I said last week I was going to try to think of a way to unify all these awesome ideas we have into something concrete and unified that we could use for brainstorming. That’s what I did.
The idea was to create a complete, unified system. An example of something that took a bunch of the really good ideas we had and built into something that has unity, but most importantly something that we can actually get started working on.
So how I’m imagining it is that we’ve got the coraline-esque structure lining the interior of the place, and within all the little nooks and crannies of this structure we’ve got all these little diatoms to find, each one is unique and sort of a discovery in itself to examine, but they’re all casting this light, changing in time as the waves crash outside or as nutrient levels change in a somewhat more abstract but still beautiful way. We’ve got these hanging structures that represent different chemicals in the ocean sort of doing their own thing, representing the ocean chemistry. Things are humming. The key here is to make the whole thing feel watery and alive, to give the user the sense that he/she has stepped off the dock and into a different world. That’s one of the reasons why I’m such a proponent of the rocky/coraline type structure. I don’t know how feasible it is to implement, but if we can pull it off then we can really create a unified sense of a consistent environment.
So, our user is exploring this environment, but something sticks out. It’s a QR code, laser etched into an area on the central column where it only catches the idea because it is surrounded by an area that isn’t interesting at all, which is a sharp contrast. It’s eye-catching because of the juxtaposition. It’s clearly important and somewhat of a mystery. The user whips out his or her phone and scans it.
Now, the QR code does lead a user to a webpage as he or she would expect, but scanning the code has also had an extremely noticeable and profound effect on the environment. The humming stops, things dim and begin to rearrange. Something is happening. It’s compelling because things aren’t supposed to happen when you scan a QR code, but that’s clearly what’s going on.
So all of the romantic language and situation framing aside, the main point of all that, and the only thing that’s essential for my version of the game to work, is that we’ve got this canvas of LED diatoms to work with, which extend all around on the walls, ceilings, and central pillar in a roughly uniform and consistent manner. My game has four variables, nitrogen (as in nitrate), phosphorous (as in phosphate), and Carbon (as in dissolved CO2), and life, or “health” more accurately. I chose these chemicals, first of all because they are the three things present in the Redfield Ratio http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redfield_ratio, but also because all three have been linked to red tides when they are present in excess values. This isn’t to say that they are the only things affecting the oceans, but I chose them because they happen to be discreet and directly necessary for the propagation of the organisms we’re dealing with. I could have chosen, say, pH, but that tends to be a function of CO2 anyway and the effects of changes in all of these chemicals have influences far more subtle and complex than we’d ever be able to model with RGB LEDs anyway.
Anyway, every point on our canvas has all four of these values at a certain level. For the purposes of our game, the chemicals all behave the same way. Each one has a color. Nitrogen is green, Carbon is blue, phosphorous is red. The “imbalance” is shown as tinting. If there’s more nitrogen in a region than carbon and phosphorous, that region will be displayed as green and so forth. The fourth variable, health, is shown as a sort of “sparkling” which is to say that the brightness and hue of a region would be oscillating, as opposed to unhealthy region, which wouldn’t show this effect.
A balance in all the elements would be displayed as white. When things are balanced, health increases, when they’re not, it falls. The cool thing about this is that you can have an area that is, say, swayed to contain levels of excess phosphorous, but the rate of the sparkling oscillation can decrease to indicate that that area is dying. When things are REALLY going well though, and the balance is superb to a certain threshold, then the entire healthy region starts pulsating, which can have a amazing visual effect when the players are running around trying to balance things out and see these cool pulsations over their head happening at certain areas.
So, when the game starts, things are in disarray. There is always a starting rate of continual introduction of these chemicals into the system and the rate of introduction of any given chemical can not be zero. But in the beginning, because of industrial waste and agricultural runoff or whatever, we’ve got areas of high concentration of chemicals forming because stuff is being dumped into the system, and those areas are spreading out and diffusing to other areas. So we’ve got all these imbalances. There are also, however, healthy areas that are being encroached upon by the colors, and since the oscillation (which is the more eye-catching visual effect) begins to die, it is clear, even if the user doesn’t know anything about the innards of what’s going on, that the colors are killing the sparklies.
