The RMIT Future Play Lab’s latest project is Super Street Arcade, which will bring five custom-designed, arcade-inspired installations to South Melbourne’s streets. This week’s post profiles two of these in-development installations that involve collaborations between the Future Play Lab and other artist-gamemakers in Melbourne: Yawa and YomeciArcade.
Yawa is being co-created with Indigenous multimedia artist Jarra Karalinar Steel. Steel is working with Boon Wurrung senior elder and Boon Wurrung Foundation founder and chairperson, N’arweet Carolyn Briggs, and RMIT student and game designer Duncan Corrigan. Yawa means “journey” in the Boon Wurrung language. Yawa will take players on a journey across an abstract map of Country, discovering stories and collecting and learning Boon Wurrung words as they explore.
Yawa will be housed in a table-like arcade cabinet. It will be playable by up to four people. Joysticks and speakers will be located on each of the cabinet’s four sides, and as soon as players move the joystick a character will appear on the map. Like all of Super Street Arcade’s projects, Yawa will be waiting on a street in South Melbourne for residents, passers-by, and people who hear about the project in advance to discover and explore.
As Yawa’s art director, Steel is creating its characters, game map, and other elements. As with her other public artworks and Kulin-influenced design, Steel embraced bold colours, cartoon-esque characters and urban motifs that break down barriers around Indigenous art for Yawa’s design. “Having these characters that are more modern and city dwellers, a bit more than country, is something that’s important to me, because that’s what I grew up in,” she says. “When it comes to talking about my culture and my people and what I grew up in, I want to reflect that and not treat us like museum pieces.”
Three of the characters are young and distinctly urban First Nations people, with dyed hair and casual clothing, while the fourth character is a possum – one of Melbourne’s most ubiquitous urban animals. The map players explore through the characters is strongly influenced by traditional Indigenous art. But it also resembles a cityscape seen from above, while visually evoking Melbourne’s pre-colonial history as a wetlands.
These design elements bridge Melbourne’s past and present while challenging players’ assumptions about place. Steel says, “I think people think just because it’s a city and an urban area, it’s not Country anymore, it’s not sacred and it doesn’t have the importance that it does. But you’re still on Country. It’s still there.”
Yawa is still very much in development and its custom cabinet hasn’t been fabricated yet. The main challenge so far has been designing for its unique physical design, where players will be looking down at the screen from four different angles. The characters currently appear in 2D side profiles. But, as Corrigan explains, if the characters all face one direction “it’s going to be upside down to one person, it’s going to be 90 degrees [to the others]. But then if we were to solve that problem by making it completely top down” – seeing the characters’ heads from a bird’s-eye-view – “you would lose a lot of the character sprites” and detail.
In a meeting last week the team discussed different ways to solve this. They included having each character oriented towards their respective players’ joystick, having separate character profiles in each corner of the screen, or even placing stickers of the characters next to each joystick to represent them in analogue fashion. The team are also currently trying to find a sound designer to incorporate the music and sound elements. As with all the Super Street Arcade projects, the pressure is building to pull everything together in time for the games’ debut later this month.
YomeciArcade (tentative title)
YomeciArcade is the latest project from the collective YomeciPlay, which consists of Uyen Nguyen, Max Piantoni and Matthew Riley. The Yomeci project began around four years ago as You, Me & the City, when Nguyen began exploring the “playful potential of sounds in animation, games and interactive media.” She “sound walked” around Melbourne’s CBD, recording sounds and reimagining them as “heartfelt animated stories.”
Riley and Piantoni then joined the team, collaborating with Nguyen to create a pervasive mobile game app called Yomeciland. It allows players to record sounds and create their own “digital ecology” of animated creatures on their phone. Yomeci has since evolved into multiple, ongoing projects. It has taken the form of two gallery installations. One was commissioned by Bunjil Place in 2019. Another, You, Me, Things, is travelling across Australia as part of the Experimenta Life Forms exhibition. These installations use participants’ voices and other sounds they make – stomping, finger snapping, laughing, clapping – to create creatures using sound recognition software.
The team also created You Me Sings, a web application that allowed people to create Yomeci creatures during lockdown, and YomeciBand, their first collaboration with the Future Play Lab for its “playful parklet.” YomeciBand involved chalk drawings of Yomeci creatures on the pavement, which then produced sounds – covertly created by the team hidden nearby using a synth keyboard – as passers-by hopped, stepped, skipped, or danced on them.
YomeciArcade will also be situated on the pavement, but with a higher-tech approach than YomeciBand. Instead of an arcade cabinet, though, it will be housed in a virtual hole in the ground, surrounded by a slightly raised platform with artificial grass. Players interact by looking down and stomping on six buttons that surround the hole, taking them further and further into a subterranean world inhabited by Yomeci creatures. “We wanted to make an arcade that is on the ground and not a conventional set-up that you would expect from an arcade machine,” Nguyen says. “It ticked all of the unconventional boxes in our head.”
She describes YomeciArcade – which may be renamed You, Me, Hole – as “a musical toy.” There will be different levels or “layers” of the game inspired by musical instruments, like drums, string instruments, and xylophones. Nguyen explains that the project was inspired by Piantoni’s idea of a hole in the ground where all the layers – grass, dirt, worms, water pipes – are “stacking and sticking together.” They evolved this idea so “through your feet stomping you’d be knocking on [the Yomeci creatures’] door and they would clear their way for you to go down.”
Other aspects of the game – including its ending – have yet to be decided. The team’s main challenge has simply been creating “a fun game to play.” They tried out five different iterations before settling on their current approach.
Another major consideration with YomeciArcade – perhaps moreso than the other projects – is accessibility, since players use their feet to play the game. Nguyen says the team are exploring ways to accommodate people with different physical capabilities, injuries, and disabilities. “I don’t want it to require too much energy from the player. This being a musical instrument or toy, you could play it in your own way, it doesn’t have the right way to do it or the better way to do it.”
Dale Leorke is an embedded ethnographer in the Future Play Lab.