Preloaded, the creative studio specialising in interactivity, has created a suite of educational online games for the Science Museum. Each of the games in the Futurecade is based on learning about science and technology, but the key thing is that they're easy to get into and fun to play. Bacto-Lab, Robo-Lobster, Cloud Control and Space Junker all have an old school arcade playability about them, and with it comes that retro aesthetic.
Chris Cox, designer at Preloaded, explains: "We wanted the games to have a classic arcade feel whilst retaining the look of futuristic simulations. It was important that the games look contemporary and striking, so our goal was to create as much energy and activity on screen as possible. We used a dynamic grid of tiles under the sprites, leaving pixel trails behind objects, creating ripples and explosions. The idea was to complement the exaggerated neon hues with a game environment that comes alive through player input."
Those neon glows spill over into the look and feel of the user interface, so that the whole visual language of Futurecade is based on the in-game experience. There's learning to be done for the kids who play the games too - in Bacto-Lab you have to guide the bacterium to a DNA strand that will help it evolve, without turning it into a deadly form of e coli. Meanwhile, Robo-Lobster is about technology, using metallic lobsters to disable mines before they destroy the harbourfront.
The games took four months to develop and Preloaded creative director Phil Stuart worked closely with the Science Museum, drawing on content and ideas from the institution's Talk Science programme. The creatives sketched out their game ideas on paper and discussion went back and forth with the Science Museum's staff to make sure the games weren't just fun, but would impart accurate information to children playing them.
Developer Luke Holland continues: "The visuals were first created in Illustrator and then animated in After Effects, before being packaged ready for Flash. The advantage of using After Effects was that we could nest heavy glow, blur and warp effects in single PNG sequences, meaning we could get a rich, vibrant look without impacting on performance. Combined with the visuals are procedurally generated pixel effects, creating the waves and explosions you see in game."
"Our inspirations ranged from Missile Command, Galaga and Centipede all to way up to today’s downloadable and indie titles including Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Revenge of the Titans, the Pixeljunk series, Geometry Wars and even more abstract games like Auditorium," adds Chris Cox.