All posts by The Edge News

Meet Terii from the iStreet Crew

With the iStreet Media Lab now embedded in Inala with mervin, we’ve pulled together some of the great stories of who is using the gear and rad things they are getting up to. Terii, from Inala, has been busy fine-tuning his photography skills after being introduced to mervin and the Media Lab by his cousin. He was initially surprised at the capabilities and features of the bin, but after finding a camera in there, he has returned to an interest in them he once had as a child. Having forgotten some things about using cameras, he quickly picked up new skills using the Lab’s Canon DSLR camera. mervin has shown him a few tricks and is helping him work up the confidence to get out there and start taking photos.

Terii sat down with me and shared some insight into his life, the Media Lab, and how he has been engaging with it.


What did you think when you saw all the equipment in the bin?

I was shocked; I was speechless for like ten minutes. How did you make a DJ out of a bin?

Which equipment from the bin do you like using?

The camera, I’ve mastered every angle of the camera really quickly. I carried a cam around when I was five and forgot about it, but when I saw this one I came back to it, I thought I lost the way to use them but it all came back.

What else have you been using in the wheelie bin?

I’ve been putting all the photos on to the laptop and my cousin taught me a bit of the DJ things.

How do you think you would like to use the stuff in the bin in the future?

I want to make a calendar featuring the bin all around Inala and maybe come to The Edge, but change the signs to say iStreet.

So do you mean you think that the iStreet wheelie bin is a sort of mobile version of a place like The Edge?


Would you like to show the wheelie bin to more of your friends?

I’ve told everyone in Inala already, I told my brothers they didn’t believe me. I took a photo and showed him, and still didn’t believe, so I brought him here and that changed his mind. I should have made a bet (laughs).

If you could use the gear in the lab to do anything you wanted, what would that be?

Take it to a club or show little kids what we are doing. I would take it to schools and have classes and teach them what to do. When they get older they might be a photographer or something, I want to show them how to use the camera and other things.

What have you learnt during your time working with mervin and the gear?

I’ve picked up more camera skills and also how to use the deejay spinners. I learnt how to pack the bin up and get it all right.

Is this a new experience for you?

This is my first time to do stuff like this. When I carry that camera around I feel changed, and I want people to know what I can do.

What do you see yourself doing in the near or far future?

Hopefully taking people’s photos, like famous people in music.

Videogames: Levelling the playing field

Illustration by Josh Rufford

Do you own a computer? Do you also own a gaming console? Do you own more than one gaming console?

For most gamers these days the answer is yes, yes and yes. With technology getting cheaper and cheaper video games becoming more and more accessible, people are able to play the exact same game on their work computer, console and even on their mobile phone.

Multi-platform release games are the norm now with developers looking to have as wide a market as possible. Every salesman knows the first rule of selling is to make your product as easy to buy as possible and it works, sales from videogames are much higher from services such as Steam (PC/MAC), Xbox, PlayStation and iTunes App stores then any physical store.

You can buy a game while walking around during lunch, work, school or at home watching TV, but all this accessibility and great technology is starting to give rise to a new frustration in gamers.

How come when I purchase a game for the Playstation 3 I can’t play that exact same game on my computer without having to fork out another $100? Or why do I have to buy a digital copy of a game when I’ve already bought a physical copy for the same system?

Ten years ago the reason for this was obvious, every computer and console game were worlds apart from each other in hardware and often no two consoles would even have the same game. When deciding on a console you were signing up for all the exclusive titles that particular system would release. If you had told me in a few years Mario and Sonic would be hanging out with each other at the Olympics I would have called you a dirty damn liar, but in reality this is the world we live in now.

With these developments in mind, the future of gaming looks hopeful. Very soon every system will be able to play the same games as each other and they will all have some sort of digital platform for selling their games.

This could mean some very significant developments for the gamer.

Firstly, if you buy a game on one system you would be able to play a digital copy of it on all other major consoles (remember the first rule of selling? Make your product as easy to buy as possible). For instance, if I own Console A and have a long list of games for it, I’m less likely to purchase Console B or even newer models of Console A, because in the current system buying a new console makes you feel redundant if you can’t play games on it you’ve technically already paid for.

