The first iteration of the experimental Data Games Studio I ran.
Data Games explores modelling the intangible energies and interactions that occur in the Quarries Park, Melbourne. The resulting PixelPark prototype (BitBucket repo here) consists of a procedurally generated voxel-based system overlaid on top of real-space. This schema allows an alternative landscape to emerge where novel virtual events (places of low/high occupancy, moments of slow/fast change, routes that are heterogeneous/homogenous) occur in physical locations (ie. at artistic landmarks, specific topographical conditions, amongst low or high trafficked circuits through the park). Occupation of space in the park — and therefore of a part of the system — automatically triggers a cascading response from the PixePark platform.
PixelPark encourages players to explore the Quarries Park through deep interaction, in unusual ways, while actively communicating with each other and the public. The prototype demonstrates the potential for the playful, in-situ, and responsive modelling of data to help site users imagine and express alternate ways of thinking.
Site phenomena such as vegetal matter, areas of habitage, smog pollutants, and water run-off are converted into discrete voxel units that occupy the PixelPark landscape. Voxels units become self-organising clusters via a modified Game of Life cellular automata engine. Through this simple rule-based system, voxels 1) react to their surrounding landscape conditions, 2) possess unique and identifiable behaviours in accordance to their phenomena-type, and 3) can influence and respond to the player and other emerging phenomena.
Each phenonema-type attempts to outcompete its rivals and the player for occupacy of the Quarries Park, growing into both free space and converting other voxel clusters to their own. By moving across the site with a Pixel Park running on their mobile phone, players attempt to trap these roaming assemblages, transforming free voxel agents into units owned by the player.
When a voxel is captured, any surrounding voxel units are also trapped, setting of a new chain of algorithmic events. Trapped voxels are frozen in place, creating impassable barriers restricting the movement of roaming free voxels. As voxel assemblages move across the site quickly, players must locate densely populated areas of the rapidly-changing system for most success.
PixelPark’s voxel layer is overlaid onto field intensity maps generated by the studio’s multi-channel mapping. This ensures events generated by the system are associated with site characteristic (ie. run-off voxels tend to move to lower elevations, vegetal voxels occur in areas of higher tree density).
An overview of occupied conditions, demonstrating some of the possible phenomena occurring in the PixelPark landscape.
On her mobile phone, a player samples only a small portion of the total system. She must move around the Quarries site to explore the PixelPark world.
Though initially confronting for architecture students used to designing physical artefacts, the studio and myself had lot of fun building the PixelPark system, and testing it on-site. Emerging concepts and technical systems developed were expanded on in the next studio I ran, Big Games Studio.