How Jason Rohrer Won The Game Design Challenge

By John Walker on April 4th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.

A real high-point of every GDC is the Game Design Challenge. Well, was. Sadly the tenth year of this annual treat was the last, with organiser Eric Zimmerman bringing proceedings to an end. And wow, did it go out in style. With the apposite topic, “Humanity’s Last Game”, some of the biggest names in the industry put forth their pitches for the last game we’d ever need. And one man entirely stole the show. For a second year, that man was Jason Rohrer.

The calibre of the entrants was impressively high. We’re talking about the likes of Harvey Smith, Steve Meretzky and Will Wright sharing a stage, each having put some considerable work into a concept for their game. But as with last year, only one developer actually went ahead and made their game. And that was Jason Rohrer. Rohrer won in 2011 with Chain World, a Minecraft map that only exists on a single USB key. Only those who have received the key know about the game, and no one knows who has received the key, nor where it might be now. Then last year he was robbed of the prize by a dubious judgment of audience noise, with his money destroying game, Frog Skins. This year there was no doubt who would win even before the votes were cast, because his entry stood shoulders above the rest.

And that was no mean feat. Will Wright pitched a game that would unify all of humanity’s memories into an explorable experience, such that aliens could understand what it is to be human. I know that sounds impossible, but he had incredibly convincing diagrams, and he is Will Wright. He came a distant second.

Harvey Smith began by explaining that he genuinely believed that the best means to pass on information to a future humanity would be a game. That play is crucial, and it’s the ideal medium for expressing the necessary complexity. He then proposed a game called Fleeting, coded in DNA itself. DNA that would live in the form of… meerkats. A game about “the memorable essence of humanity”, passed on through generations of mongeese. It sounded beautiful. It came last!

Steve Meretzky proposed starting a third world war. He seemed pretty intent on this. Inspired by Wargames, but with a very different ending in mind, he suggested hiring teams of hackers to break into the nuclear armouries of the largest nations, and have them fire the missiles at the same time. But in order to add extra tension, and make it more accessible, it was suggested that this be televised, in a documentary series called No Survivor. It’s worth remembering that Meretzky also brought us Spellcasting 101, so it wasn’t his first attempt at world destruction.

Erin Robinson, of Puzzle Bots fame, suggested The Quoggle Invasion. A game using reality-changing glasses that caused you to see strange monsters in the real world, which could be attacked for points. A game that, in her narrative, eventually became so popular that almost everyone was playing it, whereupon the monsters were revealed as evil aliens, um, something something, nuclear war! Message: most games end in nuclear war.

Richard “Uncharted” Lemarchand had the rather unfortunate position of following Rohrer as the last to pitch. His idea, based on the 5% Doctrine, was called Ludosapiens. Look, I’ll be honest – it was very complicated, very clever, and I’ve completely forgotten it. Because I was still thinking about Rohrer’s.

Jason Rohrer’s game, A Game For Someone, began with the idea that it should not be played for at least 2,000 years. That brought about two issues: 1) How to make a game that would last for 2,000 years. 2) How to stop anyone from playing it for 2,000 years. Rohrer addressed both angles adequately.

Showing an image of a mighty cathedral, that took over 300 years to build, Rohrer explained that there was something extraordinary about a project for which those digging the foundations knew they would be dead generations before it was complete. He wanted to recapture something of that timelessness in his concept – a game that he nor anyone else would ever live to see played. So he realised that to do this, it would need to be a board game.

With a game devised, the next obstacle was clearly that it would need to be made of something that would last for millennia. Obviously cardboard and plastic were out. So metal. But which metal? What wouldn’t rust or erode? He realised, titanium. And I think it should be stressed at this point that no one in the room suspected Rohrer’s game might exist any more than the other concepts that had been shown. Then one of the titanium pieces was shown on the screen.

Even seeing it I remember thinking, “I wonder what that really is?” assuming it to be some Googled image. Then he talked about the board itself, and pictures appeared of its being crafted, and then the eventually completed hefty square of metal. He had really made it. He’d really somehow got hold of enough titanium, and the equipment necessary to work it, and built himself a board game.

Next up: instructions. How to pass on the instructions for how to play a game to those thousands of years in the future? Written language would obviously have no certainty of success. Numbers couldn’t be relied upon for a future civilisation. So instead he picked pictograms. Fairly elaborate ones, since they’d need to convey not just the rules, but also the entire concept of playing. And yes, he’d drawn this all out, including a primer to explain the intricacies. We weren’t allowed to see all the details – much was redacted, lest we interpret the information and try to make the game for ourselves.

