If Only was an educational experience for teenagers on environmental issues, a story with a real life puzzle elements. It was developed by Interactive Places, who make location-specific phone apps for heritage sites, museums and galleries, in both rural and urban settings. The game begins with a video transmission from the future giving players a mission to help save the world. The mission has a number of puzzle based tasks all of which require physical interaction; riding a bike, clapping, navigating a gesture controlled maze. Each puzzle unlocks another part of the story presented as video. This is an experiment that shows the potential for two way interplay between virtual and physical worlds through not only using sensors to input to the game system but linking it up to actuators as outputs back into the world.
COOKING TIME: 6 months
Focusing on games and sensors rather than the story provided a framework with the potential to be used in a range of other possible ways to provide a good mix of familiarity and surprise in a learning environment.
These games can be interlinked by an overarching narrative with interactive scenarios that provide school children with challenges that are both enjoyable and educational.
Funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board as an experiment in sensing and actuation on the iPhone platform.
Hold a workshop with a group of 12-14 years olds to test concepts. The content of the story and games, climate change, must appeal to the target audience.
Using feedback from the workshop, design a set of climate-change-related games linked together with a storyline. At this stage each game follows the same procedure:
• enter game region;
• receive video call;
• find source of game instructions (video tells you how);
• listen to/watch instructions;
• complete game;
• receive score and store information gained;
• move onto the next region.
Test these games indoors or outdoors using a mixture of WiFi and GPRS to provide connectivity to a central server.
Choose six themes to keep the games relevant to climate change and associate different sensing technologies with each one:
• Transport – To complete the game the player has to cycle a fixed distance on an exercise bike. The game is started by ringing the bicycle bell.
• Clothes – The players identify sustainably produced items from a range of clothes on display using a sonar-like system. The iPhone emits a pulsed audio tone which is received by hidden microphones in the relevant clothes. A shop bell is used to initiate the game.
• Deforestation – By showing the iPhone display to a tree fitted with a webcam/light sensor, information is revealed on the iPhone when the display is recognised.
• Travel – In response to correctly answered multiple choice questions on the iPhone, UV painted signs are illuminated by UV lights.
• Energy – Strategically placed QR codes are associated with different energy sources. The iPhone reads the codes, causing a call to be made to the iPhone in which the information is given as a verbal message.
• Food- In a similar design to the Energy game, bar codes on food products are read by the iPhone.
Design the experience so that each of these games has a consequence; a video sequence on the iPhone can be used to demonstrate the effect of the games.
Trial the game with a group of 14 year olds. Ensure they participate in pairs to encourage collaboration. Following this, conduct a feedback session and isolate the elements that are the most and least popular.
Use this feedback to have a radical re-think of the project.
Note that to retain the prime emphasis of the story promoting the need to tackle climate change you would need to switch to a younger audience. Alternatively, make major changes, for instance switching relevant importance of game and story so that the games become the focus, not the story and theatrical elements.
Either way, improve the reliability of the experience.
Decide to work on games that are ‘fun’ and provide a greater challenge to the player.
Incorporate external sensors to work with the iPhone and then try to weave the games into the climate change story.
To improve reliability, use WiFi for as many games as possible, abandon the use of headphones, and restrict the overall game area to a number of indoor rooms. Ensure that there is space in each room for a small audience to view each game as it is being played.
Develop games that are intended to be collaborative with ideally two players, and also be entertaining to watch.
Each game will provide solutions to parts of an overall puzzle with top scorers winning prizes, and can be played more than once if desirable.
Retain the structure as previously developed of an initiating event and a video introduction to each game.
Make sure that game instructions are also shown on-screen to assist the players, with a menu that allows them to select each game.
For a final test, invite back the initial group of 14 year olds. Present the six games in an interface shown after an introductory video from one of the characters (Gaia) to set the scene of the story.
Technical difficulties may prevent you from testing all the games, but still collect feedback from all testers.
To finish, consider a future version of the game based on the user testing and feedback.
Variations could attempt to increase the learning element while retaining the ‘fun’ aspects of the games.
There could also be a greater element of jeopardy introduced such as a (virtual) security guard constantly pursuing the players. Apart from the Hidden Symbols, the games were set up in empty rooms and which would have benefited from more attention to the environment to increase the sense of immersion.
In the future consider the focus on the games and sensors rather than the story as a framework that has the potential to underpin a range of possibilities providing a good mix of familiarity and surprise in a learning environment.
Loved the Theremin, I just thought I love that interaction mode. I don’t know how long going around the maze chasing doughnuts would have done it for me but the interaction was fantastic, I love it yes.
You weren’t being asked to do something that you’ve never done before in your life, you’re just doing it in a different way for a different reason.