GovHack 2016

Built by When Badgers Go Bad in Hobart, Tasmania at GovHack 2016

Beat the Press is a frenetic action game that challenges players to match news headlines, science data, descriptions of artwork, and other data descriptions to their corresponding images.

How does the game play?

In Beat the Press you play as one of four news anchors jetting around on your rocket-powered news desk, in almost any direction you so desire, trying to complete the stories.

Your best friend in completing the stories is the Journalistic Grabbing Claw™, attached to the bottom of your news desk. You can independently move the claw about to latch onto almost anything in the news room. Your Journalistic Grabbing Claw™ can only hold a single item at a time so if you want a new one you have to let go of whatever it is you are currently holding.

At the bottom of the news room is a constantly updating news ticker displaying the deadlines of the stories you need to complete. This should be an easy task but unfortunatly the lazy interns haven't sorted all the images properly.
Strewn about the news room are the various headline images, you can pick these up with your Journalistic Grabbing Claw™ and place it onto the correct headline in the news ticker.

Dropping an image onto the correct headline gains you Journalist Points, the anchor with the most points at the end of the news is declared the winner. Be carefuly where you drop images! If you place an image onto the wrong headline the image is removed and you lose Journalist Points.

What data did we use?

All these data sets have a description or name, and an associated image. The news ticker in the game displays the description (or name), and the images are placed in the level.

Video

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Why is this project special?

Our project is special for a range of reasons, chiefly:

  • An entire multiplayer video game was implemented over a weekend!

  • A game server providing thousands of questions drawn from multiple data sources

  • Unique, custom music, composed over the weekend

  • Hand-drawn art, created over the weekend!

  • Made using over 15 tools and programming languages

  • 65,000+ headlines, and 50,000+ data pieces and images

Technical Overview

Backend

The Beat the Press server is written in Go, an open source programming language that makes it easy to build simple, reliable, and efficient software. Go was orginally created by Google, and in production use today by Google, NetFlix, CloudFlare, DropBox, Uber, and other firms. Go is designed to be easy-to-learn and Go programs are highly readable, yet Go is powerful and compiles programs quickly.  

The Beat the Press Server takes advantage of the Go standard library, using the HTTP server, image encoding and manipulation functions, JSON and CSV parsing and JSON encoding routines, and the standard random number generator.

At startup, the server reads through all the configured datasets, and starts serving HTTP requests. When asked for "/quiz" it provides a randomly-chosen JSON-formatted "question" which consists of a "clue" and possible "answers", which are links to images also served by the server. The server is responsible for putting coloured borders on images it serves.

We also use machine learning techniques to generate fake news headlines. The system was trained on a corpus of over 65,000 genuine headlines. These fakes are included in the game as wildcards. 

The server is available in the server folder of our GitHub repository.

Frontend

The Beat the Press frontend is a game, made with Unity. Visual art and character designs were by Rex Smeal, and game music and sounds composed and edited by Arabella Adelaide. Code for the game is written in C# by Jonathon Manning, and compiled with the open-source Mono compiler.

The player characters are controlled with either Playstation controllers, or keyboard. The game downloads information and images from the backend server, and parses JSON using the popular open-source Newtonsoft JSON library.

Game development and design challenges included smoothly handling multiplayer (players joining mid-game), smoothly and dynamically adding and removing images with variable dimensions during the game, and handling network errors without disrupting the game.

Research

"You remember that time when Lee Lin had the by-election and was just about to win when Tony Jones threw a sex scandal at her throwing her off course and ending the game on a tie?!"

Beat the Press is based on the dual concepts of trying to get an increasingly disengaged populace engaged current events and their sphere of influence, combined with the ability for technology to improve our lives for the better when appropriately focused. These concepts work both independently and in tandem with each other to reinforce their goals.

Games are, by their nature, designed to entertain and inform. Over time we have discovered how games can be used to encourage habits, reduce stress, and engage on new topics through persuasive design and playful interaction [1,2].

