Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Explore the Story

A trip by mule-back makes me appreciate my '76 Datsun
We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! A few months ago, we worked with Forest Hill Church to bring another game to life. They just released the game the weekend before Christmas, so we wanted to share a bit about it now that it's live. We were excited about this opportunity for several reasons:

  • They're local! Interestingly all of our work until this project came along has been out-of-state or international. This meant a few more face-to-face meetings than we're accustomed to, so we shunned our caveman apparel and studiously domesticated our facial hair.
  • Another Platypus project! We designed a front-end game as well as a back-end game editor that allows the staff of Forest Hill to add new stories to the game. We used Platypus as the backbone for both of these interfaces, giving us a lot of interesting use-cases to further strengthen the engine.
  • It's Sunday School++! We loved that the church had a vision to try something new. We created the basic framework, but the Kids@FHC staff will be making the individual games, so we're excited to see the stories and experiences they create with the tools we made.

The Game

Can you find the telephone booth?
Explore the Story is a seek-and-find puzzle where children can select one of several stories to play through. Each story consists of an environment with several hidden items to find. Once an item is found, children answer a few questions about the artifact to score points.

This game is unique in that it uses photographs of the kid's auditorium as the game environment, and each artifact is physically hidden on stage for the photo-op. This presented interesting challenges while designing the game, since an artist can make art that fits a game perfectly, but photos aren't quite so flexible. For example, small hidden items in a photograph become nearly indistinguishable from a distance, so we updated our design by including close-ups. This alleviated the small artifact problem and also gave the game a deeper experience, allowing children to explore the environment in more detail.

For this game, we neglected the HTML5 canvas route we typically use for more animated experiences and strictly used the DOM and CSS. This allowed us to take advantage of hardware acceleration on many mobile devices by using 3D transforms for the visual effects.

The Editor

Archeologists uncover Goliath's armor near Charlotte, NC
In addition to the basic game framework, we created an editor through which the church staff could add new stories to the game, including pictures for the environment, artifacts, and questions to accompany the artifacts. Creating the editor was a bit of a new experience for us, since we typically work on front-end game development, but we're pleased with how it turned out.

We built in a few tools to make creating and editing a game an easy and fluid experience:

  1. We neglected the traditional page form submit in favor of a responsive XHR model. As rooms and artifacts are added and edited, a server-side JSON file is updated to reflect the current state of the story.
  2. We made soft limits on text input: if the text field content is getting too long for its respective place in the game itself, the text field background color becomes yellow or red to signify that the length may be too long.
  3. We created a visual room selection module so that picking the right room for an artifact or room-to-room navigation is intuitive, without unnecessarily naming rooms to use as references later.


Check out the game and give it a whirl. And if you live near Charlotte, NC, you can visit Forest Hill Church and see it in real life!

We would give you a link to check out the editor too, but, you know.

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