Dec 22

Bleedin’ vs Leading edge

For the last few days I’ve been playing a new game on my phone. Nothing exciting there really, games have been on phones since Snake (Sam was a master on her old Nokia 6110). The game itself isn’t that original either, basically it’s capture the flag. So why the title?

Several years ago I was the Business Manager for an education technology charity in Bristol called Futurelab. One of their flagship projects, completed before I joined, was very much touted as an example of leading edge technology in learning situations.

Savanah involved teams of school kids, running around their playing field pretending to be lions on the African Savanah. They had to capture territory, attack other animals for food, and so forth. All this was achieved with HP PDA’s, GPS units in rucksack, and a not inconsiderable army of tech support from HP Labs in Bristol who camped out in the school to manage the field trial! An amazing idea, but even if the legal challenges over copyright and who actually owned the idea could have been sorted out – it was a looong way from being implementable, let along a profitable proposition back in late-2002. This was bleeding edge, proof-of-concept stuff.

Flash forward 10 years, and I’m running (ok, mostly walking) around Bristol city centre as part of a team, trying to capture territory, attacking the other team’s bases, collecting energy, and so forth. Location by GPS (check), real time updates (check), massively complex backstory (check, no I’ve not paid much attention to it, but then I’m not sure the kids playing Savanah really paid that much attention to the accompanying natural history lesson). So far, so 2002.

However, this is on my fairly  standard Android smart phone. I don’t have a rucksack with batteries & ancillary equipment; and the game is being played on a global level, has real time chat with team mates, a funky Alternate Reality Map overlay, and is freely available (though its closed Beta at the moment).

Screen shot from Google Play

Welcome to 2012, welcome to Ingress!

But hang on – if it’s free, where’s the business model? Well Niantic Labs are part of Google, so just as the game is being played on a global level, so the business model is part of a larger strategy.

Players are uploading photos of real world places trying to get them nominated as ‘portals’, giving Google masses of additional data to crunch into a 3D view of the world at street level. Most of the teams have set up local groups within one of the two global factions dictated by the game; and most of these are on G+. I’ve not used G+ so much since, well, ever.

Of course we’re also sending our locations back to the big G (under coded ID’s, but since you use your Google ID to get a game ID it’s a 1-2-1 look up), so Google has more info on where the popular places are (most of the portals are in city centres). Plus it knows we like AR games, mobile devices, etc, so I expect to see a shift in ads being served to me shortly. It’ll be interesting to see if the different factions report seeing different ads! 🙂

Would I pay for in-game gear? Possibly. Running out of ammo just as you’re about to capture the other team’s flag, could trigger a purchase (depending on price point obviously). Being able to upgrade a flag to capture most of Bristol might be worth splashing the Google Wallet about.

At the moment, there’s little incentive spend as there’s no defined ‘end-game’ or winning state. So there’s no sense of urgency, however, that could change with a couple of lines of code.

What ever Google’s longer term plan is (if there even is one at this point), its going to be fun seeing what happens; and playing along obviously!

So: Resistance or Enlightenment – you choose!

And if you’re not sure about the bleedin’ title – watch this!

Apr 14

Getting interactive around Bristol’s historic harbourside

An interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885

Take an interactive stroll around Bristol Docks and become part of a story set in 1885

Sam and I stopped by the Watershed yesterday to try out a new blend of storytelling and technology. Picking up our PDAs and donning in-ear headphones, we were invited to step back in time and experience a slice of Bristol circa 1885.

Over the next 90 minutes we walked around the historic waterfront area (starting at the Watershed, round to the Arnolfini, over the swing bridge, down to the SS Great Britain, back over to the Gasworks, ending up at Canon’s Marsh Amphitheatre) as our stories unfolded.

Sam followed the story of the unlucky Maude trying to escape her evil Uncle, whilst I stumbled over a murder to solve with the help of a nearby galley boy. As their respective stories unfolded we dodged some of Bristol’s seedier characters outside the old jail where hangings regularly took place and helped load cargo ships with Guinness, bananas and timber for the colonies.

Sam had several mini games throughout her journey and by successfully completing each, Maude’s story progressed.

My murder mystery was a proper whodunit with half a dozen likely contenders. Having worked out the full story, I then had to decide whether to turn the guilty party in (knowing the hangman’s noose would be waiting) or let them escape to America…

All really good fun, and surprisingly informative about Bristol’s history without being a dull audio tour, “Press 5 for more information about street vendors…”

Back in the Watershed we had a chat with Tom Bennett, the guy behind Interactive Places, about the experience and what the future holds.

Tom is working out of the Pervasive Media Studio and that pervasive, locative technology was integral to the walk (a GPS PDA worn pendant style with in-ear headphones). By and large, however, the technology was almost invisible, there were only a couple of times that the technology ‘got in the way’. Sam’s lost its GPS fix once and one of her games didn’t want to finish; both times sorted themselves out within minutes and everything else worked fine.

In addition to providing a great afternoon stroll, Tom really wanted to know how people got on with the system and what they’d like more of in the next version.

Both Sam and I wanted more direct engagement in the storyline with some element of multi-threading, like the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series from the early 80’s to mid-90’s. That is certainly in Tom’s plan but he also pointed out that some people has asked for more history & background to be included, whilst others had asked for more mini-games and side plots. So lots of opportunities!

If you want to spend a great hour and a half wandering around Bristol’s Habourside and help out one of our upcoming innovative entrepreneurs, then pop along to the Watershed anytime between 11am and 5pm until Sunday, 26 April and say “Hi” to Tom.

