“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?

Fishing In The Idea Pond

Great ideas come by accident. The trick is to be ready when they come. What helps is a generous dose of rebellious spirit and the ability to think two steps ahead. When Jan von Meppen was first consulted by schools about their server setups and computer infrastructure, he didn’t know it would lead him to creating the concept of the Real World Game. After all, school was an unlikely place for him to start afresh.

“I’ve always disliked school”, Jan laughs. “I became a master at avoiding classes with the exception of those attended by girls I liked and subjects I enjoyed. In any case, I received spectacularly bad grades.” Several years down the road, new doors opened up when his admission to the renowned University of Oxford rekindled Jan’s academic spirits. “Basically, at Oxford, I got to do something I was really interested in.” Between studying philosophy and a finance position at Harley-Davidson, Jan has always been keen to try out new things.

Jan, together with some fierce Harley-Davidson colleagues in 2003:

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He knew when to jump at a good chance. His first steps into the world of digital media led him to film production and score composition and paved the way for Jan to further explore the field.

“I had become fascinated with the concept of transmedia and alternate reality games”, he recalls. “I enjoyed this novel approach to audience engagement. I absorbed everything I could find on the subject.”

The key moment took place at Berlin-based Mark Twain Primary School in 2009. The principal, Verena Thamm, asked Jan to produce a short image film for the school. “I just replied ‘I could do that but I might have something better for you’”, says Jan and chuckles. “My proposition to Mrs. Thamm was that playing an alternate reality game as part of regular class activities would create more buzz than an image film.” Were these the magic words that led to the creation of LudInc? Whatever the case may be, the two agreed that it was worth a try and Jan went to the drawing board.

Frieder Klapp, then teacher of a fourth grade class at Mark Twain, saw the potential in Jan’s idea. Having been given a thorough overview of lesson plans by Frieder, Jan went all in and dove into writing and the production of the first batch of episodes for Professor S.

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The scene was set for an unsuspecting school class to experience the first real world learning game.

Naturally, not everything went smoothly during testing. One time, the whole class started crying because they thought Professor S. had been eaten by dinosaurs. “We had to reassure them that he was still alive”, Jan remembers, “and that he had in fact just sent a new message through the Time Portal. It was the fastest I have ever seen kids run back into the classroom.”  Believe me, the first months with Professor S. produced boxes and boxes of these funny anecdotes. Stay tuned for more.

David Lütke, Editor

Remembering The Work Bench

Jan von Meppen has rolled up his sleeves and is typing away on his laptop. Warm air mixed with street noise is coming in through the open window. Jan doesn’t seem to notice. He is in the zone. It’s 11.45 on a Friday. The weekend is almost here. Not that a weekend would mean much to Jan anymore.

It’s been a busy week. LudInc has launched a crowdfunding campaign to ensure funds for further development of Professor S., LudInc’s first interactive learning adventure and Jan’s brainchild.

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Over the past six years, he has watched his idea grow from a seed into a thing. Jan is a modern-day Gepetto. He is helping his creation on its legs and watching it take its first steps.

The LudInc offices in Berlin-Wedding are bright and sunny on a day like this, spacious rooms with a warm feel and wooden herringbone floors. The shelves are filled with remnants from the past, bits and bobs from over the years. Musical instruments, books of sketches and ideas, early technical models. They showcase Jan’s path and the long way his initial idea has come. Between strategy meetings with his team and an increasing number of press appointments, Jan rarely gets to sit back and take it all in these days. New storylines and episode scripts are being developed so that Professor S. will soon be able to played by kids all over the world, at home and on the go.

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Jan remembers the early days of Professor S. He started exploring the possibilities of story-infused learning models for the classroom back in 2009. At first, he was on his own but with resilience, patience and a bit of luck, the pieces started falling into place.

This is the story of Jan and Professor S., a diary of our work at LudInc over the past six years. We will meet early contributors and loyal companions from along the way, hear funny anecdotes from what it means to bring together a team of maverick thinkers and visionary lunatics and uncover some of the secrets around Professor S. Where did the Time Portal come from? Was Professor S. initially Japanese? Can skeletons talk?

David Lütke, Editor