Media Design School lecturer launches interactive stories with Google
We were delighted to join in the celebration of the launch of Grabbit Games' interactive Google stories at the beginning of July. Grabbit Games worked closely with Google, Media Design School and a team that consisted of more than 15 Media Design School students.
Inspired by the choose your own adventure genre, such as a series of Goosebumps books that many children grew up reading, Jarek Beksa, founder of Grabbit Games and lecturer for the Bachelor of Creative Technologies programme at Media Design School, wanted to combine books with video games.
Along with his passion for exploring new user interfaces and technologies, Jarek’s PhD is focused on designing user interfaces in games for people who are blind, which is the true driving force behind his initiative.
“Our Twisted Tales are fully accessible to people with vision impairments but are also attractive for sighted people. This is in line with the inclusivity trend - making games and apps accessible to all.” – Jarek Beksa
This project is unique on global scale – Grabbit Games were one of the first teams to create interactive stories for Google Assistant platform. This works as a showcase of the highly skilled artists and game developers that exist in New Zealand, to light a path for more collaborative opportunities for other local gaming studios with international companies in the future.
“Many thanks to Media Design School for supporting this project - giving us a home (at MDS Studios in the form of an office space) and access to skilled students in all domains from animation to programming.” – Jarek Beksa
The brief for these stories were the retelling of classic fairytales, but with a twist, lending to its namesake Twisted Tales. His team were enthusiastic about how far they’ve come over the past 18 months of hard work on the project. Our alumni have also gained many skills while working with Jarek and Grabbit Games at MDS Studios.
The opportunities provided by Grabbit Games allowed many students to get their experience that they may not have had a chance to experience had it not been for the Interactive Stories project. MDS Alumni Stuart Whittaker oversaw graphics and animation as project manager found that the valuable experience taught him a lot about working in teams as a leader.
"It taught me the value of setting strong foundations in order to create a smooth development pipeline. It taught me about effective and efficient communication when dealing with different temperaments, disciplines and cultures (both local and overseas). Overall the experience has been valuable and has developed skills that I will be utilising for the rest of my career," Stuart said.
For some of the alumni, working on such a unique project grew their confidence. Tyler Parkinson worked as a project manager, alongside Stuart. “The project's given me the opportunity to get more involved in project management/art direction, and subsequently, it's helped me develop better practices that I've been able to apply to my own projects."
Damon Jenkins, an alumni of the Bachelor of Software Engineering programme, was part of the programming team who together wrote a staggering 500,000 lines of code to make the stories a possibility. “After working at Grabbit I now know what it's like to learn a technology while I work with it and I believe that has greatly improved my skill and confidence as a programmer.”
Bachelor of Software Engineering alumni Sven Hagedorn found he gained confidence from the project's working environment. “While working at Grabbit I got the chance to learn about new upcoming technologies and work alongside a talented group of artists and programmers in a fast-paced agile environment. The project gave me invaluable experience in the industry which helped hone my skills both as a programmer and as a team player.”
Along with programming, there were also illustrations, writing and voice acting required. Jarek's team, consisting of over 40 people, including MDS alumni, put in a huge amount of work over the 18 months to ensure the project came to life. While more stories are likely in the horizon, Jarek first wants to focus on the potential benefits of these new type of stories for children, and adults, with reading disabilities. They are in the research portion of this idea, which will hopefully come to fruition in the near future. Together, the team have so far produced twenty-five Twisted Tales, that are available worldwide.
We are proud that our alumni and MDS community continue to put themselves on the global stage and look forward to what else the project has in store.
Check out the Grabbit Games website here and read (or be read) some of their Twisted Tales for yourself!