Game Design From Outer Space

Our first urban game, set in Urbino.

Urbino Wireless Treasure Hunt

Wireless Treasure Hunt

During the golden age of blogging here in Italy, the University of Urbino organized the Blog Awards and a festival called Conversazioni dal basso (i.e. Grassroot Conversations) focused on the role of digital and social media. The University asked us to design a playful event. It was 2007 and Urbino was one of the first Wi-Fi connected cities in Italy, and that seems like a great opportunity to use this astonishing medieval town as a playground for an alternate reality game.

The Treasure Hunt

We we pretty excited, it was our first experience as a team and we wanted to create something fun! So we designed a treasure hunt within the city: the participants – divided in groups – had to solve puzzles allowing the story to come to an end. We took in great consideration the narrative aspect of this pervasive game: puzzles mean nothing without a good story supporting and justifying them. And that’s why we worked with our amazing friend and writer Maddalena Grattarola who created the narrative storyline of this game and composed all the texts.

In addition to a website and some physical clues hidden in town, we also used Nabaztag to give some hints to the players. Nabaztag was (and still is) one of the first smart objects targeted to consumers: this robotic rabbit could read you emails and messages when they arrived.

We have learned an important lesson, though: when you design an urban game, take some time getting to know the city because otherwise you’ll ignore actual obstacles. In this occasion we asked participants to run all over the town even if the streets in Urbino are very steep: I think the players hated us on that day! But maybe this is just the game designer’s destiny.