James Wallis levels with you

Fjord Escort: Hyperion and Hypercamp

I run a workshop on board-game design, paper-prototyping and the iterative process. It lasts between two and four hours, and involves small groups of people concepting and designing a game, watching others playtest it, listening as they critique it and—if there’s time—working through that criticism to create a revised version. I’ve run it three times already this year (once for a group of students, once at an academic conference, and once is under NDA—sadly, as it was a good one) and it always gets great feedback. Most importantly it’s always different: not just the type of games that people devise but their subjects and the ambition they bring to it.

At one university recently I watched a very talented group of student designers crash and burn because they couldn’t reconcile the game they wanted to make—an ambitious narrative card-game based around playing out a court case—with either the brief for the project or the amount of time they had: their prototype had literally nothing playable in it. I’ve seen the same thing happen several times and it drives one of the central messages of the exercise: if you don’t start with a core of good gameplay, a structure or a mechanic to act as your nucleus, then you’ve got nothing to hold it together and your parts will fly off in all directions.

And sometimes it produces a game that’s really interesting. When I was a lecturer on the BSc Computer Games Development course at the University of Westminster I’d make my students a standard offer: if I was sufficiently impressed with their board-game I would introduce them to a suitable publisher for it. It only happened once, and I couldn’t get a publisher to bite (I suspect the game was a bit component-heavy, to be honest) but still it was an exciting and fun result, and a very impressive day’s work.

Anyway, as you may have gathered from earlier blogposts and the fact that Nordic Larp won the Diana Jones Award last year I ‘m very excited by what’s going on in the Scandinavian games scene in the last few years. There are some really interesting schools of design (‘Jeepform’ is the one that everyone’s heard of but there are more), and their larps lead the world in terms of development and scope. Perhaps most interestingly, they’ve put a lot of time and work into making games a recognised and legitimate cultural form in their countries. Whether or not you believe games are art, you’ve got to see the potential benefits in making games companies and games events able to access government-backed cultural funding and resources.

There’s an organisation in Norway called Hyperion. It’s a federation of games clubs and players from all over the country, mostly covering tabletop games and larps. It has tens of thousands of members, and because of that it is able to receive around two million kroner (£220,000/US$340,000) in annual funding from central and local government to support its activities. It distributes these funds as well as organising activities that I can mostly describe as Way Cool.

The money mostly comes from taxes on gambling, and is given to gaming organisations in the same way that sports organisations are funded. Hyperion has offices and paid staff (though not many—it’s not a huge or rich organisation). And one of the things it does is to organise Hypercamp, an annual week-long summer camp for around a hundred young games designers and students, aged about 14-24, on Hudøy, an island in the Oslo Fjord about fifty miles south of the capital.

Hypercamp offers sessions on larp design, costuming and cosplay, make-up, e-sports, miniatures gaming, stage make-up and more. In the evening people larp or play board-games or roleplay, or swim or chat or sing. And the camp also runs workshops on designing and prototyping board-games and RPGs. Enter stage left, clutching a boarding-pass, me.

That’s what I’m doing as I type this: I’m travelling to Hypercamp as a guest of Hyperion, to run my board-game workshop. I am hugely honoured to be asked, and wild pegasi couldn’t have kept me away. An island! In a fjord! With the descendants of Vikings!

I won’t be able to upload this post until I’m back in the UK, so by the time you read this I’ll be in the bosom of my family again. Expect a post-mortem with pictures. A figurative post-mortem, I hope.

How was your week?

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  1. Not as good as yours, thank you for asking. Some people came to replace the tray in our shower, and they ended up ripping the whole shower out of the bathroom, so now we have no shower and we have houseguests coming this weekend, and the repairmen and letting agencies of this world think it is acceptable to leave people like that for as long as it takes and if this means the best part of two weeks then “well, we’re really sorry, but nothing can be done about it”. Yes things can be done about it, they’re just things you don’t want to do. Is it unreasonable to expect you to stay back on a Friday night or to come in and work on a Saturday and find a tiler who is willing to work at a weekend at whatever weekend supplementary hourly rate they care to charge? Possibly, but that’s what we pay you for, anonymous letting agency, and there’s been an awful long time of you doing nothing for your money and so perhaps it’s time you did go above and beyond the mere call of duty like the rest of us have to do from time to time when it’s really necessary in the hope of nothing more than just thanks.

    Sorry, you didn’t deserve that, it’s not your fault, but you did ask.

    I am happy for you, and jealous of you, and think that this is an indication that good things do come to those who steadily build up a long career and become very accomplished at what they do. I am also very jealous of Norway and will continue to vote for parties who favour Scandinavian-style levels of taxation that might fund all manner of such enrichment activities, and not just the ones that I (like you) happen to find way cool. What’s that? There aren’t any, at least who stand a chance in our horrible electoral system?

    I bet letting agencies work better in Norway too. Fingers crossed that they don’t treat their potential immigrants as badly as we treat ours…

    P’d Off With Capitalism

  2. Emmeline says:

    This sounds very, very awesome. Wish I were in a fjord with a boffer sword!

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