Friday 16 November 2012, 12:00
Hello I'm Sophie Bradshaw, Technical Project Manager in Future Media Children's.
When CBBC legends Dick and Dom announced that their newest show was going to be a bungalow inspired show taking place in a battered old fairground in Devon, we knew straight away there was a great opportunity for some exciting interactive CBBC content.
Dick and Dom's Hoopla
In their latest outing, Dick and Dom's Hoopla, the pair take their version of a carnival to the unsuspecting public.
As ringmasters they host a combination of silly and messy games, circus and music acts and some terrifying clowns to create a show full of mystery, silliness and a good helping of grossness all of which we wanted to re-create online.
With our interactive offering we wanted to bring our audience closer to the fun and mayhem of the carnival atmosphere.
Together with external interactive specialists Team Cooper of Sheffield we spent three months in the Dick and Dom mind-set creating a suite of games to take the Hoopla experience beyond TV and onto the website.
We decided that Flash was the best technology to use for this suite of games.
The majority of our audience access the CBBC website from a desktop computer so this is still the most widely accepted technology that provides consistency across multiple browsers. It also represents good value in terms of high levels of interaction, audio control and production quality.
Of course as innovation continues in the mobile and tablet space Flash might not be the right solution for these platforms.
Working closely with the TV production team we took a road trip to Devon and got access to the set and characters to inform the tone of the games and find the right balance of addictive gameplay and the trademark spirit and anarchic comedy of Dick and Dom.
In the games we've grabbed them, shot them, snotted them and spun them til they were sick.
To start, non-graphical prototypes were created to make sure that the core game play was indeed fun and addictive.
Time was spent finely tuning the viscosity of snot, the reloading speed of ping pong balls and ensuring the claw grabber was not quite so hard to use as the ones we've all become accustomed to!
The right viscosity of snot: achieved
Hoopla presented Team Cooper with a great technical challenge having been briefed to create several games which had the short punchy spectacle of fairground games yet also had levels and depth to keep the player hooked.
Normally each level of a game would be hand-coded to define the player experiences but given the aspiration for limitless levels this would impose a hard cap on the end of the games.
Rather than hand-coding an algorithm was created to automatically generate potential levels, integrating variety to keep the player interested whilst gradually making the games harder.
This approach also made it much easier to stagger the introduction of new gameplay features without breaking level design.
Combining this with a tutorial system players have a gentle introduction to the games with controls and features fully explained as they're introduced.
Once they have a grasp on gameplay, the difficulty is gradually ramped up to a limitless extent.
Finding new innovative ways for play and interaction has always been high on our agenda. The success of our first multiplayer game Trapped! meant we have some solid evidence that our audience enjoy collaborative and competitive play.
With this in mind each of the games were carefully considered from the ground up so that a single player game could be translated easily into a 'Play with a Friend' mode, satisfying the competitive streak in our young audience.
The Hoopla games are the first on CBBC to allow two users on the same computer, whether they be children or adults, to go head-to-head knocking down as many ducks as they can, firing the most snot from their gunge machines or producing as much vomit as possible from their hapless victims.
To extend the fun of the games we offered users enhanced gameplay when they signed in with a BBC iD.
The Grabby Grab game
BBC's Games Grid API provides leaderboards so die-hard fans can have their top scores showcased.
In addition, Games Grid also allowed us to add rewards in the form of in-game achievements that mean everyone can take something away from the fairground.
We then had the challenge of recreating the authentic battered and stained fun fair aesthetics of the show for the game graphics.
Luckily, a trip to the National Fairground Archive in Sheffield provided the creative team with enough photographic inspiration to recreate it beautifully.
Before unleashing the games we tested them with children from local Salford schools.
Testing the visual 'wow' factor and the gameplay allowed us to identify a need for clearer instructions and some changes to the play with a friend mode.
All in all, we received a clear message that it was on the right track.
After adding the final elements of Hoopla mayhem the first two games Snot Shot and Duck Down launched to coincide with the first transmission on Friday 21st September and the final two games Grabby Grab and Plate Sick Spin in mid-October.
So far we've seen some impressive figures with the games peaking at 40,000 unique browsers a week. More excitingly, we've seen encouraging statistics for our play with a friend mode with 15% of users playing a game with a friend.
What next for play with a friend?
Hoopla is just the start for collaborative gaming in Children's - come late 2012 into early 2013 expect to see us pushing these boundaries with users being able to play against other online CBBC users all over the UK.
We can't wait to see what our audience think of it.
A big thank you to the Hoopla production team who made this all possible: Aidan Castelli, Claire Miller, Mark Owen and Will Storer at the BBC and Team Cooper of Sheffield.
Sophie Bradshaw is the Technical Project Manager in Future Media Children's.
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