Beg, Borrow and Steal: Make a Simple GPS Game

Location: Salon C-D Level: Intermediate

This 3-hour tutorial introduces the process of rapid location-based game development. Starting with a simple game mechanic, borrowed from a well-known game, we show how easy it is to create a fun, new game that’s playable almost anywhere outside. The goal is to get a GPS game up and running as fast as possible, because iterative playtesting outside is essential to location-based game design.

The theme of this tutorial is “Beg, borrow and steal.”

  • Borrow a game mechanic from a proven game. (Add your own unique game design idea to make it pop.)
  • “Steal” from previous code examples provided by the community. (But be sure to give attribution where appropriate.)
  • Beg for playtesting help from your friends. (And then give back to the community when you’re done.)

Tutorial Sections by Hour

  1. In the first hour, introductory topics include location-based game design principles, portable vs. anchored games, and some successful game examples. Then we pick a game concept and do a quick design on paper.
  2. Next we introduce the mscape toolkit and show how to implement the game in it. We give a detailed walkthrough of the steps necessary to build the first working prototype of the game as fast as possible.
  3. In the final hour, we show how playtesting provides invaluable insights that help you improve the gameplay in the real world. Through the playtesting we identify some specific problems and then we present the solutions. Lastly, we extract a few lessons from the process that we can use on our next game.

Software platform

The mscape platform is a software toolkit for building, playing, and sharing discreet location-based games and rich media experiences for handheld GPS devices. Each “mediascape” can be opened in the editor so that everyone can see how it’s built. The non-commercial beta version of the software is freely available for download and use. And is a community-driven, sharing web site where many examples of games, tours, and other experimental locative media can be downloaded.


Patrick Goddi and Josephine Reid are Senior Researchers for HP Labs. Kurt MacDonald is an independent game designer.

Brief Outline

  • How to borrow from physical world games and video games.
    • Looking for game mechanics that are active, physical and social.
  • Portable versus anchored games.
    • Anchored games must be played at a specific location. The design integrates the local environment into the gameplay.
    • Portable games can be played anywhere. The design focuses on the relative movement of the players in an arbitrary space.
  • Adopt a mechanic.
    • Pick something simple and familiar (and fun)
    • Get people moving and help them understand “regions”
    • Give the player feedback: audio and visual
  • We choose “Whack-a-mole”
  • Build it
    • 3 holes
    • Player places holes, any number of configurations, some easy, some hard
    • Time limit to run to each hole before “mole” hides again
    • Whack as many moles as possible to get the highest score
  • mscape Implementation
    • Define objects:
      • Regions and pins
    • Define rules/logic for objects
      • On Enter region and exit region
    • Define events
      • GPS fix, region enter, region exit
      • “Mole” alert sound and picture
    • UI Design
      • Drop in images and video
      • Add audio for feedback on events
  • Play test
    • How big are the holes to start?
    • Use GPS error to increase the size of the holes?
    • What’s a reasonable and challenging time limit?
    • What happens when there are more than 3 holes? 4? 5?
    • Is there a way to make this game multiplayer? Or more social / competitive?
  • Share your game with the world!

Patrick Goddi


Patrick Goddi is a Senior Researcher at HP Labs in Palo Alto, CA. He is currently co-opting “non-game” environments for game play and developing pervasive game technologies.

Patrick has been developing next generation mobile services platforms at HP labs since 2000, most recently working on platforms for location-based media and pervasive games as part of the mscape team. His current focus is developing network services and network game mechanics for pervasive multiplayer games that utilize a variety of sensors and player contexts.

In past projects Patrick has worked on experimental gaming interaction models and interfaces including HP’s experimental multitouch gaming table: the HP Misto Table.

Photo of Kurt MacDonald

Kurt MacDonald


Kurt MacDonald is an independent experience/game designer as well as an occasional entrepreneur in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is trying to distill the secrets of creating fun, physical games that motivate people into moving outside and exploring new ways to play out there.

Over the past two years, he has worked closely with HP’s mscape project as an interactive design consultant and helped launch the nascent mscapers community this year. He was the lead designer for an interactive GPS tour about Yosemite built with mscape as part of a pilot program to test the format with visitors to the valley. Before all of that, Kurt was inspired to work on mobile media while earning an MFA at USC where he cocreated several experimental GPS projects with other students including: projectCAR: Mobile Confessional, Patholog, Chojo and MobZombies.

Last year, he cofounded a startup website,, and worked as creative director on the project which had a unique cinematic algorithm for automatically generating music videos from uploaded photos, videos and music.

Photo of Ben Clayton

Ben Clayton

HP Labs Europe

Ben Clayton works is a researcher for Hewlett-Packard Labs Europe which is based in Bristol, UK. He is part of a group which is looking into a form of location-based services which they call Mediascapes – a digital experience that overlays a virtual world over the physical landscape. Ben’s particular research focus has been to see how the process of authoring mediascape experiences can be simplified so that people from non-technical backgrounds can partake in this exciting new medium. Ben has been involved in a number of public research trials using mediascape technology for tour guides, gaming, entertainment & education.

  • Autodesk
  • Google
  • ESRI
  • Nokia
  • DigitalGlobe
  • Earthscape
  • LightPole
  • MapJack
  • MapQuest
  • MetaCarta
  • Microsoft
  • Poly9
  • Skyhook Wireless
  • TeleAtlas
  • Yahoo! Inc.
  • Zvents
  • BNet

Press and Media

For media-related inquiries, contact Maureen Jennings at

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