Secondly, every digital purchase could be connected to a universal account that could be accessed by every console or computer under that name. This would cause sales to rise astronomically. The reason for this is that developers lose millions of dollars a year because of pre-owned games. They can only make money off selling a physical copy of a videogame once, so if somebody sells that game back to a store or online then the developer will never see another dollar from that sale.

If games were all digital copies then there would be no way to sell or trade them, meaning every copy would see a profit to the developer and the consumer who bought it would get to have this digital copy virtually forever.

This isn’t just one gamer’s pipe dream, recently the Playstation 3 version of Portal 2 contained a free digital copy of the game for use on PC and Mac computers. Not only tha,t but the online co-op was compatible with all systems meaning that someone on a Playstation could play with somebody playing on a PC.

This sort of company cooperation is going to be a hard sell to organisations who believe the future security of their brand is through remaining totally self reliant, but they will soon find that once others begin to do it they wont have any other option as consumers will always opt for this consumer friendly system.

The Ironforge Library

Near the forge, which is the heart of the dwarf strong hold of Ironforge, is the library, gathering together dwarven histories so that the past is not forgotten.  It is a discussion space too, where ideas which have not been written into books can be shared and tested. The library is circular, with floor to ceiling books, some of them are scattered on tables for reading and research.  There is a librarian who will help with quests for further knowledge.  In the middle of the circular library, stairs draw one down towards the centre of the action as Gamr and L√∏b√∏, two visiting worgens start to speak about how they use board games in their school.  The worgens are toons being run by Christopher Harris and Brian Meyer, two school librarians from upstate New York who are talking about how their schools use board game as part of the education of the students, explaining how board game which match the curriculum are really important learning tools for students.  Brian and Christoper are the latest speakers in a series of talks which take place in World of Warcraft, in the Ironforge Library in the Saurfang realm.  These talks bring together library, IT and university staff to discuss how games can be used in our work environments.  These talks take place about every six weeks, and people need to have a subscription to World of Warcraft to participate.  This costs less than to going to a film.

The speakers are library workers, games researchers, and educators from Australia, Canada and the USA.  They allow access speakers it would otherwise be difficult to hear. The talks take place through in game instant messaging as this is the lowest technology entry point making it easy for new participants (and new players) to fully participate quickly.  It also means that full transcripts of talks are available for people who were not able to be present.  The talks are very interactive.  The lack of true body language somehow seems to make it easier for people to ask lots of questions.  There are a lot of actions and emotions which can be conveyed by the in game toons, but it is not the same as seeing someone in a face to face seminar.  The interactivity is impressive as people readily ask questions.  Speakers are briefed about the high levels of discussion, just so that they are aware of how it is likely to proceed.  All the speakers are highly experienced with games, not all have prior experience with World of Warcraft.  This has not been a barrier.  Not everyone invited to present in this environment is willing to participate (and there would be a lot of reasons for this), and some have mentioned concerns with this environment.  Other speakers have been very keen to present in World of Warcraft.

The transcripts of all the talks are available on a games and libraries wiki, usually on the same day as the talk.  Coming events are also posted.  Planning will shortly take place for the 2012 series of talks, so suggestions for speakers to include in this series would be welcome.  The talks have been running for just over a year, with participants from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA.

People are quoting from the talks, and referring to the ideas raised in them, just as they would if they had participated in a face to face seminar.  It has been very interesting seeing the flow on effect from a series of talks about games and libraries which takes place in a library in  game.

The next talk takes place 18 November.  Crystle Martin will be talking about cognition and learning in MMOs and the constellation of information that surround them, focusing on topics of literacy including information literacy. She is the lead project assistant for the PopCosmo research group led by Constance Steinkuehler and a member of Games+Learning+Society.  Come along and see what the sessions are like.  Information about how to participate is available from the Games and libraries wiki, and you can contact me for further information or if you have any questions about this.

The price of free-to-play gaming

Illustration by Josh Rufford

Illustration by Josh Rufford

As far back as 1971 people have been playing video games. Since then there has been an interesting shift in the way we interact with the games of today. No, I’m not talking about motion control, touchscreens or 3D gaming, I’m talking about Free-to-Play gaming.

