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Mixed-reality scavenger hunt with a smartphone – just play the game or create one of your own

Cologne, a little mixed up: an architectural detail of a church building shows up on a smartphone near the right bank of the Rhine. It does not 'belong there', so it's an exciting challenge to identify it and to take it to its original location, maybe the famous cathedral. This is what the world looks like in Tidy City, a new location-based mixed reality game developed by Fraunhofer FIT for the latest generation of smartphones. Using a free authoring system, it is easy to create custom-designed games. A special Tidy City game version for Waiblingen was presented during the Local Journalism Forum held there on January 27.

In Tidy City, the players explore their neighborhood using a GPS-enabled Android smartphone. Symbols on a map on the display direct the players to a riddle, i.e. an object that must be 'tidied up' because it is shown in the wrong location.

A part of a building or a bridge, a statue, but also a historical event tied to a location, might be a suitable object, represented in the game by a photo and a descriptive text. When the players believe to be right next to the object's original site, they can try to relocate the object to that location. GPS is used to check that the player is indeed in the correct position and has successfully solved the riddle.

Tidy City is being developed by Fraunhofer FIT and the French Carnot institute Telecom & Management SudParis. The work is part of the project "TOTEM – Theories and Tools for Distributed Authoring of Mobile Mixed Reality Games" which is funded by the German BMBF and the French ANR. Tidy City is based on an idea by the games designer Michael Sträubig.

"The TOTEM project investigates so called Mixed Reality games that merge the digital world of the game and the players' real environment in a number of different ways. We want to find out how such games should be designed, and how they influence the player's view of the world", explains the project coordinator Richard Wetzel from Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT.

In addition to the game, the researchers developed an authoring system that not only experts, but even children can use. As local versions of the game can be downloaded directly to a smartphone, many cities will soon have their own local versions of Tidy City, the researchers hope.

Customized versions of Tidy City can be built around a wide variety of ideas, e.g. a quiz for visitors to a city, which directs them, in a playful style, to the prominent sights around the city. Special versions of Tidy City might also be created for trade fairs or other large-scale events, reflecting their specific themes.

In cooperation with Zeitungsverlag Waiblingen (ZVW), the regional newspaper publisher, Fraunhofer FIT helped to create a local version of Tidy City for Waiblingen, a town close to Stuttgart. The actual authors were four kids aged 10 to 12. This version was presented for the first time during the Local Journalism Forum held in Waiblingen on January 27, 2011. From March 12 to 20, the town's residents will be invited to rent suitable smartphones from ZVW and to play the local Tidy City game.

Alex Deeg | Fraunhofer-Institut
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