But those instructions needed to last too. So after printing them on paper, he (and I mean, he really did this, with pictures to prove it) sealed them in vacuum sealed glass tubes. Tubes that were then inserted in titanium cylinders he built for the purpose.

Why weren’t we seeing this stuff in the room? Why only pictures on the screen? Because again, Rohrer didn’t trust that it wouldn’t be played if he ever let anyone else near it. So he buried it. In the middle of the Arizona desert.

No, he really did. Working out all the unpopulated areas of Arizona, he divided the state up into over a million coordinates, picked one at random, drove there, dug a hole, and buried the lot. He drove home, having no idea exactly where he’d gone, and not having memorised the 20 digit coordinate that would let him return.

At this point everyone in the room was asked to open a sealed envelope that had been on their chair, marked “Please do not open yet.” Inside each envelope was a sheet of paper covered in tiny print. Each had 900 unique coordinates printed on it, and with just over a thousand printed, that meant each of the million possible locations was now out there. My sheet contains coordinates 856,801 to 857,701. One person’s sheet has the correct coordinate on it.

Rorher had worked out that if everyone in the room made a concerted effort to locate the buried metal with a metal detector, and indeed instructed future generations to do the same, then there was a 100% chance that the game would be found within 2,700 years. Then there was long applause.

Immediately an effort was made by a few to gather all the codes. There were a few empty chairs, so those were snatched up. I saw one guy going through a cleaner’s trash bag looking to see if any had been cleared away before they could be begged not to. Others were collecting them at the door, to prevent any correct coordinate from being lost. But no – we live in an age of Reddit, a time when nothing stays hidden for 2,700 years. With the concerted efforts of a united internet force, it’d be found by May. No indeed, I’ve kept my sheet, and I can assure you I shan’t be looking in my lifetime. I fully intend for this piece of paper to be discovered in a vault by my great, great great grandchild, carefully moving the fragments with tweezers to identify all the remaining locations that have yet to be searched. I intend to preserve Rohrer’s dream.

He is a mad, brilliant man.

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129 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    golem09 says:

    I’ll wait for the review by your great great great granddaughter.

    • Ultra Superior says:

      (Chess will be there long after this titanium boardgame is forgotten.)
      Delays and postponing… gamedesign?

      Wouldn’t a game that needs to be PLAYED for 2000 years in order to come to a conclusion a better idea than a game that lies BURIED IN THE SAND?

      • Doomsayer says:

        He won because rule of cool. The actual concept is just another time capsule, but the presentation was way better than everyone else’s. Never mind that the actual contest is about game design, this guy made the thing!!!!!1 (Exclamation marks everywhere. Bleh.)

        • Yawny says:

          The way I see it, the game he designed is not the game itself but a game about finding a game…. if that makes any sense.

          Pretty damn clever!

          • Ultra Superior says:

            Wow! Almost like ….. Geocaching! That must be something new, right ?

          • Muzman says:

            Like Geocaching except the complete opposite, yes

          • Sleepymatt says:

            This is what Molyneux’s Curiosity *should* have been :)

          • shehzadjaa says:

            before I looked at the bank draft of $4428, I have faith …that…my neighbour was like they say realie making money in their spare time on their laptop.. there mums best friend has been doing this for less than eleven months and resantly cleared the dept on their condo and purchased a gorgeous Ford Mustang. we looked here http://wow81.com/

        • ChrisGWaine says:

          A design that has actually been made is stronger than complicated ideas that have only been imagined.

          I think that’s a useful principle for game designers to keep in mind.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            “Food put on family’s table has more value than your lofty ideals!”

            She said to Plato. No one remembers her name. She starved to death.

          • KillahMate says:

            Ultra Superior: That’s a false equivalence. Plato was a philosopher – ideals were his *product*. No one is interested in philosophers who only have a few vague notions, with nothing to show for them – it’s pretty clear that Plato produced some very concrete output.

            Rohrer is a game designer, and games are his *product*. And no one is interested in game designers who don’t produce a concrete output. So Rohrer did.

          • Ultra Superior says:

            I, for one, am much more interested in a clever game idea that hasn’t been realized *YET*, than, say, a titanium chessboard, buried in Arizona.

            That, for me, is just a show, a poor fashion statement, not a game, not even an idea for an interesting game.

    • Tams80 says:

      I’ve heard she’ll be pretty fine (at playing this game as well).

      • Sleepymatt says:

        Damn! Beat me to it.

        And who said pop references were out of vogue….?

