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Getty Museum Game: The Start of the Quest

©J. Paul Getty Trust

This quarter I have been given the opportunity to design an interactive experience for the visitors of the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa. This is an experimental project that I hope will result in an actual mobile educational game for museum visitors. In 10 weeks at Rochester Institute of Technology along with my mentor Elizabeth Goins, I will be taking on this endeavor of creating an experience that I have not seen before. I have spent the first couple weeks of the spring quarter to understand how to integrate gaming and education as it is the sort of game that I have never designed before. One problem with educational games today is that most of them are re-skinned multiple choice exams. This sort of “game mechanic” is not engaging enough for the player to really learn the material presented to them. I have played through a couple of classic games to get me thinking on how I will be crafting these challenges to the player. Super Solvers: Midnight Rescue, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and Museum Madness all tackled these problems in a different way.

Super Solvers: Midnight Rescue (SS:MR) created by The Learning Company focused on reading comprehension, deductive thinking skills and increase reading vocabulary. The premise of SS:MR is that Shady Glen School will disappear by the hands of Morty Maxwell, known as the Master of Mischief, and the player must prevent this from happening by midnight. Since the goal of SS:MR is to strengthen reading comprehension and critical thinking, the player must read through various written works to uncover clues to find the disguised Morty Maxwell as one of four robots. The written works ranged from excerpts from famous works of literature to diary entries from fictional characters. At the end of each excerpt the player is presented with a question that is related to the story. Using critical thinking, the player can find the answer within the written work which is tied to one of the disguises that Morty is wearing. In order to make sure the player catches the correct robot, he/she will have to take pictures of them when they encounter them throughout the hall ways of Shady Glen. If the words from the excerpts matches visual clues on the robot, the player then declare they have found Morty Maxwell. The game does a good job in developing the player’s critical thinking skills.

Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1985) created by Broderbund Software worked on developing deductive reasoning skills for the player. The player is a detective in an attempt to track and capture Carmen’s henchmen around the world eventually capturing Carmen herself. Carmen is the head of the Villains’ International League of Evil (V.I.L.E.) coming outrageous thefts around the world. At each location, the player collects clues about the suspect next location and his or her appearence with the use of word play. When the player travels to an incorrect location, the people they talk to will give clues that do not make sense. However when they travel to the correct location, a simple animation is played showing a V.I.L.E. Henchman lurking across the screen. The player cannot just continue to question witnesses and travel to different location as it will deduct time from the player needed to capture the culprit otherwise they will escape. Once the player feels confident in the clues they have collected, they fill an arrest warrant form. If it is correct, they capture the culprit otherwise they have escaped and the player has lost them forever. Just like SS:MR, the use of words became a crucial part in allowing the player to put two and two together while allowing them to learn facts about various countries around the world.

            Museum Madness developed by Novotrade set out to educate the player on the various aspects of history like technology, geology, space, American history and prehistory. The player is an American high school teenage boy who is helping his robot friend to prevent the museum from losing all its secrets. A virus has infected the Museum Interactive Computer Kiosk (MICK) and is manipulating the history in each of the galleries. The exhibits have come alive causing chaos within the museum. At each exhibit, the player solves mysteries and puzzles by interacting with historical characters, rearranging objects, trading objects and placing objects back to where they belong. Each gallery has an information card that the player can read and use to solve problems. These galleries can be completed in any order however they all need to be completed before the player can defeat the virus at the last stage. Here the player must recall information they have learned at each of the galleries in order to reach the virus. With the use of images and icons, the player can learn various historic events that have occurred in reality.

I used these three games to help me in creating game challenges that are engaging but also help the player learn about the works of art on display at the Getty Villa. As I have mentioned before, the current state of educational games is that they are not very engaging. I hope to change that with the design of this interactive experience. This is a new frontier for me to explore as I have never created this sort of game and there are not many revered educational games on the market.  A common theme that I see is the difficulty in crafting this sort of experience as turning a learning experience into a fun one is not an easy task. I remember playing Super Solvers and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? as a child and were really fun back then. Mystery Madness was suggested by my mentor who is assisting me during this project.

            One thing that I took from these games was how the story, game play and learning were so intertwined with each other. I decided to use Homer’s Odyssey as the backdrop for the game.. It is also the perfect setting for the type of art work that is on display at the Getty Villa. In the game, each book or sequence of events in The Odyssey correlates to a gallery and within that gallery, the player experiences what Odysseus went through during that time. These galleries are referred to as islands; the player has a blank map at the beginning of the journey and travels to each island to learn about the artifacts that exist there. However, I also deviate from the story to include some of the mythology and history that each artifact represents.

