Smartphone Barcode Scanner + LARP = ???

edited September 2010 in Story Games
The other day the D&D Facebook page made a mention of using a 2d/QR Barcode for gaming purposes. The comments include a lot of people confused by what a 2d barcode is. But it also included some very interesting ideas for using barcodes for gaming purposes.

For my purposes, the most interesting idea is to use it as an additional sensory system for a LARP. If you have a character that can detect magic, or sense electromagnetic fields or a werewolf heightened sense of smell, you give them a smartphone with a barcode scanner. Then put barcode stickers around the larp environment. A lot of stickers may only say "nothing of interest here", but relevant ones have useful info for the character, that they can share or not to other players as they see fit. (This has an added benefit, in that players would recognize that anything with a sticker must be important to the larp, and anything without is probably a real world object they needn't be concerned with.)


This augmented reality larping (hey, one step closer to Dream Park) would best fit with a science fiction larp, but could work for any game where one person can detect stuff other people cannot. "Tricorder readings indicate dangerous radiation levels, captain."

You do need a few iPhones or Android phones or similar devices capable of reading a barcode, of course. This shouldn't be too difficult for a modern gaming group, though you may want to talk with players about logistics (and/or cast iPhone owners as the mystically aware characters.) Barcode generating websites exist on the internet, for easy GMing.


There are no doubt a huge number of awesome stuff to do with barcodes and tabletop games, as well.

Comments

  • So sweet.

    You could also use this to reveal other sorts of information. Imagine a high-tech-looking prop kiosk that was the ship's data terminal. GM walks by and slaps a barcode on it, blammo! New orders from fleet, and you don't even need to break stride.

    Can readers be identified? Could a barcode read one thing to player A and something else to player B? You could manually do this with color (All B's - do not read red-marked barcodes) but it'd be cool if it were seamless.

    Barcodes on people. Barcodes on portions of people. Get in a fight, get a barcode outlining your stupidity for the world to read - be marked. Barcode fights, where scanning codes on limbs/torso is the whole point.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarYou could also use this to reveal other sorts of information. Imagine a high-tech-looking prop kiosk that was the ship's data terminal. GM walks by and slaps a barcode on it, blammo! New orders from fleet, and you don't even need to break stride.
    Nice. You'd need the orders to be pre-prepped, but that could work really well. Especially if you are, for example, in a spaceship lightyears from earth, so your orders are well out of date by the time you get them.


    Also could work for engineers dealing with equipment. You look at a broken down piece of equipment, and can't tell what it is/how to fix it. The engineer scans it with his handy device and knows what the thing is and how to fix it. Once it is fixed, the GM slaps a different sticker on top of the broken one, to illustrate its new status.

    Or similarly, magical runes. The wizard looks at the runes, and can identify what sorts of spells are active on the magic circle. They can activate more or deactivate them, and putting on different stickers can keep the status of the runes up to date (but still secret to the untrained).
    Posted By: Jason Morningstar
    Barcodes on people. Barcodes onportionsof people.
    Barcode on your namebadge functions as part of your character information. Maybe the local shaman can look at you and tell that you've been cursed. Maybe the samurai can size up how tough someone is in a fight, so he knows if he can take them or not. Maybe you have latent psychic potential that you are unaware of but others can detect.
  • That's a Sherlock Holmes game waiting to happen. Those barcodes can be fingerprints, invisible ink, any kind of clue. You could hide them and wait to see if people find them.
  • edited September 2010
    I was just brainstorming on this topic a while back...
  • Yeah, the QR Code is a meme in RPGs, right now, apparently.

    Jason's idea of using color to designate the required group membership (werewolves) or skill (ESP) is very good--it should help folks from "accidentally" scanning a code they shouldn't and then having to "forget" what they read.

    Another cool idea for LARP is to use it for character knowledge, but in reverse--your name tag as a code (which you are told never to scan) which reveals a fact about you to other people. Some kind of amnesia style game.

    Biggest problem I see is two-fold:
    1) How do you keep it from being a barcoded Easter egg hunt; what makes us role play and build narrative, rather than wander around scanning everything and muttering to ourselves about our "hidden knowledge"?
    2) How do we prevent casual cheating; even though all LARPs depend on trust, the swipe of a code is too easy and needs no verification or ratification by a neutral party?

    Something I thought of to deal with these issues, in the other thread, is to make a "search for clues" challenge actually involve a room full of bad QR codes and one or two good ones. Scattered on papers, stuck under chairs and tables, inserted into books and album covers: a ton of codes, each of which takes a moment to find and scan, most of which have gibberish... but the one or two real clues advance the plot considerably. Sort of a forensics simulation, using just cheap printouts and cell phones.

    Similarly, the codes could just be an additional layer of obfuscation, for applying a normal puzzle or riddle of some kind: scan all the codes to get all the riddle lines, but you still have to solve the riddle itself. The codes themselves could be rewards for various accomplishments in-game: defeating a lieutenant enemy, solving a simpler puzzle or maze, persuading a traveling gypsy merchant, whatever.

