“These are a few of my favorite things”… of 2014

A Year in Review! Aka: my favorite games and culture stuff of 2014

HAPPY 2015!!

I know… it’s February. I’m late… but I just want to talk about all of my favorite trends, projects and discoveries at the Labs of 2014 so I’m claiming February in-bounds!

So, Green Door… what was new in 2014??


First and foremost this year Green Door released the League of Extraordinary Bloggers with the fabulous Boston Children’s Museum and the Freeman Foundation Asian Culture Exhibit Series. There were 5 exhibits that will travel to 40 museums: So. much. content!! And in fact what we found was that the content spoke for itself. It ended up being a mobile choose-your-own-adventure, interactive story where (of course) you must Carmen SanDiego yourself across SouthEast Asia to capture a criminal mastermind.

I found that there are a number of games this year trying out the interactive storytelling/choose-your-own adventure approach. Fear ye not the text!! 80 days by Inkle studios was a great mobile choose-your-own and Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey, winner in the 2014 G4C conference used animation to follow this interactive story/choose your own format. For a more mainstream game but with a similar approach, Man vs. Wild- the game- lets people choose how to survive. Even Neil Patrick Harris just released a completely incredible Choose Your Own Autobiography: http://nphbook.com. “Tired of Memoirs that only tell you what REALLY happened” Ummm YES! We may all be choosing a lot of our own adventures in 2015.


I’ve been seeing a lot of these great MULTI platform ways of communicating a story. What if you use your app as a controller for an interactive wall? What if your wall interacted with a paper storybook? Why can’t a story be a game? Why can’t a game be a movie? Media platforms are becoming inexpensive enough that we can afford to experiment with more than one format for a project. Storycode is a great organization that’s connecting producers in lots of different mediums to collaborate on these trans-media projects.

For one of our projects this year, SquirreLee University for Stratford Hall in Virginia, we combined digital and analog tools. Visitors are given a chair cushion to sit on with a sewn-in pocket holding paper “study guide”, a pencil and a device with a pre-loaded app. The app guides them through their research project with more high-quality images, interactivity and flexibility than we could have done with a paper guide but the cushion and study guide encourages students to sit on the floor, draw, write, talk to others and compare notes, all of which are best done with paper and pen.

When We Were Young, There Was A War: http://www.centralamericanstories.com/intro/ was a project where two great documentary filmmakers were looking for ways to make their films more interactive. They approached us about building games to help tell the story but the best starting place was actually to make the films themselves interactive- and it’s not hard to do with platforms like Interlude or even YouTube.

Others are catching the video transmedia bug and we’re seeing videos that have elements of games. Infinity created an interactive video where a character called you on your own phone to complete a story (http://vimeo.com/89522385, released in 2013). Coldplay even tried their hand at a video game/music video: http://www.coldplay.com/ink/. This blog in no way condones the music of Coldplay but this is a good example of a transmedia music video. Mashable says we’re going to see a lot more of this: http://mashable.com/2014/07/01/fuisz-interactive-online-videos/.

It was a cool year to watch objects starting to interact with digital media with things like digital animation that requires physically arranging digital devices. It’s hard to explain, but check this out.

In a 2012 trip to Japan I saw video games that interacted with card decks- but hey that’s Japan… they have interactive toilets. This week I was completely captivated at Target with Disney’s Infinity, a platform that activates video games with toys. http://www.businessinsider.com/heres-why-people-love-disneys-infinity-video-game-2014-6. It’s ALLLL the nerdiness at once!! Collecting Superhero/Cartoon figurines and then… playing video games with said figurines? Basically you’re giving people an excuse to buy toys. “Sorry guys, I had to buy all of the Avengers dolls so I could finish the game. No way, I would totally never buy a Captain America collectable doll on my own.” Disney is going to make a fortune on that.


2013 was a year of constant buzz about Oculus Rift. They’d released a developer version of the software, only certain people had “rigs” that they could experiment with and it was super super awesome if you knew someone who had it because you couldn’t buy one. This thing was going to revolutionize gameplay. It’s the equivalent of a modern stereoscope and if you haven’t seen it before, it’s right here: https://www.oculus.com

I was lucky enough to know two talented designers building 3d renderings of museums. Scott Tongue worked with the Becker College design team to build a gorgeous rendering of the Worcester Museum of Art: http://betaboston.com/innovation-economy/2014/03/14/donning-a-vr-headset-to-visit-the-worcester-art-museum/ and Cody Coltharp worked with Artlab+ at the Smithsonian to make a virtual Hirshhorn: http://www.hirshhorn.si.edu/collection/artlab/#collection=artlab

Then… in March of 2014… Facebook bought Oculus. What Facebook wanted with Oculus, I couldn’t figure out. They gave us a lot of jargon-y “wave of the future” language but since then, it’s seemed to go the way of snapchat. i.e.: nowhere. I don’t hear people buzzing about Oculus much anymore. Even this week the CEO of Oculus said that a “consumer version is very close”. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2887963/Is-gadget-look-like-Designers-reveal-ski-goggle-concept-Facebooks-200-Oculus-Rift-VR-headset.html

Very close. Any day now. Just hang in there. We’ll release this product when we feel like it. You’re as excited as you were in 2012 right? Just believe in Facebook. Everyone trusts Facebook, right?

