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Game Design On Demand. Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

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Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

Filtering by Tag: low budget games

PLATFORMS!! Building games without a dev team

Kellian Adams

three apps
Serious-Play-Conference
Serious-Play-Conference

This week, I’m off to the SeriousPlay conference, another once of my favorite organizations in the Games for Good movement. (My other favorites are Games for Change and the Games, Learning and Society conference, which I STILL Haven’t been to!)

SeriousPlay is seriously awesome. Last year Jesse Schell was a speaker- and he was inspiring as always. But I think the most inspiring thing was watching him in the hallways on calls and on his laptop feverishly managing his Schell Games team to get games out the door- just like the rest of us. We’re all putting in the hours to get good stuff into the world!!

So that said, for this Serious Play conference I wanted to talk about PLATFORMS— to increase our efficiency and flexibility in getting that good stuff out into the world. I think platforms give us the ability to get MOAR good stuff out there. You may say “what is a platform?” Fear not- I’ll go through all the basics.

So What’s a platform?

When you build a game, there’s a million ways that you can do it but I like to boil it down to two main approaches

#1: You can hire a team and build something unique from scratch. This is awesome when you have either an in-house dev team, a genius volunteer developer or gobs of liquid cash to hire a really good for-hire dev team to work with you.

#2:  You build off of an existing online platform and customize the content to make it unique. This is great when you’re short on resources but long on ideas- and who isn’t?

But since a picture tells a thousand words. Building from scratch looks like this:

javascript_codecomplete
javascript_codecomplete

Building on a platform looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 5.05.05 PM
Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 5.05.05 PM

Platform projects vs. Custom Built projects

So there’s a lot to be said for a custom-built project. Most of the big-deal projects that you see are custom built. Things like Candy Crush, Angry Birds, Portal, Minecraft, big AAA games- these are all custom-built projects with an in-house dev team. If your kid is paling a game by Disney or Toca Boca, that’s custom-built.

toca_teaparty-286131
toca_teaparty-286131

But you might be surprised about some projects that ARE built off of platforms. Murder at the Met was built off of a platform (TourSphere/On-Cell) as was Planet Mania (the Baltimore Science Center built their own platform) as was Play the Past (Aris). Pretty much every indie game out there right now is built off of a platform called Unity. Unity is so complicated that it might as well be a programming language but technically, it’s still a platform. Some very big brands like Ebay and Yahoo, groups that have plenty of cash- but still choose to keep their blogs on a platform, Wordpress: http://www.wpbeginner.com/showcase/21-popular-brands-that-are-using-wordpress/

LaunchScreen_r6
LaunchScreen_r6

Why would I use a platform?

The fact that Ebay and Yahoo use a platform for their BLOGS is a tip-off. Platforms are really best if you expect to have to change or edit or update your content. (Which, when you’re any sort of educator is pretty much always.) Platforms are usually created to be simple enough that anyone can get in there and add change or update content: you don’t have to hire a developer to custom program every new sentence.

If you’re flexible and creative enough to figure out how to shoehorn quality content into existing frameworks, platforms can cut both your production time and budget in half. MORE than in half. With platforms, I’ve seen really quality projects go out the door in under 2 months. This is possible for custom projects… but highly unlikely.

Last but not least, platforms let your content scale if you happen to be an organization with a lot of content. Say for instance, you build a custom-coded game for your renaissance exhibit. Once you’re done, it’s done. But if you happened to build that same project on a platform, now you know how it’s done and you can rotate your content monthly and make similar games with content from other exhibits. You can even edit it if new pieces come into your collection or make change if you find (God forbid) that visitors are responding to a different part of game than you’d predicted.

Why would I not use a platform?

Sometimes you have a very clear idea of what it is that you want. (I want Angry Birds with asteroids. That is what I want, I will be seriously bummed out if what I get is not exactly that.) Platforms force you to be super flexible with your content. Most platforms will work with you to try and make their platform do what you need it to do but a certain amount of flexibility is essential or else you’ll go crazy trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.

square-peg-round-hole1
square-peg-round-hole1

What are some platforms I should check out? 

App-Builders:

An App-building platform is usually an online site that will let you drag-and-drop content and then publish it to an app or mobile website. My app-building platforms of choice are TourSphere (Now On-cell) and Tapwalk. On-cell lets you build out great interactive stories with beautiful visuals. Tapwalk has a pretty robust background engine to let you build content-heavy mobile interactives. We’re building a great game with TapWalk now that’s similar to a “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” with probably over 400 screens and multiple, multiple pathways. It would’ve taken a ridiculous amount of time and money to custom code it. YAY platforms!!

Site-Builders:

Okay so this isn’t exactly for games (I guess technically neither is an app-builder) but if you have an idea for something that you want to include in your game or interactive project, you can create a quick blog or website on Wordpress or Squarespace. There are a million others like Wix or Weebly as well but I think Wordpress and Squarespace are the easiest to work on. One of the projects I’m working on decided we wanted to have the characters blog and use the website as a way to unlock information. It’s really easy to build something like that on Wordpress, all you need is content and some time to build it.

