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Citizen Science

       Team Totem 2016    New Year is always a time for looking forward to the year ahead – our team have been discussing what’s on their radar for 2016 and here are some highlights:                 






        PJ (Creative Producer)    2016 will have a heavy focus on VR and AR technologies in the gaming space. However it will be a slow growth process as unit price points, technology processing power and rendering speeds will hamper these technologies in becoming truly ubiquitous in 2016.   That’s not to say that these technologies won’t be hugely profitable for some hardware manufacturers and game developers, as early adopters will always invest in new technologies and new game IP. What will be interesting to see is, the creative use of these technologies and who and which variants of these technologies come out on top.                   






        Helen Routledge (Head of Design and Production)    In 2016 the trend towards understanding the real value in ‘proper’ gaming techniques and mechanics over just slapping badges and scores onto content will continue. The ‘easy’ trend of gamifying content has saturated the market place and we are seeing commissioners of content as well as learners shy away from these cheap tricks to boost short term engagement.   More and more we are hearing that gamified elearning just isn’t ‘doing it’ for learners; many elearning providers have replaced the classic next button with a dice graphic – it still performs the same function, it’s just, now it’s a fancy next button.     In terms of which areas of learning will do well in 2016 for me, I believe soft skills will continue to thrive and personally I’d love to see the area of recruitment move forward – as the possibilities of using games to evaluate possible new recruits are huge!  Also I forecast huge book sales!     












        Stuart Jackson (Artist)    The “big thing” I’m most excited about in the year ahead is the advancements in procedural generation in games. Many of this year’s up and coming games include procedural generation, especially “ No Mans Sky ”. Having technology that pushes the boundaries of design is something I think will inspire the future of serious games!      












        Amy Wing (Media Production and Marketing Executive)    I’m looking forward to seeing more 360 degree videos in 2016. There have already been some interesting applications already. In 2015 we've seen examples used on news channels and film trailers. This week, Pixar are releasing their first 360 animation, which is really exciting. But the most interesting aspect is the doors this opens for documentaries. The immersive nature of 360 filming gives film makers an avenue to reach their audience in ways never before possible.  The most prominent example from 2015 is  Polar Sea 360 . This hybrid of 360 filming and traditional filming techniques explores the effects of the changing Artic environment. The focus is how this change effects the Inuit population. To date it is the best use of 360 filming I have seen. The attention to sound, the care taken to cuts, ensuring a fluid immersive experience for viewers I suspect, is just a taste of what’s to come in 2016.                                             












        Vicky Rose (Head of Communications)    This year it would be great to see more collaborative (crowd sourced) problem solving.  One of Nesta’s predictions for 2016 is that Universities will move on from their individualistic heritage and become challenge driven, harnessing the collective brainpower of students worldwide to solve sustainable development goals.  We’ve seen it in the gaming world: Back in 2011, players of  Foldit , an online puzzle game about protein folding solved a molecular puzzle in 3 weeks where researchers had worked on the problem for 13 years.  Cancer Research released Play to Cure™:  Genes in Space  – the world’s first free mobile game that uses the collective force of players to analyse real genetic data and help beat cancer sooner.      






     A comprehensive list of citizen science games can be found  here . Technology helps with networking individuals and games are a great way to drive engagement and increase accessibility in some of the more complex problems.                     






        Richard Smith (MD)    I agree with PJ on VR in 2016. Oculus Rift and Windows HoloLens among many other devices are released and the API to integrate will be built in to Unity and other game engines. Gamification is about to crash in to the Gartner chasm in the Hypecycle. People are going to realise that is it not the answer to everything and has limited used in many applications such as L & D.       






      Serious Games to rise further as a serious experiential medium, fuelled by the technology advances, the faster and greater uptake of VR and other tech and the realisation mentioned above about gamification and it’s limited suitability in l & d Experiential/immersive learning whether “virtual” or real with things like “escape games”, role play, actors etc. Making learning as real as possible is going to be a trend too.                          Tom Cutler (Developer)     CES 2016  is currently on over the next few days, which is the consumer electronics show, so some interesting new tech will probably surface over the next few days. I know that the consumer version of the oculus rift is available for  preorder  now so I also expect to see a huge surge in VR activity.     