But it doesn’t really matter anymore because then Google figured out how to do it with an android and cardboard: http://www.cnet.com/news/googles-cardboard-vr-headset-is-no-joke-its-great-for-the-oculus-rift/.

Thanks Google!!

I’m not much on the maker scene. To me it has meant a proliferation of strange electronics and plastic shelf decorations: the machined, 3-D printed equivalent of bud vases that are really a jelly jar with masking tape and shoe polish. But this… this is interesting: There’s a new company with promising technology. Sorry, was bought out by a multimillion-dollar conglomerate. Conglomerate drags its feet and… actually nevermind we can do this ourselves now with Unity and cardboard. Thanks anyways.

+1 for Google and the maker movement.


About 5 years ago, my husband and I had this amazing idea: what if we locked you in a room and you had to get out? What if there was a storyline and you had to look at evidence and solve puzzles to get out?? Wouldn’t that be amazing??

In our infinite wisdom, we decided that we could never make enough off of a game like that to support it. Who would let us lock them in a room? Which room? And how do we build it? Too much overhead. 

Meanwhile… in Europe… some fantastic and enterprising game designers such as Hit Hunt, Puzzle Break and Adventure Rooms figured out how to streamline the process so that they could sell tickets and now… TA DAAAA!! You can get locked in a room in pretty much any major city in the world. Even CNBC agrees that this is a major gaming trend! (http://www.cnbc.com/id/101774256) which may mean that it’s already jumped the shark… but they’re so cool and so fun that I don’t think so.

You can read more about my own Escape Room experiences in London and Paris in my blog post a few months ago: https://greendoorlabs.wordpress.com/category/cool-things-to-check-out/


Okay so full disclosure: we built a platform. And I love it. www.edventurebuilder.com I’ve been talking a lot about platforms in the last year because I think they’re important for educational game designers and In fact, you can read my blog post that gets more specifically into my favorite game design platforms from the Serious Play conference this summer: https://greendoorlabs.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/platforms-building-games-without-a-dev-team/

So obviously I see this as enough of a trend to build our own platform. BUT… why build an Edventure Builder? Not for my health, it was because I NEEDED A GAMES CMS. We were bleeding ourselves dry building games from scratch all the time. Museums and educators have constantly changing content and news flash: nonprofit education organizations do not typically have massive budgets for games. What’s a girl to do? re-hire your dev freelancers to make content changes? Take the 5 years and learn to program so I can make the edits myself? Add a content-update budget into the already stretched-thin budget of museums and libraries? No way. We needed a CMS.

And we weren’t the only ones. This year I’ve seen other organizations like Baltimore Science Museum and the Getty also working on their own game design CMS’s for exactly the same reasons: they need to make content changes. I’m seeing really top-notch games being built off of platforms. One of my favorite games of the year, Counting Kingdom was built with Playmaker. Cat Astro was made with Dame. As Paul Ogby says in his blog, “Why take the time to create a 2D level editor when others have already spent countless hours of their life making great ones?” Most educators are NOT trying to become ace game developers, they just want a game. This is something else that I talked about in a blog post this year, giving props and some game advice to Barbie:


And so what about 2015? 

I REALLY want to push transmedia. What can I do if I have a museum collection and a game designer and an artist…and a light designer and maybe a director, a band and 300 swing dancers. What could we do with that?? What could we build if we used alllll the arts???

And I want to stretch the limits of our platform, the Edventure Builder. Even now we’re using it to test a “closer looking” image game for kids, an Oregon Trail spin-off and fictional tours of Boston. There are much more creative storytelling things we could be doing with this than just regular old scavenger hunts- and I’m on a tear. Not only that, how can we get more kids building games for others to explore museums, libraries, cities and universities?

So what will you be working on?? Any trends I missed for 2014 and what do you see coming down the line for educational game design?? Post! Post! Sometimes I feel like I’m writing to an empty room! …. which as you’ve probably noticed… doesn’t seem to discourage me.

Keep in touch and happy game building for 2015!!


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