Germination X at Loading Bar, Falmouth

Where better for doing a game focus group test than in a games cafe? We had a fantastic turn out last night – we actually ran out of space! This was the third Lirec focus test using Germination X, but the first I’ve been physically involved in, and the biggest public event about this game I’ve done since last year’s draw your own plant spirit at Pixelache, way back at the start of the project.

Loading is based in the centre of Falmouth, and offers refreshment and the latest games to it’s dedicated clientele. We started off with around 45 minutes playing followed by a post-it note session covering the questions from SICS/mobile life, then a more freeform discussion on observations, many improvements and inevitable deep philosophy of game design as the evening wore on.

The participants included local people interested in permaculture and organic farming as well as those with a more games interest. Some interesting/unexpected things happened, and I haven’t even begun going through all the feedback, so more on that soon.

Edit: Following on from the focus group the game has it’s first ever review!

… one of the most drunken, slovenly and downright interesting game testing sessions in recorded history.

GX: Ancient oaks and tutorial info

Three hundred multicoloured oaks have been scattered around the Germination X world. These trees are all that remains of an ancient forest and require multiple players to find and sow plants around them in order to rejuvenate them into their former glory. This provides a simple additional community activity as well a first attempt at populating the wide expanses of the Germination X planet with landmarks – something that has been brought up in the focus group studies. There is also now an “oak score” to record the players who contribute bringing them back to life.

Also new today, a tutorial explaining how to do the basic picking and planting as well as some of the more advanced things (which are not so obvious and badly needing explanation) like sending seeds and fruit to other players and using butterflies to find out who planted things.

GX: Spirit personalities, asking players for help, twitter

Another Germination X server update happened yesterday, concentrating on the plant spirits.

We needed to log the emotional state of the spirits, so I thought twitter could be used for this, similar to the Naked on Pluto cleaner bot. In this case though, all three plant spirits have accounts, so they can have little conversations with each other – the wording is the same as the in game messages, and is chosen based on their current emotional state.

For the first time the plant spirit characters are programmed with different “personalities”, or settings for their FAtiMA roles, so we should see some different behaviours from them.

The last update broke the FAtiMA rules for diagnosis of ill plants and asking players for help, which is now fixed. The spirits now prioritise asking for help from players who have logged in recently, making it much more likely that currently active players see requests. The spirits are now also ‘summoned’ to ill plants throughout the entire world, meaning more activity generally – previously they were attracted to different locations by player activity only, and so would stay in the last area used (and could only “see” plants there) until new players came along.

Slub on Chordpunch CP0x08

A recording from our livecoding performance in Paris last year has been released for free on Chordpunch, a new online record label:

Chordpunch was set up to explore the many and moving forms of algorithmic music. That might mean a computer program generating every note you hear, or new electronic music inspired by algorithms, or human beings following interesting rules with musical outcomes.

Still in Paris, and still concerning slub, we are also featured as part of the Form@ts virtual exhibition at Jeu de Paume curated by Christophe Bruno. The exhibition concerns artwork, such as livecoding, that crosses borders of format and convention.

GX: soil conditions, glowing plants and empathic spirits

Along with setting up interactive installations, the last week has been a fairly intense code sprint on Germination X, based on feedback from the second focus study by SICS/mobile life in Stockholm.

In order to get a more interesting world, and shake things up a little, soil conditions now vary quite dramatically. Some areas are friendlier to plants, and some very much harder to grow in than before. We’ve talked a lot in the design process about having different types of plants for different soil types or whole regions, this is a step in that direction.

The feedback from both the focus groups in Stockholm agreed that the little star sprites used to signify plants you’d planted were confusing as they looked like flowers. I’ve removed them and added a little glow around the plants instead.

The biggest change this time is probably with the plant spirits. The FAtiMA AI system has been upgraded and as well as a bunch of fixes on my end to improve responsiveness and message wording, I’ve focused on a whole range of emotions called “fortune of others”. The OCC-model (Ortony et al., 1988) defines them like this:

I’ve attached actions to each of these four emotions which cause the spirits to react with empathy to events in the world that don’t concern them directly, depending on how much they like each other, or if the events are good or bad for the plant spirit in question. This starts to more effectively exhibit interesting properties of the FAtiMA system.

Al Jazari at the Fish Factory

A chance to unleash some participatory musical robot livecoding in Falmouth this weekend, with an Al Jazari installation at the relaunch and opening event of the Fish Factory Arts space. The last couple of galleries it’s been running in I’ve been unable to be physically present, so it was a good chance to get some feedback and pay careful attention to what people do.

While the robot programming is very simplified from the original version, there is still quite a steep learning curve. The learning process is audible and largely depends if a group of friends or an individual is having a go.

The programming seems to take several stages:

1. People initially experiment with single instructions, resulting in simple, slow beat with a single robot.

2. Learning how to navigate around the program and place more instructions comes next, resulting in complex but disorganised sounds. At this point often more people are attracted to join in.

3. Making more structured behaviours, palindromic patterns, repeating drum beats – people who get this far tend to stay for a while, working together programming all robots to coordinate their sounds.