Now Play This 2017

Now Play This is an exhibition of unusual, experimental games, some of which were specially commissioned. This year’s spread of games were much less focused on text, unlike last year, but there were nonetheless intriguing little gems. The following pictures highlight some of the things that caught my eye. Last year’s post can be found here.


Impossible games, games still half-formed, were exhibited in the Library. It was a delight to see Nate Crowley’s (@frogcroakley) game ideas – one thousand of them he’s written, and some of them were printed on slips of paper, arranged first in a grid, until they piled up in a corner. There are so many. Some bonus news: Nate’s working with Rebellion Publishing to produce an art-heavy book featuring the game ideas, and part of the proceeds will go to Zoological Society of London, to support frog conservation!

The Library also featured Becca Rose’s Bear Abouts, one in the unusual controllers category. It’s a story of a bear going on a journey, played on a tablet, where placing different physical props on the tablet screen produced different results. The game is still in development, but the possibilities are intriguing. Could you send out props as ‘feelies’? Or send people the conductive paper and magnets for them to make their own?

The Window Room played with mirrors and was overall a quieter space in the hubbub of Somerset House.

Game instructions written on a mirrored plinth, with the aim of finding an answer to a yes/no question

Game instructions were printed on mirrored plinths. Some were basically divination rituals; others were cooperative games.

Top view of above plinth: a plastic tile reads “please rephrase the question”

Some of the answers the plinth provided were less than helpful… In divination, after all, the burden of interpretation falls on the participant, and interpreting the results you get is part of the gameplay.

Dead Pixels, by Tatiana Vilela dos Santos and Olivier Drouet, is a multiplayer game in which players moves their avatar around to ‘claim’ territories on the screen. The catch: contested territories become dead pixels, which belong to no one. This unexpectedly got me thinking about how conflict scars places and things and people, and how it’s so often not so much about the territory gained itself, than about power.

Dead Pixels in action

10000 Years, by Heather Robertson, explored a topic which fascinated me when I first read about it – the design for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a design meant to keep people away for ten thousand years – for the radioactivity in this place will make it deadly long after the last person forgets about it. The blurb for 10000 Years puts it well: “We can never truly escape the consequences of our actions.” The protagonist in this game is from the future, then, and only incompletely understands the significance of the symbols. The symbol for radioactivity, for example, is a sigil resembling an angel. Is it redemption, then, of a sort, for beauty to reveal itself, even in such cruel environments?

Danger seems to emanate from below, and out of the Keep in the form of stone spikes-- The shapes suggest danger to the body... wounding forms-- They seem not _
Picture of game screen, because I couldn’t take a screenshot. It looks more… post-apocalyptic this way

The graphics, here, are really ASCII characters. Interaction reminded me somewhat of Kitty Horrorshow’s games – wander through a barren land, discover notes left for you.

The Letter Room featured Aïda Gómez’s Joy is Here, which turned the entire room into a wordsearch. What struck me was how, faced with such an open invitation, some people created their own rules.

Walls turned into a blackboard, with letters written at regular intervals; people have chalked circles around letters to form words

I love Burly Men at Sea so much. Pastel illustrations; a charming, fairy tale-like story (and, for me, easy to use controls…), creatures from folklore… displayed alongside the game were physical representations of a possible path through the story.

Page of a book in the sun - there is a pastel-hued illustration of three men with round beards, all soft edges and round shapes. There is story text above the illustration, too small to read.
Page from one of three books displayed

Another charming, peaceful one was Sandcastles by Patrick Smith, a touchscreen game in which pulling upwards creates a pleasingly geometric sandcastle. It’s hard to get it ‘wrong’, and whatever you do, it’s washed away in the tide seconds later, so it’s forever a clean slate. This is one I could envision as an idle game. This was also pretty hard to film… but here is a GIF for your viewing pleasure.


General impressions

Now Play This felt more crowded this year. More people? Smaller space? I don’t know. While I’m happy the games appear to be reaching a larger audience – an audience which might not otherwise know about these games – the crowd made it hard to really get into any of the games, not with five other people standing around watching you play. On the other hand, though, watching is perhaps also a form of participation,

I appreciated spaces and rooms which invited players to another world. Last year, it was Larklamp that so captured my imagination. This year, there was the Haunted Room, in which you play with hand mirrors to capture spirits. There was some technical wizardry involving a projector and mirrors, but unfortunately the room filled up so quickly that I couldn’t squeeze in to find out what was going on.

There were lots of children, especially at the Library, playing with the unusual controllers.

Above all, though, the games featured in Now Play This overwhelmingly have a sense of playfulness, of whimsy, of exploration. While people clamour for bigger worlds and more complex stories and better simulations – while people constantly seek more, more, more in their games, I welcomed the invitation to come in, stay a while, and explore small, self-contained worlds.

Now Play This 2016

I went over to Somerset House today to look at the exhibition at Now Play This, an event which, as I understand it, is part of London Games Festival. There were lots of interesting ideas and implementations, big and small.

Some notable things I saw:

I spent more time than intended playing Daniel Linssen’s Wibble Wobble. It’s your usual platformer-type game, but with a constantly shifting ground, so that what is safe sometimes becomes unsafe, that waiting too long in the same place can kill you.



I hugely enjoyed the Darkroom, which played with light and shadow. Pippin Barr’s Game ideas were there, as was Larklamp. This was a two-player game with lovely world-building (that’s not just a lantern, that’s a glimmerlamp, and it wants to tell you things…). The lantern – whose slides can be changed out – forms the board, and rotating the lantern allows you to project different patterns of shadows. The gamemasters (or facilitators) tied the whole thing together, by giving meaning to the pieces and their patterns.


Two games played with the idea of different ways of marking your achievements: Action Painting Pro by Ian McLarty and Inks by State of Play. Both had similar ideas: your movements are represented as paint streaks, which you can then view after the game is over. I didn’t get to play with Inks (there was a kid absolutely killing it) but Action Painting Pro was surprisingly addictive.

A special mention for Blackbar by Neven Mrgan & James Moore, a fill-in-the-blanks epistolary game set in a dystopia. As dystopias go, this checks the Stepford Wives-esque enforced cheeriness and the omniscient police tickboxes, but the idea was definitely very interesting. Certain words in the letters you read are censored, and you have to guess what those words are. I guess one way Blackbar could have been better was rewarding player effort. Some of the words that were blacked out were relatively innocuous (so why were they censored again?), and some were terribly hard to guess. Even then, I got into the story quite quickly and would have played more if I hadn’t gotten stuck.


In the same room as the IF were books on game design and otherwise related to games – Charles Stross’s Halting State was there (!), as was one of Anna Anthropy’s books. They’d set it up with cushions and nice cushy places to curl up and read or play board games.

There was also a very NSFW game, Cobra Club by Robert Yang, in which you’re sending, well, nudes to random internet strangers, with a customisable avatar. It seems to involve guessing what the stranger wants and adjusting the avatar’s body accordingly. People were generally amused.