    I love thinking about LARP challenges and props.... :)
  • I could see a viral outbreak scenario where someone has been infected but no one knows who. Give everyone a name tag containing a piece of paper with a QR code printed on both sides. Every time they interact with someone, they scan each others QR code. If it reads "clean" then they are fine. If it reads "infected", they turn their own QR code over. Each of the cards has an "infected" and "clean" side, there is also a name-tag-number imbedded in each of the codes so that you can't tell which side is which by comparing/examining QR codes. At the beginning of the session, everyone gets a name tag that defaults to "clean" except one person.
  • Interesting idea, Marshall.

    Just add a reason for folks to interact and not hole up, and you've got a situation all set! Add in a way to get clean again (unless you want a guaranteed death spiral) and you could drive more interaction. Maybe the "cure" is comprised of a long sentence made out of words, each of which is embedded in someone's tag. But getting the word risks infection....
  • Barcodes can contain links to websites that require authentication, so with the right webapp, you could restrict info to only certain people.

    The webapp could even keep track of what you've scanned previously: you might have to scan barcodes in a certain sequence or in a certain amount of time, or even simultaneously with several other people.

    There's a lot of room for gaming awesome.
  • Posted By: chaldfontBarcodes can contain links to websites that require authentication, so with the right webapp, you could restrict info to only certain people.
    That sounds really cool, though it detracts from the "hey, this is a totally simple tech that I can implement with no effort" that the idea has for me.

    Right now I can use a printer, a website I found and the two or three smartphones available in my gaming group to set up a larp with this stuff with no effort.
  • Posted By: David Artman
    Biggest problem I see is two-fold:
    1) How do you keep it from being a barcoded Easter egg hunt; what makes us role play and build narrative, rather than wander around scanning everything and muttering to ourselves about our "hidden knowledge"?
    It's simple enough to deal with these problems in the rest of a game. If you don't want the game to be a barcode easter egg hunt, then the barcodes just provide useful but not necessary info, and/or redirect players to interact with each other. I'm an engineer looking to fix the Starboard Forbmachine. I scan it, and the scanner tells me that I need a Lefthand Quadratic Harblitzer to get it working again. So I go looking for one, and discover that the only person that has one is your shady black market dealer PC, who will trade it to me if I do him a favor, etc. The idea would be that information gained by barcode reading will change social character interaction dynamics in various ways.

    2) How do we prevent casual cheating; even though all LARPs depend on trust, the swipe of a code is too easy and needs no verification or ratification by a neutral party?
    I choose to trust my players, and not worry about it. That and just casting smartphone owning players in the roles that can gain and use the barcode info.
  • Update: ran a game last night using a barcode scanner to act like a Tricorder or Doctor Who sonic screwdriver. It worked very well. I'll have to write a fuller description of how it worked later, though.
  • The ultimate iteration of this would be to use either RFID (Radio Frequency) chips or GPS tagging (like in Geo Caching.) Have it set up so that just being in the right area and casting "detect magic" will reveal a magic door, etc ... Then combine it with an augmented reality app and you will see the glowing door on your smartphone.

    Of course, I have no idea how complicated all of this is to program, but hopefully just by saying it loudly, someone will build it.
  • Perhaps a Google goggles-like app that allows you to scan any object and get relevant game information about it? Is there any way to have Google goggles direct you to a specific domain to get the information you're looking for? That way, you could set up a domain related to your LARP, and characters who scan things would be directed to it to find the info they want.
  • Posted By: TheWhaleSharkPerhaps a Google goggles-like app that allows you to scan any object and get relevant game information about it? Is there any way to have Google goggles direct you to a specific domain to get the information you're looking for? That way, you could set up a domain related to your LARP, and characters who scan things would be directed to it to find the info they want.
    That's what the QR codes do already. You scan it with the scanner app, and it displays text to the user. Or it opens up the web browser and takes them to a specific URL, or installs some code on the phone, or a host of other neat features. It's a bit different than Google Goggles, in that you have a big obvious black and white checkerboard pattern on there, but otherwise it does exactly what you describe.
  • Posted By: Brandon AThe ultimate iteration of this would be to use either RFID (Radio Frequency) chips or GPS tagging (like in Geo Caching.) Have it set up so that just being in the right area and casting "detect magic" will reveal a magic door, etc ... Then combine it with an augmented reality app and you will see the glowing door on your smartphone.
    Hello, Dream Park.
  • edited January 2011
    Fuller report on QR codes in the LARP:

    For my wife's 30th birthday party, we had a Doctor Who inspired larp. She got to play our Doctor stand-in. You can see the full suite of materials made for the game over here, if you're interested.

    We only have two smartphones in our group (a third phone and its owner unexpectedly showed up at the last minute, but character sheets were already being passed out, so he didn't get to use his in the game). This meant that the larp had to have a limited number of people with access to the special senses. My wife's PC got one phone so that it could act like her sonic screwdriver. I debated for a while whether the other should go to our other timelord standin character or to the ancient evil alien PC, finally siding with the latter.


