PAC-LAN mixed reality game

In the last issue of the ACM Computers In Entertainment, there is a paper entitled PAC-LAN: mixed-reality gaming with RFID-enabled mobile phones (by Omer Rashid, Will Bamford, Paul Coulton, Reuben Edwards, Jurgen Scheible) that I found very interesting. The paper describes how the incorporation of RFID readers in cell phones can turn it into a game platform to allow interaction with physical objects. The authors present an enhanced mixed-reality version of Pacman. Some excerpts that I found interesting: first the game itself is curious:

PAC-LAN is a novel version of the video game Pacman, in which human players use the Alexandra Park accommodation complex at Lancaster University as the game maze. The player who takes the role of the main PAC-LAN character collects game pills (using a Nokia 5140 mobile phone equipped with a Nokia Xpress-onTM RFID reader shell), in the form of yellow plastic discs fitted with stick-on RFID tags. Four other players take the role of the “ghosts” who attempt to hunt down the PAC-LAN player

It's funny to see how the pacman game is revisited over time (see for instance this version, PACManhattan or Human Pacman)

It's not well discussed in the game but I found pertinent to have the representation of the GPRS network/maze, and to design subsequently around it. That can offer a way to think about Matthew Chalmers' seamful design: how can the seams be exploited to design compelling applications.

I also found very pertinent this idea of "game monitor" developed for monitoring and server administration while in the field. Maybe it's because as a researcher I am interested by all the applications/dashboard that would help me to make sense of how the application is used.

The user experience analysis is very informative (for instance "identify tactics that became apparent during gameplay) and what has attracted my attention overall is the "space-time" analysis. The authors used a space-time plot (still have to check this Bamford 2006 reference) for data obtained during a trial and shows PAC-LAN being hunted down by a ghost:

Here is what they found using this technique:

From this space-time analysis, this particular ghost, despite a delayed start, was often very close to PAC-LAN, and therefore very active in the game. This can be measured dynamically within the game by performing a real-time cumulative correlation calculation between the path of the PAC-LAN player and each ghost. At some point in the game, the server can trigger a power move for the most active ghost. The points or power move benefits will not only encourage ghosts to be more active in the game, but could also result in more collaborative play, e.g., two ghosts lure PAC-LAN into an area where a third ghost is hiding with a power move.

Why do I blog this? because this is an interesting attempt to use mobile phones and RFID to create an pervasive game. The authors are trying to go beyond this concept by adapting the Sega Megadrive classic, Toejam and Earl, with NFC-enabled phones to allow near-field interactions (with touch). They indeed assume that "direct interaction as part of the game may produce a greater collaborative gaming experience", which is a good question to investigate with those technologies.