Apr 3

Hello my fine feathered ARKiver’s. My name is George Rowe and I am a Producer at Thought Den, a digital design agency based in Bristol, UK. We’ve been lucky enough to work with ARKive on a couple of exciting projects, including ‘Survival’ their endangered species gaming app, and I wanted to tell you a little about our most recent: Team WILD.

Why did ARKive choose us? We’re a specialist digital studio and our working philosophy is that of ‘playful learning’. People engage more deeply, learn better, and are generally more involved with content if they can experience it through play.

Games are rewarding because we are evolutionarily hardwired to enjoy learning patterns. And games that reflect real challenges have even more appeal. If the content of these challenges is also educational then so much the better!

Original logos for Team WILD

The IDEA

Team WILD began life as an idea called ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’, an online game that would get kids to engage with scientific careers.

In the early meetings it was clear there were two different routes we could take with this game. We could either try and TEACH in the game, actively having people complete puzzles based on curricula learning outcomes (a la Manga High), or we could REINFORCE classroom learning with a game that would let kids explore the concepts in a playful way. Naturally, our preference was for the latter.

Science IS cool, but our challenge here was to find a way of showing the amazing things scientists do in an engaging and plausible wrapper. ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’ was a nice simple hook to hang it on, but it was quickly shelved due to potential copyright issues. What other hooks could we use to frame our game? Some ideas from our original proposal:

  • Science Armageddon: all the scientists have vanished. You must now do all the science!
  • Alien Scientist: you have infiltrated ARKive’s science department. You must now do science well enough so you are not discovered!
  • Science Superheroes: A team of science superheroes need your help to do science! You must travel the world doing science!

The question we ended up asking ourselves was: who wouldn’t want to be a science superhero?

The team at ARKive spoke with some tame scientists to learn more about the tasks they performed. Once we had our mega list of science, we sat down with the Key Stage 3 UK National Curriculum and our own list of game types and mechanics and explored different ways to turn these activities into individual mini-games.

Team WILD wireframes

Team WILD wireframes

Scientists survey predator and prey on the savannah to work out the dynamics between them. What if you were running along the savannah, pressing keys to count predator and prey? An idea was born. And scientists collect uninfected frogs in the jungles of Montserrat to breed them? This thing is designing itself!

Reward is also a key mechanic in games; it gives an extra little nudge for players to try again, to try and do BETTER. Along with the classic highscore table, by scoring enough points in Team WILD you can also join the team and unlock super cool treats.

Original character sketches for Team WILD

Original character sketches for Team WILD

The LOOK

From the outset we thought a comic/graphic novelesque style had the balance of fun with a slightly more adult edge. Once the concepts were finalised we brought in specialist games illustrator Nat Al-Tahhan to create our science superhero characters. Wanting to get away from the whole ‘scientists wear white coats’ stigma, we decided to give our heroes lab CAPES instead.

Parallax scrolling, where different layers move at different speeds to give an illusion of depth, was used for this exact purpose. Our wonder-intern Ellen created the beautiful layers for these (as well as the Team WILD logo), under the tutelage of Creative Director Ben T and Senior Designer Ben W. Ben W then tied everything together with a lovely user interface and some spit and polish.

The BUILD

An important part of any game project these days is deciding what platform you are going to produce for. We decided to go with a faithful Flash game for a number of reasons: it’s a proven platform, nearly every school computer can run it, and it delivers the most bang for buck.

Our Senior Developer Corin nailed the game mechanics, parallax scrolling backgrounds and interface screens, while developer Ben M (we have a lot of Ben’s) whipped up the backend for the highscore tables.

We took a beta version of Team WILD into a couple of local schools in Bristol for some essential user testing. The kids liked the games, and though some understood the science content it wasn’t quite clear enough, so we took the decision to add in some more feedback information after each play.

Screenshot of African savannah level on Team WILD

The GAME

So, after another couple of weeks of refinement, play testing and level design we had a game!

Play Team WILD

Team WILD has had around 80,000 plays so far and an average play time of six and a half minutes, which is really great for an online science-based game.

We really admire the work that ARKive do, and the chance to work with them again was really fantastic. Hopefully Team WILD will help inspire some conservationists of the future.

George Rowe, Thought Den Producer & Studio Manager

Mar 22

Last week saw the ExCel centre in London host the 5th annual Big Bang Fair, the largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK. The aim of the fair is to introduce young people to the wide range of career opportunities available in STEM subjects and quite simply show them how awesome STEM can be. Once again, the ARKive team were delighted to attend, and spent four fun-filled days engaging with the next generation of scientists.

