Stumbling Through

IMG_0369Our stage and some happy cricketers! all ready for a first walk through of our script

We went to Spieltage!!! And it was great. BUT what has been event greater is the amount of work we’ve covered in this last week. We had our second playtest last Wednesday night and then on Monday afternoon, fresh from a weekend of hard core board gaming at Spieltage in Essen, we crashed right on through and did our first stumble through of the show. This was a terribly exciting moment, and also terrifying because we had not really had a chance to see what this show is going to be like yet. Having written it all together – writing into the same script – and then reading it and editing one another’s work it has been a bit tricky to get a mental image of the whole thing together. I think this is partially because we have three aspects of the show – the system science concepts, the game rules explanations and playing and the little character/story vignettes that give a POV of some of the people on the ground of our little fictional festival – and these all in their own way are a little narrative in themselves.

The stumble through went pretty well for a stumble through. No major slashes to the script seem to be needed, all the games worked quite well even if they were a bit off, or needed a different explanation. We were by no means clear and concise but the foggy shape of a good show is there. Which at this stage is comforting.

What was interesting to me during the stumble through was the overlapping moments. Where something we’d already explained in a game was then repeated again and again in the story, the science, the rules explanation. This is an easy trap to stumble into because we REALLY want to convey these systems thinking concepts but in actual fact just makes it all incredibly boring and a bit patronizing too. We’ve been working hard in the days since then slimming down our script and trying to get the right balance of communication throughout all the aspects of the show while keeping everything fun, light and clear. We had another playtest this evening and – while I’ll leave it to someone else to elaborate on that if they like – I feel that we’re already more aware of the clarity in which we impart our information. Which is good news because we’re off to Battersea Arts Centre next week for our Scratch performances and the more we can have in place before them the more we can learn from them and the better our show is going to be.

- Nikki

Videos from our second Science Museum scratch

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On Wednesday last week we presented our second Scratch playtest at the London Science Museum. Around eight participants came to help us trial the different games we’ve been working on, to calibrate and attempt to break them.

One of the nicest things about the event was simply the fact that we laid out our set for the first time in this whole process – we’ve been doing a lot of talking, and it makes a world of difference to be able to lay out the pieces and see how the whole thing looks in practice.

We tried out three key games, based on the Site Construction, Access and Amenities sub-systems. These are three of our ‘all-in’ games, where the whole audience is engaged, more or less. Here’s a clip of the Amenities game:

And this is the Access game, where the participants lay paths to connect the different buildings.

Several things jumped out immediately from the experience, but the biggest one was that all the games more or less worked. There’s a lot of tidying to be done, a lot of details to be worked out, and in several cases, variations on the games to be decided between. But overall, I think we all walked away from the scratch feeling like it was a success – that this show, as bizarre as it is, is actually a fun experience for audiences.

Then we took off overseas for three days to Germany to attend Spieletage – but I’ll let someone else talk about that.

- David

Confirmation

CONFIRMATION is showing at Battersea Arts Centre until October 25

CONFIRMATION is showing at Battersea Arts Centre until October 25

Blogging is not one of my strong points, so I’m going to love you and leave you with a short update.

Last week we all took a trip up the road to Battersea Arts Centre to see Confirmation. I recommend you check it out. I got a lot from the show, not least some new ideas about communicating new and potentially complicated theories to an audience.

We’re heading to Essen on Thursday for Internationale Spieltage, which is exciting. If you have any food recommendations for a gluten-free vegetarian within walking distance of the Messe, get in touch! I don’t expect anyone to though because wow, what a boring request from me.

I’ve been focusing my attention this week on an earl segment of the show – our performance contract and ‘What is a System’. I think it’s a really important part of the show, because we need to communicate the spine of our show in a way that is engaging, understandable, applicable to everyday situations, and serves the remainder of the show by setting up some dominos that get knocked down later. I’m almost done having my second pass at it, and then I’ll hand it on to someone else to tweak and edit. Sharing is caring.

If you’re at Spieltage, come say hi! Last time we went, one of the games was handing out free bananas as promotion. I hope someone does that again!

 

- Rachel

 

 

 

The perils of a first draft

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Sheep! They look so peaceful. Bet they wouldn’t much enjoy a music festival being plonked down in one of their fields. 

This last week we’ve been working on drafting the script for Best Festival Ever and making sure that all our pieces are fitting together. We’ve made an order of events – an order we think that this show should be explained in – and then have been fleshing out the sections from there.

This is the messiest part of putting this kind of work together. After you have spent so much time planning and organising and discussing and writing out your blueprint it’s disorienting to dig down into the detail and attempt to write between the dots as best you can. It’s uncomfortable and the script doesn’t look like anything much for a while. With five people writing into the document, and editing, it is even more confusing. You realise that while you all have agreed on a blueprint the differentiation in each persons vision of how this show goes are in its details. It’s important not to get too dragged down by this and to be able to quickly adjust to another idea but that in itself is easier said than done.

We have made this process more complicated for ourselves in the fact that we have decided to make a show that attempts to explain not just one concept of systems science and modelling but many. We are cramming a lot of detail into this little one hour piece and balancing the desire to give details against the need to be clear and concise is tricky. We could spend a whole hour (or more) on any one of the elements of systems science and modelling that are discussed in the show. One of the reasons we have decided to do this is to communicate the interconnectivity of each of these elements. We think our audiences can handle the complexity if it’s written well so we’re sticking with it. But it does make these periods of drafting a bit more dense.

