12/15/2010

“Who would have thought that the exercising of arbitrary power could be so pleasurable?”: FLATLANDS Wrap-Up Part 2

by Matthew Hawkins

For those who missed part 1, here you go. Now, time for…

The Opening (continued)

I unfortunately was not able to bring in my usual ace photo guy, Earl Z. Madness, to record the proceedings as he’s done for each of my previous Babycastles affairs. Thankfully Michael Rougeau, a reporter whom I first met at PAX East while doing a story about the future of video game journalism in print and whom I became pals with, was on-hand to file a story about the space and was kind enough to lend stuff captured with his very spiffy camera. Thanks Mike!

So here’s how Flatlands works: two players choose a board by looking through all black boxes that contain them, officially referred to as “the archive”, and place it on the table. They then each grab three cards from the two stacks? one contains an adjective on each one, the other a noun?. any combination. The player’s goal is to create a statement using whatever words they have that reflects their game board. It’s then up to the judge to decide it it’s valid or not. The player can choose to state their case if he or she feels like it, and the judge can ultimately go by any criteria to base their decisions. If the statement is indeed valid, that player captures that board, which is essentially a point. If the player is not successful, it’s the next one’s turn. The game ends with the first player to capture three boards.

As previously noted, I had serious concerns that a board game would be too intimidating and dense for easy pick up and play, which is fairly necessary in any arcade setting, let alone Babycastles. Which is not a knock against the fine skills of Eric and Nathalie, but the fact of the matter is is, non-digital games inherently require more commitment than your average video game (generally speaking), along with an environment that’s conducive to interacting with one another (i.e. simply being able to hear the other person speak). And I had serious doubts any of that would be possible, given how very loud and chaotic the place tends to be. Though I was still very much gung-ho about giving it a shot nonetheless! But in the end, as the final product demonstrated not just that night but the entirety of its stay, Flatlands took all those considerations into account to become something that was immediately inviting and extremely accessible. First off, who doesn’t want to dig around and check out all the awesome looking boards that are hidden about? Ultimately it’s all about the art of conversation? as well as bullshitting. And isn’t that the best part of any board game, the infighting that happens between players? Though the most important thing was if the game was hella fun to play, and it most certainly was!

I had the honor of being the judge for its first public play session! Here we have the always awesome Matt Timms as one of the very first players as well. It’s hard to tell, but here he is building a case around a vintage WWF wrestling board game board?

A closer look at the wall that details the instructions. Everyone agreed that Rachel‘s graphic design skills were simply impeccable…

The game was played non-stop the entire evening, and my original assumption that Eric and Nathalie would hit it out of the park were completely validated. A belief that only the artists themselves had doubts about during development; pretty much everyone at Babycastles was in the dark as to how it would play, but given Zimmerman’s body of work, there was never any doubt that the final product would rock, hence the excitement for his involvement in the space in the first place. Actually, I think Eric was somewhat annoyed during one of the mid development meetings when I was rather flippant with my “oh, I’m not worried, it’ll be brilliant, it’ll be awesome” since things were far from perfect on his end at that moment behind the scenes! Which of course, would eventually come to together to everyone’s delight…

The assortment of gameLab’s past works also proved to be quite popular…

Here’s Travis playing Arcadia, in which you play four games at once! It’s as tricky as it sounds…

I’ll admit it; the inclusion of Diner Dash was not my idea but Syed’s. I wanted to keep the selection to strictly unheard of masterpieces, but he insisted that the one casual game to rule them be present, whether it be for purely historical purposes, or simply cuz it’s a damn fun game to play. In the end, it was a smart choice, and simply proved why it’s made a billion dollars and spawned so many sequels and imitators…

Myself and the gf, by my side as usual…

And Eric and Nathalie, soaking in the glory…

Turnout was somewhat modest, yet still very strong. Again, the evening was not promoted as aggressively as I had hoped due to various extraneous circumstances, with the already mentioned Thanksgiving weekend that preceded the event being a prime culprit. The weather was also shitty, but certainly not a deal-breaker. As anticipated, it was a totally different kind of crowd; instead of a bunch of kids ready to dance their assess off to chiptunes, you had a gaggle of game design aficionados, most of whom are notable working professionals from the NYC scene. Like former student/good pal Dave Gilbert here, with wife Janet enjoying Diner Dash…

Here’s Rachel, mid-argument during a particular heated game…

The featured entertainment that evening was Foci+Loci, that duo that creates improvised soundscapes via Halo 3 and LittleBigPlanet, remember? Unfortunately, all pics of the performance were hard to make out…

? One possible reason is that the projected images were being generated from standard RCA outputs. Which unfortunately was the best that could be done; the big downer of the evening was how the original audio/visual set-up, which largely involved HDMI cables, flat out did not work even though they should have, leading to a very intense technical troubleshooting session. The end result were not up to Chris and Tamara’s standards, but the crowd was captivated nonetheless…

Time for a group shot!