Text-based Story Builders

Did you ever play one of those 1990 room-escape text-based computer games? The text describes everything “you’re in a room, you see a table, a desk and a window” … the curser waits. You type “open the window” it responds “the window is locked”. You can build these! Quest is a free online platform that will let you create exactly these choose-your-own adventure stories. For a mobile version, try something like Guide By Cell, the platform that Rev Quest at Colonial Williamsburg. http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/do/special-events/revquest/

rev quest
rev quest

Mobile Games

Full disclosure: I built a platform. I did. It’s the Edventure Builder and it’s awesome and I love it. I am not objective about it. There's a floating balloon that I will not pretend not to be completely enamored with: www.edventurebuilder.com. The Edventure Builder does all the things that I need it to do- it’s a fast, flexible jack-of-all trades mobile web platform. It was not built to be drop dead gorgeous, it was built to be a workhorse of a platform and you can build pretty much anything on: scavenger hunts, choose your own adventures, interactive stories, quizzes, personality tests, all sorts of stuff. Here are a few games you can play with it: www.edventurebuilder.com/americanart, www.edventurebuilder.com/filive, www.edventurebuider.com/joslyn.

three apps
three apps

But I’d be totally dishonest if I said the Edventure Builder is the only story-based mobile game building platform out there- we’re just the one that does what I need. Others are Stray Boots https://www.strayboots.com , a great scavenger hunt company that started as content creators and now they let you build content. There are a bunch of fun apps that will let you build uber simple scavenger hunts like Museum Hunt or Aware Square http://playawaresquare.com

Video Games

Say you want to build an actual sprite-based video game: a Toca Boca or a Candy Crush of your own. You can do that! Game Salad is a good place to build some really simple image-based games, though it takes maybe an hour or two to figure out. Scratch is a platform that you can get up and running on ASAP but the games will be really basic. Construct2 is pretty straightforward to build on and lets you include some nice graphics. Here’s an overview of game building engines for Indie Gamebuilder: http://nuverian.net/2011/01/17/the-best-game-engines-for-indie-game-developers

behaviors-panels-01
behaviors-panels-01

So out of all of these, what can you start playing with NOW??! Good question! Quest is free and you can get in right away. Edventure Builder is a licensed platform but you have some connections (me!) so I’d be happy to set you up with a tester if you want to play. Scratch is completely free and you can start building with it instantly. The others take a little more time and effort to learn how to build with but definitely all worthwhile. Did I miss any platforms? Have you built with any of these and what have your experiences been?? (Especially the video games, I have yet to build a full game on any of the video game platforms and I'd love to hear about it if anyone went through the soup-to-nuts process!)

So what are you waiting for??! Go build a game!!

No budget? No excuses! 12 game prompts for limited budgets

Kellian Adams

49425258
49425258

I love museum games. But I often hear "We have zero budget and therefore, we can't build anything." I see why people would think  you can’t have playful, interactive experiences for your visitors if you’re not a large organization but I hate hearing it because it is just completely and absolutely not true.

Meaningful play can absolutely be built with no budget at all. All it takes is a little bit of time, some clever ideas and a willingness to test prototypes. If your visitors like it, that gives you the momentum to try again- and again- until maybe your board takes notice and says, “hey! Visitors are really responding to this, why don’t we give you some help?”

In fact I bet can think of a dozen ways that you can be building playful interaction in your museum even with no budget, a small collection and being short of staff. Do you dare me? Well then… challenge accepted. Here are 12 FREE things you could be building right now for free to make your space more fun and interactive.

1. Choose your own adventures:

choose-your-own-frac-sand-adventure-picture
choose-your-own-frac-sand-adventure-picture

Remember those awesome books where you get to decide where to go next? You can make those with a paper and pen. “There are reports that X museum is being haunted by the ghost of X. You’ve been recruited to investigate. Enter the main parlor. If you investigate the cabinet, turn to page 2. If you pass through to the dining room, turn to page 5”. If you’ want a digital version, check out the wonderful (and free!) Quest http://textadventures.co.uk/quest and write a computer-based choose-your-own text adventure.  Let visitors play through the settings of your paintings, time periods, through the perspective of one of your historical characters or from the point of view of an atom.

2. Clipboard games:

Leave behind clipboards with paper and a pencil tied to a string. Let people leave (respectful) messages, questions or observations for other visitors. Have them draw pictures of artifacts and let others guess what they drew. Use it to create an “exquisite corpse” game where they start a story about an artifact or historical event, fold the page over and let other people continue it. Put your exquisite corpse histories on FB, your blog or your website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse (The Baltimore Art Museum is doing a great job of this on their blog http://blog.artbma.org.) Lots of stuff can be done with clipboards!