Claire at stand

Over the course of the event, 65,000 visitors descended upon the show floor to take part in all that the Big Bang has to offer, including 60 interactive activity stands and 88 workshop sessions from 180 different organisations. Along with the hordes of children, parents and teachers, the Big Bang Fair also welcomed a famous face or two, including David Cameron, Professor Brian Cox, TV Presenter Liz Bonnin and Business Secretary Vince Cable who opened the fair on Thursday morning. Of course, the two most exciting VIPs in attendance were our very own science superheroes Root and Flora, members of Team WILD’s elite conservation task force.

Brownies

Picnic area at lunch

Root and Flora’s mission at the fair was to help the rest of the ARKive team recruit new members for Team WILD, an exciting new online game which aims to introduce young people to both environmental issues and potential job opportunities in conservation. Through the power of stickers (number distributed: 1,661), word quickly spread around the fair and the number of Team WILD recruits rose rapidly. The new team members soon proved themselves to be of a high calibre, achieving some very impressive high scores. Due to these incredible scores, Team WILD decided to award one special commendation to the top scorer in each of the four mini-games. These prestigious awards go to the following rookie recruits:

Root FloraJungle
Daniel Nichols: 1,237

Aquatic
George Murray: 2,278

Deforested
Elliott: 2,297

Savannah
James: 2,319

 

Massive congratulations to everybody at the fair who came along to take the Team WILD challenge. For those of you who didn’t get a chance to play on the day, or for those of you who want to try and smash your current high scores, why not head over to our Team WILD page and give it a go! If you need any convincing, Team WILD was described by one young fan as being ‘like Super Mario, but with animals’…what could be better?!

Superman

Missed out on The Big Bang Fair this year? Keep an eye on the official website for information about next year’s fair and for details on other similar events near you. See you all next year!

The ARKive STEM Team

Mar 19

Education Resources Awards 2013 Winners of Education Resources Awards 2013 were announced on Friday with ARKive being awarded Best Primary Resource or Equipment – involving ICT. 

The Education Resources Awards honour the quality and diversity of educational products and resources, educational establishments and the most dedicated members of the industry. In their fifteenth successful year, the Education Resources Awards are organised by BESA, the trade association representing educational suppliers in the UK sector, and Brilliant Marketing.

The judges, an independent panel of experienced educational professionals, most of whom are classroom teachers, felt that the team at Wildscreen were passionate about connecting people with the natural world and ensuring that more people experience and are inspired by nature.

Caroline Wright, Director, BESA comments: “What makes these Awards different is that they focus on the resources, services and the people that really make an impact on learning and the day-to-day work of the teachers in the classroom. We would like to congratulate Wildscreen for the quality of ARKive.”

Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen said, “Wildscreen’s mission is to use the power of wildlife imagery to inspire greater awareness, understanding and appreciation of the natural world. We are always exploring new and innovative ways of reaching greater audiences, and through ARKive, our leading public engagement and education initiative, we’re looking to reach the younger generation and inspire the conservationists and environmental stewards of tomorrow. We are delighted to win such an important award which recognises our educational work.”

Mar 12

FloraWe recently launched Team WILD, an exciting new online game in which you have the opportunity to become a science superhero where you must protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction. While the aim of the game is to engage young people with career opportunities in conservation, Team WILD has certainly caught the imaginations of the big kids in the ARKive office too. In between competitive keyboard tapping, drawing up an office leader board and lunch hours spent practising and perfecting those double jumps, the team here started to think about the environmental issues they could tackle if they really did have superpowers. As we all know, ‘with great power comes great responsibility’, and with this in mind, the team have come up with some ingenious ways they could use their ‘powers’ for good.

Kicking things off is Carolyn, our Online Marketing Officer, who took inspiration from our favourite web-slinger and decided that she would like spidey superpowers so that she could create webs to catch poachers. Preventing poaching would be a great step in helping to conserve species such as the Endangered eastern gorilla.

Eastern gorilla photo

Researcher Jemma went for a marine-themed power – the ability to breathe underwater so that she could free turtles trapped in fishing nets, a common cause of sea turtle mortality.

Turtle photo

Online Outreach Manager Ellie decided to think big – literally! She decided that by growing to giant size she would be able to defend habitats and halt the destruction of forests, protecting forest dwelling species like this Barbour’s forest tree frog.

Barbour’s forest tree frog photo

Thinking along similar lines, Text Author Liz decided that she’d like the power to make plants grow instantly just by touching the ground so that she could restore all the areas that humans have destroyed, as well as making towns and a bit greener and nicer!

