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Small Time Inspiration

Small Time Criminals draws on the tropes and traditions of classic heist fiction. We asked the design team to tell us what’s inspired them.

Kevin Turner (Game Designer)

The film I bring up most in meetings is Ocean’s Eleven. I really think it’s the quintessential bank heist film; there are others like The Italian Job or Inside Man which are also great, but Ocean’s Eleven has the right tone. We want players to walk out of Small Time Criminals feeling like George Clooney’s crew. I also keep bringing up the videogame Fallout 4 (Bethesda). I want players to be able to hack into computers, open boxes, to explore a fully realised world. There’s also the tabletop roleplaying game Fiasco (Jason Morningstar, Bully Pulpit Games) which is so much fun; in a game like that you talk through what we want to have players actually do in Small Time Criminals!

The 2001 remake of Ocean's Eleven, starring George Clooney and a bunch of his mates.

The 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven, starring George Clooney and a bunch of his mates.

Anastassia Poppenberg (Set and Props Designer)

I’ve mostly been collecting a lot of images on Pinterest! But I have also watched a lot of heist films. I love the part in The Italian Job where the acrobat come up into the vault, leaps over all the lasers and ends up propping himself up in a doorway, it’s so over the top and ridiculous! I like the level of absurdity, though having never robbed a bank myself I assume the real version would be much less glamorous.

Ben McKenzie (Game Designer)

My favourite heist film is the original The Italian Job, though since they rob a bunch of armoured cars and the focus is the escape through the city, sadly I don’t think it’s very applicable! But one of my biggest influences for this are the adventure games I loved growing up in the early 90s: The Secret of Monkey Island, Simon the Sorcerer, Day of the Tentacle. Text adventures too, like Zork or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. They don’t feel like puzzles, they feel like problem solving: “I have to stop this thing falling into this hole, so I need to block the hole with something, but it needs to be something soft…I have a towel!” Even the more bizarre ones have a logic by which you can work out what to do, guided by the things you find and hints in your environment. At least the good ones do; I have a big LucasArts bias, there won’t be any “walk left and suddenly you die” moments in Small Time Criminals like you used to find in the Sierra games!

Sayraphim Lothian (Experience Director)

We watched some films, including Ocean’s Eleven, some late-80s/early-90s heist films, and The Heist (2001) with Gene Hackman, which does what it says on the tin! The opening scene was particularly good. But the inspiration for Small Time Criminals as a whole was me playing Thief on the Playstation 3. The story is fairly linear, but one of the side things you can do is just break into places and nick stuff. I was really enjoying that, and Rob was watching me play and thought “How good would it be if we could do this for real?” I also play the Assassin’s Creed games, and got into the stealth genre with Dishonoured, and elements from those games also helped form the original idea. Now we’re growing that seed and making it better!

Robert Reid (Artistic Director, Head Writer)

I like old-fashioned heist movies: I prefer the original versions of The Italian Job, Ocean’s Eleven, The Thomas Crown Affair…I’m watching the remake of that at the moment, and I thought “oh no, he’s talking to his shrink, this is going to take forever”, but then they get straight to the heist, which was good! But I still prefer the original. More than those, though, I’m drawing on things like The Wolf of Wall Street and the UK version of The Office. There’s a kind of run-down nastiness to those characters and those worlds that I find really evocative and interesting. And the other thing is the financial crisis: the actual global financial crisis. I really love the idea of an immersive, interactive performance work where you can get your own back on the people who nearly destroyed the world. The 99% are an influence. My old politics are still part of my art!

Small Time Criminals will open in Preston in April, and is crowdfunding on Pozible until 4:39 PM on March 17, 2016. Find out more and pledge to support the project at

Interviews with Robert Reid, Sayraphim Lothian and Ben McKenzie

During This Is A Door in 2012, film maker James Tresise interviewed Robert and Sayraphim about their work, what Pop Up Playground is doing and why it’s important.

Interview with Sayraphim Lothian from James Tresise on Vimeo.

Interview with Robert Reid from James Tresise on Vimeo.

