Ludus Play Along Native Application

Development Producer

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Hello, I'm a development producer for BBC Children's. It's my job to work with technical and user experience teams both inside the BBC and out to define, develop and deliver fun and games for both CBBC and CBeebies.

CBBC has just launched its first play along native application for mobile and tablet devices to accompany brand-new show: Ludus which began its first 10 episode run on 20 January. If you missed it, don't worry, the play along also works on iPlayer (we are particularly proud of that detail)

Unlock new games with Ludus

It's not only our first dual screen offering, Ludus marks CBBC's debut in the app space which is an increasingly significant platform for our audience.

To bring our audience both of these "firsts", CBBC worked with Cardiff-based Cube Interactive and Boom Pictures to develop the TV format and app, as well as London-based SyncScreen who have developed a framework around a technology called Civolution to allow mobile and tablet devices to synchronise with video.

Before we get into how that works, to give it some context, I should explain how the show works. It's a game show for children in which the eponymous Ludus is an intergalactic super villain who has kidnapped your friends and family. Your mission? Play Ludus at his own games and win back their freedom.

The core concept of the dual screen format is that you play exactly the same games at exactly the same time as the contestants in the studio. Children really enjoyed comparing their performance on mobile or tablet against the children in the studio. If there are several children gathered round the TV each with a device, it can get very competitive!

The technology that enables the synchronisation between studio players and players at home is from Civolution. The umbrella term for this kind of technology is "audio watermarking" which means the soundtrack to the TV show contains audio information that, whilst inaudible to humans, can be detected by a microphone on a mobile or tablet. You can think of it like a constant pulsing signal throughout the show. Any listening mobile or tablet device picking up the signal can identify where in the timeline of the show it is. This means that if you miss the start, you won't miss out as you can join in any time as long as there are still games to play.

Even better, if you have to mute the TV because you get called for your tea, the app will detect the lack of signal and, after about 10 seconds, trigger a friendly message declaring it's lost the signal and cannot synchronise. Players are then presented with a diagnostic sequence in order to make sure everything is set up to enable resynchronisation. The same thing happens you pause an on demand or recorded episode. Because this is a brand-new way of joining in with CBBC, we needed to make the messaging as friendly and unambiguous as possible.

Ensuring the action on the TV screen exactly matches the action on the screen in your hands is a painstaking process. Each episode requires production of an individual XML configuration file detailing which of the 20+ available games to open and when to open it. Each game allows the player exactly one minute to complete the challenge. Sometimes the studio contestants will complete the challenge before the players at home so the TV team needed to make sure that any home player who needed longer than the TV contestants to complete the challenge didn't miss anything vital from the TV output while they finished.

To give Ludus a life outside of the TV show, we've built in a "play without TV" mode that allows you to practice the games in between shows. And as I said earlier, if you've missed an episode or simply want to play it again, you can join in on iPlayer too.

Ludus is built using Adobe AIR with native extensions to allow it to take advantage of the host hardware, most importantly, the microphone for synchronisation as well as to build to multiple devices from one code base. However, the Ludus app is only available for recent Android and iOS  mobile and tablet devices. This is because we wanted to test audience reaction to this new interactive format and make sure it gave our audience an experience they enjoyed and valued before expanding to other platforms.

We are very excited to see how our audience get on with this, and the play along fun doesn't stop once Ludus ends its 10 episode run, children will be able to join in with Horrible Histories Gory Games coming in spring 2014. But that's another blog post for another time.

Until then, if you've played along with Ludus either on CBBC or iPlayer, I'd love to hear what you think so please let me know in the comments.

Simon Cobb is a Development Producer, CBeebies

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