“Ashta”

It is a great joy for me to announce today that after the success of Professor S. and with the kind support of the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and the German Computer Game Award LudInc is now developing a new game for kids between the ages of 6 and 12 called:

The story follows the adventures of a little octopus girl called Ashta. She was born in a river at the northernmost tip of Indonesia on a little island called Pulo Aceh together with 51 little brothers and sisters. Ashta likes to swim close to the beach and listen and dance to the music the humans are playing. She loves to sit in the coral trees and watch the world go by. Unlike her fellow octopi, she is very sociable and she has a lot of friends in the lagoon. She loves to scare her friends by hiding and imitating different animals. Her father Bob is Ashta’s favourite relative and mentor. Bob enjoys the little pleasures in life. Ashta’s mum calls him lazy but Ashta loves his easy going attitude. Bob often takes Ashta to the beach to collect shells and candy the humans leave behind.

First character design draft of “Ashta”, the little octopus by Agnieszka Michalska.

One day, a group of sharks are feeding in the bay. Ashta barely manages to escape and gets separated from her family. Followed by the sharks she swims into the open sea. Having lost her way and with the sharks still in pursuit she swims farther into the ocean until she reaches the east coast of India. There, she makes friends with a young bull from Mexico and together they embark on an adventurous journey to reunite “Ashta” with her family.

The idea came to me last summer after I had spent almost every day over a six months period practising the physical exercises of the Ashtanga Yoga primary series. The practise continues to improve my life in many ways and I wish I would have discovered it sooner. Yoga not only promotes physical health and fitness but also emotional well-being, concentration and learning abilities. I believe I would have greatly benefited from being introduced to Yoga while I was still at school. However, when I was a kid, Yoga was virtually unheard of. That is why I am grateful for the opportunity to now introduce a younger audience to the practice using the tools I am most familiar with: storytelling, gaming and music.    

A big thank you goes out to the Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg who continue to believe in us. A special thank you also goes to the German Computer Game Award (DCP) and the Goethe Institute who invited me to Sao Paulo last year for a wonderful opportunity to meet with and learn more about the Brazilian games industry. During my stay in Sao Paulo I also met our Brazilian co-producer Paula Cosenza. Paula’s company, Bossanova Films has recently opened an animation department which produces high quality children’s content and I am very much looking forward to working with her. “Ashta” will be our first international co-production and I am very excited about that.

The people that make “Ashta” possible from left to right: Paula Cosenza (Bossanova Films), Roshanak Behesht Nedjad (LudInc), Jan von Meppen, Ina Göring (Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg), Anja Riedeberger (Goethe Institut Sao Paulo). During the Berlin Film Festival in February we all met at the Brazilian embassy.

Our gratitude also goes to the Arnold Zweig School in Berlin, where we already had an opportunity to try the story and exercise sequence with a third grade class. There will be other opportunities to test the game mechanics later this month but even at this early stage of development, “Ashta” is a big hit with the students and teachers.  

We still have a lot of work ahead of us and you can also help by sharing your thoughts: Do you practise Yoga? Do you think Yoga would be beneficial for your kids? Would you spend money on an app that teaches your kids yoga? Do you think an animated story is a useful teaching tool?

Professor S. is going nationwide

Today we are celebrating a milestone at LudInc and I am very happy to share fantastic news with you: Thanks to our partner Westermann, Professor S. now has a full page feature in the brand new Westermann print catalogue, which is distributed to over 13,000 primary schools in all of Germany.

Every federal region has its own catalogue and Professor S. is featured in every one of them. But this marks only the start of a much larger distribution effort which will continue with the didacta trade fair for education. Professor S. is already played in 70 schools all over Germany and we are set to grow in 2017.

If you are at the didacta please join me on the 17th of February at 10 am for my talk “The Mobile Natives – How Children Learn in the World of New Media”. I will share my experience from developing Professor S. inside primary schools in Berlin. Professor S. is recognised as one of the most innovative and exciting teaching games available today and I can’t wait to show it to you. If you don’t know Professor S. here is a video that explains how it works:

 

Professor S.: Your time travel adventure begins here! from LudInc on Vimeo.

