Amy's Recipe for Romantic Adventure

Valentine’s day has always been a time of year to get creative.

The history of St Valentine’s Day is based on a number of different, contradictory legends. Certain things that seem very likely: February 14th has definitely been a feast day for a long time. The writer, Geoffrey Chaucer certainly had something to do with redefining (or reviving) St Valentine’s day as a celebration of romance and devotion. St Valentine definitely existed (but may have been two different people, and is chiefly remembered for being martyred). But there were a number of Valentines and Valentinas, courtly poets, mating birds, and beheaded saints, and the feast day is a muddle of different legends and lost material.

The important thing to take from this, when thinking about Valentine’s Day, is that how you celebrate it, and what you celebrate is widely up to you.

My partner and I take on Valentine’s Day much the way we celebrate all major holidays; seeking unexpected adventures, and playing games.

On one adventure, we turned off our phones for a day and took a random adventure through the city, to see what we could turn up. We played Spot the Parakeet in Hyde Park, and booked ourselves in with a secret underground detective agency with an (invented) case about a missing Dachshund. The case remains unsolved.

Another year we stumbled upon a Digital Playground at Adelaide Fringe, and spent an evening competing to paint light onto buildings in the more dramatic way, and chasing projected creatures across the architecture of the State Library.


Making Valentines into a day of games and adventure is a way to move it away from being about devotion, and courtly love (which to my mind involves far too much rhyming poetry and eye gazing) and instead focuses on togetherness, and fun. My recipe for February 14th should involve chases, competition, ticking clocks, navigation, friends, games and if possible, parakeets.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Games and Dating, Or Concrete Proof I am a Nerd

My partner and I will celebrate our two year dating anniversary just after Valentine’s Day this year. We generally celebrate by going to see a show, but, if we were to be super romantic, we would actually get a takeaway and play video games together. Why? Because that was what we did on our first date.

Including activities in dates is important to us. My mom always insists that having activities and games are an essential part of any party or gathering. I think she is right. My partner and I recently went on an ordinary dinner date and we instantly regretted it. Next time, we are going to do a cooking class.

But back to the beginning. Back all the way to before the first date. First dates are hard. Hell, just meeting people in a new city is hard. Which is, to my non-online dating self, the first hurdle. Two years ago, I was on the lookout for a new friend group. I had only moved to this country half a year before for my MFA and while I had my academic arts friends, I wanted to talk about video games again. So I went on a search for nerds, but not just any nerds, nerds that enjoyed being active. I was looking for an activity where I would meet these kinds of people and was struggling. I then remembered about the Society for Creative Anachronism where people dressed in pre-17th century garb compete in tournaments, attend feasts, and learn other arts and skills of the time.  I thought that joining their fight practice would be a fun way for me to meet the type of friends I was looking for and that is how I came to the decision to join the Society for Creative Anachronism and learn to sword fight.

This went brilliantly. While I no longer have time to keep up my sword fighting skills, the friends I made are a huge part of my life. They are also now my weekly table-top gaming group, something I had always wanted but never had the right friends. During my first weeks, I was invited to join my new friends at a LRP event called Empire. I was a bit nervous about going and was told that I wasn’t the only newbie as my partner-to-be was considering going and that he had never been before, same as me. This is how my partner and I began to talk.

It would have been lovely to say that we met and fell in love during a dramatic sword fight in full armor, but alas, I was learning heavy combat and he was in medieval fencing. It wasn’t until I sent him a message on Facebook asking if he was going to the LRP and, if so, what character was he thinking of making that we actually started talking. We got to know each other by pouring over pages in the Empire wiki and making lists of materials we needed to buy to prepare for the event. Like thermals and sensible shoes. It wasn’t very romantic.

A couple weeks later, just after Valentine’s Day when I went on an accidental date (that is another story entirely), he asked me out after sword fighting practice. He wanted to go on a boring dinner date, which I then vetoed. I am a fan of activities on dates. I find this works much better. So I recommended that we grab some takeaway and head to Heart of Gaming arcade in North Acton. We spent the night trash talking as we played Mortal Kombat and various other video games.

It was a good date. I enjoy a bit of competition on a date. I feel it alleviates the pressure of conversation that is often felt in a dinner date. You can ask how many siblings they have but with the question punctuated with “I will end you!” and “Ha! I win!” This is much more fun.

Things only escalated from there. There is nothing like on your third or fourth date, standing next to someone you are just beginning to connect with, in armour, holding latex weapons, as hundreds of orcs begin to appear over the hill. Now this level of excitement may not be for everyone. Indeed a cooking class or a treasure hunt may be more your speed, but I say go for it. Put down the menus and try having an adventure.

Mortal Love.jpg

Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Proud Supporters of Headway

It's great when you can use fun and games to benefit a good cause, especially at Christmas. In December 2016, we ran an extended seasonal version of Citydash around Bankside. Players followed cryptic clues to round up stolen gift tags while being chased by angry Santas. Clue hunters could be seen running scared from jingling bells around the Southbank, and occasionally feeding carrots to Rudolf outside the Tate Modern. It was a lot of fun, and we were proud to use its success to help a cause we think is important: we donated a percentage of the profits to Headway, a charity that works to improve life after brain injury.

