Results From Game Design Challenge: Location, Location, Location

By staff [11.15.11]

 With the rise of smartphones, more and more apps have been keeping tabs on where we are. Foursquare, Loopt, and even Facebook can keep track of you wherever you go, and of course, games are no different.

For instance, mobile games like the mega-popular Angry Birds let players download new levels if they visit the right locations, and other titles like Turf Wars are built to completely rely on GPS technology. We've seen myriad ways to use this technology in games, and this is just the beginning.

Now, for the question at hand: What would you do if you were to make a game using geolocation?

In this latest Game Design Challenge, we asked our readers to design a game that uses geolocation as part of its core gameplay.

What follows are the best and most original entries we received. Here are our top picks.

Best Entries

Jonathan Lawn, Communications Software Engineer, Carve-up (see page 2)

Michael Stephens, Ohio University Digital Media, Creatures Incorporated (see page 3)

Alexander Hermans, Computer Science Student at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, (a)Mazing (see page 4)

Thomas Petzel, Student at Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, Neighborhood Racing (see page 5)

Camila Carvalho / Rafael de Castro, Students at S.a.g.a - School of Art, Game and Animation, Break-in (see page 6)

William Klein, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, Photomaster (see page 7)

Faye Windsor-Smith, QA Tester for Codemasters, Photo Op - The App (see page 8)

Jonathan Lawn, Communications Software Engineer, Carve-up

"Carve-up" is a geolocation strategy game for mobile phones designed primarily to provide motivation and entertainment to runners.

The game is played on a map between two or more local competitors in an agreed game area over an agreed time period. Each player starts in their own initial "claimed" zone. A typical game for two reasonably fit runners might be an hour long, and have a square game area of 2km (1.25 miles) on each side, with an initial claimed zone of for each player along opposite sides and 200m deep.

The aim is for each player to extend their claimed zone by traveling in loops out of their claimed zone into unclaimed areas of the game area and then back into their claimed zone. When they reenter their claimed zone, the area within the loop created by their path and their existing claimed zone also becomes part of their claimed zone.

A player may not enter the claimed zone of another player. If they do, they must return to their claimed zone before they can set off again to claim more area. If the paths of two competitors cross, it becomes a race to get back to their own claimed zone, which will not only claim the winner their loop, but also invalidate the loop of the other player.

During the game, each player can see a map of the game area and the currently claimed zones. The size of each claimed zone (in square metres/yards) is also given. The player can see their own position, and their path since leaving their claimed zone. They can also see position and path of other players if they are outside their claimed zone. At the time limit, the winner is the player with the largest claimed zone.

Text chat is available in-game, before during and after the game. The players may never meet, but in case they want to, the game suggests a pub or bar equidistant between them at the end of the game.

The game can also be played on a bicycle, riding a motorbike or driving a car, where strategy is still key, but route-finding and local knowledge become more important than fitness. For all modes other than running, a player's phone will not update the location and trail of other players whilst it is moving. This is to avoid providing distractions which might cause an accidents.

One key to making the game fun, fair and available on demand is the matchmaking system. Whenever someone wants to play, they login and enter the details of the game they want: the mode of transport they want to compete with, their fitness (if relevant), how long a game they want, how soon they want to start and the maximum number of players. A central server will then match them with one or more other players, and offer a game. This will propose the game area, taking into account the travel time for each player.

Michael Stephens, Ohio University Digital Media, Creatures Incorporated

Your life was simple: wake up, go to work, clock in, make some monsters, clock out, go home. Repeat the next day. Such was the routine of a professional Creature Creator. Paid to concoct the greatest, most fearsome creatures imaginable, you were given full access to the factory warehouse chock full of monster parts.

That is, until disaster struck. Ever since the devastating explosion in the warehouse sent all the monster parts flying through the air, scattering them across the country, you've been out of a job! How could you possibly hope to fulfill your role as a Creature Creator when all the monster parts are gone?

Fear not!

Creatures Incorporated has worked hard in developing the "Monster Scanner", a completely portable application that scans the landscape for monster DNA! Now you can see where all the lost parts are, right from your smartphone! Now that's convenience!

Creatures Incorporated is a game with two modes: the Creature Creation Lab, and the Monster Scanner. In the Lab, you can build any sort of creature you want. Adding parts is as simple as dragging them in from the sidebar. Choose from feet, legs, torsos, arms, hands, heads, and accessories. When you're done, you can even fight against creatures that your friends have made!

However, you won't have access to all of the parts at first. If you want to expand your collection, you'll have to use the Monster Scanner to locate and collect parts that are scattered across the map. Here's how:

First, choose your lab location (your home). The location you choose will be marked on the map.

After you've chosen a lab location, monster parts will randomly spawn on the map. Some parts will be close to your lab, within walking distance; however, these will mostly consist of weak or common parts. The rarer parts will spawn on roads or in parks farther from your lab; you'll have to travel further for them. After you pass over a part on the map, it will be added to your travel bag and will disappear from the map.

Finally, return to your lab. The parts in your travel bag will now be available to use in the Creature Creation Lab. It's just that simple!

