Shakey is a frivolous real-time massively multi-player online Shakespearean parlour game, made at Culture Hack Scotland 2012.
Data used: the full text of Macbeth, the Scottish version of the play. This amazing data set of the play also included character listings and locations and was provided by EDINA at the University of Edinburgh.
What’s ace about your hack?
The obvious answer is that Shakey is ace because it takes a 400 year old play and mashes it with cutting edge mobile and real-time technology to make a fun game. But what I really like about Shakey is that get’s people interacting and performing in the real-world – which is the antithesis of what most mobile games are doing at the moment.
Tell us the starting point for it?
Jim, Rory and I formed a team before the weekend began so that we could try and pull off a more ambitious hack than we would manage on our own. The night before it all kicked off we headed to the pub to trawl through the datasets for inspiration. At some point we decided we wanted to build, literally, a “multiplayer websocket interaction with dataset game thingy sort of thing”. Shortly after coming up with this concept we came across the Macbeth dataset and it seemed like a good fit, so we went with it.
What stood out about the Macbeth dataset is that it was so human (being a 400 year old play) but it had been marked up in a way that a computer could understand – which seems perfect for a hack which is both technical and emotive.
What information or prior knowledge did you have about the arts organisation and the data set and did it influence your approach?
Very little. The dataset made sense to us, but we hadn’t heard of Edina at all. On the Friday night, once word had got around the room about all the hacks, Nicola (@suchprettyeyes) from Edina introduced herself to us. At about the same time, Padmini (@praymurray), an English lecturer, did the same. Both Nicola and Padmini were both excited about showing Shakespeare in a new light, as well as the potential for our hack to be used in the classroom – which was great validation for us that we were on to something good.
What tech/programming languages/platforms did you use and how do they make it work?
In order of importance, we used:
* HTML5′s new audio apis to play the fart, sorry, tomato splat sounds.
* Pusher, a hosted web-sockets service, to let all the phones playing the game communicate with each other.
* Ruby on Rails, to serve the applications.
* Heroku, to host everything.
* Coffee, because you’d have to be superhuman to build something in 16 hours without it.
Describe the process of development and your team
First on the agenda was to find some cocktails in the CitizenM bar. Suitably relaxed, we managed to bag a nice little room which had one wall painted in blackboard paint, and the opposite in whiteboard paint (if you are a developer you will appreciate how exciting a find this room was).
To get our heads around the game, we sketched out each of the screens and features that we wanted to build into the game and how they all fit together. Realising there was a lot we wanted to do, we then highlighted the key features that we had to build if the game was going to work at all. This is an important step when you are working on a big hack in a short space of time, as it’s much more impressive to demo something that works, but lacks extra features, than something hugely feature-rich but with none of them working.
With a plan in place, Jim set out to build the mobile web-app, while Rory and I built the “stage” application that ran on the projector. Padmini worked with Nicola and Duich McKay (@duichmckay) to put together the amazing artwork.
Having a few hack days under our belts, the development was reasonably smooth. One thing that Rory and I have learned the hard way is how important it is to get a working demo as early as possible, well before you have “finished”. This lets you figure out how to combine three different developers’ code into a working hack, before it’s too late!
Any developments following CHSCOT?
The curse of the developer is that they tend to fill every spare moment with side-projects – so all of us are very busy. I would love to see what we’ve built get packaged up into something that anyone could easily setup and play – and we are talking to Sync about getting some support for making that happen – but we definitely could use a few more hours in the day.
What was your Culture Hack Scotland highlight or light bulb moment?
I love hack days: Culture Hack Scotland in particular hits the right balance of urgency without pressure, and I am always blown away by how productive and creative people can be in that kind of environment. It’s a great reminder that if you want creative people to achieve things they don’t need piles of money, or a kick up the backside, they just need a good environment, an interesting project, a room full of like minded people, and plenty of free coffee!