Headway's work is very close to our hearts, as our founder, Gwyn Morfey, explains:

‘Our friend and colleague suffered a severe cardiac event in October 2015 which left him with life-changing brain injuries. Doug's been with us since almost the very beginning, the easy-going kiwi with the impressive beard, dry humour, and reputation for outwitting and manoeuvring players in elaborate cat-and-mouse games.

Brain injury is something that none of us had thought about at all. We didn't really have a concept of it. It's been savagely hard on Doug's family, his friends, and Doug himself.

Headway is the charity that supports brain injury survivors and their loved ones - supporting them through the Christmas games is our way of saying "Hey, mate. We haven't forgotten you. We miss you and we hope you're doing okay.”’

If you would like to find out more about the work of Headway, or you would like to donate, then visit their excellent website.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Amy and Gwyn Play Raiders of Adelaide

Amy Strike reports from Adelaide, where she played one of her creations re-imagined.

As a game designer, I make the games that I would like to play, and am then unable to play them because I know where the lions and lockets are hidden.

This week I got a really unusual opportunity to play my own game. We have been running Raiders of the Lost Archive for nine months in London. We’ve had 1000 players come through and seek the lost treasure. Recently, Fire Hazard Australia began to build their own version of the Raiders game, and our visit to Adelaide coincided with one of the first of the new Raiders games at the State Library of Australia.

I should point out now that I had not looked at any of the clues in advance. I had visited the State Library once, two years before, heavily jetlagged to the point where I had the sensation that the portraits were looking at me disapprovingly. 

The moment we arrived, we were greeted by Professor Coffinberry, one of our most loved characters. The Professor is an enthusiastic leader of the Wingback Society, who loves brandy almost as much as her fellow explorers and has a keen eye for the mysterious, the arcane, and a comfy chair by the fire. In Adelaide, the Professor has been reinvented, overwhelmed with joy at our arrival, he was sporting a fancy waistcoat and a keen excitement for the adventure ahead.

We were joined by a large group, some of whom had attempted Fire Hazard Australia missions before. We took up our map and tried to familiarise ourselves with the layout of the library. It was fascinating to realise how difficult it is to get to grips with a new space. Having spent the better part of a month wandering the halls of the Victoria and Albert museum before our game began, I’d forgotten how alien a museum layout can be if you’ve never visited before.

The Professor set us our mission and launched us off. We immediately stalked away in the wrong direction, and took precious moments to right ourselves. 

The clues ranged from the relaxed to the fiendish, with plenty of exclamations of “it’s right there, by your knee!” and “That’s the wrong way up!”  We noticed a team of players carefully counting steps across the floor at one point...and later found out why. I met a skeleton, Gwyn cracked codes. Finally, with two minutes left on the clock, we decided to try to get to one last clue...and missed the floor completely, heading up into the attic of the building, and coming back down, only to miss the answer by a few seconds. One of the most important parts of any scavenger hunt; know which floor you are on.

Ultimately, we won the game, but the clues were challenging, and we were neck and neck with Team Madam Butterfly throughout the game, making for an exciting, pacey ninety minutes.

Coffinberry and Rackharrow were waiting to greet us on our return, and thanks to the combined efforts of the group, the lost treasure was located. We were gifted with some ancient gold coins, which were much appreciated. Although the game is played at walking speed, after ninety minutes of fast thinking with the minutes ticking away, we were in need of the sugar.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Playing With Fire

From watching horror films to taking on the monsters of Shadow Over Southwark, a surprising amount of people are testing their limits and deliberately choosing activities that scare them. What is it about taking risks and trying something a little bit dangerous that appeals to us so much? 

If you’re a Londoner, chances are you spend a lot of your working week in front of a computer screen, sat at a desk. Thinking of creative solutions can become a struggle when you’re chained to a keyboard. Arguably, immersive experiences and real-life games challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone and find new solutions, often in tense, time-sensitive situations. 

In fact, in a school in East Sussex, Headteacher Mike Fairclough believes exposing students to risk is beneficial to education, helping children build confidence and learn to think on their feet. Facing the unexpected in a controlled environment means they’ll be better equipped when life eventually throws something at them that is out of the ordinary. And it appears to be working. 

So it’s not too far a leap to see why adults, too, are choosing to push themselves, and live out an action film or video game plot for an hour or two in the middle of Central London on a weekend afternoon. And there are lots to choose from: survival experiences inspired by Bear Grylls, escape rooms that test your intellect and nerve, zombie days for Walking Dead enthusiasts and city-wide chases and scavenger hunts.  

Fire Hazard players come from all walks of life, but for the duration of the game, they become spies, or treasure hunters, or speed freaks and clue crackers. Triggering a fight-or-flight reaction can be a welcome change to the everyday, and our players often end up picking up skills that will help them next time you're puzzling something over back at their desks. 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Ready, Player One (or Two, or Three...)?

The question we probably get asked the most at Fire Hazard HQ is: how many people can I have in a team? Luckily, whether you’ve got 20 friends who want to do something new and fun this Saturday, or you’re hoping to go solo, there’s a Fire Hazard game that suits. We think gaming is for everyone, and that’s been at the core of the design process for each of our games. 

