Lost in Venice, a quiz game linking geography with history

Introduction

Venice has an enormous historical, cultural and architectural heritage. Every year, it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists to visit. And thanks to the Google Street View feature in Google Maps, people now are able to enjoy the beauty of Venice without being there physically. However, there is something missing from Google Maps, which is the unique story behind each historic site. One cannot truly appreciate those fabulous ancient architecture or beautiful canals in Venice without knowing their history behind.

Objectives and deliverable

We want to create links between geography and history so that people can have a better experience while using Google Street View to travel around Venice. So we came up with the idea of designing a web-game that will allow people to get familiar with the architecture and culture history of Venice in an interactive and  playful way.

Lost in Venice is an educational geography quiz game set in Venice. The game puts players at random historic sites in Venice just as if they are lost, and only gives them a few visual clues from the Google Street View of those places. The players will then be asked questions associated to those sites, and after they answer each question, they will be provided with the historical information about the corresponding site. Not only is this game a complement to Google Maps, but it is also very educational.

Methodology

Collecting information

We plan to collect the information of 200 famous historic sites in Venice for the game. The information of a historical site should at least include its name, geographic coordinates and history, since what we want is to link the geography with the history. But additional information helps us customize questions for each site specifically. For this, we need to search at different reliable sources. Firstly, we will select 200 historic sites from tourism websites such as TripAdvisor according to their popularity as tourist attractions, then we have a list of names. Secondly, we will find the geographic coordinates of the historic sites on our list from reliable websites like Freebase and Wikipedia, in order to link them to Google Steet View. Lastly, we will further collect the historical information about these sites from books or online encyclopedia, for example, “Venice, the city and its architecture” by R.Goy, etc and Wikipedia. With all the information, we can design questions and answers.

Building database

As soon as we have all information for the 200 historic sites, the next step will be creating a MySQL database with a reasonable structure that consists of the names, geographic coordinates, historical information and other information of the 200 historic sites that we have collected. We will be using two free tools Freebase and OpenRefine, which can help to build a MySQL database automatically. Freebase can generate structured data given the name list of the 200 historic sites. And with OpenRefine, we can then insert the structured data generated by Freebase into MySQL database. Our web-game is programmed with JavaScript, so we need to further export the MySQL database into an XML, a data format that can be called by JavaScript, using PHP scripts.

Connecting with Google Maps

Since our web-game uses the images from Google Street View as visual clues, it needs to be connected with Google Maps, which can be done by using Google Maps JavaScript API developed by Google. Google Maps JavaScript API has provided most of the functions that we will need to design the web-game, including loading information of the sites, route design and interface design.

Designing routes

We have chosen to design the different possible routes by classifying the places by order of difficulty : the more famous they are, the easier they are.

In Figure 1, you can see that we decided to divide the 200 places into 20 different categories of difficulty that are divided into 4 levels of difficulty. The player can choose the level at the beginning of the game. For this level of difficulty, we will assign a route that will be composed of 5 places, each place being picked randomly from each category of difficulty that composes the level, so that each time the player connects to the game, the route is different. Also, the fact that the places are increasing in difficulty along the route is challenging for the player.

Figure 1: Route design scheme

In the example of Figure 1, the player will begin the game with a place of the category of difficulty number 11, since he has chosen the level “difficult”. For this place, he will have to answer to the question associated with the place.

If the answer is right, then the player earns a virtual money (that is to motivate experienced players to keep playing), and then he moves on to the next place (category of difficulty number 12). If the answer is wrong, the player will anyway move to the next place (we have chosen this to avoid a beginner to be stuck in the game, which might frustrate the player into quitting the game).

In order to design the route, we will need to implement an algorithm that will pick randomly the places and questions among the appropriate categories.

Designing interface

Interface plays an important role in web-game design. Without an appealing interface, a game fails to attract players. We would also like to establish a motivation system to encourage players to keep playing. For example, we can borrow the Pegman figure from Google Maps and use it as the player’s virtual figure in the game. And the player will get a golden coin as reward each time he/she answers a question correctly, and nothing when he/she answers it wrong. These golden coins can be used to purchase virtual clothes for the player’s figure from a virtual shop at the end of one route. With more gold coins, the players can buy fancier clothes, which keeps them motivated.

When the players finish playing the game, they can also customize a E-postcard with their virtual figure at a site they have visited in the game. Then the players can share the postcards with their friends and invite them to play the game as well. Figure 3 is a graphic demonstration of how our game will be like.

Figure 2: Google Maps figure — Pegman
Figure 3: A demonstration of Lost in Venice
Figure 3: A demonstration of Lost in Venice (Click on the figure to see the effect)

Milestones

We have divided our project into 5 main milestones, and the time schedule for the whole project is shown in Figure 4.

Schedule
Figure 4: Milestones and time schedule

References

[1] https://plus.google.com/photos/+GoogleMaps/albums/5943215427176305713?sort=1

[2] https://developers.google.com/maps/documentation/javascript/

[3] http://openrefine.org/

[4] https://www.freebase.com/