Certain types of parts may be found closer to certain places. For example, you might find some great flippers near the local pond, or maybe a cool tri-cornered hat accessory next to the revolutionary war monument. If you're looking for a part, but you just can't find it on your map, you can ask for a trade with another player. Just connect to the internet, propose the trade (what you want/what you're willing to give), and wait for a willing partner to accept the deal.

Creatures Incorporated is a fun, social game that encourages exploration and rewards creativity. With a healthy sense of adventure and a lot of imagination, you'll be making awesome monsters in no time!

Alexander Hermans, Computer Science Student at the RWTH Aachen University in Germany, (a)Mazing

(a)Mazing - Who makes the better maze!?

(a)Mazing is a mobile location based game played by two players. The goal in (a)Mazing is to catch the other player by means of a maze, which is build upon the streets of a city. The game is played in an urban area using mobile devices.

The Game

After both players have agreed on a suitable location, the game will specify an exact playing area of a certain size. Both players then go to their random starting location, within the playing area, which are approximately 500m apart. When they have reached their position the game starts and both players start building their own maze, based on the real life streets. A player claims the street for his or her maze when walking over it. Once a street is claimed by a player, the other player may no longer walk over or cross this street. Doing so would result in a cheating alert. The current location and maze of both players can be checked on the mobile device. Both players now try to build a maze around the other player such that the other player cannot escape from the maze. If a player manages to do this he or she has won the game. If the game recognizes that no possible winning mazes are possible, it results in a draw. To further increase the fun of the gameplay a set of items is randomly spawned across the map. Some item examples would be:

• Maze breakers: Select a part of any maze and delete the claim.
• Remote Maze: Create a piece of maze on any of the available streets.
• Jammer: Hide your own location for the other player for a certain time.
• Free Pass: A player can cross the other players maze once.

Fairness and Fitness

A problem of these kind of games is that players who can run faster or longer will have a big advantage. This can make it frustrating to play. To solve this, each player has a maze-pool. This pool is initially full and depletes when a player claims new streets. The pool recharges with one meter of maze every second. This limits the players to a walking speed for building mazes. While a player can still choose to run, he or she cannot build mazes when the pool is empty and thus running is penalized.

The motivation

At first glance it might sound like a very simple game, however there is more strategy needed than one might think. A player can choose to build a very simple, large maze around the other player, but since it takes time to create such a maze the other player could block such a maze by claiming an important street. A smaller and complex maze might thus seem better, but such a maze could easily be avoided. This means that the strategy needs to be adopted based on the other player, the current playing location and maybe even item locations could influence where a player wants to go.

Thomas Petzel, Student at Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, Neighborhood Racing

Neighborhood Racing is, as the name suggests, a racing game. Moreover it is a multiplayer game. For this game nearby opponents are necessary. Why nearby? Because this game uses the players current location to create the course. To be more specific, it uses the location of all players in this match to create the course.

The game checks on map services in the web to create the course, once the players grid is full. Appending on the mode of the race, the game uses the material of the map services to create either a round course, a free course, where the players' locations are just waypoints or a hunting like mode, where on player flees from the others. Once one of the other players got him, he will be chased.

Clearly this game requires several players at the same time in the same city to work. Since this game rearranges the course, when even one player's location changes at the next start of a race, the course will never be the same. Changing challenges guarantied.

For the time being it is pretty much impossible to design for every city the level design, so the game recognizes streets an fills the building areas more or less randomly with models of buildings. To make the course's appearance more similar to the actual city the game settings would allow the players to define how much of every type of model set will be used to simulate the city. Skyscrapers, terrace houses, industrial areas, green areas or whatever the city/area looks like. If the map material is specific enough, the game can use the information to use the right settings from the start, if the player wants that. If the player wants to see how the NY street layout would look like as a huge green area, the game won't prevent him from doing so.

map data by google maps

Camila Carvalho / Rafael de Castro, Students at S.a.g.a - School of Art, Game and Animation, Break-in

You're a secret agent in training for the famous spy agency: Break-in. Your missions are basically restricted to: invade and decipher information. Unfortunately, you were trapped by the agency Force Into, archenemy of your agency and takes over the power of your headquarters. Now you are required to perform missions for them against your will, while trying to find a way to reverse the situation.

iPad / Android


In your tablet you will receive briefings specifying the next location (fictional) you should invade and retrieve one of the pieces that will help to achieve the goal of your rival (goal that you will try to figure out to stop them). The problem is that the places are always surrounded by cameras and security guards, which makes your task much more difficult.

By going through these obstacles and finally find the safe, you will receive an image that is the key to finding an important clue. However, it is completely mixed up and by mounting it the right way you get a warning that your GPS has been updated with a new destination (that's where you will find what you are really looking for!).

Now, you need to go in person (real life) in the appropriate place and point your tablet's camera on the poster inside the establishment that has a "trigger" that activates an animation in augmented reality that only you see with your device at this time. The animation is followed by a message that will help you to reveal details of the story and let you closer to fulfilling the goal of the game.