Best for… Solo agents or dastardly duos

Undercover, our immersive spy experience, is the best game for solo players or teams of two. Unlike our other games, to excel at Undercover you’ll have to be really subtle and blend in, and if there are 7 of you in a team, you’re going to stand out for miles around. Try Undercover if you’re looking for a really different date idea, or book a ticket just for you if you’d like to dip your toes into the world of immersive gaming without a crew. 

Best for… the Famous Five (or Four)

For smaller, perfectly formed groups, Raiders of the Lost Archive is the best fit of all our games. Raiders combines the smarts of Undercover with the adventure of Citydash, but you’ll be hunting for clues through the V&A, so a slightly smaller group means you won’t get lost, or left behind, and there’ll be no need to run or yell across the museum - behaviour that is completely off limits!

Best for… GIANT GROUPS

To be honest, Citydash is good for any size of group - we often get solo players rocking up, who join forces to become the ultimate Citydashing team, like in the Power Rangers when they all morph into a big dinosaur robot. However, you need lots of people on your side if you’re going to win Citydash - you need someone on look-out, someone with a map, a few of you gripping phones and cracking clues, and all of you working together. And we’re quite flexible with Citydash, so if there’s a bunch of you, you can compete against each other in teams for the ultimate showdown

To let you into a little secret, if you’ve got a big group, we can also organise a bespoke game for you based on our current games, or inspired by TV and film - Sherlock, unsurprisingly, has been popular recently. It’s a bit different than the usual office party! Just let us know what you’re thinking and we’ll see what we can build for you.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

3 Decidedly Not-Terrible Resolutions for 2017

It’s January, it’s 2017, and this year has got to be better than last year, surely?! Presumably you’ve kicked off the year by cobbling together a list of goals that are either very vague or very specific, and by now, you’re already working out which you’ll abandon first. 

However, here are three Fire Hazard-approved New Year’s Resolutions that we promise you won’t regret making. They’re not necessarily easy, but they’re definitely achievable. 

#1 - Meet new people

Why is this so hard? People are EVERYWHERE. But talking to them, and making new friends, is absurdly difficult. If you’re in London, you can’t just start chatting to someone on the Victoria line, can you? One of the best ways to make some new connections is to go to an event, club or activity. Chances are, everyone will be in the same boat, and will actually welcome an impromptu conversation attempt. Which brings us neatly to…

#2 - Try something new

Amalgamate your goals. If there’s something you’d like to do, do it now. Don’t put it off any longer. Take a friend for support if you need to, but you’ll definitely make some new ones. Book a class, learn a skill, go to a new place.

#3 - Don’t be scared of fitness

You’ll notice we’ve not said “do more exercise!” Setting a goal like that is already making exercise into something scary and annoying, when it really doesn’t have to be. No, really. And we don’t mean it in that equally intimidating glowy gym fanatic way. Movement should be fun, not a chore. Dance more. Run more. Even just walk more! If your new activity seems like it might involve a little more fitness than you’re used to, don’t fret. 

It takes 21 days to make or break a habit, so if you make it to February, the rest of the year will be a breeze but don’t panic if not, because every month has more than 21 days in it, and you’ve got almost 12 of those this year, so keep at it.

 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

MISSION COMPLETE: Undercover Twitter 1K Followers Competition

The British Intelligence (Reconnaissance Division) needs you!

1K FOLLOWERS REACHED.

PRIZE DRAW NOW CLOSED.

WINNERS NOTIFIED.

This January, we are offering 3 pairs of free tickets for you and a friend to take part in our London-based spy game: Undercover. To be in with a chance of winning, you must demonstrate your surveillance skills by following a mark and hitting a target. The mark is our Twitter account: @FireHazardGames. The target is 1000 followers. Follow us or retweet our competition tweets to enter. Once we reach 1000 followers, a winner will be chosen at random.

Good luck, agents!

Terms and Conditions

The Fire Hazard Twitter competition is open only to residents of the United Kingdom.

Entrants must follow the Fire Hazard Twitter account @FireHazardGames and retweet a Fire Hazard competition Tweet.

Only one entry per person will be accepted.

Entries for the competition must be via Twitter only.

The competition will end when the Fire Hazard Twitter account reaches 1000 followers.

Winners will be selected randomly after the competition has ended.

Winners will be notified of their win via Twitter. Winners must respond within 24 hours of notification. If they fail to respond within this time, they will lose the tickets and a new winner will be drawn at random.

There will be three winners in total.

Each winner will receive a pair of tickets valid for an Undercover game. Tickets must be redeemed within three months, and can only be claimed via the Fire Hazard website - www.fire-hazard.net.

Tickets are only to be used for Undercover and cannot be exchanged for any of our other games or for cash.

Fire Hazard reserves the right to cancel or modify the competition and its terms and conditions at any time.