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s, the only way to access and play a video game was via arcade machines. With an arcade machine you were required to pay money for each life you would use up in a game. This commercial system dictated the sorts of games that were being developed. Developers made games which often never had an ending and would become increasingly difficult very quickly, prompting the consumer to either purchase more lives or simply move along so somebody else could feed money into it.

When home gaming consoles became the norm you no longer paid the developer for each life. You would buy a game outright and, as the commercial system changed from the arcade model, so did the inherent mechanics of video games. Games began to have a clear start, middle and end giving a sense of closure to the game once it had been beaten. Often a game would be more about the experience than the challenge. This has been the general model since the birth of the home console and still is, for the most part, the way games are made.

The interesting shift of Free-to-Play gaming ironically was borne from the polar opposite of the concept – subscription gaming. Games such as World of Warcraft and EVE Online require a monthly fee to be paid AFTER purchasing the game from a store, which means that even though you may have bought a game outright, you must still pay money to the publisher in order to continue playing the game.

This is where it gets interesting. The games began to give rise to a black market which was formed outside of the confines of the developers’ intentions. People started “paying to win” – trading real-world money in exchange for in-game money or items. This allowed them to artificially get ahead in-game instead of earning it as the game intended. This market is basically the premise of the Free-to-Play model.

Now, almost every month a new game is released that is marketed as “Free-to-Play”, the most notable at the moment being Global Agenda, Spiral Knights, and Age of Empires online. These games are actually Free-to-Play, you can download them, jump online to do battle, and play with others. A lot of them are very fun but when it comes down to it, the developers are out to make money.

So, how do they do it?

By taking control of the market they can sell “non-essential items” to players so they can customize their characters if they wish to do so, or even sell rare or impossible to obtain in-game items in order to turn a profit.

This might not sound so bad, but as with the commercial model shift from arcade machine to home console, this new model means drastic changes to the way the games are made.

Free-to-Play games are often made to be very addictive and entertaining – up to a point. You can spend hours on a game and really enjoy yourself, but you will inevitably hit a brick wall where all of a sudden you’re not leveling up as much as you once were, and all the items you find seem pale in comparison to the items offered in the beginning.

They are partial games, a fact which is only revealed once you have already invested a significant amount of your time in the game, and so you are left with two choices: abandon the game, leaving behind all of your hard work, or start paying fees and micro-transactions to try and rekindle your enjoyment.

These series of micro-transactions begin to accumulate and, coupled with the time spent on the game already, will often snowball into spending even more time and money on it. The micro-transactions are similar to the pay-per-life scheme of the arcade machines and, like the arcade machine model, the games don’t have an actual end to them. Potentially, developers have combined the pay-per-life scheme with the convenience of home gaming, sprinkled it with an addictive substance, and removed any possible feeling of closure a player might have playing it.

It’s an almost diabolical system, but it’s still early days in Free-to-Play history, so who knows how it will develop in the future.

Let your gamer side out to play

Illustration by Christoffer Klungerbo

Next to “are games art?” (Yes, indeed) the other burning question that often leads to passionate debate amongst a certain crowd is what makes someone a ”true gamer” these days.  As a gamer since 1972 and collector since the 80’s, I can report that despite amazing leaps in technology and an ever increasing variety of titles available, the answer is still the same as it ever was. It’s not what types of games you play, it’s playing ANY game and enjoying them enough to keep coming back for more that’s key. You don’t need overpaid industry analysts, PR-created buzzwords like “casual” and “core” or social media sites to tell you this, just a bit of experimentation on your own. Whether you’re a fan of Cate West, or Call of Duty, you’re part of a nicely-sized crowd of normal human beings that loves interactive entertainment.

Even if you’re totally clueless as to the development process, you’ll soon find that most video games are layered artistic experiences designed to attract your attention and at least get you to take them for a spin. As with food and drink, experimentation is key to discovering what you’ll like. You won’t appreciate everything you taste, but you’ll often be surprised as something hits the right spots and brings a smile to your face. If you’re on the hunt for a deeper experience, fear not. Some of the best story-driven games can be as stimulating as a good book. Granted, one can argue the academic value of Plato is better brain food than an issue of Superman, or the deep emotional impact of Heavy Rain is superior to the well-hyped addictiveness of Angry Birds. Nevertheless, all stimulate enough grey matter to be rewarding at the end of the day.

