Introduction to ARISjs – Leaderboards in ARIS 2

In this post, I’ll show you how to add a leaderboard to your ARIS game. Since this requires a bit of code—which thankfully we can pretty much just copy and paste—this post will also serve as an introduction to ARISjs, a javascript library baked into ARIS and accessible from many parts within. Even if you—like me—never thought of yourself as being able to build with code, all it takes is a little copy-paste to extend ARIS to be able to do amazing new things.

Strap in, let’s go for a ride!

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ARIS Design Challenge – Greenland is Melting

Screenshot from the article. Looks like ARIS, no?

Today, the NYT has a web article about a scientific mission to Greenland. This is very fancy web design, something only the most headlined of articles receives. About halfway through reading it, I thought, “What if this was an ARIS game?”

Many of the visual techniques and visual sources are a good match to what ARIS can do (overhead satellite maps, on-site videos and images) and the techniques try to pull the audience into the story by giving them some feeling of control (zooming the satellite shot into the basecamp as the viewer scrolls the page). The bulk of the article itself puts you inside the trials and tribulations faced by the team trying to conduct research in such a far-off, extreme place—again a good match to the strengths of ARIS and a bit different approach than communicating the underlying scientific ideas or the consequences of ice melt on this scale. There was even a portion of the article where the image of the ice from the top looked just about exactly the way it would if you had done it in ARIS, faded and transparent blue circles around points of interest.

So how about it? Would anyone take me up soon the challenge of producing a version of this story in the medium of ARIS?

I think such an undertaking, and other similar translation style activities, could teach the author a few things about how storytelling in this medium might work and how it can be similar to and different from the fancy web format. I also wonder:

  • Is vicarious travel, tapping points on a map as opposed to more typical AR game design, worth undertaking? Is it compelling? Can it improve over handing someone Google maps as a set of points of interest and bring someone into the story?
  • What are the possible effects of placing someone in the story as opposed to telling them about someone else’s?
  • What choices do we make about what to tell and what to show? What do we hope someone gets out of being in the audience?
  • If a few people do this, how different are the results? To what extent do either the software or our perceptions of it determine how we try to tell stories with it?
  • What other game or game-like formats would be a good or different match for this task? e.g. how does ARIS compare to RPG Maker as a possible vehicle?

I’d be happy to hear from you if you try this design challenge or if this idea brings up any other questions.

ARIS and AR Design Tips

Alyssa Concha at the 2011 ARIS GGJ

Alyssa Concha at the 2011 ARIS GGJ

With the ARIS Global Game Jam approaching, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about how I can be helpful for those participating. We’ve done a lot of jams over the years, and gotten a lot out of them. Lately, I’ve been hunting bugs, making tutorial videos, and updating documentation. As I get myself ready to jam, it also might be a good time to share a few hints and pro-tips with would-be AR game designers. The lists below have beginners in mind but also have tips for those with some AR design experiences under their belts. These ideas aren’t comprehensive, but are just a few of the things I have been thinking about regarding making cool things with ARIS. I’d be happy to hear back from readers what tips they have, which of these ended up being helpful or not, and what else they’d want to know along the way.

ARIS 2015 GGJ Poster - Burque Basecamp

ARIS 2015 GGJ Poster – Burque Basecamp

Hints and Walkthrough for the ARIS Beginner

  1. Get the basic conceptual model down first: Objects, Triggers, and Scenes
  2. Make a simple 3 stop tour to solidify this understanding.
  3. Use locks to make that tour unfold as you take it.
  4. Actually try this out in person, not just by tapping the map (unless that’s the actual format you intend).
  5. Make something of your own. Something really small but that carries some interest for you. It does not and probably should not have some real purpose in mind. You don’t need all that pressure the first time you make something.
  6. Watch someone else try your tour or first game out; notice the things that are obvious to you but totally opaque for them.
  7. When it comes time to make something a bit more in-depth, steal liberally.