This promotional activity is in no way organised, endorsed or associated with Twitter.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Experience This

It’s late December, so marks of the festive season are unavoidable, from Christmas lights strung up in windows along most streets to Santa merchandise stuffing the shelves of shops. If you’re anything like me, you’ll have created a Christmas spreadsheet in November, but I appreciate that most of you aren’t like me. In fact, I’m definitely in the minority there. We’ve even designated the last Saturday before Christmas as Panic Saturday, after all, because so many of us rush out then to buy stuff.

It’s tempting to panic buy like a maniac. But forget dropping some cash on a hastily selected box of chocolates or candle. Does your cousin/friend/sister really want that? Spend the time, not the money. If you’ve got the skills or the inclination, make something: cake, a knitted hat, a puzzle, even a voucher for a favour to be claimed sometime during 2017.

Even better, plan an experience that your gift-ee will remember past the first of January.  It seems like the tide is turning from a preference for possessions, to a desire to try new things, and experience something. Pound for pound, dinner and a gig with your best friend is probably going to cost the same as a pair of trainers, but the good feelings of the former are winning out over the tangibility of the latter.

What’s prompted this shift? It’s not as simple as the nation just deciding they’re sort of over consumerism. For one thing, most of us work long hours, so planning and then doing something really out of the ordinary prolongs the excitement of the activity, and is the perfect antidote for those extra shifts. Plus, experiences just keep getting better and better. You can eat all around the world on your average high street, and you can bowl, dance, climb some stuff and try out hot yoga. Games are getting bigger and better, and expanding to be interesting and challenging for everyone. You can get locked in a room and use your brains to escape. You can go to a piece of theatre that changes nightly, depending on the audience and the location. Exciting things are happening, and people want to go out and do them.

This seems like a good time to casually mention that you can now get Fire Hazard gift certificates, valid for all our games… A pretty good solution if you’re panic buying, or sorted everything out months ago but want to try something completely new.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

The Undercover Hall of Fame

Regardless of whether you prefer Connery or Craig, forget about the fictional feats of James Bond. Here are 5 real life spies to inspire you to slip under the radar and become a master of deception - skills that will serve you well in our immersive game, Undercover. 

Sidney Reilly – 1873 - 1925

Sidney Reilly is rumoured to be one of the many real spies who served as the archetype for Bond- not least because he was an absolute ladies’ man. Nicknamed the Ace of Spies, his biggest mission was an attempt to overthrow Lenin in 1918, by infiltrating and working alongside the Latvian guards at the Kremlin. The details of his other exploits remain clouded in mystery, which is next level spy skill! 

Virginia Hall – 1906 – 1982

Amongst aliases such as Artemis, Diane and Nicolas, American spy Virginia Hall appeared on the Gestapo most wanted list as the Limping Lady; in 1932 she accidentally shot her own foot, and undeterred, she used the prosthetic leg to transport secret documents. It even had its own code name: Cuthbert. She was responsible for saving the lives of hundreds of Allies, managing drop zones for supplies, finding safe houses and even training guerrilla forces to support her until a larger army could join her, delivering vital information throughout the Second World War. Unsurprisingly, she was awarded the MBE for her incredible efforts. 

Melita Norwood – 1912 – 2005

British civil servant and Communist, Melita Norwood spilt state secrets to Soviet spy network, the NKVD. She worked at the British Non‑Ferrous Metals Research Association, and was able to report on the atomic bomb project in Britain. After racking up almost four decades of espionage undetected, and living a relatively normal life for many years, Melita gave one of the most incredible statements upon being discovered, aged 87: “Oh dear, I thought I had gotten away with it.” 

Roald Dahl – 1916 – 1990

Yes, the beloved children’s author dabbled in the fraught world of covert intelligence before penning classics like Matilda and Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. Dahl worked as a Royal Air Force pilot during World War Two, and squeezed in some work for the British Security Coordination (BSC) on the side, promoting UK interests in the U.S.A and blocking Nazi propaganda. He was apparently a terrible gossip, so his undercover career as was very short lived!

Shi Pei Pu – 1938 – 2009

The story of Shi Pei Pu is so incredible, it inspired an award-winning play – M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang. Shi Pei Pu posed as a female opera singer and conducted a passionate affair with Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat based in China, in order to obtain confidential documents for the Chinese Communist Party. The affair lasted for 20 years, and Pu even produced a child to keep the deception alive. Boursicot delivered over 500 documents to his spy lover, leading to them both being arrested in 1983, and convicted in 1986. However, they each only served one year of their sentences, as both France and China were keen to lessen tensions and the impact of the bizarre story.  

Think you can cut it as a covert agent? Put your money where your mouth is and try the ultimate test. Undercover gives you the chance to intercept messages, deliver secrets and unmask rival spies in a two-hour immersive game experience in Central London and Adelaide, Australia. Find out more and book your tickets here. 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Decision Time

Many hands make heavy work.

For big decisions, like hiring, it's worth involving as many people as we can and taking as much time as we need. For those, we have to optimise. But for a lot of others, we should be satisficing instead - the most important thing is that we make a decision that's not obviously stupid, and we make it right now.  

So here's how we do it:

0) Setup. We're probably in the context of a Quest, which means that we have a Guide already appointed. Otherwise we pick one (usually Gwyn or Amy if available). 