What is your favourite music of all time?

CIMG0020.JPG
A memento from my studio in Boars Hill (Oxford) where I wrote and recorded most of my music.

This is a hard question which is why I have decided to start a list, which I will update from time to time to see which of the songs and albums actually survive over time. I haven’t included any new music because during the first few years my opinion of it often changes. My self imposed rule is: to qualify as an all time favourite, I first have to like the music for a few years. So here are some of my current favourite albums and songs in no particular order. Where possible, I have included a Youtube link to the track which may or may not work in your country. Feel free to leave any and all of your favourite music in the comments.

Thelonious Monk – Alone in San Francisco

John Coltrane – The John Coltrane Quartet Plays Chim Chim Cheree

Charlie Parker – Ornithology

Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

Charles Mingus – The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady

AC DC – Back in Black

Slayer – Divine Intervention

Ween – White Pepper

Ennio Morricone – Farewell to Chayenne

Tito Puente – Dance Mania Vol. 1

Louis Prima – The Wildest!

Eric Dolphy – Out to Lunch

Julie London – Julie Is Her Name

Su Ra – Enlightenment

Count Basie – Atomic Basie

Django Reinhardt – Out of Nowhere

Chet Baker – Summertime

Parliament – Mothership Connection

James Brown – Live At The Apollo

Sam Cooke – Chain Gang

Glenn Gould – Goldberg Variations (1955 and 1981)

Karl Richter – Bach Organ Works (here is a fine example of him playing the Toccata and Fugue in d-minor)

Johann Strauss – An der Schönen Blauen Donau

NWA – Straight Outta Compton

Matt Monro – From Russia With Love

Chet Baker – Let’s Get Lost (There is also a great documentary with the same name)

The Wu-Tang Clan – Enter the Wu-Tang 36 Chambers

Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Nigga Please

Photek – Modus Operandi

Skip James – Devil Took my Woman

Laurie Anderson – Oh Superman

Sqarepusher – Feed Me Weird Things

Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart

Cab Calloway – Minnie the Moocher

Lydia Mendoza – Mal Hombre

The Lord Invader – Rum And Coca Cola

Blondie – Hanging on the Telephone

Motorhead – Ace of Spades

Bad Brains – Pay to Cum

The Five Stairsteps – Ohh Child

David Bowie – Life on Mars

Radiohead – Paranoid Android

Elton John – Amoreena

Martin Denny – Caravan

 

A day at the children’s media conference

Photo-innovation-in-education (1)

Last week I was in Sheffield for the Children’s Media Conference. I was invited to talk about Professor S. as part of a panel called “Innovation in Education”, of which there is a very nice summary report here.

The event was very well organised and it had a cosy and welcoming feel to it. It was encouraging to see how many great projects were presented there. I only stayed for a day but I saw plenty of interesting talks and also made some great contacts.

The keynote speech that evening by cartoonist Chris Riddell was very entertaining. He took us on a journey through his career, working method and his opinions about the recent referendum, which unsurprisingly also featured prominently in the talk about European financing the following morning.

IMG_1933 (1)

Although Creative Europe says in a recent statement that there will be no substantial changes until 2017, the mood among UK producers was sombre. After all, it will be hard to finance future british stories without EU support.

As a UK citizen living in Germany, I am personally affected by the changes that may come out of the referendum. Moreover, I am sad to see the country I call my home now ever more distant.

In recent years my world has shrunk through affordable air travel, free video calls and freedom of movement. Communication is easier than ever in part because English has become a common global language. As a result, I have friends from all over the world who also socialise and do business globally.

In my mind, physical borders have already lost in importance and I doubt I would miss them if they disappeared tomorrow.  After all, we all share one planet and would therefore benefit from sharing resources and growing understanding and tolerance more than we would stand to loose from distancing ourselves from our fellow human beings.

The film industry in particular benefits from the free movement of people and ideas and many projects would be difficult to realise without drawing on talent from other countries.

Time will tell how this decision will affect us in the long run but I have no doubt that interesting times lie ahead.

