Impressions from the MicroRangers prototype

Hey there everybody. I’m Carl, a new digital learning and game design intern at the museum. I’m going to be working with Barry and others on the MicroRangers project, and I’m super excited about it! For a bit of background about me, I’m a game designer from Beirut, Lebanon, currently finishing his Masters at NYU. When I’m not making games, I’m either wandering the streets of New York searching for the perfect burger, or binging on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Here’s me!

PicBut enough about me. Time to talk about the cool stuff we’re doing here at the museum! Last week I had the chance to try the prototype for Microrangers: Keeping the Balance developed almost a year ago. It’s an augmented reality game that will have visitors playing as a MicroRanger-in-training, going from exhibit to exhibit solving “MicroCrises” threatening the Museum’s imagined biodiversity levels. How it works is that you scan a character card with the iPad, and a scientist will seem to pop up off the card, explaining what you have to do next. The MicroCrises are presented as a concerned citizen explaining what’s going wrong, such as a glass-bottom boat guide complaining about colorless (bleached) corals. Going to an exhibit will lead to a couple of “MicroGames” the visitor identifies the problem and then proceeds to solve it. There’s a lot of potential on the narrative and gameplay side of things.

I can talk about the game design stuff all day long, but I’m more curious to hear what the high school students from the MicroRangers youth program have to say about it. Over the next few months they’re going to be contributing a lot to what actually gets put in the game, from a narrative and game play standpoint. They played the prototype, and here’s some of what was said:

The youth loved the actual process of resolving a challenge. Seeing a character pop up off a card and talking to you is fascinating and interactive in a way that hasn’t been seen before. They also gave props to how users will be learning about microbiomes while having fun at the same time. Glad they believe in what we’re doing!

There were a few points of discussion over how the game could be improved. Mainly related to tech, the audio and visuals could be improved to create a better user experience. In terms of the gameplay itself, the youth wanted to make it more “game-y”: being able to zoom in on the map, getting points and rewards, more player feedback (such as “level cleared!” at the end of a mini-game). They also recommended varying difficulty to cater to different levels of gaming experience, such as including timers and hint systems. That’s great news, because part of my role at the museum is working on the actual gameplay and making it more engaging, creating meaningful choices for players.

Some additional suggestions were offered regarding how to make MicroRangers a better learning experience. The MicroRangers’ youth would like to see real, actual occurrences of MicroCrises, with real specialists at work. They would also like more details about the name and shape of the microbes they’re working with. In general, the game should be more forgiving for players, both in terms of technology and in terms of gameplay, so as not to frustrate players.

It’s great that the MicroRangers youth pretty much noticed the same problems we did. Working with them on the game is going to be a ton of fun, and I’m sure they’ll come up with awesome stuff. I’m excited.


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