September 24, 2006 4:10 PM PDT
'Payphone Warriors' call on New York streets
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Each time you claimed a phone by calling the prescribed number and registering your claim, a computerized voice would inform you that your claim was recognized, tell you which phones you controlled and then tell you how many points you had. But several players later said they'd wished they were told what place their team was in.
Finally, time was up and all the players began to trickle back to Washington Square.
Burmeister stood up and announced the final scores. Let's just say my team finished second. Never mind that the winning team outscored mine by more than 25 percent: We finished second!
Later, Burmeister told me where the game had come from.
"I wanted to...build a game that went from the Bronx to Long Island," he said. "But when dealing with big games, you deal with the problem of where your players are."
Thus, he explained, he and his fellow designers came upon the idea of using pay phones as a way to keep track of territory being won, since each phone broadcasts a unique identifying code that could be easily correlated to location.
"Pay phones became our gaming device," Burmeister said, "and it was a gaming device that was strong enough (on its own) that we didn't need a story."
He also explained that "Payphone Warriors" is built on an open-source digital telephone exchange system called Asterisk.
The idea, he said, is that eventually "Payphone Warriors" will be automated in such a way as to allow anyone to play any time they want.
Several other game designers shared that sentiment, saying they also hope to turn their games into turnkey products that can be used by groups of people without the services of an official organizer.
And Burmeister said that while "Payphone Warriors" still had some kinks to work out, the automation was pretty far along.
"I could have been out playing it, honestly," he said, "which is great."
Afterward, I talked to some of the players about their experience with the game. They seemed unanimously enthusiastic.
"This is my favorite of all the games," said Dennis Crowley, founder of the mobile social software service Dodgeball. "It's the perfect mix of athleticism and strategy."
Crowley had a couple reasons for his exuberance: His team had won. So I asked him his team's strategy.
He said that its members started out much like everyone else, spreading out to try to get to phones in all four corners of the playing field. But there was a devious second part to their plan.
"With eight minutes left, we said, let's have everyone meet in the (most pay phone-heavy) zone and take them over," Crowley said.
It must have worked.
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