Already in this drafting process questions of timelines, characters and levels of audience engagement have been raised. How the games are incorporated into explanations of resilient systems and modelling has been one consideration. How colourful can we make characters and storyline without over shadowing or making light of the scientific concepts and game mechanisms within the show. These are the problems that I don’t think you are able to see until you go through and write it all out.

Once this process is done we will have a much more level playing field in terms of the language and the details of the show. We will have more material to work with and we have detail rather than dot points. We will be able to get a much better perspective of what still needs to be attended to and where clarifications need to be made. And then we will be able to redraft it. This negotiation isn’t always fun but I think it is a hugely profitable one.

My question for this part of the process is, and one that I will be keeping in my mind is ‘

What are all of our goals for this show and are we hitting them as we draft it?’

- Nikki

On Watching Games

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This blog post is about to get real cool, real fast, so be ready for that.

Tomorrow morning I’m going to watch the semi-finals in the World Championships of League of Legends, an online multiplayer battle game where teams of five face off in a fantasy strategy game. I’ve been watching a lot of the championships so far, and really enjoying it. It helps that I like the game, and play it (though poorly) – knowledge means being able to appreciate details in play. However, I also get a kick out of watching the strategic and tactical work of the teams, and seeing their plans shift over the course of the game. It’s also great fun because online gaming events have gathered the energy, production value and audience of big sporting events – the picture above is of last year’s final, which drew on online audience of 32 million. Sports is obviously another place where spectating can be as enjoyable for people as playing – because of the investment in the team, the admiration of skilled athleticism, and more.

It’s made me think about the value of being a spectator in games, rather than playing. In our show, there are many games played by only a few different people each time. It’s important that we craft the experience for the spectators, not just the players – Tassos, our wonderful Ear, has given us strong provocations and advice to manage the show from both of these perspectives. Part of the show’s design, I think, is that the story becomes a main source of that investment, but the games need to be engaging from the outside, simply on a basic level of look, sound and excitement.

(Why) do people enjoy watching games?

- Nathan

The script-writing bit

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It doesn’t matter how many of these kinds of interacting playing theatre I make, some things are just impossible to plan for. In the way that Boho makes work, in general and for this show in particular, there are three elements in the mix: the science, the games and the story. No one element takes precedence, but some parts definitely coalesce earlier in the process than others.

Over the first two weeks of this final development, we pulled the show’s structure apart, returned to the basic science principles we’re grounding this show on, and made sure that the show’s skeleton and interactive mechanisms communicated these ideas in the best possible way. That was vital to get done first, and now the show feels as if it has a strong and flexible basis on which to place the ideas and story.

The next stage is the one that has often tripped us up in the past: generating the content. Although this show doesn’t have a ‘forking paths’ choose-your-own-adventure structure, there are countless ways in which the audiences choices and actions can lead to different outcomes, change the story, or impact on later games. The mechanics of that are just about all worked out – now the challenge is to put flesh on the bones.

In short, we need to write a huge volume of script, tailored to a vast variety of contingencies. In previous projects, this has often come late in the game, and results in the text and story elements of the show being underserved. Here, we’ve given ourselves the time necessary to get these elements right, but it’s always a sobering moment when you first come up against the brute fact of how much text there actually is to write. And of course, every line of text will need to be rewritten, and rewritten, refined and fine-tuned just as much as in a more typical narrative script. The show must be subjected to the same dramaturgical processes that you’d apply to any other developing performance text.

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That’s the challenge that’s occupying my mind right now. And in the midst of that is the other perpetual challenge when scripting a text with multiple devising artists: how to synthesise our voices in to one coherent show tone?

It’s a big job, but it’s a nice reflection on how far we’ve come together on this project that we’ve been able to produce as much material as we have in just a few days. And we have more to go. So, back to it.

My question: How can we best utilise our five pairs of hands to create the best unified work?

- David

Adventures in technical writing

Technical writing at its finest. Image: Joe Shlabotnik via flickr

Technical writing at its finest.
Image: Joe Shlabotnik via flickr

Our project revolves around games. Now that we’re starting to write, I’ve been thinking about writing games, and about related areas of technical writing.

 

Games have rules, and rules are generally negative. They tell you what you are not allowed to do. For example, the rules of football has this to say about off-side:

A player in an offside position is penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

  • interfering with play or

  • interfering with an opponent or

  • gaining an advantage by being in that position.

 

In contrast, instructions have a positive framing – they tell you to do things. For example, this is how to use a Davis brand Happy Troller:

Ready to troll?

(a). Bring boat to a full stop.

(b). Place motor in neutral.

(c). Pull control cord and hold for a few seconds while the springs move troll plate to the down position, then release.

(d). Shift to forward gear and slowly adjust throttle for proper trolling speed.

 

These two forms of writing are related but different. Instructions tend to be clearer, because they only describe one course of action. Playing a game requires choice, and the rules of the game describe both the freedoms and restrictions within that game.

With all that being said, there are good and bad examples of each. The rules of many major sports (especially cricket) are written in impenetrable legalese, but the rules for, say, Dungeon Lords have cute stories to help you remember things better:

Also recommended for the center of the dungeon is this tastefully decorated hide-away that we call “the Magic Room”. Send in two imps and a romantic din- ner, and out come three. It’s magic! The new Imp Figure shows up in your Imp Den immediately, so it can also be used in production. And yes, even in this room you can use Troll Tokens. What can we say? They just really like imps.

And Lego instructions are just beautiful.

 

And the obvious question:

Currently, which sections of our show are phrased as activities? Which are framed as games? And for our purposes, does the distinction matter?