Some More ARIS Pro-Tips

  • Every once in a while, the editor freezes. Simply reload the browser tab to fix.
  • Have different tabs of the editor open at the same time in separate browser tabs. Really useful for adding in media and getting links while doing other work.
  • Make a new conversation for each interaction with the player. If you layer all of the interactions into a single conversation, it is confusing when you come back to it later and want to see the flow.
  • Allow for your player to acclimate to the UI of ARIS
    • Plaques scroll, but not everyone notices this.
    • Navigation of a map is something many people have to learn when they first play ARIS games.
    • Map titles can be used for instructions to the player rather than literally identifying what’s at a location.
  • There are many ways to hand out items, not just putting items on a map.
    • Plaques hand out items really efficiently.
    • So do conversation lines
  • Plaques, conversations, items, these are all metaphors. You can bend or break them to make new things possible.
  • The Decoder (A UI tab in the Client) is an alternate way to use QR codes, and can make creative use of the environment. A player finds and enters information instead of scanning an image. The author writes that information where the random number is above the QR code trigger in the Editor.
  • Multiple Scenes and using Quests are not novice tasks in ARIS. They will break your game if you do not have a strong grasp of how Locks work.
  • Once an item is given or taken by other parts of your ARIS game (plaques, conversation lines, quest notifications, etc.) a summary of where your item is in use (small icons) will show at the bottom of the “Edit Item” interface. This can help you keep track of your game.
  • A teeny, tiny bit of html can greatly increase the presence and fluidity of media in your games. Of course this is useful for text formatting, but there’s more too. With just a bit of code you can have autoplay video and audio in plaques, conversation lines, and even the description of your game. The code below works for audio, but there are other options, and a very similar version works for video. More info here.
    <audio autoplay loop>
     <source src="">

General Design Tips

  • You are creating an experience for your players. This is the end goal, not successful assimilation of content into an AR container.
  • Make sure you are clear on the type of experience you are creating: tour, scavenger hunt, data collection activity, interactive story, simulation, etc. Reflect on genre conventions and hits in that format.
  • Use the device and the players’ surroundings in a complementary fashion. If there’s a building in your game it is sort of pointless to show them a basic image of the outside of that building when they are looking at the building from the outside themselves in real world (TM) detail.
  • If your game involves walking, be conscious that this takes time and effort. There is only so much walking that players will consent to, and a small jump on a screen takes time to cover in real life. As with imagery, the act of going from place to place should play a meaningful role in your design.
  • Focus on the quality of experience, especially what the player sees within 1, 5, and 15 minutes, rather than on covering a certain amount of content.
  • Give your player a role to play. “What is it that is exactly the same about every single vacation you have ever taken? You.”
  • At a minimum, a story has a beginning, middle, and end. There are lots of ways to add or describe the structure of a story. Following some is better than a list of undifferentiated information.
  • Look to produce a Minimum Viable Product, the teeniest part of your design that could be put in front of another human in working form. Get feedback on this before going down the rabbit hole.
  • Consider using a design board to help guide and track your teamwork.

Getting the Most out of HTML5

Stephen Calendar, game engineer for Filament Games, posted a brief article about their history and practice of using HTML5 for game development. The article is interesting on its own, describing a revival of interest and use of HTML5 in game development, mostly to solve the run anywhere problem. But this article also has relevance for those getting into game design as novices at this moment in history.

HTML and Javascript are also being looked at again by developers of novice game platforms. ARIS is extensible through these languages, as are Twine and the about-to-launch reboot of RPG Maker, RPG Maker MV. I think we are on the edge of an interesting time for novices, for several reasons.

  • It’s nice that the tools and codes used by professionals are also those that we lowly people can and are able to learn to use. It brings us out of the ghetto to some extent.
  • Ideas you pick up when first starting will be relevant as you progress further.
  • HTML5 and javascript are used widely outside game development.
    • There are many resources for those just starting out.
    • Many common problems have been solved and can be copy-pasted.
    • You may be able to mix and match tools to hack your way to greatness (e.g. use Hype to make an animation which you then insert into ARIS).
  • Tools like ARIS and Twine, where no code is necessary but you can do more with code than without, can be accessible to novices but powerful enough for more intense uses, and might actually get used by advanced teams since they can use what they know.

This all reminds me of the heyday of MySpace, where the hackable front page encouraged young people who would never have come within a stone’s throw from a CS course to start expressing themselves creatively through code.