The Hardships of Location-Based Games

The 10 Gnomes series by Mateusz Skutnik was a big inspiration for the current project I’m working on, Illucinated. I’m currently in contact with Mateusz and he is a very nice, down-to-earth guy with a great sense for visuals (check out his graphic novels!). I can’t really remember if I decided to use photography in Illucinated before or after I saw 10 gnomes but the mere existence of the game series was an assurance for me that it can be done.

Mateusz recently told a little story on how the newest part of 10 gnomes came to be. He had to endure some hardships in getting to the right location, dealing with weather, shooting permissions and so on. In fact, this is not the first time. He also had some stories about episode 4, episode 5 and episode 7. It’s funny how simply by choosing a similar technique I encounter so much similar problems.

Illucinated - The Chicane

My game will only have 4 locations but I choose to do the shooting by night which means I need a tripod which makes me much more visible. I have also much more severe restrictions on the kind of locations I can use because my game is much more spatial and the layout of the location is more relevant to the content. I also need location which have at least SOME lightning. So I end up walking for hours trough the night in very risky locations, being attacked by giant (mutant?) spiders and being chased away security guards (Germany is much less relaxed then Poland). I spend days searching for good places on Google Maps only to find out that the route which looked simple from space is actually fenced off (HOW do you get AROUND the Cologne/Bonn Airport without a car?!?). Then you maybe found the right spot and it starts raining.

But the experience is amazing at the same time. It brings so much physical experience into the Game Design. It becomes almost like a game itself. Like a strategic version of Parkour. You start seeing places in different ways. Every time you see a path in the bushes your reflexes to investigate kick in. Going by some piece of architecture you wonder how it will look in the night and you start appreciating seemingly mundane routes in the cityscape.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

4 responses to “The Hardships of Location-Based Games”

  1. axcho

    That sounds so much more exciting than anything I’m doing. Thanks for that 10 Gnomes link – really interesting. I never realized people were doing things like this, except maybe IvoryDrive. I like these games using real-world environments and visuals and such – lets you use your perception to a much fuller extent than usual on the computer.

    Speaking of perception, I really like that last paragraph, about the activity becoming like a game and restructuring the way you see the world around you. In fact, I’ll quote it right here because I like it so much:

    “But the experience is amazing at the same time. It brings so much physical experience into the Game Design. It becomes almost like a game itself. Like a strategic version of Parkour. You start seeing places in different ways. Every time you see a path in the bushes your reflexes to investigate kick in. Going by some piece of architecture you wonder how it will look in the night and you start appreciating seemingly mundane routes in the cityscape.”

    This way that games can force your perception to come alive and appreciate what’s there is something I’m really excited about. Once people have a framework of goals and interpretation of affordances and obstacles, their perception starts popping out in ways corresponding to the game structure. I’d even say that all of perception can be thought of as structured and brought into being by games, for a rather loose definition of “games”.

    One thing that really opened up my perception with respect to appreciating the world around me, particularly plants, was when I started making musical instruments out of bamboo. I’d start noticing bamboo wherever I went, evaluating based on size and quality for harvesting and such, practically salivating at the sight of the better specimens. It turned me on to the aesthetic qualities of bamboo.

    Then as I learned about L-systems I started noticing the aesthetic qualities of other plants. And once I started browsing deviantART and doing photography I became even more aware. Going through the book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain opened it way up, and so the process has continued, until I can see just about everything around me as beautiful, if I take the time to do so.

    I want to use games to help people see the beauty around them (among other things). A few games to start punching some holes in one’s perceptual apathy, and hopefully the process will accelerate… The interesting thing is that it often takes exposure to a new environment (like a new game, or a vacation to another place) where your old perceptual habits and blindness does not apply, in order for you to start opening up. At first I would take photos only on vacations, but then I eventually started seeing the beauty of my everyday world. I want to be able to make games that allow people to transfer their transformed perception back to daily life.

    In short, I am inspired by your bold exploration and reinterpretation of the real, physical world you exist in. I wish I would let myself spend more time in the real world instead of squeezing my mind into such a small computer screen every day.

    I think that’s my cue to stop typing. ;) Thanks.

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Wow, thanks for the detailed comment! I’ve noticed IvoryDrive over on Kongregate. Interesting how he seemed to have similar experiences. These 6 messages could come just as well from me.

    I noticed too how getting out – especially on vacation – usually inspires me to do games. I know that I’m not alone too – the first Prototype of Braid was also created on holidays.

    As for noticing things. I guess this is some kind of reverse-inattentinal blindness. I noticed it too on several occasions but it never occurred to me that you could use games to intentionally to “teach” people to see things differently. Good thinking! Another good reason for using real environments.

  3. axcho

    Oh, you’re welcome. I guess it had been too long since I had written a decent blog post of my own, so I went ahead and relieved myself on yours. :p

    IvoryDrive’s an interesting guy. I don’t think I’m cool or exciting enough to be like you or him, but at least I can admire from the sidelines. ;)

    Reverse-inattentional blindness is basically what I’m talking about, yes. I’ve come to believe quite strongly that being able to put more conscious effort into perception, and to be rewarded by finding beauty, is a very important skill to have.

    As another dA artist artbytheo said to me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind if I quote him here)
    “…I think what’s happening in our world today is that ‘they’ are trying to convince everyone the world is a horrible place. ‘They’ want us to keep our eyes closed and not see the world is actually a beautiful place, so we keep watching ‘their’ stupid tv shows, news broadcasts, and buy endless supplies of clothes, cars, and other useless shit.

    The goal of the game would then be to make people realize this.”

    And as he clarified later,
    “There really isn’t a ‘them’ as an evil body of powerful rulers that is actually controlling the show. It’s all of us working all together in a huge body called humanity (and smaller cultural bodies of course).”

    Reading books such as Awareness by Anthony De Mello, and Beyond Civilization by Daniel Quinn, is what has really focused my thinking on this subject.

    You’d think I’d have enough on my plate trying to make cool new experimental games and games to transform education without also trying to use games to get people to open up their perception and save the world… :p

    Anyway, I still owe you an email about the Adopt an Invader concept. I’ll start on that right now.

  4. Adam

    A location-based games one in which the game play somehow evolves and progresses via a player’s location. Thus, location-based games almost always support some kind of localization technology, for example by using satellite positioning like GPS. “Urban gaming” or “Street Games” are typically multi-player location-based games played out on city streets and built up urban environments.


    messsage marketing


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter