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

Dec 5

When we heard that a wildlife club had been playing our ‘Survival’ app we couldn’t resist getting in touch to see what they thought. We spoke to Kate MacRae (WildlifeKate), who runs the Water Orton Wildlife (WOW) Club to find out more.

So, who is ‘WildlifeKate’?Kate MacRae

People often ask what I do… and I hope they don’t expect me to have a quick answer, as my days are crammed packed with so many different roles; teacher, naturalist, writer, photographer, education consultant….and mum!

Primarily, I am a naturalist and educationalist. I am a trained primary school teacher and I now teach part time in a Warwickshire school where I am the IT manager. I have been teaching in the primary sector for over twenty years, but my passion for natural history started a lot earlier than that!

Although I grew up in London, I have been obsessed with just about all aspects of the natural world for as long as I can remember. I spent many happy hours in Greenwich Park as a child, feeding the squirrels and watching the wildlife there.

My enthusiasm for the natural world is now spreading into just about all the work I undertake. I run my own consultancy business when I am not teaching and specialise in writing education materials.

I am lucky enough to live in a pretty rural location, with a garden full of wildlife.  It was a nest box camera system that really got me ‘hooked’ to using cameras in the garden and my desire to share these with others was the driving force behind my WildlifeKate website.  A year and a half later, I now have nearly 20 cameras in the garden which I live stream on my website and have been astounded by the interest all over the world.

Photo of a male kestrel at nestbox

A male kestrel caught on camera at a nestbox

Working with young people and teaching them about the natural world has always been close to my heart. I run the ‘WOW’ Club at school (Water Orton Wildlife Club) and I have a long waiting list of kids keen to join. We are lucky enough to have lovely school grounds and we work hard to include foster learning opportunities in the outdoors. We have hens at school, as well as a school garden and wildlife area. We meet once a week and get involved in all sorts of activities from making wildlife homes, bird feeders to exploring our local grounds for wildlife, then we blog about what we get up to. We have a camera on our bird feeders and in a nest box in the spring, which lives stream on our school website. I love sharing my enthusiasm with young people and feel it is essential to foster a knowledge, love and appreciation of the natural world – these pupils are the naturalists of the future!

ARKive in the Classroom

As a teacher, I have often used the ARKive website. The comprehensive collection of images and videos makes it a perfect choice both as a teaching resource in the classroom on the interactive whiteboard and as a research tool for pupils. It is great that pupils and teachers can embed images and videos into their own presentations and I have used lots of the videos and images within work on life cycles. The games have been very popular with my kids at school too.

Battle for ‘Survival’

When I saw that ARKive had released a ‘Survival’ app, I was keen to try it out with my WOW Club. We have a couple of iPads in school and it works brilliantly on those. The group were soon swiping, double tapping and pinching their way through the challenges and it was generating loads of discussion… ‘that can’t be a mammal, it lays eggs…’ ‘It’s gotta be a fish, it hasn’t got fur…’

Pictures of the WOW Club students playing Survival

WOW Club students playing Survival

The bright cartoon graphics, combined with vibrant coloured photos made it visually very appealing and the competition element meant the kids were keen to improve on their last survival score and beat their friends. Battles were fought to unlock photos and characters and then the kids were keen to go onto the website to find out more about some of the endangered species that were appearing… some of which they were unfamiliar with.

Here’s what the WOW Club thought… 

‘I like the game because I love animals but you are learning at the same time… I did not know if some were mammals, birds or fish, but now I do….’

‘I love this game, especially trying to tap, swipe or pinch. I give this game 5*s and 100 out of 100!’

‘I think this is a great game because you learn about animals and you have to act really quick and I was too slow… it is totally EPIC!’

‘I like the ‘Survival’ app because it helps you remember things as the knowledge comes back to you each time you play’

WOW Club students working together to play Survival

WOW Club students working together to play Survival

The kids are still trying to beat me in the game … I reign as the supreme ‘Survival’ champ, but it won’t be long before they have caught me up… they were already planning on uploading it on their devices at home. Their enthusiasm for this game was infectious and with a growing knowledge of endangered species, they will be giving me a run for my money very soon… I won’t be the WOW Club ARKive Survival Champ for long, I fear!  

Kate MacRae, ‘WildlifeKate

Survival is available for free now on the App store and Android Market.

Dec 1

ARKive's Advent Calendar

It’s only the 1st December but it is already feeling very festive here at the Wildscreen office. Why not get in the holiday mood and join us as we count down to Christmas with ARKive’s interactive Advent Calendar.

Picture of animal masks

Indulge yourself with ARKive’s festive treats. From animal-themed crafts and virtual gifts for family and friends to Survival goodies and seasonal blogs, our calendar is packed full of wild surprises.

