In the latest "Road to the IGF Mobile" feature, GamesOnDeck talks with Jan Ulrich Schmidt about Anna's Secret, his GPS driven, location-based learning adventure game based in the city of Weimar, Germany, a finalist for IGF Mobile 2008's Innovation in Augmented Design Award (presented by Nvidia) award.
What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?
Jan U. Schmidt: Anna's Secret is my diploma thesis. I write it for the Bauhaus University of Weimar, Germany. During my studies I learned many aspects about interactive television and mobile applications.
Currently I work for a game development company named enter.tv in the creation and production department. We create casual multiplayer games for the internet. I am working with the developers of the game Moorhuhn, one of the most successful games in Germany (as you might know.)
I also consult for the company Ubilabs on location-based-media games.
What motivated you to make your game?
JUS: My goal was to create an adventure game which respects the cultural background of the city of Weimar combined with fun gameplay. Many tourists come to this town and there are a lot of sightseeing-offers for seniors, but there are no interesting offers for young people or school classes.
A big thank you goes to my friends, my family and my teachers who motivated me and helped me to carry on with the project when I had reached a point where I wanted to stop and throw it all away.
Where did you draw inspiration from in its design and implementation?
JUS: I started this work during research on labyrinths and read a lot about this theme.
This inspired me in topics like navigation and the Greek myth of Ariadne and the Minotaurs. I found much of my inspiration in walking in the park and in wandering through libraries like the Anna-Amalia-Library, which plays an important role in this game.
I also took inspiration in adventure games I used to play when I was a child, like Ishaar and Might & Magic, as well as in the tutorial to the game Rome: Total War.
Also my friends and teachers gave me inspiration in creating this game. Additionally I read a lot about "ubiquitous gaming" from authors like Paul Dourish, Steve Benford, Chris Crawford, Henry Jenkins, Claus Pias and many others.
Finally I found the company Transformat, which helped me to realize the game by giving me software to implement GPS-Data to Adobe Flash. This was the kick-off to producing Anna's Secret.
What sort of development tools have you been using in the production of your game?
JUS: There were several tools I used and needed to produce Anna's Secret. In general I used the whole Adobe product palette, especially Adobe Flash Light for mobile devices. In the process of video editing and postproduction I used Avid, Combustion and 3DMax.
What do you think the most interesting element of the game is?
JUS: It is the mixture of real- and virtual world, the ironic combination of a game and a tourist-guide system, the real historical background story of the game and the character Anna herself. The game also respects an interface design and appropriate usability for small devices under outdoor conditions.
How long have you been developing your game, and what has the process been like?
JUS: The production took 6 months, including a long research on labyrinths and mazes, on games, ubiquitous gaming, adventure games, location-bases-media and surrounding themes.
It started with an idea and a brief concept, but during the production process, I recognized that some gameplay would not work and so I had to evaluate and redesign the game. My professors and mentors guided me to the right direction.
If you had to rewind to the start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
JUS: Yes... I would take more time on designing a good interface and on the look and feel.
What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development in the mobile industry, and are any other independent mobile games out now that you admire?
JUS: There are only a few location-based or ubiquitous games out presently. Most of them are made with the intention to test technical possibilities whereas the content and plot of these games is secondary. Many prototypes in this context come from Swedish laboratories and which also inspired me.
You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the mobile game business something very important. What is it?
JUS: Take more time to make educational games and please make a game which will teach people about the climate change! This could be an excellent way to inform coming generations in an effective way.