    We used QR codes in a couple of ways. Every meaningful prop in the game had an attached to it that could be scanned. This scanning tended to give additional information about one of the plots or mysteries. For example, scanning the Quantum Flux Doorway revealed that it was a dimensional portal generator, not a device for teleporting between two terrestrial locations like the company was saying. Scanning the scientific test's data revealed that two immaterial beings passed through the portal they created. Some of this information could be gathered by other PCs in other ways: A supergenius alien could quickly skim the financial records to determine that the company was hugely in debt to a mysterious investor. But a normal human spending a few minutes and consulting a GM could get the same information.

    On a similar note, one PC had a sixth sense for unusual electromagnetic phenomena. This manifested by each name badge and item card having a code letter on it like so: [B]. If the letter was a vowel, some weird energy patterns surrounded that entity. If a consonant, it meant that the subject was totally mundane. This is sort of like a low-fidelity, low-tech equivalent of the QR codes I stole from some MIT Assassin's Guild larpers. It also gave a second bandwidth worth of information: that information couldn't be encoded as more QR codes without it being accessible to my wife's PC. But simply having the letter visible to all but the meaning only apparent to one PC meant that that character got special information useful to he alone.

    QR codes were also used on every PC's character sheet, for a tricorder-like medical scan. If you scanned the code on the PC, it told you if they were human, alien or a human with unusual brain patterns (insanity or possession being the culprits there). When making the PCs, I realized that I had to change the wording on the text a little bit each time, so that the QR code looked different to the naked eye. If I just copied and pasted the same text for each of the three possibilities, then you could glance at a sheet and see that two of them matched and one was different. So each scan had to be personalized to the PC just enough that the QR code looked different each time.

    The medical scan could have been made more important or relevant, or expanded in different ways. For this game, there were only three important states, but you could build an entire larp around a doctor diagnosing patients using QR codes.


    The last way QR codes were used was for locked doors. Three offices int he building were initially locked. Each locked door had a sign indicating which key was needed to enter. Each sign also had a QR code on it. If you scanned the QR code, then the text said the door was open and you could enter. Thus, our Time Lord's sonic screwdriver actually unlocked doors, just as it should.

    One PC, Mr. Smithee had the key to his office, but the other two offices were locked. Dr. Kerensky had accidentally lost her keys, while The Clockmaker had stolen Mr. Manciple's keys.

    The locked rooms had a few effects on the game: it helped pacing by cutting off certain areas of the game initially and placing an obstacle in Manciple's way. It spurred on interactions between PCs: Manciple and Kerensky asked around if anyone had seen their keys, Spelvin learned some of Manciple's secrets, and my wife's PC offered to give access to the locked rooms to certain PCs in exchange for their cooperation. Finally, it helped reinforce the idea of barcode scanner as sonic screwdriver, which reinforced the feel of my wife being The Doctor. Which was the whole point of the game.

    Ironically, Mr. Manciple had a barcode scanner, which I later realized invalidated his being locked out of his office. But I don't know that he ever learned that the scanner could unlock doors. If I ran the game again, I might give the scanner to someone other than Manciple, Or eliminate the missing key matter anyway.


    In practice, things worked very well. Much as I hoped they would. Occasionally, it would take some wiggling and effort to get a QR code to scan properly. But that worked well for a larp setting: it meant that the player had to scan surreptitiously or explain what they were doing. And it meant that some scans were quick and easy and others were difficult to get a bead on, which seems sort of fitting for The Doctor scanning something.

    Sometimes the players were in too much of a hurry to read carefully the text a QR code gave them. My wife scanned and read the same Test Data code several times, but never noticed the part where it clearly states "Two immaterial aliens beings came through the portal to our world". But that's more her problem than it is a flaw in the system.

    Making even moderate text started to get unwieldy. More than a sentence or two and you start to get pretty big QR codes. Bigger codes are harder to scan. And the scanner software that came on my Android phone has a weird scrolling function if the text is too long. But this was a surmountable problem. For one thing, it meant that I had to be more concise than It normally would be.


    So the QR codes did exactly as I hoped that they would. They added a nice component to the larp, and provided secret information to some PCs while still letting the other players acting as normal. Best of all, it was easy to implement an required no GM intervention in game. I just had to use an existing website and a program that came free with my phone, and it worked like a charm.
  • Sounds like you got the balance right between using QR as extra (but not vital!) data while keeping the PCs "aimed" at each other. Bravo! Wish I could have played.

    Now I have to run my Star Trek one-shot, huh? :)
  • edited January 2011
    Posted By: David ArtmanSounds like you got the balance right between using QR as extra (but not vital!) data while keeping the PCs "aimed" at each other.
    That's a pretty good principle. There wasn't anything in the QR codes that couldn't be learned some other way, though often the other way was more difficult.
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