Survival logo with characters

Behind each of the virtual doors is a new fun and festive treat everyday. Learn about the world’s endangered species as you count down to the big day.

blog icon     gift icon     video icon

Visit our Advent calendar every day and let ARKive add some sparkle to your Christmas. What’s behind the Advent door today?

We wouldn’t want you to miss any festive treats, so sign up to our Advent email for daily reminders!

Nov 27

Carolyn Hair, ARKive Online Marketing OfficerI’ve been Online Marketing Officer for Wildscreen’s ARKive project for 18 months now. I work with Ellie Dart to help get the word about the wonders of ARKive and other Wildscreen initiatives out there. Whether that’s on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Google+, tumblr, Flickr, YouTube or anywhere else online. I love being able to share amazing photos, videos and facts every day to help raise awareness about endangered species.

What are you currently working on?

It’s all about Survival – our new endangered animal mobile app game. This fun, free game for iOS and Android launched last week which was just so exciting. I’ve been busy chatting to you all on social media about this quick-fire wildlife game, its cool characters and the facts you’ve learned.

Thanks for helping us to promote it too. We couldn’t reach as many people without you so keep tweeting and sharing it with your friends. You can also join in our Top Survivor Challenge. I’m updating our leaderboard on Facebook and tumblr with all your highest scores. Now I just need to work on my own Survival time – only 56s! So far the highest score is a magnificent 900s. Can you beat that? Tweet or post your top scores!

What animal skill would you most like to have?

The firefly squid’s skill of bioluminescence, the ability to produce light, would be pretty cool. What better way to add a bit of glitz and glamour to a night out and find your way home in the dark. Gymnastics aren’t my strong point, so I think I’d also like the acrobatic skills of the agile spider monkey.

Which three people would you invite to the ultimate dinner party?

Good dinner party guests need to bring conversation and giggles to the table, so let’s go for:

- Margaret Atwood to chat books and nature

- Pedro Almodóvar for Madrid and movie tales

- Joan Rivers for witty one-liners

Where in the world would you most like to go?

So many countries still to see but I’m going to opt for a trip from Russia to China on the Trans-Siberian express. There would be the chance of spotting wonderful wildlife, perhaps even a panda or a Przewalski’s horse. And the lure of romance and dinner carriage mysteries onboard just completes the picture! Where’s my ticket?

Which celebrity do you most look like?

Wouldn’t like to say…

What’s the best wildlife encounter you’ve ever had?

I don’t think I’ve had a wildlife encounter with real wow-factor…yet. I’d probably say spotting seals on the coast or deer in my back-yard where I grew up in Scotland.

What’s your favourite thing on ARKive?

So tough to choose one favourite so I’m going to cheat. Here are my current top 3:

Tell us an animal related joke

Q: What do you get if you cross a fish with an elephant?
A: Swimming trunks!

I think I need a bit of help with my animal jokes so post yours in the comments section. Surely you can do better!

Nov 25

Survival Logo

Name: Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis)

Komodo dragon Survival characterStats:

Status - Vulnerable (VU)

Length - Up to 2 metres

Weight – Up to 90 kilograms

Interesting Fact:

Whilst it might be unable to breathe fire, this dragon does have a highly venomous bite. The largest lizard in the world, it can eat up to a staggering 80% of its own body weight in one go!

Where am I found?

Found on the volcanic islands of Komodo, Rinca and Flores in Indonesia, the Komodo dragon inhabits lower monsoon forests and savannah.

 Komodo dragon photo

What do I eat?

A powerful predator, the Komodo dragon has a voracious appetite. It feeds on both carrion and live prey; adults ambush deer, water buffalo and wild pigs, and carcasses can be detected from up to 10 km away!

Komodo dragon photo

How do I live?

Recent research into the feeding behaviour of the Komodo dragon has shown that it is actually venomous, possessing complex venom glands in its jaw, which excrete a variety of toxic substances that prevent blood clotting and lower blood pressure in its prey. This means that even if the injured animal escapes, it will rapidly succumb to shock and blood loss induced by the venom.

The mating season for the Komodo dragon occurs between May and June, with males wrestling to compete for females. Around 25 eggs are laid by the female in a depression dug in the ground. These are then incubated for nine months before hatching, with the small, vulnerable juveniles spending their first year living in trees to avoid predation.

Komodo dragon photo

Why am I threatened?

The Komodo dragon population is thought to have declined in the last 50 years, with habitat destruction, loss of prey species and hunting of this giant reptile being blamed.

Komodo dragon photo

Play Survival today!

Survival is available for free now on the App store and Android Market.

Find out more about ‘Survival’ or watch the ‘Survival’ promotional video on YouTube.

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