Nov 27

A real Live Guy

Dan Such bags a netbook

Dan Such bags a netbook

A variation of igFest‘s Moosehunt came to Bristol yesterday in the form of Vodafone’s LiveGuy, his mission (which it looks like he accepted with eagerness):

I’m travelling from the north to the south of Britain, laying down clues to my whereabouts. Your mission is to find me – and maybe even bag yourself a netbook. You’ve got two ways to win. Either Find LiveGuy in person or Find LiveGuy online.

<plug>All with the help of a very cool looking Dell Inspiron Mini 9 netbook connected to the Vodafone network and with a GPS chip giving location updates (delayed slightly for the purposes of giving LiveGuy a fighting chance).</plug>

Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy

Sam Machin catches up with LiveGuy

Through the wonders of social media, Mike Coulter met with with LiveGuy at the start of his journey in Edinburgh. It was his blog & twitter stream that alerted me to the project. Mike then dm’d me to see if I wanted help drum up some interest around Bristol.

A few txt messsages, phone calls and emails led to an early morning rendevouz at a top secret location before the day’s excitment around Bristol. As well as bringing Liveguy and his support team (Alastair) up to speed with some of what’s going on around Bristol in the creative use of mobile & locative technology we also had a really good discussion over the future of such technologies and what you can achieve with them.

Obviously the creative and pervasive media projects going on around the Pervasive Media Studio were of interest along with the robotics research between the Universities, but what struck me was the genuine interest around communities, engagement and ways in which technology, and the service providers, can help facilitate that engagement.

Bristol has as checkered a history at public engagement as any other city but in recent years a number of really good initiatives have shown what can be achieved. The flagship is probably the Knowle West Media Centre with a huge and expanding range of community programmes covering pretty much all aspects of digital media. These are so good they’re now running a social enterprise with clients including blue chips and local community companies. They’ve also engaged in a number of innovative mobile and locative technology projects exploring the ways in which civic engagement can be facilitated by technology.

Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy

Tom Dowding also spotted LiveGuy

We also talked about the Connecting Bristol project which came out of the Digital Challenge. This is another area where creative use of technology is being applied to wide civic challenges. Under the wing of the City Council, but operating independently out of the eOffice on Wine St, Stephen Hilton and Kevin O’Malley are part of 10 city collaboration. As well as news about the DC10 grouping of cities, Kevin regularly posts about other initiatives and news that is of interest for those at the intersection between technology and civic change (environment, education, planning, transport, are just some recent topics).

With that it was nearly time for LiveGuy to fire up twitter and hit the streets of Bristol, and for me to head off also. I’m staying in touch with Alastair so watch this space for more announcements.

Congratulations to Dan Such, Sam Machin, Tom Dowing and the online winner, Ruth Bailey.

Disclosure: Although I knew where Liveguy was starting his day in Bristol, I didn’t know the itinerary and chose not to take part in the Find Live Guy challenge. There is no business relationship between jbsh LLP, Vodafone or the agency behind LiveGuy.

Update 1: the picture links to Picassa didn’t seem to work – so I’ve copied the images to jbsh.co.uk and linked to them here.

Mar 12

iGLab 2

Last night at the Pervasive Media Studio we gathered for the second iGLab.

The (by now usual) silliness ensued with various games organised and played in the interests of research. If there was a comment for the next Lab it would be for a bit more reflection between games on strategies, game play, ways of improving.

There was a return of scramble (this time played with SMS) with emerging words displayed on a projected board in real(ish) time. A couple of audio games involving dancing to try and find other dancers with the same random tune as you were listening to on headphones, and running around Millenium Square calling out sounds (mine was a police siren) and trying to find your team mates making the same sound.

And of course there was a game of Werewolf. The wolves won, easily.

Werewolves at iGLab.

Originally uploaded by Poo Bar.

Mar 06

Serious fun in Coventry, part the last

This is one of a serious of posts about the Culture, Heritage & Tourism Technology Workshop at the Serious Games Institute on Tues, 4 March.

The last session had two moments that really stuck in the mind, the first was Kevin Williams (KWP) talking about kid vending (aimed at 6-9 years olds), basically charge cards for toddlers to play arcade games and use with vending machines for toys, as being a really good idea.

On a more positive note was Andrew Caleya Chetty (The Public Gallery that is due to open in June 08). Andrew was benchmarking the new gallery space against Ars Electronica & some UK entertainment venues. It will be a paying attraction and is looking specifically at the family demographic as their “target” & value for money as the differentiator. What was interesting was that each visitor has an RFID tag so that visitors can then receive personalised art exhibits.

The first activity in the gallery is ‘choose’. Visitors make curatorial choices that then tailor the other exhibitions. This is a kind of profiling, visitors get to sort colours, textures, etc and these then influence the presentation of the digital and dynamic artworks. A couple of examples that Andrew shared were “Flipme” – make your own stopframe animation and save to personal portfolio. Another was to save secrets and thoughts as ‘flowers’ and collect on way out (not quite sure how this one worked, might have been a paper flower based on your thought/choices. The final installation was an agumented reality flying – dancing – fighting game called Flypad from BlastTheory. This looked a bit like a cross between VirtuaFighter and …, actually it looked like VirtuaFighter but overlaid on a background that was fed from a webcam behind the screen looking across the atrium. So your fighter/dancers were flying around the atrium in VR. When you leave the gallery you can choose to take away a personal exhibition of the art as influenced by your choices and activities.

And that was our lot. There was a short jazz gig from SecondLife and a couple of mohijtos that the catering staff whizzed round the room and then disappeared with before anyone could really call it a drinks party. Mind you most of us were at such a level of information overload that I was quite glad of a beer and 3 hrs on the train to work through it all.