    • The Random One says:

      Hello, April Fool’s 2014.

  2. Ny24 says:

    Chills

    • Kashyd says:

      Logged in to post this. Loved the article, loved the concept.

    • Premium User Badge

      colossalstrikepackage says:

      That mad genius.

      Part of me would love to see Will Wright’s one happen. To be fair, I’m sure Google is making decent headwind on this.

      • Teovald says:

        It sounds a bit like the knowledge graph (the card about the actual concept you are searching that you now get on the right side of google search).
        For music, Google has already implemented a modified version of knowledge graph that creates a net of artists. I toyed with it a little bit; it works surprisingly and has been able to show relations between very obscure indy artists.
        If they add this net presentation for historical figures and events, It will be mind blogging. Now that I think about it, it seems likely that they will do this someday.

  3. karry says:

    “Not sure if serious” image is right on the money with this here article.

  4. McDan says:

    I said this before on a different site where I first saw about this an while it did intrigue me at first it then just annoyed me a little bit, sure it’s a really cool idea and whatever. But in 2000+ years I highly doubt that anyone will remember what this is in any way, shape or form, not least where it is and then try and find it. So to me, though it could just be me wanting to play it as this is just a massive tease for something we’ll never get, it just seems like a thing to say look at me and how clever I am. I realise this sounds like I dislike teh idea and the man, which I do not, they are both great.

  5. Jiblet says:

    Love the concept, but I’m not really sure how it fits the topic of “Humanity’s last game”?

    • LionsPhil says:

      The board is infused with an arcane magicks that will destroy the Earth if a complete game of it is ever completed.

      • Ultra Superior says:

        I think you are making this one up. No one believes in magic anymore.

        Unless people 2000 yrs from now do, and they start a terrible religion around this sole artifact, burning the unbelievers, asking the titanium board who shall be burned next, which nation shall be set aflame – smitten as the board commands.

        Of course the answer will lie in the interpretation of the tubed scrolls and the movement of titanium angels across the board of glorious death.

      • KDR_11k says:

        I believe that’s Towers of Hanoi with 64 discs.

      • Premium User Badge

        Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        Rules, Chapter 11a: Winning the game:

        To win you must move the cylindrical token across a meridian while flanking anticlockwise, then dedicate yourself to wiping out the your species across the universe, finally culminating in an elaborate suicide. For an Epic Victory, please also re-seal this game and re-bury it where future space-traveling aliens might find it.

      • JuJuCam says:

        But if you say ‘Jumanji’ at the end, it will reboot humanity.

  6. BTAxis says:

    Chances are good that the game will be found by accident well before the 2000 years are up.

    • LionsPhil says:

      And recycled for scrap value because it just looks like a piece of plating with some weird rivets.

    • phelix says:

      Because, you know, there’s a lot of useful stuff to find in the Arizona desert.

      • whorhay says:

        More likely it’d be discovered while someone is doing something else like preparing a foundation for a house or something. Most discoveries of buried things aren’t made by people actually looking for something. 2000 years is a really long time and given the rate of human expansion and such over the last few decades we could easily have state spanning cities.

  7. Shadowcat says:

    That’s awesome. But if no one was allowed to play it, then there was no play-testing, right? So… it quite possibly sucks? I’m not sure that’s a game you want to go to a vast amount of effort to locate :) Hopefully the people of the distant future will also have other games to play!

    • FTomato says:

      Regarding how the game was balanced: Rohrer didn’t actually play it himself, but he coded the game on a pc and wrote an AI to play it. He then balanced it based on the results.

      (According to other articles I’ve read on the story).

    • Premium User Badge

      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Someone else reported that the Rohrer wrote a program to procedurally generate the game rules, with AI playtesting against other AI until whatever “good enough” criteria were met. This was to ensure that Rohrer himself would not play the game, or even know its rules.

      • Solomon Grundy says:

        Wow. That sounds… god awful. I love boardgames, but can barely stand some of the games that are well tested by real humans. What a load of wanking.

    • Winged Nazgul says:

      Supposedly he designed computer AI to playtest his game.

      http://www.polygon.com/2013/3/28/4157884/game-designer-jason-rohrer-designs-a-game-meant-to-be-played-2000

      “To accomplish that, Rohrer first built the game in computer form, designing a set of rules that would be playtested not by a human, but by an artificial intelligence. He said he plugged the game’s rules into a “black box,” letting the AI find imbalances, iterating new rules and repeating. Rohrer showed the video game version of his board game onscreen, but obscured key portions of the board game’s layout, so no one in attendance could reverse engineer its mechanics.”

