Music-Hall Chairs Interview: Tom Williams, A Door In A Wall

By Hazel Last edited 159 months ago

Last Updated 13 March 2011

Music-Hall Chairs Interview: Tom Williams, A Door In A Wall

With Music-Hall Chairs due to take place next Wednesday, we thought we should learn a bit more about Tom Williams, the gamesmaster and devising brain behind it all.

Tell us a bit about your self...

Outside my day job in The City, I run A Door In A Wall, a group that plan and run games that take place in the real world. Sometimes our games are big and cover large tracts of central London. Sometimes they're small and would fit inside half an hour. I've been organising treasure hunts and similar things for 4 or 5 years now and they've just kept getting more and more ambitious. At our last public game Foreign Bodies, we had 6 organisers, 2 runners, 8 actors and over 300 players who spent two days scouring the streets for clues and characters to help them unravel a fiendish murder mystery.

What is so great about games nights like Music-Hall Chairs?

It's the chance to do something different, something new. There's always a sense of excitement when playing a game you've never played before, whether it's as simple as Snap, or as complex as Civilisation. Working out the rules, the tactics and the interactions as you play is fun and engaging, especially when everyone's in the same boat. I must give credit here to the guys at Hide & Seek whose Sandpit nights have been hugely inspiring and the format of which I'm largely appropriating for Music-Hall Chairs.

Is there a game you've played which you wish you had thought of first?

I can't think of a whole game, but certainly parts of games: concepts, rule mechanics or clever use of technology. One thing I wish I'd thought of was the concept behind the game we co-ran at the V&A - An Expedition With Mr Mirrors. The narrative elements of that were written by the supremely talented guys at Failbetter Games who introduced the idea that players were amnesiacs trying to physically win back memories by solving puzzles, and the choices they made determined who you were, revealed at the end.

What would the BEST EVER GAME IN THE WORLD involve in your opinion?

The BEST GAME EVER IN THE WORLD needs to have two things. Firstly it needs to be simple to pick up. There's no issue with something getting more complicated later, as long as it always remains approachable - just look at Valve's Portal. By the end it's crazy, but at the start it's really easy to understand - each level teaches you new things. The second thing any great game needs is narrative. This can be a narrative just told to you, or one you write yourself as the game unfolds. The BEST EVER game would have an existing narrative you could influence, steering the course of larger events: Choose Your Own Adventure, writ large.

Have you had any thrilling disasters in a games night or large scale event?

Thankfully no epic fails. With the big games we always have clues that break or go missing - that's just the nature of them taking place in the public realm. Thankfully we're both experienced and paranoid so we tend to have backup plans for any obvious points of weakness. One of these days I'm sure I'll get arrested for leaving a 'suspicious package' somewhere!

What has been the greatest success you've had in the field of games so far?

The more elaborate 'set piece' clues we construct for the bigger games always bring a smile to my face - in Foreign Bodies our players experienced a hotel room murder scene, a chase through the backstreets of Seven Dials and an unexpected encounter with a mysterious motorbike courier.

Amazingly, each games has eclipsed the last, in terms of numbers of players and the ambition of the clue ideas. People seem to really love what we do and positive feedback only encourages us to try pushing the boat out even more. In our next big game Mob Justice, we're not only trying out a new narrative format based around a kidnapping, but we're running it on two weekends so there could be as many as 500 people who can play. It's a daunting prospect but the challenge is half the fun!

Try some new games with Tom and Londonist at Music-Hall Chairs at Wilton's Music Hall, Wednesday 16 March from 6.30pm. Free entry - come and play!