Category Archives: Gaming

Making a Splash!

Katie Burke, who manages the Interactive galleries and Explainer team, talks about the development of the new Splash! app.

One of the things I love about my job within the Learning department is the variety of things I get to work on. When we were approached to help with the development of a new app aimed at our pre-school audience, I was really excited. I’m not particularly techy and I don’t know my RAM from my ROM but that didn’t matter – my role in the project was to make sure the app fitted in with the educational ethos of our children’s interactive galleries in the Museum.

The app was made in partnership with a digital agency called GR/DD. We knew we wanted the app to appeal to our pre-school audience so we looked to our most popular exhibits for this age group for inspiration. The water area in our Garden gallery is a firm favourite of our younger visitors and so it made sense to start there.

Garden water area

The water exhibit in the Garden gallery

GR/DD came up with an idea for an app in which children could experiment with floating, sinking and mixing colours within a bath tub environment. We all loved the idea. For me, bath time as a child holds some really happy memories so I really hoped we could recreate that playful atmosphere with the app.


Tiliting the screen causes the water to move

Choosing which objects to use in the app was a tricky process! They had to be instantly recognisable to children so that they could make the link between the object and how it behaves when it is put into water. During the development process I’d often show my team of Explainers the draft plans to see if they had any ideas or feedback based on their experience of working within the Garden gallery and it was really useful to get their input.

Early on in the process we all agreed that it was important to include a Parents’ Zone within the app. We wanted to provide some information for parents about how they could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills. In our interactive galleries we encourage learning through play and open questioning. For that reason, the Parents’ Zone includes hints and tips about open questions that parents can ask their children whilst they play the app or later on during real bath time.


Parents’ Zone – tips on how parents could use the app to encourage the development of key scientific skills

After months of development we are all so pleased with the final Splash! app. I love how the water on screen moves and flows as the device is tilted and turned, and the sounds that the objects make when they drop into the water. I think the app perfectly captures the fun atmosphere I remember as a child.

It’s aimed at pre-school children but in my experience the adults enjoy playing just as much as the children. In fact, we should probably add a footnote onto the app description which says “for big kids too!”

If this post has whet your appetite to play on Splash! make sure you run the hot tap to the top of the bath to see what happens – it’s my favourite bit!

Discover more about Splash! (priced at 99p) and our other apps here.

Screengrab of the Science Museum's new game Futurecade

Futurecade is here and wants you to play

By Micol Molinari  – Learning Resources Developer

What do robotic lobsters and genetically engineered bugs have in common?

They both star in Futurecade, our brand new suite of online games based on cutting-edge research.

Screengrab of the Science Museum's new game Futurecade

The games – Bacto-Lab, Robo-Lobster, Cloud Control and Space Junker - explore heavy-hitting science in a fun (read: addictive) way.

You won’t see science pop-ups explaining how things work, but you will be encouraged to consider your own opinion on the issues and hopefully you’ll be inspired to find out more. Because that’s the point, we want the games to generate interest and discussion around the science of today and tomorrow – and be so fun that you come back to them again and again!

If playing the games piques your interest in groundbreaking research, visit our Antenna gallery for up-to-the-minute news, exhibitions and live events around the science that’s shaping our lives.

Play Futurecade now!


Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Games Jam winners

Last month we held our first ever Games Jam, where participants were invited to create a brand new game inspired by our collections and galleries in just one day. Six games were created but there could only be one winner…

The winning game was called Darwin’s Monster and here are the judge’s comments:

Darwin’s Monster was really fantastic, I’m sure it’s something that could be developed and played again at the Science Museum.

The team playtested it in the Who Am I Gallery and it was judged to be both a great icebreaker with participants and really relevant to the gallery’s focus. The team also worked brilliantly together – they recruited players for about 5 rounds of the game and all explained the rules clearly.

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Darwin's Monster in early playtesting

Simon Fox (, Rob Harris ( and John Waterworth walk away with the coveted PLAYER award 2011. Congrats!

The Unbuilt Room

PLAYER Festival: The Unbuilt Room

Last weekend saw the much anticipated PLAYER Festival come to the Science Museum, and I was there to run the length and breadth of the museum and try out the many intriguing ‘live gaming’ experiences – which ranged from a version of Pong to a real-life first person shooter (without real-life guns, obviously).

I’ll be writing up all of the games I got to try, but I wanted to start with The Unbuilt Room. Because it was awesome.