1) Introduction. The Guide defines the problem to be solved, and defines the maximum amount of time available to solve it. "What are we doing with Shadow scheduling? We can potentially extend, or add another season, or both, or neither. We have until 12:50". 

2) Discussion. The Guide keeps this moving. If other discussions come up ("wait, are we extending Undercover as well?"), the Guide makes the decision to Switch ("Right, this is urgent, we're switching to dealing with this weekend's Undercover") or Queue ("We'll resolve Shadow, then talk about Undercover"). The guide tries to terminate the discussion early as soon as it looks like there might be consensus, possibly using Fist Of Five.

3A) Consensus. Everyone agrees, or the people who disagree agree to be overruled ("I think you're probably wrong, but I'm not sure enough to make an issue of it").

3B) Tiebreaker; time has expired and there is no consensus. Gwyn puts the CEO hat on (this is an actual hat). Each side restates their position and reasoning. The CEO makes an instant decision. Discussion of this issue ends until we have new data (which, if the CEO decided wrongly, might be quite soon). 

4) Document. The Guide writes down the decision and the reasons (so that, when we've forgotten, we don't have to repeat this process).

 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

How We Audition

Though both need actors, immersive games are very different to theatre. In auditions, we're evaluating people on three axes:

a) Character Fit

We have a sense of the character in our heads already. For example, in Shadow Over Southwark, Lord Mayhew's brief is:

"Genuine action hero. Decisive, capable, charismatic, and fearless. The kind of person you'd follow into battle. Proxy for the players.

Ideally 35+, tall, muscular. Any gender.

Mayhew loves London and all the people of London - rich, poor, and in between -  and s/he will defend them to the death. He’s Henry V rallying the troops (he knows it too, he will happily quote some Shakespeare), total Alpha, can wither someone from a distance with a stare. He is a protector and will put everyone ahead of himself, but will sacrifice a friend for the greater good. He once faced off a whale in the Arctic circle, huddled with a pride of lions during a cold night in Kenya, and has a lover in every Borough because he also possesses Bond-like charm. He needs, nay, deserves, a catchphrase. Will flirt with all players."

Can this actor realistically portray this character, both physically and in terms of personality?

b) Skill

Regardless of the particular role, is this actor skilled? Can they project, speak clearly, move well, respond to direction, and handle improvisation?

c) Professionalism

Can we rely on this person? Do they arrive on time (or tell us if they can't), know their lines (or tell us if they don't), and work well with the often-stressed stage manager? Do they remember details? Can they handle the pressure?


Where we're different to theatre is that we will absolutely sacrifice (A) in order to get (C) and (B). The most important thing about an immersive game is this: it has to work. Being out in the real world with players who have genuine agency already introduces so much uncertainty into the system that there's no room for any more. We are building a relatively small, tight, trusted crew of people who can handle anything that we throw at them, and that goes for our actors as well as our infrastructure team.

In our general hiring, we start with a Job Spec like everyone else - but once we find amazing people, we absolutely mutate the spec to fit what they can, and want, to do. The same goes for actors - we find first-rate people and build roles around them. 

And if that means we have to rewrite the script, so be it.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Magic Process Dust

[A followup to Squishy Human Fails At Task]

Once you get the team used to "people don't fail, processes fail", you're still only halfway there.

The next thing that happens, with the best will in the world, is that people report failures and add the sentence "we'll change the process so that this doesn't happen again", as a sort of get-out-of-jail-free-card.

But it's not a card. It's a rock hammer. Process change is the tool, but you still have to do the work.

And, like in debugging code, if you don't know why something failed, you yet don't know why its replacement will also fail - but you're doomed to find out. 

So, though it might seem that I'm being unnecessarily precise, even finicky, I'm actually just trying to get the answers to four questions:

1) What was the old process?
2) Was it followed? (If not, what makes us think that the new process will be?)
3) In what way did it fail?
4) How does this new process address that way?

Anything else is just Magic Process Dust.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Self-Destruct Sequence Activated

How do you get people out of the office?

I'm sure it happens at other companies too. Everyone agrees it's time to go home but nobody is actually walking out the door. Little unclosed loops keep popping up - "oh, before we go, what about ... ?" or "I have a great idea! We should make a ... "

It's all great stuff but we need to be gone. All of this stuff can wait until tomorrow. It'll be just as exciting then and nobody will be late for dinner.

Yesterday I tried something new: I thumped an invisible Big Red Button on the wall and announced: "I have just activated the office self-destruct system. Anyone still here in thirty seconds will be blown to bits. Thirty. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight. ..."

I kept the countdown going, and it worked. We all made it out, windows closed, lights off, door locked and into the corridor with eight seconds to go.

I'm now seriously thinking about building an actual Big Red Button that does exactly this. Might be useful for lunchtime, too.

 

 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Squishy Human Fails At Task

(part of an ongoing series on Fire Hazard's internal systems and culture)

People don't fail. Systems fail.

Actually, that's not quite right. People fail all the time. They fail so often and so consistently that it's not fair, or even useful, to call it failure. When I left my lunch in the fridge and cycled to work, I failed. When I didn't notice that one of the checkpoints had code R128 but the sticker said R129, I failed. When I didn't realise that we'd double-booked a crewman and we ended up running one person down, I failed.

