And Play Bundle Of Balloons, and standing in the middle of a great big meadow while the wind got stronger and stronger…

In a piece of absurdly exciting news, we’re also really, really pleased that three of the games from CO&P will be making an appearance at the Hide&Seek Weekender. We’re not quite ready to announce the details yet, but do look back in a day or two…

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