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      Devan says:

      What I’d really like to know is why he thought nobody should be allowed to play it or know what it is until some arbitrary future date. There’s nothing about “Humanity’s Last Game” that implies such a rule.
      Its a pointless, arbitrary rule and without it the presentation is largely insubstantial.

  8. boldin says:

    Saying that language can’t be reliable and then writing down rules. Using titanium board but using paper for the rules instead of inscribing them on the back of the board.
    He might be genious but he is plain weird.
    And not aware of our own history. Like Rosette stone experience for example.

    • Dances to Podcasts says:

      That was going to be my first question as well, why paper and not metal?

      My second question would be if he had his mobile phone with him when burying it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        It’d be easier to beat him with a rubber hose until he leads you to roughly where it is. He had to drive there and back; even if he can’t remember numbers, he can remember roads. Then you spread out and search for freshly dug dirt, in a big untouched desert.

        The human element will always be the weakpoint.

    • John Walker says:

      Um, as I explained, he didn’t write the rules. He used pictograms with a primer.

      • boldin says:

        “And now the news: dog, dog, eye on a stick, fish, dog, cat, eye with legs” – sorry, couldn’t help it. :)

      • Baines says:

        Why didn’t he inscribe the rules on titanium sheets or something, though?

        If he computer generated the game so that even he didn’t know the rules, maybe it was just printed directly onto paper. I’d guess that was the reason. But it does seem sloppy to treat the other elements with care, and then put the instructions in a different and more fragile form.

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      HermitUK says:

      To be fair, pictograms should work as a means of conveying the rules, to a degree. Though it means much more interpretation from the end user, and therefore much more fighting over whether or not Player A’s titanium piece can make a second attack of opportunity against Player B’s titanium piece.

      The real weak point here is the co-ordinates. So the game assumes language will be unreliable, but that numbers will still be recognisable, and that our current method for geo-locating objects survives whatever apocalyptic event this game is attempting to bridge.

      Then you’ve got the issue that of those co-ordinates, all but one are useless. Without the right sheet surviving, it won’t be found. Walker may think putting the paper in a vault will preserve it, but sadly that won’t be enough. Assuming cheap-quality printer paper, that’s going to start degrading relatively soon. At the very least you’d want it in a polyester sleeve of some kind, ideally then inside an archival-quality storage box, and then hopefully the vault has a stable climate. Alternatively, create a digital copy, but then enjoy migrating formats regluarly, and then you’re assuming that in 2000 years, game-free post-apocalyptia still has computers of some kind to read your list. Then, finally, realise that if all the lists aren’t this well preserved, there’s a chance that the actual co-ordinates are lost forever. Even if you get them all, that’s a lot of holes to dig.

      Can’t even begin to think how, but what you’d need is some means of ensuring that the location becomes easier to find over the course of 2,000 years, not harder. Some sort of puzzle, perhaps, but that seems breakable.

      The game design itself, though, is great stuff. And very reminiscent of the US Department of Energy’s work around visual methods of conveying the danger of waste sites

      • InternetBatman says:

        It’s on acid free paper.

        • metasynthie says:

          I’m glad, since I ate and digested some of the sheets. The cellulose and toner isn’t great for me either but at least there was no acid!

      • RaiderJoe says:

        The hunk of metal he buried somewhere isn’t the game. The REAL game that he hopes us to be playing for 2000 years is finding the thing!

        • Baines says:

          Not really. It is performance art. The whole presentation.

          The game doesn’t matter. People finding it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t really fit the game design challenge. None of that matters.

          All that matters is that the whole package fascinated some people.

      • Foxfoxfox says:

        That link is awesome – thanks!

    • Hoaxfish says:

      Where we’re going we will apparently need eyes.

      Suck it future transcended psychic entities that were once human.

    • grundus says:

      Rules conveyed via pictograms would probably take up a lot of surface area. Titanium is expensive. Printing rules on paper then sealing them in vacuum tubes is sexier anyway.

  9. Sam says:

    Typical, another over-hyped preview event.

    Thousands of people are going to rush out and pre-order this game hundreds of years before it’s released, let alone before there’s any kind of critical consensus about the quality. And the journalists who are meant to be giving us objective reporting are instead giving a standing ovation.

    • jkz says:

      I assume in this case pre-ordering is buying a spade and flying to Arizona.

    • Muzman says:

      They didn’t mention the Always Online DRM. When you find it the game will have become sacred to the Morlocks. So you have to play it where it is, because there’s never enough time to get it out of their territory before nightfall.

