Snake Party: An Urban Game for NYU's Stern Plaza

3 May, 2010

This post is the first in a series I'll be writing this week catching up on documenting projects I worked on this semester. The ITP semester goes by like a steam-powered locomotive and good documentation is frequently the first thing thrown under the wheels. This week, I intend to pull some of my projects out from under that rushing train by writing them up here.

Snake Party

Snake Party is a game I designed with Meredith Hasson, Mike Kneupfel, Tianwei Liu, and Luis Volante for the "urban games" unit of Big Games. The assignment was to design a game to be played in the immediate blocks around NYU between Broadway and Washington Square Park.

Our group decided early on that we wanted to model our game after an old fashioned video game. Hence, we seized on the NYU Stern plaza, which is a large flat space with a built-in grid inscribed in it:

After experimenting with a number of different mechanics based on games ranging from Battleship to Tic-Tac-Toe, we settled on an adaptation of the 1970s game, Snake:

As Wikipedia describes, in Snake "the player controls a long, thin creature, resembling a snake, which roams around on a bordered plane, picking up food (or some other item), trying to avoid hitting its own tail or the "walls" that surround the playing area."

To recreate this mechanic in real life, we divided the players up into two teams, each connected together by a rope. Each snake had a head and a tail. The game grid was littered with balloons and party hats. The goal of each snake was to collect a hat for each of its players. Only the frontmost player in each snake could pick up a hat. When the snake ran into a balloon, the frontmost player moved to the back of the snake. Each snake moved one square forward, left, or right every five seconds, triggered by the blowing of a horn.

Snake Party in Progress

One interesting thing happened during the course of play that we didn't expect: one team's snake was able to trap the other team by moving perpendicularly in front of it. We hadn't anticipated this being possible and so we were forced to improvise a rule on the spot whereby the trapped snake simply stood still until the moving snake past by.

Picking up a hat

The game was relatively well-balanced, both snakes were close to collecting all of the hats when one of them won.

We received a lot of good feedback in the discussion after the play session. Best of all was the suggestion of breaking up the teams into smaller snakes so that more players would have a more active role at each moment. As the game went on the players began to cooperate more, the players not at the head of the snake helping to advise the head about where they should move. Smaller teams would encourage that communication and create more opportunities for interactions between the teams.

Picking up a balloon

Thanks to Meredith Hasson for the photos in this post.