Game designs @ ELI 2013


For a short talk about the development of place-based games at UNM, I wanted a hands-on component that featured actual gameplay. There are several short activities we do with ARIS workshop participants that might have been shrunk to fit the allotted space and time. But since the session was more about the idea that our program could be conceived without much expertise or money, I wanted to showcase something that felt a bit more attuned to the local conditions and that felt doable in a short amount of time.

What better way than to make a game specifically for the hotel lobby, and make it entirely during the conference leading up to my talk!

I noticed that the art in this hotel was actually kind of interesting, not just a placeholder of blandness. Perfect. These paintings are here but they’re usually background to the point of being ignored. So let’s make them the center for a few minutes. A microcosm of the main goal of place-based AR games: make the invisible tangible by drawing attention to an overlooked aspect of our shared space.

In the conference lobby I found 31 paintings to work with. Some were obvious, and others were tucked away. The lobby is large and tortuous. The variations and similarities between the paintings were interesting and generative. Coming up with a game in such a short time was no problem. Coming up with one game was the real problem. I ended up fleshing out 6 somewhat different ideas, but was only able to finish 1 in ARIS. I had really wanted to do two so that participants could get an idea of variety: of what is possible with ARIS, what is possible with 31 pictures, and the variety of psychological experiences a group can have while playing a game. We only had time for the one, but I at least sent them off with another to play on their own.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJohn Martin was there to help brainstorm, which was a lot of fun. Early on, he was reminded of a classic board game he used to play: Masterpiece. In that game, each piece of art is either a masterpiece or a forgery. Players bid to buy without knowing the truth. This gave us a fun and promising beginning. Although none of the games ended up being that much like Masterpiece, the idea got the juices flowing. So each of the variations below retains the name as a reminder, not a description.

Most of the ideas revolved around the use of QR codes. Even though they are ugly, they can retain the magic of automation, and we sure as heck weren’t going to use GPS inside and underground. They are also really easy to produce. With the free generator and the complimentary printers provided by ELI (and a pair of scissors too) we had our tracking sensors. In terms of quick and dirty prototyping, that’s hard to beat.

Game Ideas

Masterpiece #1 – Mix-n-Match

Painting-with-QR-codeEach painting has a QR code. The QR code shows you the image of another painting in the hall. The goal is to go find that painting and scan its QR code, a sort of scavenger hunt. The QR codes are arranged to create several short paths instead of one long one. This would help alleviate physical congestion, and could maybe used as a form of jigsaw. QR codes set on the chairs start people on the path. Kind of like an Oprah reveal.

Masterpiece #2 – Sets

This was the most intricate idea. Too complex to really pull off in the time allotted, but just barely. With a week, I think this would make a nice little game. Notice, I worked out a lot of details of implementation. I didn’t give up on making this one until the end.

There are multiple pieces by the same artist, and a couple of other obvious categorizations within the 31 pictures.
Goal: Find all the sets. There are 8 sets, and 17 of the 31 paintings are in a set. One artist has two sets, and so makes a super set.
Sets are good. Unmatched paintings are bad. Like Gin or other card games. When you gather them though, you don’t know what sets are out there, so it’s a gamble. One that encourages you to explore more and maybe try out different strategies.

Mechanics: Start out at 100 points. Each painting is -5 points. Sets are worth 15-50 so that you recouperate your losses and then some. The more points, the better.
(Starting at 100 and going up and down was chosen because ARIS doesn’t have a way to make use of negative numbers of items – in this case the numbers just worked out so well right off the bat that it felt a little scary)

We can even copy one of the fun strategies from Hearts: Shoot the moon – get the most paintings without getting a single set. 20 is the most possible. 0 points total.


Details of Implementation in ARIS
These might not make much sense unless you know ARIS. It’s sort of a dumb shorthand, but might be helpful to someone who actually wants to build something like this and wouldn’t know how.

intro plaque gives 100 points, -1 radius,
req never seen self

plaques give out items (see my pro-tip), take 5 points,
req. never seen and >0 points
(items, maybe use item tags? – what are they for?)

collector badge – item – given by plaque
collector badge plaque, gives collector badge,
req not seen and 95 points

badge badge – item – given for getting badges (a little joke about badges and badging)
badge badge plaque, gives badge badge,
req not seen and seen collector badge plaque

Set badges (plaque -> item and points)
Foley – req paintings 9-13; 30 points (this one is icing on the cake. You get it if you have both Blue Aspens and Canyon Walls)
Blue Aspens – req 9,11,12; 30 points (this and those below are double the points you lose by acquiring the paintings. Seemed like a good place to start the balancing)
Canyon Lands – 20,22,25,26; 40 points
Canyon Walls – req 10,13; 20 points
Happy Clouds and Trees – req 19,21; 20 points
Photography – 16,18; 20 points
Snowy Mountains – 4,5; 20 points
Summer Country – 14,15; 20 points
N.B. – If you add it all up, there are 200 points for the sets, meaning you can just get back to 100 if you get them all. Perfect.

Other Badges for Feedback
Shoot the moon badge (plaque -> item) req 0 points and no sets
Perfect badge (plaque -> item) req all sets and 100 points
All sets badge (plaque -> item) req all sets
GAME OVER req OR(sets) and 0 points. i.e. if you got down to 0 points but didn’t shoot the moon (have ≥ 1 set) the game would let you know that there was nothing left to do.