It was basically a 1980s computer text adventure made real. You remember text adventures: “You’re in a room…”, “Exits are North and East”, “GET LAMP”, that sort of thing. Nowadays, they’re called ‘interactive fiction‘ and have a significant cult following – but back in the days of rubber keyboards and cassette tape loading errors, text adventures were a mainstream videogame genre. (Check out The Digital Antiquarian, a fantastic blog about the history of text adventures in the US.)

Seth Kriebel was our host for The Unbuilt Room, which was situated in a small room tucked away in a corner of the Museum’s second floor. He’d face each of the six players in turn, describe – in an unnerving, impassive near-monotone – an imaginary room from an imaginary map, then ask: ‘What would you like to do?’

Turn by turn over 20 minutes, we got to explore the small world of Seth’s devising, and solve basic puzzles to progress: sinking a putt on a Crazy Golf course to lower a drawbridge, lighting a lamp to find a new door in a dark room. It was amazing how evocative it was: the ‘world’ was only a few rooms big and the descriptions were sparse but, just like in a computer text adventure, I had a vivid picture of the game world in my mind.

The 20 minutes flew by. It felt strangely thrilling to be on a little adventure with five strangers. Our group didn’t talk much – we weren’t forbidden from discussing our next move, but British reserve seemed to prevent it. Even so, there was a spine-tingling sense of shared discovery and achievement as our individual decisions combined to push us forward. And as a gaming-obsessed child of the 80s (favourite adventure game: Fantasia Diamond on the ZX Spectrum), I was bewitched at the way the language and puzzles of a digital text adventure unfolded in real life. Truly immersive gaming – and without a single transistor of technology in sight.

Seth kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions about the performance.

What’s running through your head as you take us through the adventure?

“Ideally, nothing! I should be listening to the players. If I think too much about what might happen next I’ll miss what the players are doing right now. Inevitably, I prepare a bit for what’s coming next, but if my concentration wavers I’ll suddenly realise I was thinking about something else and panic that I missed something the players said. After several shows in a row it gets quite tricky to remember which group did what… Did this group pick up the matches in the Forest? Or was that the last group? If I ever wind up with a spare moment while the players decide what they want to do next I just try to remember to breathe.”

What was the best player reaction you saw during the PLAYER Festival?

“I love how people react to the Crazy Golf bit. Sometimes, when I tell them they have putted an imaginary golf ball into an imaginary hole, they shout “Yes!”, as though they’ve made a tricky shot in real life. It’s nice they get so wrapped up in the game!”

What’s next for The Unbuilt Room?

“Each version of The Unbuilt Room is different. The format – how I interact with the players – is the same, but the imagined world changes each time. In some cases it is based on the building where it is performed: the players are led on a circuitous route around the building to the performance space. Then, when the game begins, their imagined journey begins back at the beginning of their real walk around the building. In the imaginary world, of course, the rooms can be very different from the real rooms – even basic physics isn’t an obstacle.”

“I’ll be presenting different versions of The Unbuilt Room at Stratford Circus in east London 14-16 October and at The Nightingale in Brighton on 29 October, plus I have a few more in the pipeline for later this year and early next.”

More details at Seth’s website.

Brainstorming at the Games Jam

Design a game in a day

It’s a tall order, but it can be done. During our Games Jam last Friday, the six teams came up with six brand new games, playtested and perfected them – all in the course of a day.

We started off with four catalyst talks from gaming experts – I’ve summarised their words of wisdom here. After the talks we went on a tour of one of the galleries led by a curator. My team went around the Who am I? Gallery with Priya Umachandran and she picked out a few key objects sparked ideas.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff it was time to sit down in our groups. After setting the rules (no running, no fire-starting etc) the creative process kicked off with a free-ranging brainstorming session.

My group began thinking we might make a game about memory. This evolved into a classification game where people had to work out why objects had been grouped in different combinations. We even considered a poker-style card game where you had to create genetically modified creatures by collecting groups of characteristics.

Eventually we decided to go with a game where you had to bluff about really obscure looking objects. In our first, very quick and dirty playtest we were howling with laughter – it looked like we were on to something.

However, we were concerned that all we’d done was shift a familiar game into a new environment and we wanted something a bit more novel. So suddenly it got a bit political. We would divide our players into two teams – the scientists and the politicians. The politicians want to stop funding research and the scientists have to convince them that they deserve the money, but they might be bluffing…

Basic concept sorted we headed out to start playtesting in earnest. It didn’t start off well. In the first iteration it didn’t really seem like the politicians had much to do – they just sat and judged what the scientists had to say.

