Birmingham's Sidewalks Become Digital Playground

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TechWalk is a large-scale urban game using the physical world of a 6x6 block area of downtown Birmingham, Alabama as a virtual game board. Using wireless technology teams of people will compete in games of Othello, capturing grid intersections by completing a film-themed challenge with a camera phone, by uploading the images to a centralized server.

London, New York, San Francisco, and now Birmingham. On Sep. 24, the historic sidewalks of Birmingham's theatre district will be transformed into a large-scale urban game like those previously staged in several other cities worldwide. The 7th Annual Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival has partnered with TechBirmingham for the TechWalk event, a location-based game blending a wireless Internet network, other technology systems, and performance art. Teams will traverse the urban grid of downtown Birmingham, improvising scenes suggested by an online random phrase generator. Digital images of the staged scenes will be uploaded to a server to win street intersections in a game modeled after the popular board game Othello.

“Major cities around the world already host urban games on their city streets,” said Curtis Palmer, president/CEO of TechBirmingham. “Birmingham's tech-savvy workforce is ready for this type of entertainment and we could not imagine a better time to introduce the game than during the immensely popular Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival.”

The TechWalk game will take place within a six-by-six-block area surrounding most of the Sidewalk festival venues. A map of the zone is available for viewing on the TechWalk website. Teams of 4 to 6 people are encouraged to sign up for this free event by visiting http://www.TechWalk.org where more details will be provided as the event date approaches.

TechWalk will be staged with the help of recruitment staff from ITAC Solutions. “This is a natural fit for us,” said Chase Morrow, partner and co-founder of the firm. “We are interested in linking Birmingham's growing technology workforce with all the great employment opportunities that an expanding tech economy brings.”

Why play?

This should be a fun, fast-paced game on the city streets. Teams will be pitted against each other in a random manner, intersections on the grid must be claimed within a prescribed time limit, and your team will have to move quickly and travel across up to six city blocks to position your team for the next challenge. What could be more fun?

How do you play?

16 teams of between 4 and 6 people each are expected to be accommodated in our game. The game board is made up of 36 blocks of downtown Birmingham (2nd Ave N to 7th Ave N and 17th St N to 22nd St N). Using a PDA or laptop, the team will determine where they wish to place their virtual token. They will quickly move to that location and request a challenge from the server. Together, all but one of the team members must act out the challenge sequence and the remaining team member will use a camera phone (or the like) to capture the image and upload it to the server. A moderator will visually inspect the uploaded photograph and award the team's token to that location. The game is over when all intersections are claimed or if a prescribed time limit has been reached. The winner of the round is determined by the total number of colored tiles placed/captured according to the rules of Othello.

What is Othello?

Othello is a classic board game. Players use strategy to place either black or white tokens on the intersection of the board's grid. The objective of the game is to finish with the highest number of pieces of the player's color. A move consists of "outflanking" the opponent's disc(s), then flipping the outflanked disc(s) to the player's color. To outflank means to place a disc on the board so that the opponent's row (or rows) of disc(s) is bordered at each end by a disc of the players color. See http://www.TechWalk.org for an online playable version of the game.

Who created TechWalk?

This effort is being led by Curtis Palmer of TechBirmingham. It is actually a blend of several different similar efforts undertaken over the past few years primarily in New York City. The game is modeled after Fiasco, a performance-based game on the streets, and Gridlockd!, a game that uses the city street grid as an Othello game. However, none of this could be accomplished without the steering committee members, technology business partners, and other volunteers.

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