  10. Lorka says:

    When people ask me what game they should be playing, I only ever say; “Passage”.

  11. boldin says:

    Oh, yeah, and he didn’t mention that there were also 100 capsules with game trailers buried in some of those coordinates and 10000 capsules with teaser trailers.

  12. Muzman says:

    If he really did make it out of titanium, you’d want to win the prize. That’s for sure. (assuming there is one).

    It’s a very cool notion; is the game the game or is finding the game the game? And why is it humanity’s last game? What’s so special about its design that would make it “deserve” that title? (apart from just existing after everything else has gone, presumably) Well you’ll just have to find it and find out won’t you.

    He likes that creating of transcendent experience, for want of a better term. Chain world was all about mystery in that way too (although it seemed hijacked almost immediately by show ponies. Which is a nice metaphor for the foundation of a few of religions. At least where the show ponies didn’t create it themselves). Contemplate the elusive and unknowable for a while, it says. Things you’re fairly sure exist but will unlikely to be able to touch or share if you could.

    That won’t stop certain types from trying though. I reckon with just a few of those sheets, a map and the few details offered you could develop a heuristic and mathmatically boil down the co-ordinates somehow.

    I wonder, did anyone symbolically burn their sheets?

    • Sam says:

      I know one person ate their sheet.

      • Muzman says:

        For real, or acid blotter joke?

        • metasynthie says:

          Yeah, I ate my sheet and another random one I found. thought I’d create a chance of unwinnability — or winnability only through happenstance, like if someone who’s not playing finds it. On the other hand, if someone is very clever and manages to get all the sheets, the ones I ate may show up as conspicuous gaps in sequences of coordinates.

          • Premium User Badge

            bravekarma says:

            If the coordinates are independently generated, the other coordinates should give absolutely no information on the missing ones. In practice though, it might be possible to exploit the generation process as it is pseudorandom; but it won’t be by looking at the gaps :)

          • Geen says:

            Well played.

    • frightlever says:

      I applaud your religious analogy. Very nicely put.

    • Josh W says:

      I know what you mean about mystery, but this is not mystery that you get by having something present and accesible but unsolved, (mysteries like games or puzzles that no-one has found a perfect strategy to, or mathematical theorums that no-one has proved or disproved) this is the kind of mystery that is born of being simple but inaccessible.

      Basically Rohrer should put this on his business cards; “Creates exclusivity like you’ve never seen”.

  13. Dances to Podcasts says:

    If around the time this is meant to be dug up very little remains of humanity, there’s also very little chance of it actually being found.
    If around the time this is meant to be dug up humanity is thriving, it’s quite unlikely to be the very last game.

  14. boldin says:

    2500 years later some xenofarmer in Colorado would accidentaly unearth “The Book of Elves: Rohrer’s A DLC for Someone Who Also Happen to Have A Game”.

  15. timethor says:

    As you noted, the design of the meta-game (“where is this thing hiding?”) isn’t really about being a game for the future. It’s just a question of how soon (if ever) enough people will have wasted time/fuel looking in the desert for a boardgame. It’s the same type of time-capsule as any password encrypted file. Brute forcing it may take X years, and only 1 year if you use Y computers, but that doesn’t make it very interesting.

    From your short summaries, the Wright/Smith entries sound a lot more “future-y” to me.

  16. Incredibly_Shallow says:

    Seems like odds are it will be scooped up eventually by some type of large machinery and dumped unceremoniously into a receptacle. It might take hundreds of years, but we’ll pave over most of AZ by then.

  17. cowardly says:

    So what really happened was that a game about whose quality we know nothing was artifically inflated in value by just making it really really scarce.

    Capitalism at its finest, but certainly not great game design.

    I do not see why you would want to reward this kind of publicity stunt with an award.

    • Bhazor says:

      “It’s worthless. Ten dollars from a vendor in the street. But I take it, I bury it in the sand for a thousand years, it becomes priceless! You’re about to become a permanent addition to this archaeological find. Who knows, in a thousand years, even you may be worth something!”

    • RaiderJoe says:

      The game isn’t the game; it’s finding it.

      Besides, if it is capitalism, it’s not particularly good capitalism because there’s no way for Rohrer to make a profit.

      • cowardly says:

        1. By trial and error of 10^6 coordinates. Genius game design. Compared to that even WoW is fun.

        2. Well, publicity can be used to make money later.

    • The Random One says:

      http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2834

      Economy: the game.