About Music

I am staying at a friend’s place at the moment. She has a piano so I get to play it from time to time. I have forgotten a lot of the tunes I used to play but I remember a few. I started learning instruments when I was 4. My mum and I had moved into a commune in the country side. The people there had a band and played a lot of shows at music festivals and local venues. My very first public performance was at one of those shows. Someone gave me a drum and told me to play along with the band – from that moment on, I was hooked.

The keyboard player in the band offered to give me piano lessons, which I happily accepted. A couple of years later, I started playing guitar. Later, I picked up bass guitar and also the drums. I would often switch between different instruments and go through long cycles of favouring one instrument over the others.

Over the years, I have played in a lot of different bands. I also love improvising and I would often get together with other musicians to play whatever came into our heads. One of our practise rooms was inside an old box van which we used to take out into the country side to play in a field or forest. There was a generator inside the van that powered the amplifiers and even a little cooker to make cups of tea during the breaks.

red van
The legendary rehearsal van outside my (then) home on Devenant Road in North Oxford.

 

Sadly, no recordings survive from the “van sessions” – at least none that I know of.

My first enduring band project was called “Camp Blackfoot“, which was a punk / jazz / rock band that existed between 1996 and 2001. We did one tour of France and Italy and released on album called “Critical Seed vs. the Spartan Society”. I played bass on all but one song but I also play lead and rhythm guitar on some of the tracks under the pseudonym “Lex Fontaine”. You can listen to the epic opening track “Exorcismo Di Paulo” here:

Between working on Camp Blackfoot and studying, I made a scarce living playing in different Jazz bands among which was a saxophone and guitar duo with the fabulously talented Alex Ward. We played pubs, cafes, hotel bars, golf clubs, shopping streets – you name it. Here is a track from our original demo – the beautiful “Goodbye Porkpie Hat”:

After Camp Blackfoot came a new band called “Vin Mariani”. We never progressed past the song-writing stage but our demo recordings survive. Below, you can listen to one of our tracks called “Art Rat” which I co-wrote with Nich Eglin and Luigi Cibrario. On this track, I play bass, lead guitar and keyboard.

The demise of Vin Mariani was followed by two years of musical inactivity during which I worked for Harley-Davidson, who had just opened their European headquarters in Oxford. Working for Harley-Davidson was an interesting experience which I might describe in a different post. Suffice it to say, that I was not cut out for a corporate career so I decided to start writing music for film. It all started with this demo:

In my next post I might entertain you with more stories from my career as a film composer.

“Professor S.” wins ‘Best Serious Game’ at DCP 2016

MUNICH, GERMANY - APRIL 07: Team members of 'Professor S.' receive their award from Nova Meierhenrich during the German Computer Games Award 2016 (Deutscher Computerspielpreis 2016) at BMW World on April 7, 2016 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Gisela Schober/Getty Images for Quinke Networks)
(Photo by Gisela Schober/Getty Images)

It’s official: “Professor S.” won the German Computer Game Award in the category “Best Serious Game”. So last night, we celebrated together with our fellow nominees and game developers at the BMW Welt in Munich. Sadly, we had to leave the giant cheque behind because they wouldn’t let us take it on plane. I delivered the shortest acceptance speech of the evening with a simple “thank you” and I want to thank everyone again. Over the last seven years, many people have contributed to the success of “Professor S.” and have invested time, effort and money. To all of you, who have worked so hard and trusted us and believed in us (you know who you are) I want to say a big heartfelt “you rock and we love you and thank you so much and here is to the next seven years”!

 

Professor S. is nominated for the German Computer Game Award!

logo-box_bigger

I’m very happy because today, Professor S. was nominated for the German Computer Game Award! I was at the Arnold Zweig School when the news flickered by and took a moment to celebrate with our friends there; sadly my lovely business partner Roshi flew to Luxemburg for the EAVE workshop this morning so she couldn’t be there. However, here’s a toast to her and everyone who supported us over the years especially our lovely friends and funders at KUBI, Medienboard, IBB and all the schools playing Professor S. today … thank you all!

If you like, you can vote for Professor S. receiving the audience award by clicking this link and entering your name and email address.

