Northern Cultural Heritage Meets High-Technology with AirBuccaneers

Education & Culture articles

Helsinki, 23 May, 2005 — Northern Cultural Heritage Meets High-Technology with AirBuccaneers

Digital games take the lifeless core of high-technology and give it a heart of fun and entertainment. The increasing presence of games and the game culture is undeniable. Digital gaming draws people to technological frontiers fulfilling their potential with dreams and aspirations, and with fragments of everyday life - things that ultimately matter the most.

Yet the possibilities offered by gaming have not been systematically explored - what impact could games, in their myriad of solutions, have on the larger world of digital communication?

To harness these possibilities and to explore possible answers, LudoCraft combines scientific, experimental approaches with artistic production and high-technology development.

As a response to the changing times, the field of digital interaction needs a face-lift: new innovations, new solutions, new concepts for interpersonal mediation and communication. In spite of this need, the vast array of possible solutions already implemented in multiplayer digital games has largely gone unnoticed: from rich interaction to tailored contexts, games offer a wide range of communication and collaboration models.

Furthermore, many issues tackled by computer games are practically absent from the field of digital communication and its applications: designed user roles, narrative sequencing, simulation and environmental presence, time-critical usability, etc. The wealth of interaction offered by gaming is exceptional - it might well be unparalleled in the digital world.

To pick just one concrete example: the lack of intuitive signs of interaction has been a persistent problem in digital communication, separating it from face-to-face encounters. Yet, from the world of digital games one can easily find new perspective on this problem: gaming provides a wide range of implementations of versatile self-expression, promoting a broader view of interaction.

A Line of Novel Applications New Solutions for Communication

To explore and develop new solutions for communication and collaboration, LudoCraft has designed a line of novel applications based on game technology, harnessing cutting-edge third-party platforms. These applications can be used as scenarios of collaboration both locally and globally.

Among these applications is AirBuccaneers, a team-focused multiplayer game that emphasizes co-operation. Implemented as a culmination point of previous research, the design of AirBuccaneers employs a variety of theories, both loaned and constructed. The theoretical framework laid out by the research has enabled LudoCraft to emphasize specific areas of interpersonal interaction.

Yet game without a strongly developed background presents a shallow experience, no matter how competent its technology. Without a world behind it, game has no hook to draw the players in, no depth for immersion. Indeed, most of the leading brands of digital gaming are based on content - worlds, characters, genres, and styles - rather than on technology.

This is characteristic to game development: the technical implementation and design must constantly be balanced against artistic content, with an eye towards a seamless whole. Here lies also the reason why LudoCraft takes a holistic approach to gaming: to truly understand and develop digital games, all areas essential to gaming must be present and accounted for.

Inspired by Cultural Heritage - Legends, Mythology, and History

When planning the world of AirBuccaneers, LudoCraft turned towards a source rich in potential, but rarely used in gaming: the cultural heritage - legends, mythology, and history - of their native Finland and its neighboring areas. This source had many merits: operating in an academic environment, LudoCraft is surrounded by a wealth of human expertise and material on the Finnish heritage. This enabled the use of an existing and robust knowledge network, without the need to establish a new one.

Towards this rich material base, a systematic approach was formed: when a piece of legend or mythology was adopted into AirBuccaneers, it was translated into a designed vision of the world: common, important elements were inserted, polishing the material towards the needs of the gameplay.

This combination of a powerful knowledge network and a flexible and systematic approach yielded great results. It allowed LudoCraft to establish a deeply rooted sense of a wider world surrounding the game, but did not unnecessarily constrain the gameplay development.

Additionally, the Finnish mythology proved to be a treasure trove for fantasy with a distinct, exotic character. Through the years, the fantasy genre has shown exceptional staying power in digital gaming - practically every period of time contains milestone games in the genre. This is not surprising: the potential for escapism, offering worlds beyond our daily reality, is a strong suit for both digital games and fantasy - their assets are convergent. Yet there's always the danger of taking a tried and true solution too many times. In light of this, mythological sources were used as a method of providing twists to the fantasy genre, which is arguably in danger of becoming too stale and repetitive.

Experimenting in a Systematic Manner

One of the major principles of LudoCraft is to be experimental in a systematic manner: to explore and to analyze. This was also true in the case of AirBuccaneers, and its development. From the interaction design to the exploration of cultural heritage, the aim of LudoCraf was both to develop the best application possible, and to use that development for experimentation and studying in order to best learn from the work undertaken.

Ludocraft believes in holistic design of interaction, content, and environment; the necessity of combining artistic vision with technological excellence; the encapsulating power of theory and analysis; and the undiscovered potential of game design.

One should never lose sight of the potential: the greatest goal of interaction lies not in the seamless replication of the real world - it lies somewhere yet to be seen, yet to be invented... somewhere anew.

LudoCraft in Brief
LudoCraft studies games and applies the theoretical knowledge into game design. The approach combines theoretical, technical and artistic expertise in serving both the academic and the practitioner communities. The mission of LudoCraft is to distribute the knowledge of analytical gamers and game designers for the benefit of wider audience.
Ludo - Theories of game and play
Craft - Art of game design and development
LudoCraft = The Art of Designing and Creating Games and Play
The mission of LudoCraft is to distribute the knowledge of analytical gamers and game designers for the benefit of wider audience. ludocraft.oulu.fi

The author of the article, Tony Manninen works in the LudoCraft Game Design and Research Unit, Department of Information Processing Science of the University of Oulu

This article is published in ICT Cluster Finland Review 2005.

More information
ICT Cluster Finland Review 2005