… Unfortunately, I lack the necessary Photoshop skills to reduce that spotlight on me/add lighting to the rest of the crew. Rather embarrassing. If anyone can help out, it would be appreciated.

Back to my crappy camera; the official end time for the shindig was 11pm, but the game was still raging well past then. Again, lots of notable names from the local game dev/educational scene were present, having the best time ever. Here’s Nik Mikros from Tiny Mantis with Nick Fortugno, formerly of gameLab and Rebel Monkey fame, and currently involved in Playmatics

When I left for the evening, Eric was in the middle of the game, as one of the two players. Without a doubt, the evening, along with the game as a whole, was a raging success!

Bonus pics time: here’s a few snapshots from the closing event, from this past Saturday, the 11th…

The Closing

Again, the sheer variety and subject matter that the game boards encompassed were literally mind-blowing. Though perhaps none more so than this one?

… It’s called Darkies In The Melon Patch, and yes, it’s very much racist. It’s hard to tell from the snapshots, but all over the board were racist depictions of blacks, circa the turn of the 19th/20th century. It’s a facsimile of an actual racist board game, no doubt from the south, though certain elements I’m told are off, and it might just be an approximation or amalgamation of a racist board game from those times. Who it’s for is anyone’s guess; as a board game collector, Eric simply had to have it part of his catalogue, despite the subject matter (or perhaps because of it, again for sheer historical significance alone). Here’s a close up look at the pieces that come with it…

Yet another game, one of countless that evening, in session, with Frank officiating (he was advertised as the “celebrity judge” for the evening). Much like at the opening, there was literally a waiting list to play! I know Jason who came out for the opening never even got the chance to play, the wait was so long…

Here’s Eric and Nathalie talking about the game, its evolution, the philosophies behind it…

… I really wish I had taken notes, but I was too busy taking pictures. Though I know Syed recorded the talk with his iPhone, so as soon as there’s a YouTube link, it’ll be here!

UPDATE: Oh, so I almost totally forgot the highlight of the entire evening, i.e. when six drunken guido Santas tried to make their way inside. As I would discover only afterward, SantaCon took place earlier in the day, which helped to explain the large abundance of passed out douchebags dressed as jolly St. Nick with vomit in their beards on the way there. Anyhow, they immediately spelled potential trouble, but thankfully it was all avoided thanks to Joe who skillfully intercepted and deflected them (he was helping to run the door anyway).

Apparently the gaggle of full-blooded Italians all sensed that Joe was one of their “people”, though I didn’t witness the exchange and thusly can’t say if I detected any change in his voice or the like. Their representative basically asked “Yo, is there any pussy here?”, and when Joe explained that there was in fact none (mind you, there was a plenty of females in attendance, but certainly not their type), it was their cue to scram. They all then thanked Joe for his intel via fist-bumps and other manly forms of affections; I suppose this would be an excellent opportunity to make some gay/Italian joke, but I’m already on thin ice with those pics of the racist against black people game board from above, so I’ll pass. Really wish I could have captured the moment, but we all know how well that would have been received. Though I did ask Mia if she could possibly illustrate the scene, but alas, she’s too busy with finals at SVA.

Moving on, some more game boards that I simply stumbled upon?

Eric and Brandon in the background of a heated contest between Zack Gage and his girlfriend, which was easily my favorite session of the evening. The vigor she demonstrated while justifying her statement made as it related to a Terminator 2: Judgment Day board was simply a spectacle to behold?

Last shot of the night, the happy couple of a game well done!

Naturally, I need to thank each and every person who came out to both evenings! Along with anyone who has lent their support towards Flatlands; it’s meant so much to myself, Eric and Nathalie, the large number of individuals that have lent their time, energy, talent and advice towards its development, along with Babycastles of course. We are all so supremely pleased that this grand experiment proved to be such a massive success, despite any inkling of doubts and the rocky road on the way towards the final game. I suppose the most important thing to emphasize one more time is how, between the opening and closing festivities, Flatlands still found an audience during regular hours of operation at Babycastles. Another big regret was how I was not able to stop by the space on a random evening to witness it in the wild as much as I’d hoped (for reasons I might be touching upon in my next entry), but was told that the regular crowd enjoyed the game as much as everyone else. The only real issue was there being enough participants, but the Babycastles staff was more than happy to fill in the role of judge whenever one was needed.

Guess that’s officially a wrap? So much for my fourth and (perhaps) final event at Babycastles! An amazing final note on an amazing year. Here’s to 2011!

  • http://www.ilikeapplejuice.com Travis

    1) I sucked so hard at Arcadia.
    2) You are glowing like the angel you are in “Time for a group shot!”

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