Mind the Bridge

Last summer, “Professor S.” was nominated for the European Innovative Games Award. Because of that, we received a lot of attention most notably from ACE Creative, who invited me to present “Professor S.” to a group of investors and game developers at Gamelab in Barcelona. As a result, we were selected to come to San Francisco and present the project to an audience of high profile investors and industry experts in the bay area.

IMG_0666

When I got there, I joined a group of of entrepreneurs from all over Europe who had come to San Francisco to hone their pitching skills and explore opportunities in the Silicon Valley. I can tell you that there are many opportunities and the weather is also pretty good. On top of that, I managed to catch up with old friends in the area and met many new interesting people.

img_0648

Most days were taken up with talks and workshops to help us get our projects ready to pitch to US investors. One day, we were all taken on a tour of different companies around the bay area which was absolutely fascinating. Our visit at Google HQ in Mountain View was definitely a highlight and a great opportunity to have our picture taken with the old logo.

IMG_0670

The week passed very quickly and on the final day, I had a chance to present “Professor S.” at the European Innovation Day in the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. There were many people there and I had my hands full speaking to everyone that was interested in the project. Luckily, my friend Leonard Cetrangolo was also there. Leonard has been helping with “Professor S.” from the very start and I was especially grateful that he was around that day.

IMG_0679

I also managed to catch up with my friend Grant Hosfort, who was in San Francisco working on his very fine Codespark project at the time at Zynga HQ. In the picture, you can see Grant and me in the famous Zynga tunnel.

“Professor S.” captured imaginations in the short time I was there and I know it will not be my last visit to the beautiful Bay Area. The first steps toward the US have been taken and I look forward to my return.

If you would like to check out the other companies in my cohort, you can have a look at this short video:

 

Mind the Bridge Startup School 2015 – September Session from Jan von Meppen on Vimeo.

 

We All Have Our Skeletons

Jan likes his coffee black. He is leaning back in one of the blue lounge chairs by the bowfront window. At this point, he is getting comfortable being interviewed by me. After years of dedicated work, he is ready to look back and marvel at how it came together. As Jan is digging in the archives of his memories, it seems like he is not only telling me about the early days of “Professor S.”, he is telling himself.

The road of an explorer is never a straight one. “It was very rock’n’roll,” Jan concedes. “There were many spontaneous decisions during working on the episodes.”

With the surprise casting of Paul as Professor S., Jan was eager to start shooting the first episodes. “The film element was part of the idea from the very beginning,” Jan explains. “During my work in schools, I noticed how people used computers and media,” he continues. Seeing how many teachers used films as part of class inspired Jan to what would become LudInc’s signature dish: a storyline delivered in entertaining episodes with cliffhangers that require the audience to become active and add to the show in knowledge and character.

Bringing together both the entertainment and the educational aspects was Jan’s biggest accomplishment in those early stages of writing. A one-man operation for good parts of the early way, Jan had to step out of his comfort zone of composing and producing by having to divide his attention between all aspects of filmmaking, including camera work or the prop department. Jan soon found out that passion projects have a way of screaming for attention from all different angles simultaneously. What counts, though, is not how much you know but how well you are connected. “At the time, I was working on a feature film called Dark Fibre, together with Jamie King and a very talented director called Peter Mann,” Jan remembers.

Jamie and Peter had asked Jan to provide the musical score to their film. One thing led to the next. “Peter is very good with technical camera work, so I told him about my idea,” Jan continues. “I told him that I wanted this professor guy to travel inside of his lab, because that is all I could afford in terms of setting,” he laughs. “I said: ‘Inside the lab, there is a window. How can I make scenes appear in the window?’ Peter gave me advice on how to position my camera in order to achieve this effect.”

image

All of a sudden, support was coming from all corners of the globe. Jan had charmed Mark Twain School headmistress Verena Thamm into granting him the school’s chemistry laboratory as a set. Tako Taal, Jamie King’s girlfriend at the time, offered helping with the set design. Leonard Cetrangolo from San Francisco, whom Jan had met while working in the States, provided valuable knowledge of cinematography. “It was nice having so many people involved from the beginning. People wanted to help because they really associated with the project,” Jan recalls, ”even though it was very ambitious. We were nowhere near having the resources to pull this thing off. It was a very rock’n’roll kind of production.”

image

Tako, freshly cast Paul and Jan went into the lab over a weekend in the middle of December. “We dressed the room so it looked like a time machine with lots of blinking machines and apparatuses. When I set up the camera, I called up my friend Leonard on Skype and I did a live cast of my laptop screen for him so he could basically look through the camera’s viewfinder and tell me how to adjust the camera and lighting.”