      Also, I don’t get why you call this a ‘publicity stunt’? Is it because Roher just released Castle Doctrine? As I understand he participated on this event several years, regardless of what he was releasing or working on at the time. That’s like insulting a famous writer who’s been invited to speak at your college graduation because he just released a new book.

      • cowardly says:

        1. tl;dr. Sorry.

        2. It looks to me as if the guy is advertising himself as a person. Maybe “publicity” is not the right word for this? Sorry, I am not a native speaker. Maybe “self promotion” is more appropriate?

        No it is not because of the released game. I had neither heard about the game nor the person before.

  18. Mr. Mister says:

    Oh man, Reddit will love you putting it in a vault even more.

  19. frightlever says:

    I guess he really, really wanted to win.

    The world’s a better place for people like that, but it’s a shame he wasn’t more accessible.

    edit: who does the land belong to? If you bury something on US property doesn’t it then belong to the landowner?

  20. Premium User Badge

    FullMetalMonkey says:

    This is gonna be Fargo all over again!

    • Muzman says:

      Hah, that is funny. I’ll be chuckling about that until someone actually does drop dead in the desert looking for it. Then I’ll pause chuckling, oh, for at least an hour or so.

      • Hoaxfish says:

        oh, right, that makes more sense.

        I though someone was gonna turn it into a Kickstarter a decade after everyone has stopped talking about it..

  21. db1331 says:

    How long before someone hacks the GPS data for his phone or car, sees exactly where in the desert he drove out to, and then drives out there and digs it up?

  22. ankh says:

    I guess it’s one of those “You had to be there” things. Seems stupid to me.

  23. Rao Dao Zao says:

    It’s beautiful and it’s quite gloriously mad.

    It’s art! Look, games can be art!

    • bwion says:

      Specifically, they can be weird performance art.

      • The Random One says:

        Well, to be honest, pretty much anything can be weird performance art.

  24. Hastur says:

    …and still no Half-Life 3.

  25. vash47 says:

    This is extremely pretentious. I don’t know how this qualifies as good game design.

    • Teovald says:

      Without seeing the other entries it is hard to give an opinion, but yeah it is more performance art than game design.
      His competitors that entered with actual game designs must be pissed.

      • KDR_11k says:

        When competing entries are stuff like “make a reality TV show about starting world war three” I’m not sure the win was undeserved.

      • Premium User Badge

        Llewyn says:

        It’s a concept piece, not a publisher pitch. The entire event, that is, not Rohrer’s contribution specifically. None of them are game designs in the KS-style “Hey, let’s make this!” way, they’re all aiming to be thought-provoking.

        If they’re not for you then perhaps you’re just not the target for the event. If it’s any consolation, I’m not either.

  26. MarcP says:

    To see this called game design is dumbfounding. To see it hailed is depressing.

    Isn’t there any middle point between the “art! art! art! games are art!” crowd and the “explosions! achievements! explosions and achievements on Facebook!” one? A group of people who actually care about, you know, the actual gameplay rather than the message or the presentation?

    I think I liked it better when geeky things weren’t socially acceptable. Obscurity made it possible to believe people who enjoyed such things were sensible.

    • Premium User Badge

      Hypocee says:

      The treasure hunt hing is depressing, but I think he deserves some serious props for A. actually making the thing and B. designing it through a machine so it truly wouldn’t exist until someone else saw it.

    • Premium User Badge

      Llewyn says:

      Out of curiosity, are you grouping everything Rohrer’s done into that “art!” category, or are you choosing to view this project – designed for a concept challenge – in isolation? What about Will Wright’s contribution, or Harvey Smith’s?

      Brief answer: things like this work in the same way as game jams – they encourage creative people to think about what they’re doing in different ways, in the hope that inspiration – for themselves, or for others – will ensue. The things created aren’t necessarily relevant to anything by themselves, but they don’t need to be to potentially serve a pragmatically useful purpose as well as an artistic one.

      I might give you a longer answer when I know what exactly it is that you’re asking about…

  27. bwion says:

    This will all turn out to be a really clever way to get people to look for the expensive titanium board game he accidentally misplaced, won’t it?

  28. Kadayi says:

    Never mind the quality, feel the width.

  29. Premium User Badge

    Hypocee says:

    ‘In June of 1977, a little man with divergent eyes and a talent for mischief ascended a hilltop in the British village of Ampthill.’

    A dumb stunt – among other things, ROCKS, ROCKS LAST – but that does beat pipedreaming.

  30. Whosi says:

    This was more magician’s act than game design.

