A Board-Gamers Experience Playing a Mixed-Reality GPS Game

Chris Solarski interviewing Markus Liechti

Gross. Stadt. Jagd. (meaning ‘Urban Hunt’ in German) is a multiplayer GPS game that took place in Zurich, Switzerland, on Friday 29th May at 8pm local time. G.S.J. was designed by JEFF Communications and developed by our team at Gbanga to promote the new Mercedes-Benz CLA Shooting Brake. The game saw several thousand players running the streets of Zurich in a 1.5 hour game of last-man-standing.  The last person to remain alive by evading capture by the Hunter (an actual CLA Shooting Brake being driven around town) went home with the luxury sports car. Below is a video reportage of the game, which was played through a mobile app featuring GPS checkpoints, safehouses and power-ups illustrated on an in-game map.

I decided to interview the winner, Markus Liechti, on a sunny day in Zurich a week after the event to discuss his experience playing G.S.J. Markus’ story makes for a particularly interesting read because he is a long-time semi-professional board game enthusiast and captain of the Swiss Warhammer 40k National Team. In the following interview we will learn how Markus applied his strategic thinking to gaming in the real-world, and discover many useful tips for designing mixed-reality GPS games.


[Interviewer—Chris Solarski] Hi Markus. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Before we get started, please can you tell us a little about your gaming experience.

[Winner—Markus Liechti] I’ve been playing board games since I was a little kid. At one point I discovered pen and paper role-playing games (RPGs) at around the age of 10. Dungeons and Dragons, to be exact, which I often played in a club alongside as many as 20 players. At one point a group of 8 of us splintered off to play Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K, which was the most incredible game that I’d ever played. At that time I’d never heard of such games. War-gaming was virtually non-existance in Switzerland—just after Warhammer had first been published around 30 years ago.

[Chris] I also know that you play Blood Bowl competitively. Is that right? Continue reading

Framing and Centering in Game Design

I was fortunate to attend GDC 2013 in San Francisco back in March, which turned out to be a very inspiring experience. One particular presentation that I enjoyed was by game designer was titled ‘Techniques for In-Level Storytelling’, by Steve Gaynor (former designer at Irrational Games, cofounder of The Fullbright Company).

In-level storytelling is a powerful tool for game design, as it allows us to communicate important narrative elements to the player without disrupting gameplay with a cutscene or scripted piece of dialogue. The result feels significantly more immersive because players feels like they alone are piecing together narrative elements from visual cues in the environment, as opposed to being fed information through non-interactive cutscenes.

A feature of in-level storytelling discussed by Steve was that of framing, which relates to dynamic composition [see my Gamasutra article for more information on dynamic composition]. Because video games allow players to explore environments freely, framing is used to focus a player’s attention on important storytelling events within a game.

As Steve Gaynor stated in his presentation: framing ensures “the player is facing an important event when it begins, and is able to see it clearly as it proceeds.” This important design tool is illustrated below, where we have a top down view of a player [red circle] in an open video game environment.

Framing creates a funnel for the player's view, focussing there attention on a smal area within an otherwise open 3D world.

Framing creates a funnel for the player’s view, focussing their attention on a smal area within an otherwise open 3D world.

In example A, the player has accidentally missed an important event [X] because they happen to be looking in the wrong direction.  Continue reading

Design and Composition in Pixar’s ‘Up’

Composition is important to every artistic medium if you wish to design the viewer’s emotional experience. As Wassily Kandinsky wrote in his book, Point and Line to Plane (1926):

“The content of a work of art finds its expression in the composition […] in the sum of the tensions inwardly organised for the work.”

Kandinsky was a modern painter, but this statement is equally applicable to video games, film, and animation. One example from animation, which I was unable to include in my book—Drawing Basics and Video Game Art (Watson Guptill 2012)—is from Pixar’s Up (2009), directed by Pete Docter.

Carl and Ellie in Pixar's 'Up' (2009)

A still from Pixar’s ‘Up’ (2009), illustrating composition and design techniques to wordlessly communicate information about the character of Carl and Ellie, and create a strong emotional tension.

There are several things to note in the above image, touching on shape, colour and texture, gesture, and composition.

Unless you haven’t seen this fantastic animation, Carl (left), has a stubborn and conservative character. His wife, Ellie (right), is the dynamic and energetic personality in Continue reading


I watched a German film the other day in which the lead character learns of her sisters death. The scene shows her sitting in a hospital corridor with head in hands much like the man in the left-hand image below.

What I thought interesting was that her jacket accidentally created a turtle shell-effect (right) which better communicated her feelings. It was such a small detail but one that emphasised the need for contrast to heighten emotional effects.

In the same way, if you want to communicate beauty you must show its opposite. Beauty in isolation looks average. Beauty alongside something ugly has a stronger affect because of the contrast.