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Archives for August 2012

The 100 player video game

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David Gregory | 14:08 UK time, Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Last night in Birmingham I played a video game on a giant cinema screen along with 99 other people. What struck me as extraordinary was the games designers managed to convey fairly abstract goals, get a large crowd working together and even make it fun.

Birmingham based Wall Four is trying to create videogames for large numbers of people that can be played in cinemas. Providing cinema chains with alternative sources of revenue to films. You can read more about the young Birmingham company and see the game I played on their website.

The game we played last night is called Renga. It's a fairly abstract looking game that features some pretty familiar gaming tropes including defending a spaceship and tackling a final level boss.

But what's really interesting is the games various characters are controlled via 100 laser pointers distributed in the audience. Astonishingly people rapidly discover how pointing at particular locations on your ship or on an enemy can move or destroy them.

In the dark people seems happy to yell out discoveries and advice and quickly the audience becomes pretty effective at working out the goal and how to achieve it. Although there were some in our audience who also delighted in trying to subvert the aims of the group. Perhaps not totally surprising in an audience drawn heavily from the gaming industry. Last night was one of Birmingham's regular Launch gaming industry events.

Renga is an impressive and effective piece of game design. In a broader context it also shows the sort of stuff the Midlands gaming industry is capable of producing outside the dominant games companies and their AAA titles. Smaller start-ups working on innovative ideas. It's one reason why half the games produced in the UK are now made in the Midlands.

And back in the cinema, all 100 of us defeated the alien boss at the end.

Bluetongue vs Schmallenberg

David Gregory | 14:47 UK time, Monday, 20 August 2012

Bluetongue and Schmallenbery are both unpleasant diseases that have much in common. Both affect farm animals and both are spread by infected midges blown here from the continent. It's also worth saying both disease pose no direct risk to you or me.

Both have also been the subject of quite a lot of media interest. Indeed we're talking Schmallenberg on Midlands Today once again. For farmers Schmallenberg is particularly nasty because it really is a hidden disease. The first sign your sheep or cattle are infected is when they give birth to deformed or dead offspring.

According to the Institute of Animal Health the disease has managed to overwinter in the UK. This means it could be out there at the moment, and as farmers start to introduce rams to ewes there is a real risk to their unborn lambs.

It is possible to reduce that risk. For example farmers can spread out their lambing season, so if infected midges arrive a smaller section of the flock will be at risk rather than all of it.

What's missing is a vaccine against Schmallenberg. According to independent research it was the availability of a bluetongue vaccine and its use here that helped us avoid the sort of problems seen in Belgium where 7% of the country's cattle herd died from the disease. A similar outbreak here could cost the country around £500 million.

Unfortunately while research into a vaccine for Schmallenberg continues it won't be available in time to protect this year's lambs and calves. All our farmers can do is take reasonable precautions and hope infected midges avoid their farms.

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