Look carefully beyond the cosmetic appeal (or lack of it) and you’ll find similarities that leap at you across different genres. Some gamers on either side of the fence might not think much of titles outside their comfort zones. ”Casual” players who prefer family-oriented content may refuse to be lumped into the same category as those who play more violent games.  Some ”core” gamers hate the fact that a wider range of age groups are encroaching on “their” territory. Both camps, as well as the industry, should understand gaming has ALWAYS been for all. Granted, there is indeed content out there that’s absolutely not for everyone. But there are more than enough genres and sub-genres available that anyone can find his or her own niche without exploring areas they might find unsavoury.

Even the simplest game played on the way to school or work is cleverly training your eyes, brain and reflexes as you tap and swipe away while trying not to miss your stop. All games have the added benefit of being a form of language translated from design document, to code, to final product before being translated one more time by users playing the way they like. There’s a subtle learning process in every game that’s easy to miss, but can be quite rewarding once uncovered. Finally, a good game can help unlock one’s own creative energies, particularly if a player finds something that activates the urge to make art, music or writing based on their play sessions. Whether you follow the crowd or become a seeker of random experiences, there’s going to be a game out there just for you. In my next column, I’ll gently toss a few suggestions your way. While you’re waiting, absolutely do a bit of exploration on your own as you let your gamer side out to play. Of course, sharing your discoveries with others is highly recommended…

Interactive Card Game Table

Crafter, designer, gamer and all round geek, Isaac Englart, is the man behind the Picard Table. Isaac will be based at The Edge over the coming weeks, developing and testing this neat piece of hardware. Isaac will be keeping you posted on how his development journey to date is going. 

How would you feel playing a card game where you can actually see the explosions when your spaceships attack your opponent? Where your creature cards literally summon a creature who strolls over to your opponent and throws down a gauntlet?  Imagine if the table you are playing on recorded and displayed your current scores and kept track of the rules so it can make you aware of your wrong moves as soon as you make them.

My goal is to make this a reality with Picard Table.  The Picard Table is an interactive card table that uses a camera to track the cards you play and augments them and your game using the display embedded in its surface.

This post is the first in a series about the development of Picard Table’s second prototype leading up to its display at The Edge in November this year.  This post is an introduction to the project and a brief discussion about what its future will entail.

Prototype I

I am currently in my final year of a Bachelor of Information Technology at the University of Queensland.  Picard Table started as a group project for the final year Studio class “Physical Computing” during first semester this year.  It resulted in an exhibition here at The Edge where all of the projects from the class were displayed.

Picard Table

This semester I have taken another Studio class where we are able to choose our own individual project to develop.  I decided to continue work on Picard Table as I felt it did not reach its potential last semester.  While development is being continued on my own this time, the original team is still in the background and keen on continuing the project together once my assessment for the semester is over.

At the exhibition last semester my team and I managed to put together a polished prototype of Picard Table, however it lacked a lot of functionality that we initially hoped for; primarily the game play.

In the few weeks leading up to the exhibition we struggled to get the card tracking functioning reliably enough to be able to play the game we designed – Humans Vs Aliens.  Nevertheless we did manage to get the basic card tracking working as seen in this video from the exhibition:

Picard Exhibition Demo from Picard Table on Vimeo.

Prototype II

I am thrilled that Picard Table has been invited back by The Edge for display here at the end of the year.  Having been given a second chance to work on Picard Table this semester, I will be able to make several improvements to the system as well as focusing more on the card game itself.

First up, I will be re-designing the card game itself.  Since the initial idea, we always wanted to make sure that any game we developed for the system worked primarily as a physical card game before we augmented it with Picard Table.  This was true for the first version of the game, Humans Vs Aliens, but I felt the game was lacking and failed to engage the players other than the fancy effects of the table.  The basic premise of the game will still stand, that you play either aliens or humans and are fighting to destroy your opponent’s planet, but the mechanics will be reworked to make it more exciting for the players.

