“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?

" 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.:

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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.

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David Lütke, Editor