With an increasingly apathetic and disengaged populace [3,4,5] now is the best time for games to try and reinvigorate the populace’s interest in their world and the serious issues facing it. By presenting the otherwise dull and serious topics in a new and playful manner the intent is to re-engage people's interest in the topic. The design of the gameplay is intentionally removed from the current form of conveying serious information, news broadcasts, while the art direction intentionally mimics the news to encourage a surreal disconnection to make the entire endeavour more humorous [6] similar to popular comedy news and quiz shows like Mad as Hell or QI.

Research into memory has shown that with proper training, the mind at almost every stage of human development has remarkable neural plasticity [7]. Over time and depending on different factors memory training can aid not only at improving memory retention and recall, but also with aiding in the prevention of and reducing the effects of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's [8,9,10].

Traditional attempts in this space focussed on mind games and puzzles, but modern research shows there is no improvement in memory or in halting later neural degradation from these techniques [11].

Mnemonic techniques are the standard means now employed to improve memory retention and recall.  In their most basic form, mnemonic techniques work by taking something to be remembered and associating it with another more exciting and surreal item, where often the stranger the association the better. Ideally the implemented system should utilize be a mixed medium approach combining visuals, self directed narrative and audio [12].

This is where Beat the Press comes in, the interaction of news articles and points of interest, coupled with the dynamic in game experience creates unique moments of play. By creating and experiencing these moments, players associate these events with the news data, leading to memory improvement through the mnemonic technique.

These two components complement each other, by making engaging with information more enjoyable we will increase the amount of time people spend actually interacting with it, which in turn feeds into the second component, memory retention. As with any exercise—and memory training is no exception—repeated use is required to obtain the best results. This then feeds back into engaging with information, by improving memory retention this will make engaging with the issues more relevant. Thus the two pieces are designed to improve each other.

Citations

1. Baranowski, T., Buday, R., Thompson, D. I., & Baranowski, J. (2008). Playing for Real: Video Games and Stories for Health-Related Behavior Change. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34(1)
2. Eastaugh, S. (2016). British Pokemon Go player says catching 'em all shed pounds. CNN.
3. Burgess, K. (2016). Why young people aren't enrolling to vote for 2016 federal election. Syndey Morning Herald.
4. Collin, P. (2008) The internet, youth participation policies, and the development of young people’s political identities in australia. Journal of Youth Studies, 11(5).
5. Harris, A., Wyn, J., & Younes, S. (2010). Beyond apathetic or activist youth 'Ordinary' young people and contemporary forms of participation. Young, 18(1).
6. McGraw, A. P., & Warren, C. (2010). Benign violations making immoral behavior funny. Psychological Science, 21(8).
7. Buschkuehl, M., Jaeggi, S.M., Hutchison, S., Perrig-Chiello, P., Däpp, C., Müller, M., & Perrig, W. J. (2008). Impact of working memory training on memory performance in old-old adults. Psychology and aging, 23(4).
8. Rapp, S., Brenes, G. M. A. P., & Marsh, A. P. (2002). Memory enhancement training for older adults with mild cognitive impairment: a preliminary study Aging and Mental Health.
9. Cahn-Weiner, D. A., Malloy, P. F., Rebok, G. W., & Ott, B. R. (2003). Results of a randomized placebo-controlled study of memory training for mildly impaired Alzheimer's disease patients. Applied Neuropsychology, 10(4).
10. Bäckman, L. (1992). Memory training and memory improvement in Alzheimer's disease: rules and exceptions. Acta Neurologica Scandinavica, 85(S139).
11. Cook, G. (2013) Brain Games Are Bogus. *The New Yorker*
12. Pinola, M.(2012) How to Train Your Brain and Boost Your Memory Like a USA Memory Champion: Interview with Dellis, N. Lifehacker.