Earlier in the year, James also interviewed Ben McKenzie about games and play

BenGameMechanic from James Tresise on Vimeo.

Playing in Public With Pop Up Playground (Wired interview)

Playing in Public With Pop Up Playground

By Daniel Donahoo

Playing with my kids is probably the finest thing I get to do with my life. From boardgames to roleplaying through to wrestling the youngest on the bed and wandering through Minecraft servers with the older boys. I love to play (what GeekDad doesn’t?). Importantly, GeekDads know that play need not be something that stops at childhood. In Melbourne, Australia, there is an organization interested in helping all adults re-engage with play.Read More

Drawing Room: Generational games (Radio National interview)

The podcast for our Artistic Director Robert Reid’s interview on Radio National is now online for your listening pleasure. It also features comedian Dave O’Neil talking about the playful (and slighty unsafe) things he used to do in the name of ‘play’ as a child…

This Is A Door (Beat interview)

“Games are just agreed sets of temporary behaviour out of which sequences of individual choices and lived experience emerge and become stories of tragic loss and heroic triumph,” says Robert Reid, co-founder of Pop Up Playground. Together with Theatre Works, Pop Up Playground is staging a “social, reactive and immersive” new production this coming weekend – one that harnesses the power of games to help the audience learn something about themselves.Read More

Eaglemont duo engage with audience (Heidelberg Leader interview)

AN EAGLEMONT performer will ask audience members to become part of the show during a unique three-day carnival this weekend.

Robert Reid, who has joined forces with fellow Eaglemont resident Sayraphim Lothian, will run This is a Door at St Kilda’s Theatre Works from Friday to Sunday.

The 35-year-old said the concept swapped actors and scripts for social games and play, using them to engage people within a group.Read More

The play’s the thing: let the adult games begin (The Age interview)

The play’s the thing: let the adult games begin

July 23, 2012


Melbourne is set to host its first games carnival.

AN EMERGING art form comes into the spotlight next weekend when the public is invited to take part in Melbourne’s first games carnival, This is a Door, at St Kilda’s Theatre Works.

”It is difficult to describe because people immediately think of video games or perhaps board games if they can imagine adults playing games at all,” says comedian and actor Ben McKenzie, one of three people who created Pop Up Playground which is organising the three-day event (the others are Sayraphim Lothian and her fiancee, playwright Robert Reid). ”There really isn’t a proper term for it yet.”

The theatre’s large space will be turned into a festive arena with bunting, lighting and sound for people to join in playing a series of games that include trying to stop someone jumping off a building, putting out the great fire of London and inventing ways to disrupt a wedding ceremony.

McKenzie says in contrast to the anonymity of conventional theatre audiences, the aim is to get people to participate.Read More

This Is A Door – Game On! (Vulture interview)

This Is A Door – Game On!

July 17, 2012 by Jack in Latest News, Things To Do with 0 Comments

For three days and nights This Is A Door will take over St Kilda’s Theatre Works, transforming the performance space into a “public playground” – a carnival of interactive, large scale games to encourage the playfulness, creativity and curiosity that come to us so naturally when we’re young, but that we tend to lose as we get older.Read More

Pop Up Playground (Deep Fun interview)

Pop Up Playground

by Bernie DeKoven on July 17, 2012

Everything we know about Lemon Jousting was provided by Sayraphim Lothian and Robert Reid. Sayraphim and Robert are with an organization, in Australia, called Pop Up Playground, the most recent recipients of the coveted Defender of the Playful award.

Read More

Lemon Jousting (Deep Fun interview)

Lemon Jousting

by Bernie DeKoven on July 16, 2012

“Lemon Jousting,” explains Sayraphim Lothian of Popup Playground, is a game that came to them courtesy of Tassos Stevens from the UK company Coney. “The rules,” she continues,

“are pretty simple, you have two wooden spoons and a lemon, the object of the game is to bat other people’s lemons off their spoons while keeping yours on. You can steady your lemon with your other spoon, but you can’t clamp down with both spoons and run about, if you are clamping you have to stand still. The players can have three lives, or it can be a round robin, but usually it’s just played til everyone is wrecked.Read More