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Adventures with Solo

A fun game to experience the Manila Galleon special exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore

During my recent trip to Singapore, I visited the Manila Galleon temporary exhibition at the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) where I stumbled upon the captivating game Adventures with Solo. It has been one of the best games I have encountered in museums so far.  Developed specifically for this exhibition by the education team in collaboration with an external digital interactive vendor, the game seamlessly combines engagement, user-friendliness, and a rich variety of game elements, while functioning flawlessly on the technical front.

 

The Game

Adventures with Solo invites visitors to learn about the long history of the trading route that crossed the Pacific Ocean connecting the Philippines and Mexico through selected objects in a playful way. The game’s outline is simple: players need to find and scan QR codes dispersed throughout the exhibition space with their own device. Each of the ten QR codes unlocks a mini game featuring one or more artifacts from the exhibition. The objective is to complete as many games as possible, earning coins and ascending levels – from bronze to silver to gold. As extrinsic motivation booster, the player receives a gift after the visit at the ticket counter depending on the achieved level.

Game Elements

What makes the game special is its rich variety of game elements going beyond the traditional question type quizzes and collection of points. For instance, one mini game called “Spot the Difference” encourages players to look slowly at two images of the same silver coin and find the five differences between them. This classic memory mini game is spiced up by the element of time pressure to make it more challenging. Another mini game involves sorting and putting shuffled pieces of a double-sided folding screen into the right position again. This game is enhanced by the mechanism that the player can choose which side – a painted view over Mexico City or Manila – they want to reassemble evocating player agency.  The “Color Me In” game transforms parts of a featherwork art piece into a numbered canvas encouraging players to color it using a provided palette.  Besides prompting slow looking and close-up examination, the game also has a soothing effect. Other elements that can be found in the game are progress bar, levels, collection, badges, and onboarding. A very smart move is the incorporation of a survey as a game element encouraging its completion by making it the final coin needed to achieve the gold level status.

According to the education team, the elements were chosen based on the learning objectives formulated by the team and were complemented by suggestions of the tech partner that helped to make the game more challenging and interesting.

Each game is introduced by some snackable information about the featured objects involved in the mini game. The onboarding and explication of each single activity is very clear, easy to understand and follow, so the player knows what is expected of them to complete each game. As the name suggests, the player is guided through the game by Solo, a Mexican hairless dog that traces its roots back to Aztec times. This canine onboarding companion explains what the exhibition is about, leads step-by-step through the mini games and can be taken home as a souvenir through a snapshot at the end of the game.

From a technical perspective, the game operated seamlessly on my personal device. No bugs or glitches were encountered throughout the gameplay. This is highly appreciated since it can be very frustrating for players if one or several features in a game do not work, or if in the worst case, the whole experience cannot be started due to technical problems.

 

Development – Reasons & Challenges

Although the education team had experience in developing hands-on interactive elements, Adventures with Solo is their first digital activity trail. The team decided to set out on this new adventure to improve the overall educational activities of the museum and to find new creative ways for visitors to engage with its content. But the decision also addressed practical challenges, such as wayfinding and space limitation. The game should serve to solve the wayfinding problem within ACM. The museum spreads over two floors and the galleries of the temporary exhibition are distributed across the whole building from front to back. Adventures with Solo includes a map of the whole museum that should lead visitors nicely through the exhibition spaces without getting lost converting the game in a guided interactive tour. The exhibition itself is limited in terms of space which made the inclusion of physical interactive elements like screens and other instalments extremely difficult.

Being the first digital activity trail ever developed by the education team, one of the challenges encountered was their lack of experience and expertise. At the beginning, the team was uncertain of how to navigate this unknown terrain. But soon their doubts were scattered through a collaborative partnership with an experienced tech company, resulting in the education team exclusively focusing on the content and UX design entrusting the technical implementation to the partner. Consequently, the development of the whole game unfolded organically and smoothly.

Another challenge faced during the game development was the dependency on content by external institutions given that the exhibition was a joint endeavor of ACM and various overseas museums. As the game development was required to commence months before the exhibition opening, it was difficult to gather and confirm content such as high-resolution images from partners at this early stage. Additionally, the dynamic nature of curatorial decisions meant that object locations could change, or content readjusted at any point in time, which also impacted the ongoing game development.

The execution phase presented its own challenges. Beyond the well-known time pressure leading up to an exhibition opening, the dimly lit exhibition space posed difficulties. While each QR code had an individual spotlight to illuminate it, the lighting level still had to be kept dim throughout the exhibition, due to conservation requirements for the display of the objects. This made it difficult for some visitors to detect the QR codes.

Conclusion

Adventures with Solo offers a delightful exploration of the Manila Galleon trade’s long history and the exhibition objects on display. Its standout features, including a wide array of game elements and the flawless technical execution on your own device make it a must-try experience for both children and adults. A smart move of the team working on the game was to embed a survey form into it and link it to the gameplay. Also, to combine the digital game with a physical give-away is a brilliant idea to drive engagement and motivation. If you find yourself in Singapore, I highly recommend visiting the Asian Civilisations Museum and immersing yourself in Adventures with Solo. The exhibition is on display through March 2024.

Special thanks to Priscilla Lee and Deborah Lim from the Education & Audience Departments of ACM for giving me insights into the development process.

Image credits: Asian Civilisations Museum