Launchball. Do interactives get any better?

September 24, 2007

I said in my last post that I’d be blogging about the new Launchpad interactive pretty soon. So here it is – the arrival of Launchball – the culmination of a huge amount of hard work by those fabulous fellows at the Science Museum, stunning Flash and visual stuff by digital marvels Preloaded and some stirling hardcore lifting back-end courtesy of Eduserv via the amazing CMS, Sitecore.

I worked on the fun (and easy) bit of this project – together with Daniel Evans, Frankie Roberto and Jane Audas we worked up the concepts, presented them to the wider Launchpad project board, user tested and honed them down into what you see today. Then because of my imminent departure, Mr Evans picked up the hard work of actually steering the project through to completion.

LaunchballThe challenge we faced in delivering this interactive was this: the Launchpad gallery is entirely a physical experience. It’s about bubbles, wheels, flashes of light, dynamos. The obvious (and also obviously wrong) approach would have been to do some kind of awful online version of that physical experience. A “pull this virtual lever to see the virtual bubble rise up through the virtual tube” kind of interactive. We knew, right from the off, that this was what we absolutely wanted to avoid.

The concept we came up with was to use a physics engine to demonstrate concepts which are abstract and yet physically real in some way. Conceptually this is incredibly strong, and we could see eyes lighting up across the content team from the first time we presented this approach.

Getting it from there to reality however could have gone badly wrong. Luckily, Preloaded pulled some extraordinary things out of the bag – the sounds, the UI, the sophistication of the graphics. And behind the scenes, the CMS holds all the content data as well as the layouts for each level which means editing stuff is very easy, as is (possibly in the future…?) letting others get at the XML layout data to build their own weird stuff as well. Chucking in the means for users to save and share their own levels was also an obvious but well-planned step which could well have fallen off the radar during “project panic” time. I’m terribly pleased that it didn’t.

So. That’s it. I’m willing to bet that this will go viral, big-time. Help by Digging it.

17 thoughts on “Launchball. Do interactives get any better?

  1. Mike

    That is so totally cool, addictive and very very stylish . . . it reminds me a lot of a mac game called Crazy Machines which is also very addictive.

    Very very nice work.

    So I must ask – what was the budget for this – in rough terms?

    Seb

  2. You could easily reverse-engineer the XML level data if you wanted (its sent as a simple SOAP request) – but you can pretty much do everything using the inbuilt interface anyway.

    We’ll hopefully soon see people creating interesting levels, which we can then promote in the ‘Extras’ section.

  3. Hey Seb – Thanks for kind comments. Afraid as an ex-member of the museum it wouldn’t be right for me to comment on budget. Maybe drop Dan E a line and see if you can talk it out of him 🙂

  4. yeah i was at the webdirections conference here in sydney and one of the speakers had a digg slide up in their presentation . . . . and there it was . . . launchball on the front page!

    nice work.

  5. I’m the Flash developer who crafted this beast 🙂 And, I’ve got to say, one of the most fun (and ambitious) things I’ve worked on in a while. I’ve certainly learned a lot more about physics whilst putting it together, and hopefully that carries over into the game. I am, however, greatly looking forward to returning to a semi-normal work/sleep pattern 😉

    Frankie’s right that it would be pretty easy to reverse-engineer the level XML format, but he’s also right that the sandbox editor we provide in the game achieves pretty much exactly the same end, save a few swicthes we use for gameflow-specific stuff. It’s certainly full-featured enough to allow people to build anything they can think up, and we hope they will (without killing the server again… )

  6. Hey Henry/Frankie

    I guess my brain was wandering and thinking about ways in which you could intepret the XML in other weird ways – maybe by displaying something on-gallery or by taking a feed off-gallery of a “real” physical interactive and feeding that back into the game. All just thoughts, never likely to become reality…either way, it’s great that the data is external to the app. Walking the walk as well as talking the talk.

    Henry, goes without saying that I think you guys did a stunning job. Very, very cool.

  7. Hey all,
    Thought you might like to know I’ve written a blog entry about the making of Launchball from my perspective… it looks like links in comments get thrown in the spam pile, but my name on this comment should be a link.

  8. Hey, so youre the guy that made this game? THANK YOU, or F-YOU, depending on weather or not staying up till 4am is acceptable or not. :D. I made a little cheat/walkthrough page, because noticed a lot of people were getting stuck.

  9. Launchball projection « electronic museum

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