Secondly, the table needs to be able to see and control the game play.  I want the cards to interact with one another, and the table, smoothly and reliably.  This will require an overhaul of the whole basic system design and image tracking engine used.  Our initial prototype utilised Flash to create the basic system and game, and used a Flash based AR (augmented reality) tracking engine called FLARToolkit to track the cards.  We discovered in the first prototype that FLARToolkit was not fast or reliable enough for Picard Table.  For the new version Flash will still be used to create the game, but I will be looking at alternate ways to track the cards.

So as Picard Table progresses towards The Edge installation in November, I will be keeping you updated on my progress.  I hope it will provide you with some insight into Picard Table’s development.

You’re the publisher now

Building games

'Illustration by Kadir Kiraz

This three-part series written by Adam Corney, director of business at Brisbane gaming studio MiniMega, looks at the fundamentals you need to consider before you begin to develop your game as an independent developer. Spoiler alert: development starts waaay before coding...

Part 1 Building a Game | Part 2 You’re The Publisher Now

Back in nineteen-dickety-two when you launched a game, you had to make money from it straight away. You had investors and a publisher that gave you an enormous (or sometimes not so enormous) budget to create what few people in their lifetimes are capable of building: a successful mass-market title. It took you three years to build it – and your backers wanted to see their investment pay off.

Sometimes it flopped (Oh Duke, we had such high hopes).

Sometimes it succeeded (COD:MW2 made how much on launch day?!).

But it was always risky. You could lose that investment with one crucial gaming flaw.

Now, welcome to the internet and the complete opposite of the approach above.

You don’t need to make money just from the launch – you can make money as your players experience the game.

You don’t need big investors. You only need your own back pocket, or a few other back pockets, to create what many people in their spare time are capable of building: a minimum viable product that is constantly improving based on user interactions, feedback, and iterative development.

And it’s still risky. But you’ve got a lot more power over simple changes that can make or break your success story.

Publishers once ruled the land – they were the gatekeepers to the riches that awaited a game studio at the end of the development rainbow.

But now you’re the publisher, the walls have crumbled, and the rainbow has diffused across the land, spreading golden coins of joy to all and sundry.

Let’s focus on the newer style of sales model, and ask yourself: what do you want to make?

Some questions to help out:

  1. Are you building a single player or multiplayer game?
    • Single player: your customer is playing for entertainment. “I’m buying your game because I want to have more fun.
    • Multi player: your customer is playing for social reasons. “I’m buying your game because I want to have more fun with other people.”
  2. This then influences the next question: is your game free or paid?
    • If it’s free, are you doing it for funsies, or do you have revenue streams within and around the game to offset the development cost?
    • If it’s paid, how much do you want to charge? Do you have monetisation channels to support game sales, or will you only see revenue from the initial sale?
  3. And finally, since we’ve now decided to include some monetisation streams so we get paid for our work, what models are we looking at? Here are a few ideas:
    • Game subscription – player pays to play Eg. World of Warcraft
    • Community subscription – player pays to have access to more information and/or a premium game community Eg. Ye olde Battle.Net premium servers
    • In-Game Purchase – player pays for achievement/progress, status, or new content from within the game Eg. Downloadable content for consoles or in-app purchase for iOS
    • Advertising – you sell ad space within the game / around the game / before the game to advertisers

All of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are boundless revenue options when you’re the publisher.

Over in the UK, Nicholas Lovell of Gamesbrief has this to say about digital content sales (paraphrased):
“You’re not selling content. You’re selling feelings. You’re selling stuff that makes the player feel better about the purchase.  Make them think ‘I’m worth it. I can afford this.’ ”

But remember: the more you charge for a game, the more the player will feel entitled to some level of support and “free stuff” before they start paying for additional content or other sales-related items. And they’re right to feel that way too. You would.

So, at this point in our series: you have a need, you have someone to buy it, and you have an idea. You know what motivations a player has, either as a single-player or multi-player. And you know how you’re going to make money from your game. Time to start building, right? Wrong.

One more step to go: are you building a product, or a service?

These words mean just what I choose them to mean

The way we choose to talk about ourselves, about who we are and what we do, contributes not only to our own personal identity, but also to the identity of the culture we belong to. When we talk about ourselves as ‘gamers’ or as working in or aspiring to the ‘games industry’, we create certain expectations in those around us or boundaries around the discussion, even if we don’t mean to.

