Monthly Archives: October 2011

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Games Jam winners

Last month we held our first ever Games Jam, where participants were invited to create a brand new game inspired by our collections and galleries in just one day. Six games were created but there could only be one winner…

The winning game was called Darwin’s Monster and here are the judge’s comments:

Darwin’s Monster was really fantastic, I’m sure it’s something that could be developed and played again at the Science Museum.

The team playtested it in the Who Am I Gallery and it was judged to be both a great icebreaker with participants and really relevant to the gallery’s focus. The team also worked brilliantly together – they recruited players for about 5 rounds of the game and all explained the rules clearly.

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Simon Fox (, Rob Harris ( and John Waterworth walk away with the coveted PLAYER award 2011. Congrats!

EDP Wasp Synthesiser

Oramics to electronica phase two

This Tuesday the second phase of Oramics to Electronica opened to the public.

On display alongside Daphne Oram’s Oramics Machine are early synthesisers, computers, rarely seen objects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and Delia Derbyshire’s favourite instrument – a slightly battered lampshade!

EDP Wasp Synthesiser

EDP Wasp Synthesiser

We’ve been working with 12 musicians from a variety of musical backgrounds to gather their ‘take’ on the history of electronic music as well as a group of highly influential former employees of the BBC Radiophonic workshop and Electronic music studios. You can watch a short documentary film about the exhibition from conception through to completion here.

To celebrate the exhibition’s launch we held an evening event on Monday night for the press, members of the BBC Radiophonic workshop, members of Daphne’s family and the musicians who participated in the second phase.  Brian Eno introduced the exhibition and spoke about  the impact advances  in technology have on the way we produce music.

Tom Cowan and Rhys Webb from The Horrors also popped down to meet some of their musical influencers from the BBC Radiophonc workshop.  Here they are below standing next to the BBC Radiophonic cabinet on display at the exhibition now.

Tom Cowan and Rhys Webb in front of the BBC Radiophonic cabinet at the Science Museum

To celebrate phase two and raise Daphne’s profile among a new generation of music makers we are collaborating with, Goldsmiths, University of London, SoundcloudBoomkat and the Daphne Oram Trust to launch ‘Oramix’ – a remix competition.

We are inviting musicians to use the space-age sounds from Daphne Oram and create a new track:

Imagine that the producer of Our World, the 1967 TV programme that first linked the world via satellites, had commissioned Daphne Oram, the pioneer of electronica, to make its soundtrack.

The entries will be judged by renowned electronic musicians Brian Eno and DJ Spooky and our winner will receive a one year Soundcloud pro account, a Daphne Oram Boomkat box set and an interview and feature right here! More details to follow…

Make sure you are following us on Twitter or Facebook to find out more. See you at the exhibition.

The Unbuilt Room

PLAYER Festival: The Unbuilt Room

Last weekend saw the much anticipated PLAYER Festival come to the Science Museum, and I was there to run the length and breadth of the museum and try out the many intriguing ‘live gaming’ experiences – which ranged from a version of Pong to a real-life first person shooter (without real-life guns, obviously).

I’ll be writing up all of the games I got to try, but I wanted to start with The Unbuilt Room. Because it was awesome.

It was basically a 1980s computer text adventure made real. You remember text adventures: “You’re in a room…”, “Exits are North and East”, “GET LAMP”, that sort of thing. Nowadays, they’re called ‘interactive fiction‘ and have a significant cult following – but back in the days of rubber keyboards and cassette tape loading errors, text adventures were a mainstream videogame genre. (Check out The Digital Antiquarian, a fantastic blog about the history of text adventures in the US.)

Seth Kriebel was our host for The Unbuilt Room, which was situated in a small room tucked away in a corner of the Museum’s second floor. He’d face each of the six players in turn, describe – in an unnerving, impassive near-monotone – an imaginary room from an imaginary map, then ask: ‘What would you like to do?’

Turn by turn over 20 minutes, we got to explore the small world of Seth’s devising, and solve basic puzzles to progress: sinking a putt on a Crazy Golf course to lower a drawbridge, lighting a lamp to find a new door in a dark room. It was amazing how evocative it was: the ‘world’ was only a few rooms big and the descriptions were sparse but, just like in a computer text adventure, I had a vivid picture of the game world in my mind.

The 20 minutes flew by. It felt strangely thrilling to be on a little adventure with five strangers. Our group didn’t talk much – we weren’t forbidden from discussing our next move, but British reserve seemed to prevent it. Even so, there was a spine-tingling sense of shared discovery and achievement as our individual decisions combined to push us forward. And as a gaming-obsessed child of the 80s (favourite adventure game: Fantasia Diamond on the ZX Spectrum), I was bewitched at the way the language and puzzles of a digital text adventure unfolded in real life. Truly immersive gaming – and without a single transistor of technology in sight.

Seth kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about the performance.

What’s running through your head as you take us through the adventure?

“Ideally, nothing! I should be listening to the players. If I think too much about what might happen next I’ll miss what the players are doing right now. Inevitably, I prepare a bit for what’s coming next, but if my concentration wavers I’ll suddenly realise I was thinking about something else and panic that I missed something the players said. After several shows in a row it gets quite tricky to remember which group did what… Did this group pick up the matches in the Forest? Or was that the last group? If I ever wind up with a spare moment while the players decide what they want to do next I just try to remember to breathe.”

What was the best player reaction you saw during the PLAYER Festival?