        Mark Pocock (Artist)    While I also agree with PJ that VR is going to the centre of attention in 2016, I would also like to point out, the strive for ever more realistic graphics is also turning a rather sharp corner. It doesn’t take a genius to compare game graphics from 10 years ago and now, to see that things have moved on significantly as it did in the decade before that and before that etc.. But in the few years or so the introduction of Physical Based Rendering (PBR), has seen visual believability step up to a whole new level.  In the background we have some fantastic shader coding that has allowed for believable specularity, reflections and global illumination across various platforms and hardware specifications.      






      In the foreground are the Artists who utilise this technology to create beautiful visuals that brings the games industry nearer to film level CGI. So my feeling is that with tools such as Substance Painter/Designer and Quixel; we will start to see more flexible artistic workflows which in some cases ignore the likes of Photoshop with more focus on the development of material/substance libraries for painting straight onto models, to create lush looking PBR textures for use in top end engines, of whom are forever improving and expanding on their usage of it to push boundaries.   In summary I believe 2016 to be the year of PBR. Companies are already trying to push graphics to the next level using this new technology.  With games such as The Order: 1886 and Assassin’s Creed: Unity already showing this off in 2015, by 2016 I would expect its usage to be more mainstream.      









New Year is always a time for looking forward to the year ahead – our team have been discussing what’s on their radar for 2016 and here are some highlights:


       Totem's top 10 serious games for 'Earth Day'    It was Earth Day Wednesday - Who took the Google Quiz and what did you get? Be honest! I got a ‘Woolly Mammoth’, ‘So unique, you're technically extinct. But on the bright side, scientists hope to be able to clone you some day’.  As promised we are bringing you another list collating together ten serious games out there on the market. Last week we brought you the list  Totem’s Top Ten Games for Learning , this week can you guess the theme?  It’s Environmentally Aware Games!  To kick it off we are going to start with a serious game that has a ‘Call to Action’ built in making it (almost) unavoidable to not get involved in the issue of Fracking.     






         Frackman  - Drilling under homes and fracking for gas to make a profit- at times action eat into profits but the costs to the community are a much bigger deal. The game play is limited but if you want to take a second shot at it Team Giraffe have built in a ‘Call to Action’ which sends the player to an online petition calling for the ban of fracking under homes- a hot issue at the moment with Mark Ruffalo publicly calling on the Government to ban all kinds of Fracking. Good intentions and useful links for further reading, but  What the Frack  is the game to play if you are serious about learning more on the issue. It’s very wordy but very informative and you are free to choose the outcome, good or bad.            






                 Rhino Raid  – I really enjoyed this one! A rhino out for revenge on the poachers who have mercilessly taken his beloved. Really captivating graphics coupled with simple but addictive gameplay.  It has entertainment value without compromising on its aim; there’s plenty of information to absorb in just a short period of play. Flint Sky Interactive have even made it really simple to find out more and donate from the game  .           






            Climate Defence  – Not the most captivating or motivational game, it gives the player a brief look at the real struggle of slowing down climate change.  An unbeatable game (unless you cheat), on ‘Real’ mode there is no way to win, driving home the extent of the damage done to our planet. Facts pop up offering further information on climate change and its effective but lacks depth. It is informative but if links to external related sources were incorporated it would make for a better educational experience.                












              Oiligarchy     – On to oil! At first glance (I thought) this game was an easy play through and hadn’t much to offer. But boy was I wrong! It is a really controversial play; weighted choices like ‘prompting a homeland attack’ or ‘declaring war on Iraq’ are easily made, your focus is on profit not people! Environmental issues: from destroying the local wildlife and villages to issues such as the harmful gases speeding up climate change are touched on too. This is a very pointed game despite its simplistic, colourful art style and the initial impression it might give.             