3.  Twitter games. 

tumblr_n02ooilXX71skfk58o1_500
tumblr_n02ooilXX71skfk58o1_500

Take a close-up pictures of your artifacts and let people guess what they are. (This was one of the Smithsonian’s favorite games for a while.) @Midnight is doing an amazing job of twitter games right now with “Hashtag wars” where they give challenges like “#sadtoys” (answers: Strangers with Candy Land, Really Really Really Hungry Hippos” http://nypost.com/2014/02/06/crowdsourced-hashtagwars-have-midnight-owning-twitter/) Museum hashtag wars? For instance, #failedarttoys. (possible answers: Jackson Polluck Rubik's cubes...Rothko paint-by-numbers)

4. Game Jams!!

Don’t want to build a game? Let your visitors do it for you. Set aside 48 hours and challenge your visitors to create the best scavenger hunt, choose-your-own adventure or interactive tour of your space. We just ran Edventure Builder game jams with kids at the Field Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History with some great results! The MIT Museum had an excellent board game jam as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. Set aside a time invite familes, arm them with a bunch of junk and a piece of cardboard and you might be surprised what they come up with! The best part is that they bring other visitors back to your space to play their games. http://www.greenapplecamps.com/events/

5. I spy

5862194692_f6a4f87feb_z
5862194692_f6a4f87feb_z

The Getty is running a great digital version of ISpy called Switch  http://www.getty.edu/games/switch/ but Gore Place in Waltham Mass is also running a fabulous, simple paper-based version with questions like “find a chair back that looks like this”. You can create your own “switch” with simple digital pictures, some photoshopping and a printer.

6. VTS is a GREAT GAME! 

Challenges to help people look at art, and they’re also good play. Give folks a clipboard with questions on them or add them to whatever platform you have to deliver content. “Name as many colors as you can in this photo until you run out. Whoever gets the last one wins.” “What is the person in this picture thinking?” http://www.vtshome.org

7. Themes: 

Follow a theme through a museum- this is really fun because when you have a hammer, everything is a nail. If you send people through your space all looking for different things: eyes, pyramids, eagles, skulls, the color red, even you’ll be surprised how much they find.

8. Photo hunt: 

If you can have pictures taken in your collection, there’s a lot of fun that can be had with that. Give people a list of photos that they have to take during their visit but make it super vague: The Bluest Blue, Me and My Fine Arts Doppelganger, Me and Elma Mae— see what they come up with and encourage them to send you their photos. Post them on your FB page and give prizes for the photos with the most likes.

9. Timelines:

hstry.org is a great place to build (free!) digital interactive historical timelines. Feeling non-techie? Create your own post-it note timelines near your exhibits and let your visitors add their own. Add a clothesline with some pins and put out index cards for visitors to add a new event to the timeline and clip it into the line. Start with something you’d like to add in 1: Louisa May Alcott is born….. (empty space) 20: Louisa May Alcott Dies. Encourage people to fill in the blanks and rearrange each other’s input as they add to it.

10. Borrow and share:

moma2
moma2

Museums are building great stuff and more often than not, they’re building it open source to share with YOU! Look around to see what you can use from other museums before you reinvent the wheel. The MoMA’s “everyone’s a critic” is open to use: http://www.instituteofplay.org/work/projects/everyones-a-critic-2/ (In fact they just tweeted yesterday “use this in your museum!”) Incorporate existing games into your museum experience like “Play Brave” missions http://www.playbrave.org or “Ingress” locations. http://www.ingress.com

11. Abuse college students

If you’re in New England and you don’t have a student intern in your space well then you’re not utilizing your resources. Even if you’re not in New England, I would wager there’s probably a college or high school closeby with intelligent young people who would love to build their resume by making something fun for your organization. Reach out to these organizations! I find it’s best to be very targeted: if you say “we want a game”, you may get a lot of starry-eyed post-teen writers. But if you go to a professor and say, “We’re a respected cultural organization, we’d like an experimental history game for families to play in August and it needs to be paper-based. Do you have any crackerjack students who could play with it for credit or a resume builder?” then see what you get!

12. Cannibalize other games

I think the folks at the incredible Fablevision said it best (and I steal their line all the time) “the best games have known game dynamics and market-quality graphics.” We might not be able to get the market-quality graphics with our time and budget but we can give folks a twist on something they already know and love. Murder at the Met was successful because it built on a game that people knew: Clue. Candy Crush is just a variation on Bejeweled. Tate Trumps looks like a card game. Use simple games that people like to play: monopoly, go fish, 20 questions and make simple, paper variations on these games that use your space. Remember your goal is to have people learning and having fun, removing barriers to entry and letting people be more comfortable with art, science, history and culture so if you have to cheat a little and give people something they recognize to get there, that’s a-okay.

49425584
49425584

And last but not least, TALK! Follow hashtags like #musegames,  #musetech and #G4C (games for change.) Connect with people like James Collins who’s heading up the search for better learning games at the Smithsonian or Susan Edwards, building great stuff at the Getty. Laura Huntimer from the Joslyn has great advice on how to run game jams with school groups and Sharna Jackson, formerly of the Tate and now of Hopster, always has excellent ideas. Keep an eye to the Museum Games Wiki: http://museumgames.pbworks.com/w/page/38863237/FrontPage If you’re reading this blog then you already know me and I’m always game for a 20 minute call to hear about what you’re trying to do.

So you may not have a million dollar grant or a staff of 500 but you DO have some ideas- and you can start testing out those ideas right now!!

Happy gaming!