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malevolent design weblog

This blog is now defunct, but you can find more stuff over at my personal site

The Alien at the Bottom of the Garden

In January, Channel 4 will start showing Generation XXL, a long-term series following seven obese children for a decade. To accompany the TV programme they wanted an interactive learning game that would teach kids about diet and exercise in a fun way, so Rob Manuel and I got our thinking caps on.

The Alien at the Bottom of the Garden title screenThe Alien at the Bottom of the Garden screenshot

The final result is The Alien at the Bottom of the Garden, a cute game where you look after a little alien visitor, controlling their diet, exercise and more.

I’ve always wanted to do a ‘virtual pet’ game, and have proposed variations on the idea for several projects over the years, but for some reason they seemed to be difficult to get through internal and client pitches. Luckily, Channel 4 and their nutritionists went for the concept, gave us a lot of leeway in finding ways to balance gameplay with information, and were wonderfully patient when I caused delays by adding features and fiddling about with the illustrations.

The code does actually model the alien’s metabolism and nourishment so that, as in real life for us humans, there aren’t really ‘good’ and ‘bad’ options, it’s about balancing calories and types of food. I’ve tried to make the graphics cute and colourful without being garish or silly, and there are lots of little touches to be discovered. Tom delivered the audio goods yet again, supplying fantastic music (I love the way the main theme manages to be dramatic yet funny) and the alien’s voice.

If you’ve got kids (or are just a big kid yourself) then give it a go and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments.


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