In the next iteration we decided to focus on the bluffing and ditch the politics. We took some pictures of crazy looking objects and asked people to write down their ideas. We then got the gamemaster to read them all out, along with the real answer. Again there were lots of problems. The gamemaster struggled to read out the descriptions in dodgy handwriting, and the real answers were really easy to spot.

But then it came together. On our third go we decided that half the fun was picking the objects out in the first place, so after assigning teams an area of the gallery we asked them to go away and take photos on their mobiles. They had to select objects that would be fun to bluff about, or that had descriptions that were so outlandish that people might not believe them.

Two or three teams take turns to describe an object and the others ask probing questions to try to catch them out. If the guessing team is right about it being true or a mighty bluff they get a point – if they get it wrong the describing team gets a point.

On Saturday we playtested it with real people. It’s really simple, easy to explain and can be played in any gallery. Plus it’s properly fun to play.


Here’s what the other groups came up with:

A bodysnatchers game in our medical galleries

A sickness and health game with evil nurses who want to make you sick

Darwin’s monster, a game where people team up and are assigned different abilities so they have to work together to survive

Rift, a game where you have to dash around the Museum to gather information to stop a rift in space and time opening between our Cosmos & Culture and Measuring Time galleries.

Nuclear Warning, a game where you had to design a new warning symbol and perhaps do a Russian Bear Dance.  

We’ll be revealing the winning game soon…

Simon from Slingshot

Game design tips from the experts

Last Friday the great and the good from the world of live gaming descended on the Museum. They came to inspire the participants in our Games Jam – people who were going to have to design their own games in just one day.

Hopefully we’ll have videos of the full talks up soon but for now here’s a quick summary.

Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio from Hide and Seek

Holly Gramazio from Hide&Seek told us about three common pitfalls with live games – games that are too vague, to random or too complicated. Vague games lack clear instructions and clear goals for the participants, complicated games demand too much attention from players – asking them to absorb vast rule sets immediately and overly random games depend too much on chance – not giving your players enough of an opportunity to use their skills to influence the outcome.

Tassos from Coney

Tassos from Coney

Tassos Stevens from Coney talked us through the three principles that guide their games development – adventure, curiosity and loveliness. Curiosity is important because a good game should always have an element of newness, adventure because they need to be exciting. Loveliness is all about looking after your players and putting their experience at the heart of what you do.

He also stressed the importance of playtesting – creating a prototype as soon as possible so you can try it out, see what works and what doesn’t and change it. And then play again and change it again…

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory

Matt Adams from Blast Theory took us on a whistlestop tour through lots of the decisions you have to make when you’re designing a location based game. What type of journey will you send people on? Linear? Disrupted? What duration, schedule? Is it played along or in a group, is there an advantage to collaborating, are there rewards, what happens if they get stuck, are there feedback loops so people can see if they are doing well, can people cheat, can that become part of the game?

Simon from Slingshot

Simon from Slingshot

Finally Simon Evans from SlingShot told us to keep it simple. There’s a finite number of game mechanics out there, so you can create something new and exciting by taking a familiar, existing model and deciding to change one thing. You’ve also got to grab people’s attention – something he’s achieved by orchestrating a tag-style foxhunt game where players get tracked through a city by real dogs. Possibly not one to recreate in the Museum.

Heads stuffed with inspiring stuff, we then had to get down to the mucky business of designing a game. More on that in the next post…

Computer game character with a gun

Gaming Lates

To tie in with our magnificent PLAYER live gaming festival, the theme of this month’s Lates was – wait for it – gaming.

We had the usual heady brew of science talks, silent disco, Beau Lotto’s Lab, pub quiz and so on.

But this month the Lates crowd also got to be shot at by giant avatars, to participate in an adapted and enormous game of something similar to Pong and to play super-sized Battleships in in our Shipping gallery. Not your average Wednesday night out…

These games and more will be going on until the 2 October – check out the full PLAYER programme.

We also kicked off a SCVNGR trek that will be running for the next few months. Using your smartphone you have to complete a series of challenges around the Museum – all very scientific, but some significantly silly.

If you know what a Klein bottle is, you should probably come down, maybe team up with some friends and try to imitate one…

Click on the pics below to have a closer look.

Photos all by Patu Tifinger.

Shipping Gallery

Battleships – Ocean Apocalypse

Ever wondered what to do with a room full of model boats in display cases? Play a 3D, to-scale version of Battleships of course! Greg McLaren from Stoke Newington International Airport  tells us more about the Battleships game taking place this Saturday and Sunday as part of our live gaming festival #Player11.