Then, you receive a new message from your rival who designates you to a new mission.

You do not always have only one mission at time to do, and sometimes you will find that there's people trying to help you by sending you clues. Your fate and your agency's fate will be shaped according to the paths you choose to pursue.

William Klein, Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, Photomaster

Photomaster is a game that ties two untapped, thus far, technologies (Geolocation and Augmented Reality) into a cohesive and addicting game structure. The overall premise is that the player is actually a professional photographer engaged in a worldwide competition to take the most creative pictures of the invisible monsters populating the world. This would play similar to the game Pokemon Snap, where the photographs are ranked by how clear the picture is, how unique the locale and monster activity are, and how many monsters you photograph in the same picture. Both creativity of pictures taken and completion of your “Photo Journal” tie into your worldwide rank as a “Photomaster”. While there are some people that would likely play this game that might not have the opportunity to travel to some of the locales in which the monsters would appear, that wouldn't necessarily impact their overall rank. This is something that can be balanced by “migrating” monsters or simply increasing the points reward for creative and clear photographs.

This game would be developed as an application for iPhone and Android phones, as they have cameras that are capable of Augmented Reality and are GPS enabled out of the box. This ensures that every potential player has the necessary technology to play the game, as well as having a huge customer base right out of the gate.

The gameplay would consist of starting the application up and letting the phone communicate your location to the game server. After setting your current location the game would determine the type of surroundings you are currently in based on a quick scan of Google earth, or a similar service. This scan would determine the types of monsters that could potentially appear in your location, as certain monsters only inhabit cities, others towns, and other wilderness areas. Not only does this mean the game can be played anywhere the player finds themselves, it encourages play year round, as certain monsters might only appear in the winter, others fall, and so on. The player would then start scanning the area using their “Mastercam” which has the ability to make the invisible monsters visible, and monsters will appear to be in the real world environment, ready to be photographed.

The real appeal of this game, like the Pokemon games of my childhood, is a somewhat obsessive compulsion to photograph all of the monsters you can, and compare your “Photo Journal” to your friends or other online players. It is more a combination of the original Pokemon games and the short-lived, but remarkably fun, Pokemon Snap for the Nintendo 64 console. Not only are you inspired to photograph all of the monsters that are available, but you are encouraged through a point system to photograph the monsters in interesting poses or engaged in uncommon activities.

This is the perfect game to sell as a phone application, as it can be played anywhere and for as long as the player has time to play. As a side effect it encourages players to visit areas they normally wouldn't, such as parks and forest preserves, to find some of the more elusive monsters that only appear in areas humans normally aren't. So while Photomaster is a fun, and addictive, game to play, it also encourages an exploration of nature and the outdoors, emphasizing the good health of the player without overtly being an “exercise” application.

Faye Windsor-Smith, QA Tester for Codemasters, Photo Op - The App

Platform: smartphones/browsers

This application is designed for photographers, both budding and fully-fledged, to have fun, share, and compete. The idea is to use your smartphone's camera to 'capture' an object, animal, colour, or scene, then upload the images and take part in a friendly contest, rating and commenting on other users' pictures. Geolocation is used both to encourage variation between the images and to create a 'Photo Op App Map'. This will fill up as the app matures, with user-added content creating an interactive map showing photos of locations that players found worthy of a capturing.

The game can be played with contacts (created through the app or imported from social networks), people from the local area, or many people in a nationwide competition. The latter is monthly and presided over by the creators of the app, the two former are set up by users from a wide range of template challenges. Players' locations would be tracked throughout the game's duration, which is also customisable - a game may range over an hour, a week etc. Only the first uploaded photo in an area of 100 metres will be counted, and players receive warning messages if they are in an area already 'claimed' by another photographer. Players can upload multiple photos, but after the allotted time has expired they must pick one favourite to submit. When taking part in a local or contacts game, players are then required to rate the other players' uploaded photos, giving each between 1 and 5 stars. They have the same amount of time to rate as they were originally given to photograph; if this time expires before a player has voted on all images, any image they have left unscored will automatically receive five stars. In monthly competitions, photos will be uploaded to the application's website for everyone to vote on. The winner is the player whose photo receives the highest average score. Monthly winners receive publicity on the site, and a free print of their photo on a mug, t-shirt etc. A calendar may be compiled for the year's top photos (lending itself nicely to seasonal challenges). Players will have the option to purchase prints and items featuring photos from the app.

Different modes are used to create long-lasting appeal:

Visionary: Easily found things/concepts, for example something blue, a plant etc. This mode focuses on both the appeal of the item photographed, and the way in which it is captured.

Explorer: Slightly harder-to-find things, for example a church, a pond, a statue. This mode focuses on the exploration aspect of the app, getting players out and about.

Magician: Fantastical or non-existant things, for example a unicorn, a two-headed snake, a sleeping potion etc. This mode is intended to spark creativity and player interpretation, so a unicorn may be photographed by finding a statue of a horse and placing a cone on its head, or a two-headed snake may be taken to be a particularly treacherous road junction!

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