Archaeologists are detectives: they dig beneath the soil to find items from long ago. At Priory Park they are hoping this will help them find out more about the history of the Priory and what it was like when monks lived here nearly 500 years ago.
De Montfort the Dog is leading today’s mission. Are you ready to help him? You can book a free game here. A game lasts 30 minutes and there are 8 sessions between 12:00 and 16:00. We should have 6 tablets available – one tablet to be shared between a family of 4. Any unreserved tablets will be available on the day – so if you haven’t booked you may still get a chance to play.
Here’s a sneak preview of our latest characters. With the updates to the complete games engine, there are now going to be “helpers” for each of the games. So time to meet Kestrel, Owl, Squirrel, Hedgehog and Badger. Mole you already know – now he has brought his friends.
Meet Andy. Andy has been teaching in a Hertfordshire primary school for around 10 years. He loves tech and gadgets and shares his passion with his students. This can be anything from using Makey Makey to create a banana keyboard to producing stop frame animations as part of the school play. He’s not fazed by the new school computer curriculum; in fact, he’s been coding with his kids for years!
Andy is always on the look out for new and exciting stuff and if that includes a smartphone or a tablet, even better. So he was amongst the first to start using Invisible Buildings in lessons (even when the product was being prototyped). As a way of kicking off the course on the Romans, Andy said “it immediately engaged my class with a unique way of letting them participate and start to understand aspects of both history and archaeology – this is not something that one could get close to at a museum or on a field trip. Even the parents were enthused.”
Since the move from smartphones to tablet, Andy is pleased that Invisible Buildings is much easier to use, even for his less confident colleagues. Now he is acting as an advisor in his local area and working with other schools. “When we first started using Invisible Buildings we needed the guys that developed the product to come over and help us out,” says Andy. “Now it practically runs itself – and if anyone needs help or forgets what to do, there are step-by-step instructions on the website.”
Andy is now looking forward to some of the other Invisible Building games that are currently in production, and is keen to contribute to the microsites that will be “online museums” with other quality material based around the subjects, with access to experts and the ability for teachers to add their own material and ideas.
A question I am always being asked when I talk about Invisible Buildings is “can I play it indoors?” The answer is an emphatic no – our system makes use of GPS which only works outdoors. In fact, one of the virtues of our product is that it does takes place outdoors, at a time when children spend more and more of their lives indoors.
Even so, I have always been excited by the possibility of indoor navigation, watching as various systems have been proposed. There are a few new techniques now, and one of the (initially) most promising makes use of a device from Apple (although almost open-source) called an iBeacon. Using Bluetooth standards, these coin-sized devices send periodic messages which contain a unique id and an indication of the strength of the transmitted signal. So in principle by measuring the received signal from 3 or more differently positioned beacons, one should be able to triangulate ones position (this is how GPS works too). Sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately you are right. Whilst you can be pretty sure of where you are when you are right next to a single beacon (and this is predominantly what people are using them for (e.g. near specific products in shops, or at a certain table in a cafe), various factors (most predominantly, the laws of physics) conspire to give you a rather hazy notion of your position if you should be foolish enough to triangulate (or even trilaterate).
However all is not lost, and I have been at the Barbican working on a project to help track audience and players as part of a potential future production. In particular we have been exploring some interesting ways we can “cheat” and get some pretty accurate locational info. The whole project is really interesting because it has potential not just in theatre but in games (in fact in what we are doing, we are blurring the lines between games and theatre – exciting), tracking, controlling, entertaining and informing audiences in arts venues, museums, and historic sites. More on this in the coming weeks.
When I first devised Invisible Buildings, the thought was to follow much the same line as Time Team – find some evidence of a building and dig it up! Hence our first project was hunt the Roman Villa. And why not, it fitted in with the, as then, part of Key Stooge 1. With the arrival of our “game designer” component we have had the power to create new games, or variations of games, rather more easily. Hence we were able to turn out a prototype for a Lewes Priory game and more recently Victorian Explorers (played for 15 days at 3 English Heritage properties). Furthermore we have been surprised by how we can create exciting and varied narratives whilst essentially playing the same games.
It was whilst we were visiting one of the EH properties, Wrest Park, I was told by one of the children that there had been “real archaeology, we learnt it at school” taking place in the park. Then, talking to one of the curators when we visited the house, we learnt the “real archaeology” led to the (re)discovery of an Italian garden. I am now thinking that this would make a really good Invisible Buildings project. It has the basis for being a game that could really be played by the whole family as it would combine the excitement of digging up, with the more adult activity of gardening. It would also be easy to prototype as we have rediscovered gardens in our local Brunswick Square in Hove. It also fits in with our commitment to make “learning local” (e.g. see here).
I’m off to do some more research and will report back if and when we get this one off the ground. Invisible Buildings, Invisible Footpaths, now, Invisible Gardens – hey, I’m becoming the Invisible Man
As readers of this blog will know, the original Invisible Buildings featured 3 games: Metal Detecting, Geophys, and Mole Dig (this was an idea that we seemed to have passed on to these cute little animals: Moles unearth Roman artefact at Epiacum’s ancient fort). There was also a classroom “drag and drop” game where the dug-up items were put together, but when we moved from smartphone to tablet, we created a version that could be played in the field. This could either be done on the screen, or by manipulating the items by moving around – naturally we called this “run and drop”.
We then used this technique for a game that allows you to differentiate between “good” and “junk” items; using animal terminology we have called this Squirrel Sort. Not content with 5 games, we are now adding another with the provisional title of Game Zero – because it will be in front of all the other games.
Game Zero allows players to define the site on which they will be working. Obviously this has a close correlation with real archaeological surveys, but as important for our purpose it allows the team to check that the GPS is working properly on their tablets, allow them to get a sense of direction, to establish themselves as a team, and to orientate themselves with the surrounding scenery (previously, and now optionally we used a map overlay to do this but quite often on a field there are few significant features to map – it’s just grass!). A good sense of orientation is essential for the games that follow.
The order of play in Game Zero is to establish and mark the NW and SE corners of the site, to use the best available area of the field (not too big though, otherwise you will be running around for hours. And not too small either – a football pitch is ideal). Then to reinforce a sense of the area, the players in turn start to drop virtual markers off, around the perimeter. These can be augmented with real markers such as cones.
The latest model of the Invisible Buildings Metal Detector attachment was spotted this week at Wrest Park. Although still utilising the same tablet holder as the previous version, this sporty model now comes with wheels, multi coloured power cables and is finished off with a new sensor crafted from a paint pallet and wooden disk.
Initial tests have proved positive and it should only be a matter of time before the blue prints are available in the “Builders” section of the website.
An exciting new game pack has been produced for Invisible Buildings and is set to debut at a series of Awesome Archeology events being held at a number of English Heritage sites this Summer.
The story is set during the reign of Queen Victoria and revolves around Lord Curmudgeon who travelled the world collecting treasures and artefacts. When he returned home he hid the valuables in an underground museum the location of which has been forgotten. The objective of the game is to find the museum, uncover the treasures and return them to where they came from.
Invisible Buildings will be staring in Awesome Archeology events on:
Monday 4th August to Friday 8th August at Wrest Park