Setup Instructions

Gameplay

In Beat the Press you play as one of four news anchors jetting around on your rocket-powered news desk, in almost any direction you so desire, completing for news stories.
Your best friend in completing the stories is the Journalistic Grabbing Claw™, attached to the bottom of your news desk, you can independently move the claw about to latch onto almost anything in the news room. Your Journalistic Grabbing Claw™ can only hold a single news item at a time so if you want a new one you have to let go of whatever it is you are currently holding.

At the bottom of the news room is a constantly updating news ticker displaying the deadlines of the stories you need to complete. This should be an easy task but unfortunately the lazy interns haven't sorted all the images properly. Strewn about the news room are the various headline images, you can pick these up with your Journalistic Grabbing Claw™ and place it onto the correct headline in the news ticker.

Dropping an image onto the correct headline gains you Journalist Points, and the anchor with the most points at the end of the news is declared the winner. Be careful where you drop images, if you place an image onto the wrong headline the image is removed and you lose Journalist Points.

What you'll need before starting

  1. Playstation 4 (PS4) controllers. Other controllers might and should work but we have only tested PS4 controllers. You will need one controller per player (maximum of 4).
  2. Download the game server.
  3. Download the game: Windows or Mac
  4. A computer capable of playing the game and hosting the server.

How to start Beat the Press

  1. Connect your controllers. Make sure your PS4 controllers are correctly connected and synced to your computer before starting. A guide on how to connect the controllers to Mac OS X is a available here.
  2. Launch the game server. There are full notes on how to configure what information the server shows on the GitHub page.
    On OS X: Go to ~/Library/Application Support/DefaultCompany/Beat The Press/config.txt, and enter the URL of the server.
    On Windows: Go to Users\\AppData\LocalLow\DefaultCompany\Beat The Press\config.txt, and enter the URL of the server.
  3. Launch the game application.
  4. Wait for the game to connect to the server. This will happen by itself but it might take a little while. You will know when it is done when the menu says "Press Any Key."
  5. Enjoy the menu music while you wait.
  6. Press the Option key on any controller to start the game.
  7. Each player presses the Option key on their controller to enter the game.
  8. Play the game!

Controller scheme

  • Left Stick moves the rocket-powered news desk.
  • Right Stick moves the Journalistic Grabbing Claw™.
  • Pressing Right Trigger when the claw is near an image picks up the image.
  • Pressing Right Trigger when holding an image drops the image.

Tools/Languages Used

  • Python
  • Bash Shell

  • TextMate

  • Final Cut Pro

  • Trello

  • Go

  • JSON

  • Logic Pro

  • Import.io

  • Xcode 7

  • Mono/MonoDevelop

  • Discrete-Time Markov Chains

  • Lee Lin Chin's Fashion Sense

  • Unity
  • Procreate for iPad

  • Adobe Photoshop

  • Apple Numbers

  • Google Sheets

  • Google Docs

  • Microsoft Excel 

  • HexFiend

  • BBEdit

  • Swift

  • C#

  • Mou.app

  • Journalistic Grabbing Claw™

Process

After settling on our concept, we spent most of the first evening building paper prototypes and sketching wireframes for the game concept. After we settled on a concept we were happy with, we split up the team into various departments and started implementation. Our sub-teams worked on:

  • prototyping and concepting

  • art and design

  • coding and engineering

  • documentation and video production

  • playtesting and gameplay

  • data source identification and integration

Resources

Next Steps

  • Polish the gameplay, improving the flow and start-up process of the game.

  • Incorporate more data sources, and produce a report at the end of each game showing data sources used and encountered in the game.

  • Improve networking, and allow for multiplayer games on different machines.

Team

Software and Asset License

Copyright (c) 2016, The Team Members. All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source and binary forms, with or without modification, are permitted provided that the following conditions are met:

  • Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
  • Redistributions in binary form must reproduce the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.

THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND CONTRIBUTORS "AS IS" AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

Contact Us

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This project was built at GovHack 2016 in Hobart, Tasmania, July 29-31 2016