In this one example I used an oil container and a shield strap to demonstrate this idea. The oil container told a story about a battle between Herakles and Hydra. In this battle, Herakles uses a golden sword given to him by Athena. The player would need to obtain this sword from a different artifact and a special cloth to protect themselves from the poisonous fumes in the Hydra’s cave. When they do beat the Hydra, they win a vial of Hydra’s poisonous blood which is important for the next work of art, the Shield Strap. The shield strap told a story of a centaur Nessos abducting Deianeria, the wife of Herakles. The player arrives during this event and needs to use the Hydra’s blood to kill him. This either can be combined with arrows or a sword dipped in this poison depending on what weapons the player has obtained before. After the player defeats Nessos, they would be given an option to wash their sword in a nearby river. This choice could change the world landscape that the player is exploring. Later on, the player learns that Herakles is dying because Nessos lied to Deianira that his blood would make Herakles true to her forever. Instead, his blood hurts Herakles.

This is sort of the scenario I wanted to create for the player where the choices the player makes and the items they get affect this game world. However as I began to design this type of challenge for each gallery, it became increasingly difficult to make each work of art be tied truly to the Odyssey as many works within each gallery did not correlate with each other. I spoke with my mentor about the issue that I was having, as I really wanted to create an integrated experience instead of a fragmented one where I just slap challenges on random objects. The solution we came up with is to place these challenges into three separate challenge categories. The categories are visual, object and gateway challenges. This allowed me to be able to meet most of the goals that I wanted to accomplish with this game.

The visual challenges are the simplest and easiest out of the three to implement. What this challenge focuses on is the details of the object. On the iTouch device, the player will be presented with an image of a small part of the object. Their objective is to walk though the gallery and match the correct object on display with this image. The idea is for the player to really look at the object and see the details. At more advance levels, the image will be removed and be replaced with text description and the player will have to use their visual knowledge to find the particular artifact. The good thing with this challenge is that it encompasses all of the kinds of objects that the museum has on display. On the other hand, it really does not educate the player’s on the story behind the object. It helps build up the player’s observational skills.

Object challenges take up the role of educating the player about the object. This type of challenge is more focused on objects that do have mythology behind them. It is not as flexible as the visual challenges as this sort of challenge takes a significant amount of research to make sure the story told to the player is accurate and fun based on the object. With this challenge I was able to think of different types of game mechanics for the player to interface with. Some of the lore involves fighting an enemy to reconstructing the artifact. For me, this type of challenge was the hardest for me to design for. I had to make sure that I was not favoring the iTouch over the object because the object is the real star of the show. These challenges had to be designed in a way that can only be played at the museum and nowhere else. It is almost designing for an alternate reality game where the objects in reality interact with the environment in the virtual world on the iTouch device. However, I enjoyed coming up with challenge of this type as this is where the player authorship becomes most apparent.

Within each object challenges, the player is rewarded. These rewards have an effect on the other challenges that the player participates in. I am taking some of the basic concepts from my original plan and applying it here. The rewards can make other challenges easier to complete and may unlock secrets for the player to discover. This could be a secret item or a secret island that is filled with treasure. Another aspect tied to the object challenges is the knowledge tree. At each work of art, the player learns about an important character or material used. This unlocks part of the knowledge tree when they complete the challenge. It is a graphical way to display the player’s progress and a good way to raise a sense of accomplishment.

The final challenge to design for is the gateway challenge. This is the challenge that is tied directly to the Odyssey.  The player is presented the gateway challenge when they leave the gallery (island). The challenge is based on one of the books in the Odyssey and the player participates in it. Since there is no object for the player to interact with, all of this is done on the iTouch device. Once they have completed the challenge, the player’s map gets updated with an island reveal. This island represents the gallery that they have completed. It is a good visual feedback to the player showing them their progress. The Getty Villa collection includes works of art from the Etruscan culture.  Etruscans were seafarers and enjoy collecting everything wherever they went. I went with the notion that the players were seafarers and was traveling to various ‘islands’ collecting artifacts for their own collection. I also wanted to give the player a sense of adventure with the use of this.

Three weeks of spring quarter have gone by and now I am ready to begin to complete the game challenges for each of the galleries. I have set a deadline for the completion of the 1st floor by week 6 and the 2nd floor by week 8. Creating the 3 types of challenges has really helped me on focusing on the strengths that each object presented and to see how I can tie each one in an interesting way. Some of the mythology behind a few of the objects was confusing because each god or goddess had a different goal in mind. Reading and brushing up on my Greek Mythology was one of the enjoyable parts of this project. I find it fascinating how the Greeks came up with such an interesting cast of characters that interact with each other in such a dynamic way.  It was fun in creating game challenges with such a strong story behind it.

It is now the end of the quarter and I have learned a lot from this experience. It has helped me grow as a game developer and given me a different perspective of what games can be. I hope to show you the design document behind this game. The next phase is to create a paper and then electronic prototypes. If and when this interactive experience does launch, I hope you all take the opportunity to go to the Getty Villa to try it out!