Both of those terms carry with them historical weight, but as time moves on, it can sometimes be useful to stop and reexamine them – to see if they still apply, and also to see if they’re still useful.

Let’s start with the audience: ‘Gamers’.

What does a person who plays games look like? If you delve into the statistics, they can tell you the shape of the ‘average gamer’, which sometimes, feels reassuring, but they can easily create a false sense of security. ‘We are all gamers then (or at least 68% of the population is) and it will only be a matter of time before everyone is like us.’

Unfortunately, that’s actually the least likely outcome of the increase in people who play games.

68% of the population equates to 14 million people. Try to imagine 14 million people agreeing on anything, let along all liking the same books or films or TV shows or music. Those 14 million people all play games, but they very likely wouldn’t class themselves as gamers. They don’t tell those sorts of stories about themselves or identify with some of the other aspects of a geek or nerd culture. They are just people who enjoy games, just as they enjoy movies or books or music.

The actual end-point of this increase in the number of people who play games is that the word ‘gamer’ will evolve to mean less and less an identity and simply become a description of what people do – amongst a whole other set of cultural engagement.

Which isn’t in any way a bad thing. This diversity opens up new opportunities and new audiences for creators, as well as creating a larger pool for the next generation of developers and artists to find what it is they want to do with their life. Even if they don’t identify themselves as ‘gamers’ in the same way that people do now.

Those same new developers are likely to step into quite a different space as the current games ‘industry’ – another shorthand word that is frequently used as a catch all term for everything associated in the creation, marketing, distribution, writing, and playing of games. Just as gamers are changing, the creation of games is changing too and it’s worthwhile reexamining whether or not using industry to describe so much of what happens is accurate – or useful.

Opportunities for game development have undergone huge shifts in the past few years. Everything from socially networked games, mobile phone gaming, motion control, digital distribution, free engines and middleware, crowd-funding, or alpha-funding, have all created an environment where previously boxed games funded by big publishers and sold on shop shelves is no longer the only way – or even the most desirable way – to create a game and find an audience.

Just like with ‘gamers’ there a greater diversity has evolved beneath the word ‘industry’ and the term no longer reflects all aspects of that. A 2-man team creating an iPhone game in their bedroom probably wouldn’t consider themselves part of an industry (and I imagine the industry wouldn’t either); an artist slaving away for the best part of a few years on a deeply personal project isn’t part of an industry; a writer reviewing or critiquing games is part of a different industry entirely; and an audience isn’t part of the creation process, – even if they might like to be, and even if sometimes they’re drawn – deliberately – into it.

And this is a good thing because greater diversity means greater choice – more ways to be part of the wider creative and artistic culture or, if you want, the industrial studio-led one.

I’ll admit, the world wouldn’t end if we continued to talk about things the same way, but sometimes adopted shorthands or stories sometimes don’t seem to fit properly. Sometimes you get older and how you identify yourself changes. A gamer at 16 may have other priorities by 20 or 25 or 30 and begin to try and find a better way to describe what they do. Someone coming from the ‘industry’ might be looking to break out, start something new, and find a better story to tell themselves about who they are and what they do.

The more options for stories we can tell ourselves, to find where in that growing population of 14 million people, the more diverse and engaged and personal we are, I think the better we can talk about what we care about to people who care too.




Library’s got game

Library's got game

Illustration by Rhiannon McLay

A library transformed through games; an interesting concept ripe for adventure. Using games as a way to engage and interact with library users has proven to incite discovery and collaboration. Not only this, but, games of this nature are designed to enhance the existing library experience. This means that the catalogue, books and borrowing still remain but are presented to users in a different way. Though libraries haven’t often been involved in the use and development of games there are a select few who have begun the revolution.

Public libraries often provide games for people to play as as part of their borrowable resources. Games can range from traditional board and card games through to console games for XBox, Playstation and more. It is only more recently that public libraries have begun exploring how to really use games as part of the whole library experience, acknowledging the validity of game playing as an end in itself and connecting players to reading according to their gaming tastes.

Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan USA is a leader in the use of games in libraries. Recently, in place of the typical summer reading program, Ann Arbor District Library ran a summer game. The game was not targeted at a specific age group and as a result people in their seventies were active participants, as well as many younger people. The game focused on many library related activities as a means of scoring points, for example using the catalogue, borrowing books and reading. It also rewarded participants’ exploration of the geograhpical area in a local studies contextl. The game drove people to use the library and its catalogue more frequently and expensively and it was fun. Parents also reported that their children were reading more.

Importantly, games in libraries can’t be tokenistic. The worldwide audience of gamers is huge, requiring that any games produced by libraries be fun and robust enough to stand up next to commercial counterparts. Ann Arbor District Library has provided an excellent example of an impressive game, designed and produced by a library, but there are many more.

New York Public Library, with their game Find the Future is helping the community discover the bredth and depth of the content of their collection. The game has been written around the experiences of 500 people who participated in a one night lock in at the librarywhere they explored the collection and created stories about it. Another example is Picture the Impossible, by the city of Rochester, which shows what is possible when a whole community plays a game (keep in mind that Rochester is home to the National Museum of Play). Finally, World of Temasek shows how information from libraries could be important for games. This game is set in 14th century Singapore and aims to teach people about the history of that time through a Massively Multiplayer Online game (MMO or MMOG). But games don’t have to be digitally based to connect to a wide audience. The three fold yarn game is a paper based way for people to discover items in the at their local library, linking items by connecting their stories.  These few examples start to show what is possible when libraries engage more deeply with games as discovery, collaboration and content creation tools.

Two national libraries are also doing similar things, one in a game and the other with games results.The National Library of Finland is using a game, Digitalkoot, has been very successful at involving people in the critical (but arduous) job of manually correcting online digitised newspapers, turning the task into one that is both fun and rewarding. The National Library of Australia also has a similar project to engage with crowdsourced newspaper digitisation corrections, without the formal games environment, though their Text Correctors Hall of Fame looks exactly like a games leader board.

As a final example, the Nordjyllands Historiske Museum in Denmark has a game played on mobile phones, connecting their four museum sites. The game is designed for children, who, playing Viking warriors, complete quests which help them learn about the history of the area. This is a great starting point for games which could help anyone explore the history of an area.

This game and the many other discussed point towards the potential for games in library settings. It would be exciting to see a game developed around the history of one area, which over time could have other areas added in as different local councils wanted to be involved. This opens up opportunities for collaborations around games, both from a developer and a user perspective. There are many exciting opportunities for libraries and game to develop together, and we are only just starting to see what is possible, and to consider who can be partners.

Can a Serious Game save the planet?

Illustration by Christine Sharp

Illustration by Christine Sharp

“I love eating croissants… being a baker must be 10 times as wonderful!”

This is the kind of naïve thinking that led me to making a computer game. While a croissant only takes 60 seconds to consume and is instantly satisfying, learning to bake good French pastry can take years of sweat, swearing and broken eggs. It’s the same with making games…minus the eggs.

Alternator is a futuristic online racing game, which inspires players to take an interest in clean and renewable technologies. The game came about thanks to ABC and Screen Australia’s serious games initiative. The brief was for filmmakers or screenwriters to team up with game makers to create a Serious Game.

I come from the film and TV side of the equation, including the creation of AFI award winning comedy show ‘Double the Fist’.  I had always wanted to make a game. I love playing games, I get seriously addicted, and I imagined making one was just like playing one only ten times more fun. Clearly I had never made a game before, and certainly not a Serious Game.

Serious Games… It sounds a bit like Boring Fun.

I know. The seemingly contradictory nature of the concept struck me the first time I heard it too.

A “Serious Game” is any computer game that has a primary purpose other than entertainment. Serious Games are designed for a variety of reasons: education, information, health, even advertising. You’ve probably seen those fun little animated flash games at the top of some websites that challenge you to test your hand eye coordination… the real purpose of those games is to get you to click the link. I hope others have fallen for it as many times as I have.

Teachers and parents have known for centuries that games are a great way to encourage children to learn, but as our digital capabilities have increased the rest of the world has finally realised the incredible power of games to change thinking and behavior.

How do you make a Serious Game?

