Q1. When asked “what do you do?”, what do you say? My go-to annoying answer to that most annoying question is ‘I make interesting games for interesting people’.
Q2. What are you working on at the moment? Right now I’m working on a plan to bring a game called Drunk Dungeon to market. It’s a physical space game designed for parties or pubs. Two teams compete to explore a dungeon and capture treasure hidden within it. Except, when they arrive, there is no dungeon. Instead, the teams build the dungeon themselves as the night goes on, out of the beer coasters they get each time they order a drink. Each coaster has a bit of map on it, and over the course of the evening everyone collaborates to build a map, get their team to the treasure and trap their opponents in a maze of dead ends and switch-backs. We did a hand-printed version at NYU’s annual No Quarter gaming event earlier this year, and a lot of people have been asking how to get hold of it, so we’re looking into options.
Q3. What one thing could you not do without as part of your design process? Big paper and sharp pencils. There’s nearly always a bit of the process where I need to write down everything I know about an idea and find the logic that underpins all the detail. I know post-it notes are traditional tool, but I like mapping everything onto one single sheet. Apart from anything else, it means you end up with a lovely archive of project maps. Plus writing/drawing things in place in pencil gives you a nice balance of permanence. You need to be purposeful with where you put things in the first place, but you can fix mistakes if you need to.
Q4. What is the project you are most proud of in the last few years? I think we’re all very proud of the New Year Games, the city-wide game we ran as part of the 2012 Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh. Hide&Seek has long been built around a belief that play brings people together in powerful ways, but the New Year Games was the first chance we’d had to prove that on a really giant scale. Working with local artists, we threaded games all through central Edinburgh, in and out of some of its most iconic buildings, and brought thousands of people to play together. Hearing stories of friendships formed and seeing the passion and rivalry of huge crowds of team-mates who had so recently been disconnected strangers was an incredible vindication of our instincts about why games should be a bigger part of public life.
Q5. What does it take to be a better-than-average game designer? I increasingly you mostly need to be lucky, persistent and prolific. Make a lot of stuff, grit your teeth and see it through, and hope that some if it is good. I do find knowing a lot about other games helps me shortcut some design processes – games is definitely an arena where iterative design is a very valid way of being creative, as long as you’re open about the ideas you’re building on.
Q6. Where do you go for inspiration? I find very abstract art unbelievably restorative. There’s something about the shape and colour and pattern and rhythm of it that feels very representative of how game systems feel in my head that I find very useful. I had a chance to go to Dia Beacon outside New York recently, and the Michael Heizer, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra pieces there feel like they were born out of the same bit of the brain that perfect game ideas come from.
Q7. What is an example of a project or game that sits at the intersection of “arts/culture” and games which worked really really well? I know it’s cheeky to call out our own work, but I do think Hide&Seek’s recently installation at La Gaite Lyrique in Paris is one of the most successful of these hybrid projects that I’ve seen. It was called The Building Is…, and it was an attempt to bring to life the spirit and the mood of the building, and let visitors interact with it via a sequence of games. People played with the buildings senses – its ears and nose etc – and influenced its mood. It was a really high caliber project in terms of the quality of play, the completeness of the design vision and the provocative way it got visitors to reconsider the history and the value of the venue itself.
Q8. What is the one project you’ve seen recently that made you go WOW? I’m still a little gobsmacked at a game called Floating Cloud God Saves The Pilgrims – full disclosure, it’s made my some old friends of mine . It’s a small game, but it’s full of very interesting things. It has a very lean game mechanic – lots of coupling together of opposing systems in the same game element. It’s visually stunning, and it draws on some really interesting elements of Japanese mythology. It’s also a really nice example of how games can have huge emotional impact without necessarily having a formal story or narrative.
Q9. If you had the rapt attention of all the people who work in arts & culture in Scotland what would you want to tell them? That games and play don’t belong in a ghetto. I think they’re still often seen as something trivial, or something childish, or something that you have to adopt because it’s the only way to appeal to a younger audience whose attention-spans have being ruined by the internet. Games to me have always been part of cultural, social heritage that goes back as far as music and storytelling and dance. We’ve been playing games together just as long as we’ve been expressing ourselves in ways we now understand to be conventional culture. There’s been a brief, strange aberration in the last hundred years or so, where public play (whether in homes or pubs or streets) has been overshadowed by radio and TV, but it’s already resurging.
Q10. What game should everyone stop reading this and play RIGHT NOW? I’m having a lot of ideas at the moment about an oldish game called Set. It’s a very simple puzzle game – you compete against each other to identify sets within a deck of cards showing abstract patterns. It’s wordless and contextless, but beautiful. You often play in near-silence, but it’s a very convivial game. People walking past nearly always end up joining in – it’s contemplative and soothing at one level, but fiercely competitive and often weirdly funny at another. At a time when there’s a lot of focus on narrative games, I remain really interested in defiantly abstract ones, and this is one of my favourites.
Margaret Robertson is a designer and consultant who has worked on award-winning games for the commercial, cultural and educational sectors, most recently with Hide&Seek. Originally from Scotland, Margaret is now based in New York and you can follow her on Twitter at @ranarama.