DISSERTATION: Playtesting TRACES and ACT ‘NORMAL’ this week!

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, playtest

I’m happy to be able to say that tomorrow and Thursday, TRACES, along with its companion larp, ACT ‘NORMAL’, will be playtested this week!

It’s been a hard road since September 1st — I easily lost three productive months (September, December, January). Technically, May is the 9th month since I started TRACES. I am hoping the next creative project goes more smoothly and fits more neatly into the 6-month timeline that I have planned for it. Actually, I am hoping to be able to use this last project to end up back on track in terms of writing the dissertation component of this project.

We will see if that happens — at this point, I think that I have to accept that doctorates are hard, doctorates while dealing with systemic issues doubly so, and that they take time. I have to be careful about how I plan my time in order to avoid burnout (I really came up to the edge of it during this project around December and January, largely because of issues related to Tom’s work). Learning to take a step back and limiting my involvement with the things that I do not have energy for is an important lesson.

Meanwhile, I have seventeen players lined up to play this week. That’s amazing! And I think it’s plenty of data for my purposes, although there will certainly be future playtests if I can manage it.

Some of the challenges around playtesting this game are that, ideally, it would be played in a crowded, busy space. The challenge with that is not wanting anything to break or go missing, or to get in trouble for playtesting publically where I’m not allowed (since I will basically gaffer-tape the sculptures in various positions where they won’t damage any paint). Getting the space that I did get is not going to be possible as often as I would like — it’s unusual for a solo project to be allowed to use the space in that way.

I guess that brings me to the Companion Larp for TRACES, which I wrote in order to try and solve the issue of not having a crowd to play in. In a nutshell, I am asking people to play characters/caricatures of people they would expect to meet in 2019.

What else should I be recording for posterity in this post? A lot of the records are in github, in the version history of documents I’ve been writing.

I guess I am just, at this point, overwhelmed with how much care I have for this game. I really feel like I’ve put myself out there in a way that feels vulnerable and exciting.

Oh, I guess it’s also worth mentioning that the “final for now” version of the Escape Room that I have been helping with is up and running as of today.

I have no idea what I’ll make next, but I haven’t stopped collecting the molded pulp paper forms when I get the chance. I’ve got some excellent ones that Marc and Gina gave me recently. For now, I’m focusing on doing the best job that I can playtesting and documenting this game that I care for so much.

DISSERTATION UPDATE: Plugging Away at It

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation, reflective games, research

Still working away on TRACES!

Yesterday, I edited the rewritten objects (2,5, and 7) and reached out to people to voice-act them. Some of those folks will only be available as of April 19th, so I’m back to working on the sculptures again. I’ve got two left to make and honestly, I need a bit more inspiration.

Today, I had an impromptu conversation about the project that I didn’t record (because it was impromptu) with one of TAG’s visiting artists, Jonathan Chomko. We talked about the goals of our respective projects, and, talking aloud, I identified three “pillars” for TRACES:

The first, as I wrote about when I started the project, is “Alienation” — which is one of the feelings that got me started thinking about this project in particular. The second is “Exploration” (and speculative fiction, exploring the space, etc). The third is “Recognition”, but as in, recognizing yourself in the game, or identifying in some way with the game (this one being aimed at other queer and marginalized folk).

Alongside that, I want people to feel like they’re doing something sort of covert, and like they have to watch what they do in the space.

I also expressed my worry that the game will somehow wind up feeling like an audio museum tour (I really hope this is not the case) because of the scanning of sculptures and accompanying audio. I think the kind of audio and the objects in question will prevent this, but it is something that was briefly brought up at the Arcade 11 playtest. I don’t find the comparison flattering.

So I kind of want to bring in more “game-y” rules. Maybe some kind of way to track what audio has been collected (my nightmare) would work, but I don’t think so. Maybe some kind of reward? Maybe some kind of rule for how to behave around the objects? Maybe something else? Possibly I need to help players get into character more? I’m looking for low-cost (timewise and difficulty-wise) ways of making the players more involved.

Maybe I’ll get the chance to talk this over with some other folks at some point in the near-future.

Meanwhile, here’s hoping I can get two more sculptures ready to paint!

Here’s what the task list for the game is looking like:

– Finish and paint sculptures, add RFID tags to them.
– Record and edit Audio for 3 re-written objects
– Amend the JSON dictionary for the game
– Measure timing for the text and speech in the game and adjust those variables accordingly (hopefully it’ll be similar within one object).
– Update the Raspberry Pis with the new code and audio files and hope they don’t break.
– Playtest!

DISSERTATION: Time Marches Ever Forward But Now So Is My Project

autoethnography, critical making, dissertation

Just dropping a note to say that work on Traces is going well — I’m actually hoping to have something playtestable for the very beginning of March, so I’m busily working away on all fronts — I’m soldering components for the scanners and screens, installing software on raspberry pis, writing code, thinking about sculptures and recording audio, thinking about displaying the script on tiny screens, thinking about the aesthetics of the controllers and how they’ll all fit together… There’s a lot afoot.

It’s exciting to be in a thick of it, even though I’m keeping a hectic pace. I would love to have something finished in time to playtest at Arcade 11 — that’s currently my goal. I would be right on track for six months with this project if I finished by then, which is kind of incredible given the delays and difficulty I was having with it earlier.

Squinky helped me with some programming last week. I also had to figure out how to work with the Uno clones that I bought (the Metro 4 Express from Adafruit), which didn’t work as expected out of the box. I had to write in a new board definition in one of the libraries I’m using and disable a different library that didn’t play well with it (the servo library). Squinky also helped me get audio working.

One on-going concern is that I have a 4-line LED screen, but I have to be careful about the max number of characters it will display because it will simply cut text off. I will have to write something that trims the dialogue to the right character length and then shows the next bit of dialogue at an appropriate pace. That will probably require some massaging. I’m sure it’s possible, but I think I’ll likely need help figuring it out. I’m currently waiting on USB backpacks for the screens that should arrive tomorrow so that I don’t have to fiddle too much with the wiring and can control the screens through one of the serial ports.

I was recently chatting with Enric Llagostera, who helped me to challenge my assumptions around what the controller could look like. I had given a lot of thought to what the objects the player scanned would look like, but other than wanting something functional that won’t overheat the components, hadn’t given thought to how the scanner would look beyond that. I had thought that I wanted a very raw look, that showed the components and looked sort of future-hacker-Shadowrunny. I’ll be trying to rethink that while, again, not overheating anything and not interfering with the functionality of the boards and such.

I also have to do some thinking about the dimensions and designs of the objects — they do have to be a certain distance away because of the range of the scanner (I don’t want the tags to interfere with each other). But I also don’t want the objects to be too huge, necessarily. I am thinking it could be cool for some of them to be installed with either suction cups or double-sided tape, so that I can vary how I position them in the space.

Well, I’m going to keep at it! Here’s hoping I manage to get it all done.