“I love how people react to the Crazy Golf bit. Sometimes, when I tell them they have putted an imaginary golf ball into an imaginary hole, they shout “Yes!”, as though they’ve made a tricky shot in real life. It’s nice they get so wrapped up in the game!”

What’s next for The Unbuilt Room?

“Each version of The Unbuilt Room is different. The format – how I interact with the players – is the same, but the imagined world changes each time. In some cases it is based on the building where it is performed: the players are led on a circuitous route around the building to the performance space. Then, when the game begins, their imagined journey begins back at the beginning of their real walk around the building. In the imaginary world, of course, the rooms can be very different from the real rooms – even basic physics isn’t an obstacle.”

“I’ll be presenting different versions of The Unbuilt Room at Stratford Circus in east London 14-16 October and at The Nightingale in Brighton on 29 October, plus I have a few more in the pipeline for later this year and early next.”

More details at Seth’s website.

Brainstorming at the Games Jam

Design a game in a day

It’s a tall order, but it can be done. During our Games Jam last Friday, the six teams came up with six brand new games, playtested and perfected them – all in the course of a day.

We started off with four catalyst talks from gaming experts – I’ve summarised their words of wisdom here. After the talks we went on a tour of one of the galleries led by a curator. My team went around the Who am I? Gallery with Priya Umachandran and she picked out a few key objects sparked ideas.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff it was time to sit down in our groups. After setting the rules (no running, no fire-starting etc) the creative process kicked off with a free-ranging brainstorming session.

My group began thinking we might make a game about memory. This evolved into a classification game where people had to work out why objects had been grouped in different combinations. We even considered a poker-style card game where you had to create genetically modified creatures by collecting groups of characteristics.

Eventually we decided to go with a game where you had to bluff about really obscure looking objects. In our first, very quick and dirty playtest we were howling with laughter – it looked like we were on to something.

However, we were concerned that all we’d done was shift a familiar game into a new environment and we wanted something a bit more novel. So suddenly it got a bit political. We would divide our players into two teams – the scientists and the politicians. The politicians want to stop funding research and the scientists have to convince them that they deserve the money, but they might be bluffing…

Basic concept sorted we headed out to start playtesting in earnest. It didn’t start off well. In the first iteration it didn’t really seem like the politicians had much to do – they just sat and judged what the scientists had to say.

In the next iteration we decided to focus on the bluffing and ditch the politics. We took some pictures of crazy looking objects and asked people to write down their ideas. We then got the gamemaster to read them all out, along with the real answer. Again there were lots of problems. The gamemaster struggled to read out the descriptions in dodgy handwriting, and the real answers were really easy to spot.

But then it came together. On our third go we decided that half the fun was picking the objects out in the first place, so after assigning teams an area of the gallery we asked them to go away and take photos on their mobiles. They had to select objects that would be fun to bluff about, or that had descriptions that were so outlandish that people might not believe them.

Two or three teams take turns to describe an object and the others ask probing questions to try to catch them out. If the guessing team is right about it being true or a mighty bluff they get a point – if they get it wrong the describing team gets a point.

On Saturday we playtested it with real people. It’s really simple, easy to explain and can be played in any gallery. Plus it’s properly fun to play.


Here’s what the other groups came up with:

A bodysnatchers game in our medical galleries

A sickness and health game with evil nurses who want to make you sick

Darwin’s monster, a game where people team up and are assigned different abilities so they have to work together to survive

Rift, a game where you have to dash around the Museum to gather information to stop a rift in space and time opening between our Cosmos & Culture and Measuring Time galleries.

Nuclear Warning, a game where you had to design a new warning symbol and perhaps do a Russian Bear Dance.  

We’ll be revealing the winning game soon…

Simon from Slingshot

Game design tips from the experts

Last Friday the great and the good from the world of live gaming descended on the Museum. They came to inspire the participants in our Games Jam – people who were going to have to design their own games in just one day.

Hopefully we’ll have videos of the full talks up soon but for now here’s a quick summary.

Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio from Hide and Seek

Holly Gramazio from Hide&Seek told us about three common pitfalls with live games – games that are too vague, to random or too complicated. Vague games lack clear instructions and clear goals for the participants, complicated games demand too much attention from players – asking them to absorb vast rule sets immediately and overly random games depend too much on chance – not giving your players enough of an opportunity to use their skills to influence the outcome.

Tassos from Coney

Tassos from Coney

Tassos Stevens from Coney talked us through the three principles that guide their games development – adventure, curiosity and loveliness. Curiosity is important because a good game should always have an element of newness, adventure because they need to be exciting. Loveliness is all about looking after your players and putting their experience at the heart of what you do.

He also stressed the importance of playtesting – creating a prototype as soon as possible so you can try it out, see what works and what doesn’t and change it. And then play again and change it again…

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory took us on a whistlestop tour through lots of the decisions you have to make when you’re designing a location based game. What type of journey will you send people on? Linear? Disrupted? What duration, schedule? Is it played along or in a group, is there an advantage to collaborating, are there rewards, what happens if they get stuck, are there feedback loops so people can see if they are doing well, can people cheat, can that become part of the game?

Simon from Slingshot

Simon from Slingshot

Finally Simon Evans from SlingShot told us to keep it simple. There’s a finite number of game mechanics out there, so you can create something new and exciting by taking a familiar, existing model and deciding to change one thing. You’ve also got to grab people’s attention – something he’s achieved by orchestrating a tag-style foxhunt game where players get tracked through a city by real dogs. Possibly not one to recreate in the Museum.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff, we then had to get down to the mucky business of designing a game. More on that in the next post…