Again, I really liked this one. It gives the player something to figure out and something to do. Someday…

Masterpiece #3 – Gotta Catch ‘em All

pikachuThere are 31 paintings. Each has a QR code. Use the decoder to catch them all!
Each costs $10. You get $100.

The idea here is that you can only get 10 off the bat (constraint), so maybe a group gets curious and trades, or at least can compare their collections. Scarcity is implemented at the level of constraining player choice, not limiting the resources in the game world. This would have been easy to get into ARIS, but not different enough from the one used (#5) to merit inclusion. That said, I think I would try this one instead next time.

Maybe we could combine this with a crowd sourced or random weighting of the pictures’ value. Then each player’s collection could take on another meaning after the fact.

Masterpiece #4 – Art Contest @ ELI 2013

Find your two favorite paintings. Each is in a note. You use the notebook to vote for (like) your favorite.

This is very similar to how the notebook is used in Visitas de la Colonia, just simpler. It deserves a little explaination because it is a little unorthodox, an example of how ARIS gets really fun when you start learning to bend the metaphors and use things in ways they were not necessarily designed for.

Idea for Hybrid Notebook Use
Create a game that allows players to add notes.
Open the game as a player and create notes for each of the paintings. Upload an image, title the note, and share it to the map (I’ll explain this in a minute).
Open the game back up in the editor.
Disallow the creation of new notes – your players are going to comment on the existing notes, not make their own. Do make sure that players are able to comment and like.
There are now locations for all the notes you created as a player. Open these: set them to have error 0m. This means they will NOT be accessible via the map. Players are going to access them via QR codes. Each painting is a polling place, accessed via its QR code.

Players “like” their favorite picture and use the comment to suggest a title for their favorite. Back as a group, we look at what people liked and choose the best titles.

This game is not about winning, but is supposed to be suggestive of the idea that data collection activities, when done in this coordinated, multiplayer fashion can lead to interesting reflections and maybe making important decisions. It makes a nice follow-up contrast to #5 or those similar to it.

This one was planned for the session. Unfortunately a bug in the notebook and a lack of time meant that I couldn’t finish making it. Oh well, next time.

Masterpiece #5 – Art Thief @ ELI 2013

art thief title screen

One virtual painting per real painting. Go get em.
Items with QR codes. 3 per location (this was a nerf to make it easier to actually get paintings (item quantity =4, after testing once, there are 3 left for players)

ARIS Implementation Details
Create 1 item for each painting. Upload art. Make a quest for instructions, and badges for feedback.

basic instructions for participation: scan codes. Hardly necessary, but useful since I was sending them fairly far from help.
req for show – none
req for complete – player has seen plaque they will never see. This is another pro-tip. A trick I often use to make sure a certain event never happens. I don’t want this quest to complete because it’s not really a quest. It’s instructions.

art thief badge
req one art – feedback after the first successful collection
I was reminded of Zoidberg’s attempt to act like a rich person after getting a $300 tax rebate from President Nixon in Futurama. So that inspired the art.

art thief badge screen

badge badge
given for getting badges (a little joke about badges and badging)
badge badge plaque, gives badge badge,
req not seen and has art thief badge

Masterpiece #6 – Synchronicity

Look at your camera roll. Look at the paintings. Find a painting that connects to a picture you already have. Scan the QR code for the painting and upload your picture as a comment to the note.
Implementation – this is the same as #4. Author created notes in the notebook that players comment on, just a different intent.

4 thoughts on “Game designs @ ELI 2013

  1. Pingback: QR codes for rapid prototyping | Local games lab ABQ

  2. Pingback: Opposites Attract – an ARIS matching game | Local games lab ABQ

  3. Hi Chris. Fred Adam sent me to your site, he’s been helping via G+ Aris group to get me set with QR code-based Aris (I teach in China, our GPS standard is different so regular Aris difficult to use).. I’m now setting up as part of an MEd research project into affordances of iPads and games-based apps.. I want to create a unit of inquiry for students (grade 7/8) to locate technologies around the school (I teach technology), perhaps within a narrative (we’re on a spaceship, we need to collect and fix comms equipment/networking equipment/technology artefacts to get the ship running etc etc) that pushes things along; a type of treasure hunt with a game dynamic, teams of two or three students, need to swap, make notes, drop items and so forth. I really like some of these ideas above, I’m new to Aris and the logic of the platform.. Looking for any pointers, resources or ideas to push things along. Thanks! Adrian.

  4. Adrian, nice to have you on board! I’ve seen the problems you’ve been having with GPS. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much help, but I did learn something new. The offset in China is fascinating from an observer’s point of view even if it must be supremely frustrating for a user. I find that I’m surprised that GPS works as well as it does anywhere.

    It’s great to hear what you’re working on, and I’m happy to help however I can. Right off the top of my head, I’d at least direct you to the set of tutorials etc. at

    and the manual at

    Stay in touch however is easiest. I spend most of my time on the google group. I bet there’s a bunch of people on that list who would love to hear what you’re doing. Fred likes the Google Plus page. I see those too.

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