Sunday 8 April 2018

Now Play This 2018

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend Now Play This, at Somerset House. Here are some of my favourite and most interesting things from the exhibition part of the festival.

10 Mississippi by Karina Popp
A series of 10-second activities using stop-motion photography spell out a story of daily life.
I loved 10 Mississippi's use of photography and staccato, broken motion. I think stop-motion is such an untapped area for games, and the scenes of 10 Mississippi felt still, contemplative and intimate. The style of the photography; using real word scenes but often blurry, messy compositions, contrasts sharply with the ever-aspiring to be more realistic animation of contemporary games. 10 Mississippi also used sound, and toyed with the nature of the keyboard as input, to great emotional effect. A fantastic experience.

Dobotone by Videogamo
4 players play party-minigames, while a fifth 'remixes' the games by changing variables like gravity and speed. 
Dobotone created some of my most memorable moments from the exhibition. It explores the relationship between game maker and players provocatively. The 'remixer' has the power to ruin everything: send all elements flying off the screen, slow down time to nothing, reduce the match length to one round. At the other extreme, they could do nothing, and leave the players with a totally vanilla experience (which would work perfectly well for the players, but is a bit boring for them).
What emerged then, for me, was a sort of negotiated mischief. "Oh, this round is going quite smoothly. How about if we turned off gravity? Would that help? Oh. Oh, no. It doesn't seem to have helped." at times, "hmm, it seems like this one is going quite well... how about we make it a best-of-5?" at others. Also, the game box's Neon-ish design is absolutely gorgeous.

Multibowl by Bennett Foddy and AP Thomson
Using the power of emulators, play a random mix of 30-second scenarios from over 300 old arcade games.

This was pure fun. Each 'match' consisted of a fast onslaught of old games, some of which made perfect sense, and most of which didn't. The nominal challenge was to win 10 scenarios, but the real challenge was to learn something about what you were experiencing before your 30 seconds were up, and you were booted into a different genre/continent/decade. Having this be a 2-player experience was genius, and for me this game captured something deep about the process of playing together.

Sounds of the UK, using the LED Gameboard by Wolfgang Huther
A standard match-the-pairs game which used only sounds.

This was such an ingenious twist on the classic match game that I was taken aback. It turns out much more difficult (at least if you are me) to memorise a grid of sounds than a grid of words or pictures. The sounds were cleverly chosen too: each represented a simple concept, but work was often required to figure out what that was. "Is that the pub? Oh, no, I think it's the fish-market" for example. Finally, the LED Gameboard was a swish and inviting medium for this game to run on.

And Finally...

Acknowledgement for perhaps the most difficult and popular game in the UK today.