Forest photo

Our Education Officer Helen thought outside the box, and decided that her superhero power would be time travel, so that she could travel back and save species before they go extinct – clever! First on her list would be the baiji, which although still technically listed as Critically Endangered is now sadly thought to be Extinct.

Baiji photo

Wildscreen Festival Assistant Becky opted for a stealthy power, the ability to be camouflaged and blend in with any habitat to observe animal behaviour and keep an eye out for poachers! The Critically Endangered black rhino would certainly benefit from such protection.

Black rhino photo

Finally, Text Author Kaz opted for a more subtle power, the power of persuasiveness, in order to convince more people to make the necessary changes to fight against climate change and species extinction. This is a vital tool in any campaign to protect the environment, and a power that we hope is both realistic and achievable.

Have your say!

We’ve also been putting this question to our followers on social media and have had some great responses so far. If you haven’t already, join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter:

@clairecjl: I’d be super-fast like The Flash and carry out a speedy vaccination program to protect African wild dogs from rabies #speciespower

@jimmac140: Although Aquaman seems kinda useless he must be good for something, Be warned anyone after sharks fin! Aquaman is on it!

@_Daktari_: I want Cupid’s Power to shoot arrows of LOVE for all living things in every human heart. It would save all species & their habitats.

@WWFHoBGI: Super-forest-defender – all species everywhere RT @ARKive Superpower would you like and which species would you save with it? #teamwildgame

@Owen_Thornton: there aren’t many superpowers that can help. Although, maybe ice control for saving the polar bears could help.

Harry Purple Monkey Dishwasher: Harry would have the superpower to heal all the forests, water, earth & air instantly. :D

Soph Kitty Preston: I would want xray vision to catch ppl smuggling animals and parts across borders.

Demetris Bertzeletos: The power to grant David Attenbourough immortality

Deborah Marland: I’d love the power of being able to make people forget that they are in wars & destroying the planet & make them start to treasure & nurture this world & all living creatures on it. The way it should be… If only……

Jan Hooper: i would like the power to make all weapons not work!

Dominique Hoekman: A bird with gigantic wings to fly whole over planet Earth to protect ‘Wildlife’

Feb 28

Team WILD, an elite squadron of science superheroes, needs your help! Your mission: to protect and conserve the planet’s species and habitats from destruction. Are you ready for the challenge?

Photo of Team WILD play screen

From jungle to savannah, rainforests to coral reefs, help Team WILD monitor, survey and conserve. Discover the different types of field tasks a conservation scientist or ecologist must do in order to protect the world’s species and habitats, from the replanting of native guapuruvu trees in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil to the rescue and evacuation of non-infected mountain chickens (a frog) from Montserrat, where populations are being decimated by the deadly chytrid fungus.

Test your speed, skill and determination and see whether you’ve got what it takes to join this legion of science superheroes…

The Team WILD missions…

 

 Amphibian conservation Save the mountain chicken from a deadly disease in Montserrat

A deadly fungus is destroying the world’s amphibian populations. Team WILD needs to collect uninfected mountain chickens (a frog) to breed them and ensure the survival of the species.

Captive breeding in bio-secure breeding facilities and re-introduction of the mountain chicken is the best hope for its survival.

Coral reef conservation

Conserving coral reefs in the Chagos Archipelago

Scientists need to monitor coral reefs to make sure climate change and other threats such as overfishing or sedimentation are not having a negative effect on reef health.

Join Team WILD’s elite task force of divers to help survey the health of coral reefs in the Chagos Archipelago.

Reforestation

Reforestation in the Atlantic forest, Brazil

Team WILD needs help combating deforestation in Brazil. No tropical ecosystem has suffered as much loss as the Atlantic Forest, making reforestation projects here very important.

Over 90% of the Atlantic  forest has already been destroyed, so the team must act fast to replant native tree species, such as the guapuruvu tree.

Savannah

Surveying predator-prey relationships in the African savannah

Scientists study predator-prey relationships to help understand what might cause population changes over time.

Team WILD needs you on an important mission to help determine the relationships between predators and prey in the African savannah.

 

Are you a teacher? Find out how you can use Team WILD in the classroom.

Meet Team WILD’s science superheroes…

Flora

Root

 ROOT is a true radical. A research scientist to the core, he is nature’s ultimate guardian warrior. He’s also wildly cool.

A world-leading botanist, FLORA has a bit of a wild streak.She lets nothing stand in her way when solving the murkiest of scientific mysteries.

Play Team WILD!

 

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