Games use all of the core aspects from film making; script, character, story, theme; and add the complexity of audience interactivity and multiple options. Serious games then add the extra complexity of a specific outcome for the player.

Being a novice game maker, I made sure I did plenty of research before starting development. Basically I spent weeks playing games! It was tough. Luckily there were plenty of Serious Games out there to test (I’ve included some links at the end of this post). I decided very quickly what made a great Serious Game.

It was simple.

Make sure it’s a great game! Even though the primary focus isn’t entertainment, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be just as entertaining as a regular game. You could have the greatest message in the world, but if no one wants to play your game the message will be lost, so I knew we had to make a game that was first and foremost 100 percent awesome fun to play.

There’s often a lot of doom and gloom surrounding the future of the planet, so I wanted to go against the negativity and create something that gave young people a feeling of optimism by showcasing some of the amazing planet saving inventions that exist right now! Using the fast action of car racing felt like the perfect game genre to do this.

Racing games are usually all about gas guzzling. We took a lot of the classic racing game structure and twisted it to our theme. You can drift around corners to create boost energy, which is pretty standard for car games, but in Alternator if you don’t use the boost, any extra energy you make is sold back to the grid for extra cash!

The Team

We put together a small, but highly skilled team of people that spanned across Australia. Producer Dean Tuttle and I are based in Sydney. John Welsh, our serious games expert and co-producer was in Adelaide. Our music and sound FX team were from NSW. And our core game developers were based in Brisbane. Check out some of the work our Brisbane devs have also done.

We also had plenty of support from around the world. Scientists and engineers from every corner of the globe contributed to the game. We were lucky to have American gaming guru Noah Falstein as a mentor. Making Alternator has been truly collaborative on a global scale.

Because Alternator straddles the present and the future, we designed all of the game elements to reflect this.

The music, sound FX, and art design, are wild and futuristic and like nothing you’ve seen or heard before, but they all have links to today. For instance, one of the music tracks combines, a beat boxing didgeridoo with digital distortion, slide guitar and synthesised metal chords. It rocks!

We wanted the upgrading of the car to happen in a way that we’d never seen in any other car racing game. We fell in love with the concept of the upgrades creating the shape of the car. Milenko Tunjic our car designer, went to town and came up with some amazing designs around that idea. We had to work very closely with Shawn Eustace our Art Director, to make sure the concepts were achievable in 3D.

The Serious Bit

As well as being a great fun online racer, the game needs to deliver on its ultimate aim of inspiring players about the amazing world of planet saving technology that exists today.

Developing the serious side was a massive undertaking, we wanted to avoid it feeling like two separate elements; a car racing game and then some information about renewable energy. A lot of serious games fall into this structure, which is less than ideal.

All the game experts I spoke to while making Alternator gave me the same advice: “Never let the player take their hands off the controls”. Games are an interactive art form. We didn’t want players to stop having fun to read a Wikipedia entry. So we spent a huge amount of time with the team to crack the solution for keeping the learning aspect tied intrinsically to the game play.

The game is set 50 years in the future. Scattered around the race tracks are ‘tech pods’ which you must find and collect. Each one of these pods contains a different clean technology to discover. As you unlock these new inventions for your car the game flashes back to the present to show you the real technology it’s based on.

In fact researching these technologies was one of the most exciting parts of working on the game. I had no idea just how many amazing inventions are out there, and so many sound like they’re from a science fiction movie.

Solar panels made from spinach. Batteries made from viruses. A craft launched into the air with lasers. Even flying cars! And there’s plenty more in the game.

And the reward for unlocking all of this amazing technology? You get to use them. The game takes these inventions 50 years into the future, and they become the upgrades that help your car drive faster, drift better, and fly higher. It’s really cool!

From conception to completion has been a two year process. While it’s not as instantly gratifying as playing a game, making Alternator has been ultimately been a much more rewarding experience. Especially knowing that the effects will be longer lasting and much better for players than a buttery croissant!

But can it save the planet?

In ten days you can play it and let me know what you think. In a month I’ll let you all know how successful we were.

In the meantime, check out the website for more info or check out some of these serious games for inspiration:

California’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)
National Geographic games
World without oil
Virtual world solar challenge

Habitat Heroes