Sunday, 29 December 2013

Urban Gaming: LASER EYES

Consider the giant-size chess-board in Rotterdam Central Library. People come and interact with these objects in a public space, understanding that it is a playable game without needing any instructions. Every time I'm at the Library there are always folks playing chess, maybe newcomers understand the game's playability through observing the example of previous players? I think the more intuitive analysis is that chessboard and chess pieces are, by definition, gaming instruments. This definition is commonly known and accepted in this society. When you see a set of chess, you understand that it is playable, regardless of the set's size. But we know that there is nothing inherently playable in a black/white board or in black/white solid objects of specific shapes. Their playability is socially constructed. They only constitute a game because we agree that they do. Were we to place this giant chess set in a society where no one knows of the game and no one knows the rules, the pieces will probably be understood as works of sculpture.

I've been reading a book on game-design and I've had the idea of developing physical, real-life games for the city. I like to play, as most humans do, and I also believe that playing should mostly be free. In my teenage years I was often bothered by how some of my favourite fun activities costed money, and ever since I've been trying to come up with ways to have fun for free. I guess this game-design project is one of my answers. It's a DIY approach. It is the beginning of a social construction.

The first step was to identify settings in the city that have potentials for specific game-play mechanics. I noticed this spot on Hoogstraat between Binnenroute and Beursplein. I liked the sceneries and the waters, but more importantly I liked the one-platform against three-benches structure. There's definitely something we can work with. 

The second step was to actually decide on the mechanics and bring the game to life. I looked at this place a lot and devised some rules, and alas, the game described below is called LASER EYES. 

How to play LASER EYES v.1.2

  • Make 2 teams with equal numbers of players. The minimum required is 3 players each. 4 is better. Any higher number is theoretically possible and the game gets more strategically complex as the number of players increases.
  • One team will be the LASER team. The other will be the SURVIVAL team. The two teams play against each other. The LASER team aims to destroy the SURVIVAL team at all cost. The SURVIVAL team aims to survive.
  • The two team can agree on the number of turns a game should include. What happens in a turn will be explained later. I recommend a 5-turn-game.
  • One of the players in the LASER team will play the role of LASER EYES. He/She will stand on the declining platform, the LASER STAGE, opposite the benches. At the start of the game, he/she must stare straight down at his/her own feet, and not at the benches.
  • One of the players in the SURVIVAL team will play the role of EYE MASTER. He/She will also stand on the LASER STAGE, two steps behind LASER EYES. He/She can stare at where ever the hell he/she wishes.

  • The other players in the SURVIVAL team will take position on the other side of the water. They must stand directly in front of the 3 benches, not in front of the spaces between them. They may all stand in front of the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy.
  • The other players in the LASER team will take position on the elevated grounds behind the benches, behind the fences. They must stand directly behind the 3 benches, not behind the spaces in between them. They may all stand behind the same bench, or they may choose to spread out between the 3, according to their strategy. At the start of a classical 4v4 game, the playing field may possibly look like this:

  • Or like this or any other such patterns:

  • When both teams arrange themselves into position, the SURVIVAL team will signal the EYE MASTER, at which point the EYE MASTER will speak the words "Laser Eyes". Upon hearing these words, LASER EYES can lift up his/her head to look at ONE of the benches. This must be a very fast and one-directional motion, he/she should have decided on which bench to look at before lifting his/her head. There's no changing of minds once his/her head started moving.
  • Because LASER EYES has the powers of LASER EYES, whoever he/she looks at will be blasted into smithereens. The SURVIVAL players in front of that targeted bench, AND the LASER players behind that targeted bench, will both be eliminated from the game and must exit the playing field. It can be visualised like this:
  • LASER EYES lowers his/her gaze back at his/her feet. That is the end of one turn.
  • The two teams reposition according to their respective strategies. The SURVIVAL team again signals the EYE MASTER. The EYE MASTER again speaks the words "Laser Eyes". LASER EYES again direct his/her deadly optic energy in the direction of one of the three benches, maybe eliminating some more players.
  • This process repeats for the pre-declared number of turns. In the 5-turn-game, you will play for 5 turns. During these 5 turns, if the LASER teams is completely eliminated before the SURVIVAL team, the SURVIVAL TEAM wins. If the SURVIVAL team is completely eliminated before the LASER team, the LASER team wins. 
  • If BOTH teams are eliminated at the same time, by the same laser blast, the LASER team still wins.
  • If the SURVIVAL team still has one or more surviving players in the field after 5 turns (or another number of turns agreed upon before the game started), however, the SURVIVAL team wins, regardless of the number of LASER players left in the field.
  • When a game is over, the two teams switch position, LASER becomes SURVIVAL and SURVIVAL becomes LASER. They play again. And again. And again if they want to. The fun may never end.
I hope the rules are clearly communicated and you can imagine how gameplay may look like. I will probably only understand the subtleties in player-interaction once I find some people to test it. But in my imagination this is, above all, a strategy game. You see, the key mechanic here is that the Laser team KNOWS where LASER EYES is going to look at, or at least they are more likely to know, because LE is in their team, and they would have agreed on some sort of strategy before the game starts. Maybe they had decided on a pattern? Left-right-middle-right-right? In this logic the Laser team can manage to ALWAYS stay out of the way of the laser blast.

But WAIT, it is not so easy! Although the Laser team knows where the blast will be, the Survival team controls the TIMING. The blast only comes when they decide that it is time, so they have the privilege to REACT to the Laser Team's positioning. A rudimentary strategy for the Survival team would be, therefore, copying the exact positions of the Laser team, and then signal for the blast. If the Laser team could avoid the blast, the Survival team could avoid it too.

But WAIT! If both teams got completely wiped out, the Laser team still wins! Considering this, maybe the Laser team can purposely place themselves in the path of the blast and hope that the Survival team will follow! But if they DON'T follow, the Laser team will be wiped out in vain! Maybe it is then too risky to put the entire team behind one bench? Maybe a 2-1-0 set up is better? How will the Survival team react to that?

If the number of players from each team increases, the risk-management aspect of the game becomes more mathematical. The potential strategic variations become endless. Maybe the Laser team can avoid  the blast for 4 rounds, and then send 2/3 of their team into the blast for the coming round?

There is, of course, also the wild-card that is the Laser Eyes player who may possibly, at a critical moment, play outside of the Laser team's strategy and surprise everyone. This may ruin the play of his/her team, or it may score a sudden win. He/She is in a position of great power and great responsibility. Playing as the LASER EYES may be mentally and physically exhilarating. 

Explaining the game is usually the least fun part of a game. Now that's over and done with, I should probably get some people and start playing. If you have read this post and want to get some of your own friends to go give this a try, I personally encourage you to go ahead. By doing so you would participate in the third-step of the design process, which is play-testing.

Maybe, if you want to, you can also leave a comment here afterwards to tell me (and everyone else) how it went. I would like to read about fun.

EDIT: I have tested the game on paper with a friend and noticed some patterns. Maybe I'll updates the rules accordingly upon future testings. For this purpose I have given the game a version-numbering. 

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