But acknowledging inevitability doesn't mean acceptance. Fire Hazard maintains a relentlessly high standard - and we really care about everything we do, so every time we drop the ball, even in minor ways that players might not even notice, it hurts. 

As a policy, saying "I will make fewer mistakes", or, worse "You! Make fewer mistakes!" doesn't work. We're all working really hard, and promising to work harder or check more carefully means nothing. That dial's already at 11, and has nowhere further to go.

Humans are wonderful, creative, adaptable creatures. But even the best are also squishy, forgetful, and prone to mistakes. We have to deal with that. 

 

That's where the robots come in. Fire Hazard makes a three-pronged attack on human frailty:

1) AUTOMATE

Save the humans for the jobs humans are actually good at. Automate the rest. Our internal systems do as much of the heavy lifting as possible, from crew scheduling to generating stickers, player IDs, and even missions. Any task that can be automated should be; relentless, dead-eyed metal monsters never forget, never tire, never get distracted. 

2) SYSTEMATISE

If we can't automate a task away completely, we build a system around it, like a powered exoskeleton for the human to wear. It could be as simple as a checklist on the door, or as complex as the auto-generated warning messages in our stage management system. The systems' job is to prevent failures, but also to catch failures before they propagate. Planes don't crash when something goes wrong; planes crash when three things go wrong.

3) INVESTIGATE

"We don't tolerate screwups" is a very different statement to "we don't tolerate people who screw up". Every incident or near-miss triggers an investigation. It could be as simple as a two-minute cross-desk conversation ("Wait, how did that just happen?") or as involved as a whole-team-hour, but one way or another we need to know how the ball was dropped, and what robots or systems will stop it from getting dropped again.

The crucial bit is that we don't care who dropped the ball. And not in a touchy-feely "it's all OK, we're all friends" way, but in a hard-edged, rational, "that is not relevant information" way. Squishy Human Fails At Task is not news. Bad System Fails To Protect Us From The Consequences, that's news.

In the short term, this process means that seemingly inconsequential screwups slow us down ("Sure, the briefing was a bit late. It's out now, players are fine, why are we having a meeting about this?"). In the medium and long term, it's why we have a reputation for steadfast quality in an industry that doesn't - and why we don't have to remember to send the briefings ever again.

Because, now, steely-eyed machines send them for us. 

 

 

(Image from Titanfall)

Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Midnight Recce

Heatwave? Can't sleep? Haven't managed to go for a run today? Good time for a zone recce!

We haven't even built the zone for Shadow Over Southwark yet and I'm pretty sure it's going to be our best ever. Unlike last year's event, this one takes place entirely in the woods. 

It'll also be the first Citydash game where we're requiring players to bring torches. (Well, lanterns, oddly-glowing orbs, and night-vision gear also accepted). Most of the zone is covered by street lighting to some extent - but think dim yellow glows with long, oddly-shaped shadows, not fluroescent-day-bright. 

And note that I say "most". You could play Shadow and stay entirely in the lit area, and there'd be plenty to do. But if you want to win it, or you're up for a more intense experience, there are a few pitch-black trails. In a few days, Amy will write about what might be waiting for you there..

 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Introducing: Elizabeth

Photo by Beth Dooner

Photo by Beth Dooner

Hi! I'm Elizabeth (aka Ziz) and I am one of the new hires on the Fire Hazard team. I have been here for about a month and I felt it was time I introduce myself and talk about what I have been doing for Fire Hazard. 

I am a Masters of Fine Arts student at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. My focus is on live games and audience agency. My favorite book at the moment is Gareth White's "Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation." My dissertation is well on the way and I am happy to have found work in my field of study.

At Fire Hazard I have had two main tasks so far: Restarting Test Fire and Updating Raiders.


Test Fire Reboot

Test Fire happened for the first time in a year on Sunday and a great time was had by all! The afternoon started with everyone grabbing drinks and a few plays of "Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes."

After which we had a couple talks with discussions by Gwyn and myself. Gwyn discussed how not to go insane while running a small games company. I talked about my dissertation work and we collectively pondered whether or not we have free will. Another topic was whether players need to be able to "die" or "lose" for a game to be a game. It got quite philosophical by the end.

There was a quick playtest of a new Citydash game. Gwyn is actively looking for ways to adjust Citydash to make it a slower, sneaky game with almost dumb movie or video games guards. I got to play one of the guards and was surprised at how easy it was to get into a patrolling gait and follow a strict path for about thirty minutes.

We ran out of time at the venue but people followed us to a nearby pub to talk about monsters for Shadow Over Southwark. I am already scared. 

One change for next time is that we all go bouldering afterwards!

I am looking forward to continuing heading up this project. If you have any thoughts about whether it is necessary for players to die, or maybe what is the scariest monster, or what games we should play next time, drop me an email! It will be great to keep the conversation going.


Upgrading Raiders

The other project has been doing a full upgrade to Raiders of the Lost Archive. A new plot treatment with exciting new puzzles and encounters. I can't talk too much about it right now as it is still in progress, but it is very exciting! 