Every well-equipped school science lab comes with a skeleton and so did this one. It just briefly graced the corner of the lab setting before being handed a name and a role in the story, the sidekick the script had been missing. “Tako came up with that,” Jan laughs. “She just used it as part of the set at first. During filming, Tako crawled on the floor and started moving it around to make it come alive.”

image

“The skeleton idea was great because it showed the obvious need for a companion for Professor S. in the Time Lab.”

Find out next time how our skeleton Pierre changed names, nationalities and genders all at once. Skeletons are weird that way.

If you can’t get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you’d best teach it to dance. –George Bernard Shaw

David Lütke, Editor

" rel="bookmark">Go With The Flow (流れに身を任せます)

Production for a movie or TV series can span months and years. A lot can happen during that time. Previous plans can come undone. It’s up to the producer and crew to roll with the punches. The fascinating part is looking at cast, titles or details that never came to be. These could-have-been’s are something the audience rarely or never hears about. Of course, a multitude of factors play a part when movies become iconic. Imagine how different some of the world’s most popular productions could have been. Could you see John Travolta playing Forrest Gump? He almost did. Or Sean Connery in the role of Middle-earth’s favorite wizard Gandalf? They were considering him.

Now, our dear Professor S. is no Forest Gump, although he does get himself into quite a few situations of historical significance. But did you know he went through several incarnations, both on paper and on screen?

But let’s recap: Jan von Meppen proposed giving his unique game model a try at Mark Twain Primary School in Berlin. Jan, with a background in filmmaking and alternate reality games, went to work on a prototype of the game over the summer holidays of 2009. His friend Frieder Klapp, fourth grade teacher at Mark Twain Primary School, helped him.

“Frieder put me onto topics like fire, whales & dolphins, which is basic fourth grade content”, Jan remembers. “So I took that information and constructed stories around it. I wanted to wrap the learning content into a story. That was the idea.”

The writing process went fairly quick, as Jan remembers. The time travel theme quickly established itself. However, there were initial detours. “One of the ideas was that Michael Jackson, who had died in June of that year, was not really dead but actually living in the school’s attic, communicating with the children.” Jan laughs, “but that was dismissed quickly.”

When the professor story came into focus, Jan recognised the need to put a face on his main character. “The first idea was to get a Japanese actor. The character was then called Professor Takeshi. So I was looking for an Asian actor because there is a stereotype according to which Asian people are widely associated with technology.”

An email from Jan to set designer Tako, discussing the possibilities of having a Japanese Professor S.:

image

Jan set up the auditions at HomeBase Lounge, an event space at Potsdamer Platz in the heart of Berlin. Some people who came to the audition were just curious and weren’t even available for the planned shoot.  Others simply didn’t have the acting skills. It wasn’t looking good for Jan’s schedule. But, as he soon found out, good things sometimes happen unexpectedly.

“All throughout the auditions, there was a guy named Paul, working the bar”, says Jan. “He said ‘Why don’t you just let me do it? I can do it, I love kids and I can act’, so we tried him and he turned out to be very good, he had a lot of energy”, he continues. “And he was kind of chaotic which is something I wanted for the character of Professor S.” Paul Karopka shortly thereafter put on the lab coat and thick rimmed glasses that made him become the first official Professor S. Lucky incidents like this are dotted throughout LudInc’s founding years and seem to be proof that persistence is always rewarded. Jan is smiling, thinking about it.

So far, lady luck has favoured our heroes. What happens if you go into a project passionate, open-minded and with a rock’n’roll attitude? Are great things going to happen or is the project bound for disaster? Which way does the pendulum swing? Find out next time.

image

David Lütke, Editor