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All the world’s a game...

March 16, 2017

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A few weeks ago, local and visiting designers got together to think about the shape of the future city. The Quartier des Spectacles Partnership and UQAM hosted the second annual conference on practices and strategies for using and animating public spaces; this year’s event was focused on the theme of “playable spaces”. Participants looked for ways to integrate elements of gaming into city life, particularly through digital technology.

Éric Lefebvre, development director for the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, explained the concepts of “playable cities”, and about Game Jam that followed.

First of all, what does playability mean and what is it all about?

When we talk about playability or playable spaces, we are talking about ways of using games to encourage people’s to spend time in public spaces. We already have some fine examples in the Quartier des Spectacles, such as the Promenade des Artistes with the 21 Balançoires/21 Swings installation, or the Place des Festivals, where we’ve had Luminothérapie installations such as Loop and Impulse. Playability is not an end in itself, but a means of promoting social activity, of helping people and families rediscover and embrace public space. Games are not the only way of animating public spaces, but when we do use them we tend to opt for interactive installations – which should be fun and playful by nature – as well as street furniture and public art. Any of these things can be temporary or permanent.

Why did you organize a conference specifically on the theme of creating playable public spaces?

The process of creating playable spaces involves a search for new ways to make use of urban space, and games are influencing a growing number of projects that will have an impact on how cities are run. The purpose of the conference was to think about ways in which gaming principles – which are different from those of design and architecture – can influence the creation of projects for urban spaces. We invited guest experts to the conference, Hilary O’Shaughnessy of Playable City, a firm based in Bristol, England, and Darell Hammond of KaBOOM!, from the United States. These two major players have developed initiatives that put games and people at the heart of plans for the city of the future. We are now looking to turn those areas of research into specific projects. We want to attract people from the game development industry, whether local or international, who already have that expertise, to be part of that creative process.

Aren’t these ideas already being put into action by the Quartier des Spectacles?

It’s true that playability is not new, and it is already shaping the landscape in the Quartier des Spectacles. But we have to think about the future and how we can renew ourselves. What do we do after the swings, and the seesaws? How can interaction in a public space take playful forms without necessarily referencing the playgrounds of our childhood? There are also many festivals held in the Quartier, at every time of year, and they are thinking about ways to give festivalgoers fresh and interesting experiences. The playability question extends far beyond the Quartier des Spectacles. It is of interest not only to the managers of public spaces in Montreal’s boroughs, but to the owners and managers of private urban spaces.

The conference was followed by a Game Jam. What did that involve?

In the Game Jam, 16 teams of developers, designers, engineers and sound designers competed with a specific aim in mind : they had 48 hours to develop a game for a public space. The teams had to work within at least one of the parameters specified by the Game Jam partners - Radio-Canada digital services, the Université du Québec à Montréal and IBM - in order to be eligible for a grant for developing a prototype suitable for public release. Five grants totalling $50,000 were awarded by the Quartier des Spectacles Partnership, in collaboration with its partners. The five teams will unveil their finished projects in the Quartier des Spectacles in May 2018.

Can you tell us anything about the winning games?

The winners were highly varied. One is strongly family-oriented, while another uses mobile devices as controllers, and another is more of a treasure-hunt type of game. All these projects stand out from one another by using different play styles. Of course, a game in a public space tends to have a more collective rather than individual approach to play. The goal is always the same: use technology and urban space to bring people together. How will the developers adapt to the realities of public space? Based on what we saw during the Game Jam, they’re going to come up with some very interesting solutions!

AWARD PRESENTED BY RADIO-CANADA DIGITAL SERVICES

Parameter: Integrate media into a public space
Project: Montréal Roule by Tandem Ludik
Malcolm Arcand Laliberté, Fanny Belhadjar, Nicolas Crête, Christophe Guerlais, Sébastien Rancourt

Montréal Roule is a playful family experience integrated into the urban environment. The game’s goal is to get people to participate in a shared activity: a bicycle race. Racers must overcome obstacles and inclement weather.

AWARD PRESENTED BY UQAM

Parameter: The game must be implemented on the UQAM campus
Project: Ratons Voleurs by Pandart
Margot Chanon, Carlyne Poizeau, Yvan Richer, William Spier, Vincent Vandenbrouck

Raccoons climb a building like mountaineers, trying to reach the top while avoiding obstacles. During their climb, they steal objects and information. Players use physical controls to help the animals complete the climb.

AWARD PRESENTED BY IBM 

Parameter: Design, engineering, development or architecture of a game prototype using IBM’s Bluemix services platform or IBM’s Watson cognitive AI services.
Project: Picot-E Space by Lavwa Games
Marc-André Lavoie, Mathieu Malette, Yasmine Matar

An event-based game in the form of a fun, educational augmented-reality treasure hunt held in the Quartier des Spectacles.

AWARD PRESENTED BY QUARTIER DES SPECTACLES PARTNERSHIP

Parameter: develop a game aimed at families
Project: Bibittes Challenge by Power of Mind
Ons Ammouchi, Adrien Logut, Simon Takerkart, Amine Masmoudi

A giant creature appears, representing one of the four seasons. The goal of the game is to make the monster lose its control over the current season. Players use their mobile devices as controllers.

AWARD PRESENTED BY QUARTIER DES SPECTACLES PARTNERSHIP

Parameter: modify the urban fabric
Project: SiloConstel by Barnaque
David Martin, Émeric Morin.

Consisting of a set of benches placed close to one another, the goal of the installation is to discover the constellations hidden in an image. Each bench is equipped with an interactive device that produces sound and light, and the entire installation generates a sensory environment that changes and evolves based on players’ actions.

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