So, the controls. There are three wheels, each are a chemical ring, representing our three chemicals, each are attached to some apparatus that can turn, each have conducive surfaces (they can sense when they are touched) and they are all spread out on the outer part of our silo. Now, I have to introduce the idea of the cursor. The cursor is less of a “cursor” and more of a tidal force that the user controls, that happens to also double as the user’s area of selection. Two of the wheels, when turned, control the cursor’s x and y axis. In theory think about the x and y as straight lines, but in practice they’ll probably have modest curves to preserve the organic aesthetic and make things more challenging. If it goes off the edge, the cursor wraps around to the other side. The third wheel controls rotation, so that when turned, both the x and y axis rotate accordingly. Notice that because of this, any combination of two wheels turned can bring the cursor to a chosen point on the canvas.
A little bit more about the cursor, when it moves, it has the effect of disturbing everything it runs through. Imagine having food coloring in still water in a cookie tray, and all the colors are intermingling and diffusing out, and then you run your finger it in a continual, linear way. The colors all get mixed up and shoved around. That’s how the cursor interacts with the canvas. Note that it’s actually invisible when it’s not moving, it’s only its interaction on other things that makes its presence apparent.
The other interaction that the user has, is each wheel represents (and visually is) one of the chemicals, when the user touches it, the rate of introduction of that chemical decreases in the area that the cursor is at.
So the GAME then, is that the users have to hunt down where these areas of pollution are popping up and destroy them. Moving the cursor effects levels though, but if the wheels are free spinning, part of the fun is maybe turning the wheel and getting just the right amount of spin on it to get it to where it needs to go and touch it as little as possible, or moving a combination of two of the wheels that would only help the balance if using one in particular would hurt it. Notice also that it can be played alone, but together it gets much easier, and it’s cooperative fun because it’s like two people driving one car.
As all this is going on, the phone is giving detailed readouts of fictional world events and dates. The user reduces the nitrogen levels in a certain area- “May 23, 2015, Mexico passes legislation limiting agricultural runnoff”, The user reduces carbon level in another area “January 3, 2016, new technology is developed in China that reduces CO2 emissions of motorized vehicles by 50%” and so forth. This is also where we can go into the intricacies of how these chemicals affect each other and the environment, saying that, as a result of the above reduced CO2 emissions, x species is allowed to flourish due to a population boom in y. Recreational diving increases because of coral bloom in z, all this good stuff. We can get creative here. Also while this is going on, the phone is giving readouts of the more complex effects on all the ocean chemistry, and the hanging things are doing their swinging deal to show their varying levels of synchronization and harmony.
When the user wins, the result is a kickass lightshow. The entire system is pulsating a brilliant white/rainbow of colors, everything is swinging in synch, the whole system is humming a soft B flat major, and the player(s) earned it. Now they can look at their phone and try to unravel the mystery of what they just accomplished. The date completed can be thought of as a score, and high scores are available on the website that the users browser is pointed at. We make the website as compelling as possible, stuff it full of awesome information, and pow they walk away reading about the ocean, diatoms, and the effects of society on nature. We educated them and they never saw it coming.
One thing I realized I forgot to address is the learning curve. Rather than try to rearrange the order that I told that I’m just going to put my thoughts on it here. The wheels will be available to the user before the QR code is scanned, and they will be able to turn them, and see how the cursor moves and the visual effect it has, so they’re already somewhat familiar with the controls by the time the game starts. If they go straight for the QR code, we can keep track of that and have LEDs around the wheels light up to advertise their importance in playing the game. The wheels can also have the property of adjusting the Red, Blue, or Green level in the area of the cursor if they are held, but in a temporary way.
Okay, I’m done. Sorry for the freaking novella. Like I said, while I did put a lot of thought into this, I also made it specifically to be torn apart in brainstorming. I just thought it was important to at least have a complete idea, so that we can actually have a direction to move in as a group. I look forward to seeing what we come up with.