I have been spending a lot of time with my new friend, the Kodak Carousel Slide Projector. I have also just submitted an order for 35mm slides. 

What I can share with you is that I am having a great time as Miss Rackharrow, the stern but intelligent secretary of The Wingback Society.

Well this is Ziz, signing off for now. Please do tell me of your existential agency crises or philosophical thoughts on death in games or favorite kinds of archaeological puzzles! As always my email is elizabeth@fire-hazard.net.

--Elizabeth


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

Advice to Undercover Players

An Undercover player just emailed me for advice on what skills to be practicing. Here at BIRD, we're already impressed - preparation is key to a successful mission. So if you're playing Undercover, here's what to think about:

The key skill is remaining undetected. You might want to think about how you'd change your appearance quickly (on the assumption that someone who has a photo taken ten minutes ago is looking for you), or how you'd linger in an area without appearing to be loitering. Also look for clever hiding places for small dead-drop envelopes and think about how you could place or retrieve things without being spotted. Finally, if you had just a photo of someone and had to find them and follow them, how would you do it?

Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

I'm On Offence

In a world of infinite to-do items, you need some way of categorising them to make sure that no area of the business is being neglected.

In a past life, we used to structure work into Strategy, Operations, and Infrastructure. That's a useful way of thinking about things, but we're a games company, and those aren't fun words. We need something else.

So we call it Offence and Defence.

 

On Defence, you're trying to stop things from going bad - or in some cases, stop them from getting worse. Defence tasks are incoming missiles with their own deadlines; for each one, your only options are to shoot it down or soak the damage. 

If you don't do enough defence, you die quickly and spectacularly.

For Fire Hazard, defence tasks include things like "prepare the Undercover game on Saturday" - it has to happen, the deadline is fixed, and if we don't do it, we're going to end up with a smoking hole in the ground. Or "pay the VAT bill". Or even longer-term projects like "the rota is getting thin; run a recruiting round".

We've had plenty of moments when the entire company is on defence at once. But if you do that for too long, you'll win every battle and lose the war.

 

Offence projects are optional; they don't come with their own deadlines, and nothing particularly bad will happen if you don't do them. They're attempts to strengthen the business, or to grow or capture new territory - anything from "let's make the Raiders plot better" to "we should be running regular games in Edinburgh". 

The tricky bit is that, where Defence projects are a matter of choosing a too-small subset of a too-large pool of obvious threats, Offence ones are creative. There are a thousand things we could do to make a dent, and a thousand ways of doing any of them.

It gets harder: you can fire something off and not know, for months or ever, if it was a hit. Probably half of our Offence work is wasted, but we don't know which half. And sometimes it's a boss fight without a health bar - we can see that we're doing a lot of damage, but we can't tell if we're winning.

But if you don't do enough offence, you die slowly, through stagnation and irrelevance. 

 

The exciting thing is that, with a full-time crew of 5, Fire Hazard finally has plenty of defenders. I often get to start the week with "You guys have got this. I'm going on offence."

Let's get 'em.


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!

How We Work: Energy

"ENERGY: Move fast. Be big, loud, dramatic and decisive. Avoid delays. Keep the energy high."

We move fast, all the time, for two reasons:

1) We have to. Arts and entertainment companies exist right on the edges of financial feasibility. We don't work long hours, so to cover salaries we have to work, consistently, with incredible speed and efficiency. And for the company to remain relevant, we have to constantly produce new things. 

2) It's really, really fun. One of the reasons we're doing this, not corporate jobs, is because making dramatic things happen on a timescale of hours rather than months is awesome.

This affects how we work. We have a concept called momentum: how quickly a big project is moving. It's doubly important because "an object at rest will remain at rest ... an object in motion continues in motion". With a project, or company, where everyone is used to moving quickly, it's much easier to continue to move quickly.

Everyone finds their own ways of building and maintaining momentum. Here are some of mine:

Put The Big Rocks In First

Faced with one big project and a thousand tiny things to do, the temptation is to do the thousand things first - to clear the decks so that you can focus. 

This doesn't work. By the time you've cleared them, there'll be another five hundred. Though you're ticking off tasks, it's a false sense of productivity, and the big project is losing momentum.

If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all.

If at least some of the thousand things can genuinely wait for a day, put some blocks of time in your calendar where you only work on the big project. I try to do this twice a week, usually wearing headphones to avoid distractions.

Don't Wait

This one is unusual; an experimental Fire Hazard policy that I haven't seen anywhere else. I'm serious about giving it a shot because I think it's potentially very powerful, but we might end up changing it.

Work is full of dependencies. Normally this looks like: "To do X, I need Y. Only Bob can do Y. I'll wait until Bob gets around to his bit."

No. Don't wait. If Bob is available - which is likely, if we're all in the office or on slack - get him to do Y right now. But if he's not:

  •  Find a way to do Y yourself, or 
  •  Find a way to do X without Y, or
  •  Find a different X that doesn't need Y, or
  •  Find someone else who can do Y, or 
  •  Abandon X and do something else.