  31. Premium User Badge

    yhancik says:

    This reminds me of this
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_Isolation_Pilot_Plant#Message_for_the_future
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Interference_Task_Force

    In short: “How would it be possible to inform our descendants for the next 10,000 years about the storage locations and dangers of radioactive waste?”

  32. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    This is probably better as a concept, an idea than as a realised project of sorts. It doesn’t even seem like he needs it to be found just like with the minecraft world it seems more of a Molyneux experiment to see what people will do.

    Oh, it’s charming and romantic in a way. It also seems like a waste. If it’s all about mystery, well, what is gained if nobody ever find it (which very well could happen)? The idea of something like that being ‘out there’ is nice, but eh..

    I’d prefer to see an actual game win the prize.

  33. Hoaxfish says:

    Next time he will win by proposing a game in which everyone races to disappear up their own arseholes.

    And everyone else will still be playing Mario.

  34. Radiant says:

    Game’s broken.
    The board’ll be fine but the instructions to find the thing wont last 2000 years.

    Essentially all he did was just confuse some poor archaeologist.

    Granted that archaeologist is floating around as a sentient energy but that poor fucker’s life is now ruined.

    • Whosi says:

      At least until he realizes that the game Rohrer really wanted to leave behind was Hide and Seek, then he might not be too far from the truth about mankind.

  35. Berzee says:

    I have a titanium spork in my coat pocket.

  36. farsighter says:

    I thought that gaming was slowly climbing out of it’s prehistoric art phase, but then it skipped straight right into performance art.

  37. AADA7A says:

    I applaud the dedication of Rohrers project, but after the hype I did think the concept would be more than this! Conceptually I get more fascinated by “AS SLOW AS POSSIBLE – A Notgame By György Dudas” which asks the question at what speed a game becomes unplayable and thus stops being a game. Although the more I think about it, Rohrers idea is kind of awesome too… how does the hunt go? ^^

  38. RagingLion says:

    3rd year in a row he’s won, not 2nd unless you’re just counting that the 2011 victory with Chainworld was jsut the other won that became really widely talked about afterwords. [edit: ok I was wrong - I've given up and started reading the article btw]

    Also, is the video online anywhere for free? I’ve been avoiding reading these write-ups in case it gets posted.

  39. Zaxwerks says:

    What happens if it turns out after 2000 years that the gameplay is crap?! It’ll make the intolerable wait and utter disappointment of Aliens: Colonial Marines look like a walk in the park.

  40. badirontree says:

    the game will be lost… in the near or far future a big flood will take everything apart and all will be lost in time!!!

  41. cptgone says:

    nothing new under the sun. the ancient egyptians built huge tokens, and buried the game designers inside.

  42. Reapy says:

    Someone get a hold of his cellphone gps locations all last week…game == found.

    People seem to go apeshit over this “there is only one of these in the world!!!!!” concepts.

    Designers, when presenting at GDC make sure that whatever you talk about there exists one and only one copy!

  43. Premium User Badge

    Devan says:

    To be honest I don’t see why this is such a clear winner. He basically took the challenge of “design humanity’s last game” to this “how can you make a game that won’t be played for 2000 years”. Those don’t really sound like the same thing to me.

    Also, he changed the problem from a question of design into something arbitrarily different:
    “1) How to make a game that would last for 2,000 years. 2) How to stop anyone from playing it for 2,000 years.”

    So you just assume humanity will be on it’s last legs in 2000 years, not sooner, not later? You also assume that the design will not be passed on from generation to generation as it has for other ancient games? After all, Rohrer seems to expect that the coordinate information will last that long even though it’s in non-pictograph form and not sealed in vacuum tubes.

    Then for #2, why would people being able to play a game now make it any less suitable as humanity’s last game? That doesn’t make sense. In fact what it does is allow you to hide the design so that nobody can judge it apples-to-apples with the other entrants.

    I don’t blame Rohrer for making a presentation like that, but it sounds like the audience got caught up in the surprise of seeing handmade game pieces and being told “you can’t know what the game actually is”, and being given tantalizing pieces of paper that may someday lead to the location of this “buried treasure”. They were there to judge indie game designs and instead were given a scavenger hunt and they somehow decided that this is the best entry hands-down.

    I’m all for creativity but if you want to hold a contest (especially one intended to promote creativity) then you need to make sure that you’re judging the correct material (ie. the game, not the time capsule it’s hidden in), and if possible have specific predefined criteria.
    Also, if we want people to take indie games seriously then we need to critically evaluate an idea before loudly proclaiming it the greatest concept of the year.

  44. Saskwach says:

    What if whoever found the game was the type of person/s who ate their coordinates?