One autumn in the late 1960’s the finest model ship builders were summoned to the Science Museum and put to work with tiny chisels and miniature rivets. They were to create an exhibition of exquisite models to echo Britain’s naval prowess and glory, and long did they toil. But not quite as long as the exhibition has been on display.

Before the current multi-mediated, intimately interactive and well thought-out exhibitions, there was the display case. The window to the past, the incubator of time, the proud bearer of artifact. We’d push our faces against the glass, turning the object round in the mind, imagining all it’s potential uses, all the possible and impossible situations it had survived, unable to tell whether our ideas were real or no.

I was floundering in this nostalgia last week in the Shipping Gallery, the location for Battleships: Ocean Apocalypse, a live, fully dimensional version of the classic vector thriller. Next year the thousand or so models, mini-engines and bits of navigation kit will be removed to make way for a new gallery, so we’re taking this opportunity to inject a last bit of life into the hulks and the paddles and the turbines. 

This is the non-deleterious war the brittle liners have been dreaming of! Where ancient Northumbrian fishers can fight alongside Britain’s first nuclear submarine! Two teams will assemble a fleet from their favourite models and battle it out across the vast floor of the gallery. Miss! Miss! Hit!

Museums should activate the imagination and stimulate the mind, and while most of the new generation of exhibitions are excellent, I reserve a place in my heart for the simple, static object who’s history can be whatever I imagine.

Shipping Gallery

The traditional game of Battleships becomes life-sized in our Shipping Gallery 1-2 October at 11.00, 11.30, 12.00, 12.30, 2.00, 2.30, 3.00, 3.30 and is suitable for all ages.

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An Interplanetary Postbox

Games Jam

Already excited about this month’s live gaming festival? Fancy designing a game that other people will play?

Well then come along to our first ever Games Jam on Friday 30 September - tickets are available now.

Angie from Trigger has put together the programme for the festival. She’s also written a guest post about the Jam to give you guys an idea of what to expect.

The Games Jam is my favourite part of the festival. It’s a chance to get inventive by making an interactive game to showcase live at the Science Museum.

Who is it for? 

Adults who like making stuff.

Be it sewing, writing, mapping, doodling. If you have an urge to create anything on any level, and fancy making a game with makers from all backgrounds, then do this.

What is it?

A making session

We’ll arrive with no idea of what we will create. By the end of play, everyone will have made a game that can be playtested over the PLAYER festival that weekend. One team will win The PLAYER Award 2011.

The day kicks off with talks from 3 of the UK’s leading social game designers. They will tell us about what to consider when making a game. They will mentor the teams over the rest of the day.

Next up, the teams embark on curator-led tours of galleries in the museum, and learn more about the science behind the objects in the space.

The rest of the day is spent brainstorming, making and inventing.

At the end of the day we’ll try out our new games on another team.

I’m sure some of us will end up in the pub to debrief before we try our games the next day.

What can we make? 

We will have some materials that you can use to make something with. Or you might want to make a game using clues hidden in the museum. Or, if you’re more technology orientated then maybe something that can be played through phones.

Maybe bring some stuff along in case you wish you had it later on.

Book quick, we’re selling the last batch of tickets now.

An Interplanetary Postbox

Will your game involve playing with a postbox?

To book tickets call 0870 870 4868. They cost £5 plus a £1 booking fee.

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Person Sneaking

Take me to your scientist

With less than a month until our live gaming festival, Player we have been speaking to some of the people creating the games you can get involved with over the five days.

Read Holly from Hide and Seek’s guest post about their game Take me to your scientist  below:

There’s something really, really enticing about the idea of being in a museum after everyone else has gone home. Who doesn’t, at closing time, dream for just a moment of ducking behind a display case or hiding inside a supercomputer, then coming out when there’s nobody else around?

So the opportunity to design a game for the closed Science Museum, to run from 10pm, was astonishing. It’s a gorgeous building to play in anyway, but using it simply as that – as a building, a space – would have been a waste. We were determined to devise a game that really draws on the fact that it’s not just any building: it’s theScienceMuseum, full of exhibits and corners and strange history and great big towering engines.

It would be a shame to give too much away, but Take Me To Your Scientist will pit players against some… slightly unusual visitors to the museum, visitors who have a very specific reason for being there. It’s just possible that the future of Earth depends on you.

Person Sneaking


Take me to your scientist runs at September Lates starting at 10pm. Spaces are limited so avoid disappointment and book your tickets today.

To book tickets call 0870 870 4868 they cost £8 plus a £1 booking fee.

Stay up to date on our daily news by following us on Twitter or joining us on Facebook.  And for exclusive news about upcoming events and offers sign up to our newsletter.  See you at Player!