Multitouch and multisensory

Outstanding article at Ars about 17 year-old Bridger Maxwell and the multitouch display screen he developed for his MacBook. Great stuff.

One of the things that amused me was mention of Space Camp Utah, the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Centre, which uses custom simulators to give kids experience of group-working while commanding a spaceship. The settings and scenarios are taken from Star Trek, mostly, so it’s live-action role-play gaming, but in a space science context.

I’d completely forgotten, until reading this, that one of my more ridiculous TV series ideas was to build a full-size spaceship onto a bus chassis, so it could be driven around a huge aircraft hangar. Situated around the hangar would be modular planet or space station sets, at which the ship could ‘dock’ or ‘land.’

In each show of the series we’d recruit and train a new crew, and set them off on a mission. From that point on we’re into live role-play gaming – along with the director we’d have had an off-screen game-master keeping the pressure on, and a team of actors sitting around waiting for the ship to arrive at their location.

The whole thing would, of course, be insanely expensive to do well, and tragically awful to do badly. But on the face of it, it could be awesome. Most kids’ game shows involve purely physical challenges – there have been occasional quizzes and the like, but not since The Adventure Game and Now Get Out Of That has there been a properly puzzle-based show. Which struck me at the time – and still strikes me now – as a significant failing.

Time Commanders was the closest we’ve come in recent years, and it always surprised me that it never felt quite ‘right’ somehow. Of course, none of these were exactly ‘children’s’ shows, but then it’s not clear that my space mission project should have been, either.

Anyway, the ‘willing conceit’ involved in my format was… er… large, and that proved something of a stumbling block. Everyone at CITV thought I was nuts, and CBBC’s commissioner thinks kids aren’t interested in space (seriously, she does). Since the idea was kicking around at the same time that Time Commanders wasn’t quite setting the world on fire, and it would have been more expensive, it’s not hard to see why my format was going nowhere at warp factor nothing.

In education, the closest I’d heard to the concept before today was an earth observation scenario run by – I thought – either the Starchaser folks or the British National Space Centre, but I’m stuffed if I can track it down this morning.

What’s really odd is the coincidence that yesterday I was talking to a development researcher at Tigress about another project I desperately wanted to do, that never really stood a chance. Again, it was clearly too complex to make happen.

Depends how big your ambition is, though, doesn’t it?

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