Do this even if the new version is not quite as good, or even if it take you slightly longer to do Y than it would have taken Bob. It's worth it, both in the short term (preserving momentum) and in the long term (you've just learned how to do Y better).

Can We Do It Today?

This one is about changing expectations. I've worked for, and with, larger companies where the expectation is that if we're doing something, we'll do it on the timescale of weeks. "I'll get back to you on that" means "I definitely will, but it might be a few days, and I expect to hear from you a few days after that". 

All it takes to change this is a question, asked routinely either of yourself or of anyone you're working with: "Can we do this today? If not: what would we need to change so that we can?"

Often the answer is "oh, hell no", but it's worth continuing to ask the question.

Reject, Don't Queue

This is another dramatic departure from normal corporate 'yes' culture. Larger companies are made of specialists; only Bob is really good at X, so if you need X done, you have to ask Bob to do it. Bob won't say no (because everyone wants to help out), but if he's really busy, it'll go on his list and he'll get to it when he gets to it. Because Bob is an optimist, he'll probably tell you that he'll get to it soon, but he might not, and meanwhile, the project stalls.

We're a bit different. We're a very small, cross-skilled team (most of us could, at a pinch, do any job in the company, or could learn to do it quickly). Plus we have many different things we could work on, and it's more important that things are happening quickly than that any particular things are happening. 

So, as Bob, asked to do X, you should respond by either:

  • Doing X. Yeah, now! Let's go!
  • Putting X in a very short queue ("just finishing this, will be about an hour").
  • Advising that the queue is long and unknown ("I don't have an ETA for this")

This will often trigger Don't Wait on the person requesting X. It also helps to expose when people get overloaded - instead of ever-growing queues, we get active job rejections, so we can rebalance the workload.

If X is non-urgent, non-critical, and the end of a task chain (ie there is no Y that depends on X), then we might still opt to put it onto the end of a long, unknown queue and forget about it.

Named Person

We don't have fiefdoms; we all work on everything. But if Everyone is responsible for something then nobody is (the bystander effect). So each project has a named person who is responsible, not necessarily for doing it, but for making sure that somebody is - that it keeps momentum, and that we don't forget about it.

Death or Glory

Low-momentum projects not only achieve nothing, but they drain the energy out of other projects around them, by getting us all used to moving slowly. If we start a project, Death or Glory are the options: a project that cannot be progressed quickly should be terminated.

(Not necessarily permanently, and not necessarily destructively; we stash all the work-in-progress in a way that we could pick it up again in the future if things change).

We do not submit to the sunk-cost fallacy.

We're serious about this. It has recently happened to:

  • Dockhead (a potential office location; the landlords were consistently slow in responding so we abandoned the project and moved elsewhere, even after masses of prep work)
  • The Alliance (a new game in development; paused by Gwyn after realising that we just didn't have the resources to progress it quickly)

TARGET SELECTION

Working here, by and large, should be fun. But still: don't work on the thing that will be the most fun to work on. Work on the thing that most needs doing right now. 

(Save the really fun thing for when you've Gotten Something Done and need a break)

Focus Fire

As a company, we want to work on the smallest number of projects simultaneously that we can. It's both more fun, and more productive, to ship something every couple of days than to deliver a huge pile of work ... sometime ... a month or two from now. 

The smallest number is not, unfortunately, one. This would be inefficient due to:

  • External delays. If we're waiting on someone else and can't go around them, then with only a single project, we'd have nothing else to work on and would be forced to idle.
  • Tripping over each other. 

We'll adjust this, but my current feeling is that the right number is one to two projects per person. Anything else stays on the Ideas pile until you've shipped one of your existing ones.

Dependencies First (and In Parallel)

Most projects come with external delays. Even after applying Don't Wait, some of these will remain. 

For example, Project Test Fire includes, among other things:

  • A) Check speaker availability 
  • B) Find out ideal dates/places from the members (via mailing list survey)
  • C) Find a venue
  • D) Choose a date
  • E) Organise everything

The trick is to plan out the project in advance, thinking through where the delays are likely to be - and then to make sure that they happen:

  • First, and
  • All at the same time.

Task E above is the largest, but A, B, and C all come with delays. The opening salvo should be to start the clock running on A, B and C all at once (and this is a relatively quick thing to do).

Whenever you're not working, you especially want the clock to be running on the delays (so the project is still moving). So if the lasercutting you need is going to take three days, and you know that you're going to be away for three days, arrange things so that you get that order in first.

Generally anything that involves talking to or working with people outside the company should happen at the start of the project. It's often a good idea to burn extra work-hours to save clock-hours - ie to structure the work in such a way that's actually less efficient, but faster.

For example, don't contact Venue 1, wait for them to respond, then contact Venue 2 if the answer is no - contact them all and go with the best (or first!) response. Get a quote for the lasercutting even if we don't, yet, know if we're going to need it.

 

 

This is a starting point. We'll keep changing how we work, since we're a tiny startup in an uncertain world and we don't even know what we'll be doing in six months. But whatever it is, we'll be doing it quickly.

 


Hey there, we're Fire Hazard!

We make high-energy games in the real world, because life should be exciting. Anyone can play. If you're looking for an adventure, come to one of our games!