    Would they extend the game by adding more layers of complexity and obfuscation? Would they house it within the greatest, grandest ARG ever seen, only to yank it away at the last second, chased across the internet by hackers around the world? Would ‘The Game’ change hands in deep shadows and dark alleyways for generations? Would one cabal cast it into the sea, until it was discovered by a humble fishing trawler far away? Then might it be lost to a merchant in a game of chance? Would it be broken into pieces to protect the secret, the rules themselves kept in safe-keeping by an ascetic in the mountains? Would the mystery reach an almost mythical status, and latter day Indiana Joneses interpret ancient texts and fight evil cults to find this forgotten artifact of great power?

    I hope so.

  45. Runs With Foxes says:

    I don’t understand how Rohrer keeps winning these things. You’d think the crowd at a game developers’ conference would be more concerned with actual game design.

    Rohrer proposes interesting things about how people engage with a game (pass it around from person to person, and now make it last a long time into future generations) but he does nothing interesting or unique with game design.

    What was the boardgame? How do you play it? Is it interesting or just a copy of already existing boardgames? No one seems to have discussed this, and maybe Rohrer didn’t either. The game itself seems entirely mundane.

    So how did he win a game design challenge?

    If even game designers are wowed by this, it’s no wonder so much shit gets made.

    • Premium User Badge

      RobF says:

      I imagine that with these things it’s as much about the performance aspect as it is the design aspect. Which is sort of interesting but yeah.

    • The Random One says:

      John described the other entrants. Who do you think should have won?

      At least Roher designed an actual game, even if he didn’t let anyone play it…

      • Premium User Badge

        Devan says:

        @The Random One
        John merely mentioned the other entrants, not enough to judge a contest on. And even IF the other game designs aren’t very good, they shouldn’t be losing to a design that nobody knows and therefore nobody can evaluate.
        Unless this is really just a contest to see who can wow the crowd with the most novel presentation, but that would be rather disappointing.

  46. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Like a few others I’m disappointed. Maybe its for the best this contest has ended. It apparently is serving no purpose. I have to agree it all sounds very cool and superbly presented. But it has really nothing to do with game design or this year’s theme. “Humanity’s Last Game” was in fact a very interesting theme that didn’t deserve this.

    I also strongly object to the use of a 2012-2013 AI to test and balance a game that is, according to the author, supposed to represent humanity achievements. Not only is our AI tech still fantastically limited by a deterministic computer architecture, but he had to somehow magically build a working game-balance AI he couldn’t test. If the pictograms are any indication of the complexity of the game rules, this AI can’t possibly have done a good job.

    Furthermore, he won this year with what’s essentially a recap of his 2011 “game”, which wasn’t a game at all but a minecraft map. The “game” apparently was about finding the right USB key among whomever got keys. It’s just frankly disappointing. He gets to twin twice with what’s basically the same idea, only a tad bit changed. This supposed to be about game design, no far-out gaming concepts, that while still valid in the wide scope of the word “game”, they have very little to do with what the contest is all about.

    This article opens with calling “audience noise” to the voting process last year. It’s in fact a very appropriate name for what this is contest was always all about. Very little common sense, and just a whole lot of wow factor.

    Despite disagreeing completely with Harvey Smith idea that a game is the best way to pass on information to a future humanity, I would have voted his game coded in DNA concept. The whole meerkat thing was just stupid though. But whatever.

  47. PedroBraz says:

    So the other contestants brought actual ideas and designs to the table and where ready to share and discuss them while this …buffon..where like UHH NUUH not gonna show you anything, cause I´m so clever….

    What a load of bollocks. I´m glad this is the last time this contest is hold, if this is the kind of thing that wins.

    If his computer generated game is so good, why didnt he show that instead? That would actually be usefull. I bet it was so poorly he had no choice but to bury that disgrace somewhere, just to make sure noone would ever find it in his lifetime as it would questions his very ability to design games.

    “I cant belive those silly journalist fell for it again. They actually think I can design games”.

    Well I´m calling you out. You´re not gonna get my preorder money.

  48. kimadactyl says:

    I gotta say it – were there actually zero women presenting ideas here or did you just not report them?

    • pinkvegan says:

      Apparently you missed the part where he mentioned Erin Robinson. You should reread.

  49. Andrew says:

    And how long to find the errata sheet?

  50. SystemiK says:

    Huh. I just bought a very sophisticated metal detector a few weeks ago and have been using it to hunt for gold nuggets in the Arizona desert. I guess now it’s not only gold I’m hunting….