                Human Footprint Interactive    – Better to think of this as an educational tool. Found on the National Geographic site, it offers up some interesting individual information such as the amount of chickens needed to sustain your lifetime egg intake. – Fun Fact, ‘Ireland’s annual harvest supplies a lifetime of potatoes for 91,000 Americans’.  Planet Food  is very similar, awarding players badges for completing different tasks; growing awareness of the food we eat; more interactive and offering a wider range of avenues to discover, a great way to grow individual awareness.          






           Earth Hour    - A really sweet game with a very simple objective; ‘turn off the lights’. It was created for WWF as part of the ‘Earth Hour’ initiative which takes place globally on the last Saturday of March every year. There is a ‘Call to Action’ located below the game which gives the player more information on the effects of climate change and there is also a ‘Donate’ button for WWF.            









               Fraxinus - Played on Facebook   



            Fraxinus –Play this on Facebook and seek revenge on your friends for all those ‘Candy Crush’ and ‘Farmville’ notifications. This game is just as fun and addictive but a heck of a lot more productive! Working out the sequences and ‘stealing’ them from other players all while helping scientists (actual real-life, white coat wearing scientists) develop a cure for the Chalara fungus; a disease that has the potential to wipe-out 90-95% of Britain and Irelands Ash trees, a colossal figure when you consider Ash is the third most common tree in Britain! – If this is a cause you are passionate about then I really recommend looking into  BIFOR    and the work they are doing. For those of you who enjoy walks in the countryside and want to do your part saving the trees too,  Tree Health Survey  is an App which allows users to report issues of disease in trees to the appropriate Government Officials.            












              Citizen Science  – The ‘Steward’, foretold to save the local lake from becoming too polluted to swim in, time travels to gain a better understanding of the actions which resulted in the polluted lake. It is aimed at a young audience but there’s an important lesson we can all take to heart; each one of us have a role to play in building a better, more environmentally friendly world. ‘Citizen Science’ the term itself is a worldwide movement where individuals do what they can to progress the research of scientists into various environmental solutions, like the ‘Tree Health Survey’ and ‘Fraxinus’.  Zooniverse  is a huge database of Citizen Science projects with a range that caters for every interest.           






             Plan It Green  -        A building sim; the aim is to give an old energy sucking town a newer greener facelift. As Mayor there are a range of factors to consider when building; this game incorporates alternate energy solutions like solar powered houses, wind farms, even hydro plants! It was enjoyable and an easy play. Sim City EDU (only for teachers and students), Electro City (a more challenging play), IBM CityOne (choose to either the environmental route or a corporate route, makes for an interesting selection of players) – are just a few more titles in the building sim category with an environmentally aware aspect.             






                        Flower  – It’s always good to take a little time and appreciate the world around us. If everyone did this, who knows, maybe all these other issues we’ve discussed wouldn’t be issues! This game is really beautiful. It is tranquil, calming and very spiritual. Playing as the wind, flower petals are collected resulting in a whirlwind of beauty where each blade of grass moves independently! This game is gorgeous but it is more than just a simple pleasure for your senses (it has a great sound track too), it encourages a need in the player to actually go out into the real world and appreciate all it has to offer. This game is raved about by avid gamers and non-gamers alike. A nice little positive to round off a content heavy list!          There are so many games out there that focus on real issues, educating people of all age groups and motivating people into action, this is just a drop in the ocean of what’s on offer ( there’s games for that too). It is well worth the exploration and there are some real gems that provide great ways to get involved!     Here at Totem Learning, we have been busy doing our bit too!  Is IT Green , is the Serious Game which will equip players with the knowledge and skills to make their business energy efficient and save money in the process.     Nicky Rhodes our resident 3D and 2D Artist has been working diligently on this project. She has recorded her process and methods for any aspiring artists to learn from and we are delighted to announce they will be released on our blog very soon. Not to be missed by artists at any stage of their career, there’s sure to be something to learn for all – talking of which did you see Chris Chadwick’s post on  the Golden Ratio ?     Remember you can get involved on the discussion of your favourite Serious Games and candidates for future Totem Top Tens by using the hashtag #TL10 on twitter!



The second in Totem's Top Ten Serious Games Series. This blog is all about games that address environmental issues.