Archive for the 'Heath Sadlier' Category

A generation of gamers

Caine, a nine-year-old boy, became an internet sensation last year after he constructed his own arcade out of cardboard. He would crawl inside and work the machines himself. It was reminiscent of the amusement or penny arcades of the late 19th and early 20th century. As Kerryn Pollock writes in Arcade, computer and video games, the latest story on Te Ara, New Zealand never really had these penny arcades on the same scale as other countries. However gaming is now more widespread than anyone could have imagined.

I have an uncle and two aunts who regularly compete to see who can cheat the best at Facebook Scrabble, my 65-year-old mother was recently playing Flower at a church function, I recently fended off a Minecraft addiction, and over Christmas I watched the destruction of a friend’s living room by his kids playing Kinect Adventures.

With all these video games, it’s not surprising that in the last five years the industry has grown from $30 billion to $60 billion, and it’s now the largest entertainment industry. The fastest growth has been in mobile games and games developed for Facebook. Both of these platforms have caused the number of gamers to dramatically increase.

The increasing diversity of gamers is also increasing the diversity of games. More and more games, like Portal 2 (above), where the primary method of interacting with the world doesn’t involve shooting someone, come out each year. It has been fascinating to watch the evolution of games, and I believe video games now are where movies were in the 1940s. The creators are still experimenting, figuring out how they can tell stories, and how to use the medium. I’m not sure gaming has had its Citizen Kane yet.

The average gamer is now 33, and those in their 30s, like me, played games in the 1980s when they weren’t universal – when they were predominantly for kids. Despite New Zealand’s slow start with gaming, and a comparative dearth of penny arcades compared to overseas, the golden age of video games in the 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of the video arcade, and the adoption of video games at home. A generation of Kiwi gamers were born.

It’s this generation, my generation, that are now looking back nostalgically at the games that shaped our childhood. From the Atari 2600, to early computer games (before Windows, and even DOS), and including the cabinet games from arcades and fish ‘n’ chip shops. These games and more are featured at the Game Masters exhibition on at Te Papa at the moment. It takes a look back at 40 years of gaming, and allows dads in their 30s to show their kids what it was like being a gamer before the internet and modern game consoles.

Video game nostalgia has even inspired an entire genre of music, called Chiptune, an example of which is above.

The nostalgia often leads people to pine for the days of video arcades. But I don’t see it as a huge loss, it’s just evolution. I used to meet up with friends at arcades to play Afterburner, Street Fighter and later Tekken, Sega Rally and Daytona, and it was a great time. But the arcade, like so much else these days, has simply moved online. However there was a very unsocial gap in the mid-1990s as the arcades died and few people had the internet. The online communities that now exist are far larger and more social than any physical arcade ever could have been.

New Zealanders are no longer stuck at the bottom of the Pacific, playing games with the kids down at the arcade. Instead they game side by side, and face to face with people from all over the world. Gaming is used as a way to connect with people. I have a friend who never picks up the phone or writes an email, but he’s as chatty as a teenage girl while we race cars around the Top Gear test track (see below).

Gaming is not only the largest entertainment industry, but it has the most potential in the future. Like the arcade, many consoles and technologies will be set aside for new advancements, not just in graphics or game-play mechanics, but in ways of telling stories, and most importantly connecting people while creating passionate communities.

New Zealand earthquakes infographic

One year ago tomorrow, at 12.51 p.m. on a Tuesday, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck south-east of Christchurch’s business district. Our thoughts are with the people who lived through it and are still living through it, and with people who lost someone in the quake.

While updating Te Ara’s story about the 2010–11 Canterbury earthquakes, we looked at the 10,000+ aftershocks map in awe. We started to wonder about the history of earthquakes in the region, why we have so many earthquakes in New Zealand and how they’re measured.

The Web Team here at Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, went looking through the wealth of information, diagrams and data on Te Ara, NZHistory and available through Geonet, and assembled an infographic to present this information together – click on the image below to view the complete infographic. It is the first of a series of infographics and visualisation that we’re calling ‘Perspectives’. The idea behind them is to give our users a new way of looking at aspects of our culture and history. Each of the Perspectives infographics will be visually rich, filled with interesting facts, available under Creative Commons (BY NC), and hopefully they will have something for anyone at any level to take away with them.

Special thanks to Geonet and GNS Science.

What you looked at on Te Ara in 2011

Canadians have a strange obsession with dirt and worms, a lot of people received smartphones for Christmas and, on average, people spent 6 milliseconds longer on each page of Te Ara in 2011 than in 2010.

A typical retrospective would look at everything that Te Ara accomplished in 2011, such as publishing 121 new stories. Instead I thought I’d look at our site statistics and see what our millions of users looked at in 2011.

New Zealand

New Zealanders’ three favourite stories were Historic earthquakes, Earthquakes and Active faults, all obviously influenced by the earthquakes in Christchurch, and probably the Japanese earthquake as well. Similarly, two of the top three images were also related to earthquakes:a map of fault lines and a photo of the extinct volcanoes that formed Banks Peninsula. Possibly a sign of the recession: the third most viewed image was a job advertisement used as an example of rural language.

If New Zealanders were looking at those stories and images, what about the rest of the world? (Or at least the five countries that view Te Ara the most.) I’ll leave it to you to consider why these particular stories and images were of interest to visitors from those countries.

United States of America

Favourite stories: Estuaries, Deep-sea creatures and Geothermal energy

Favourite images:

The Blobfish

The blobfish

Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis

Photosynthesis and chemosynthesis

Estuary food web

Estuary food web

Australia

Favourite stories: Historic earthquakes, Tsunamis and Farm dogs

Favourite images:

Active faults

Active faults

The Blobfish

The blobfish

A day at the races

A day at the races

United Kingdom

Favourite stories: Earthquakes, Coastal fish and Sandflies and mosquitoes

Favourite images:

Active faults

Active faults

Plate boundary

Plate boundary

Comparative sizes of whales

Comparative sizes of whales

Canada

Favourite stories: Papatūānuku – the land, Soils and Earthworms

Favourite images:

Earthworm life cycle

Earthworm life cycle

Comparative sizes of whales

Comparative sizes of whales

Arrow, giant and colossal squid

Arrow, giant and colossal squid

India

Favourite stories: Earthquakes, Dairying and dairy products, and Conservation – a history.

Favourite images:

The brain drain

The brain drain

Earthworm life cycle

Earthworm life cycle

Earthquake-resistant building

Earthquake-resistant building

Other traffic

It’s always interesting looking at Te Ara’s traffic for the year. You can clearly see events such as the Christchurch earthquake in February, school holidays and the redesign in October.

Overall traffic

Despite our overall traffic going down over December (see above) due largely to school holidays, traffic from mobile devices (smart-phones and tablets) increased (see below).

Traffic from mobile devices

Mobile traffic started increasing dramatically after Christmas. Were a lot of mobile gadgets under the Christmas tree? In 2010 mobile devices only accounted for 1% of Te Ara’s traffic, in 2011 it raised to 3% but since Christmas it’s grown to 8.6%.

Coming up in 2012

Hopefully in 2012 we’ll see fewer natural disasters, so New Zealanders can read less dramatic stories such as Pets, Childhood and our story on our favourite not-that-creepy crawly the Peripatus. Perhaps some of this year’s most popular stories will come from the new stories being added to the Government and Nation theme. Stories on the Second World War, money, the royal family, Kingitanga and New Zealand’s identity will surely spark people’s interest.

A new perspective

Doesn’t ‘normal’ seem so 2011? Perhaps it’s time for something different? Well, check out Street View Stereographic created by Ryan Alexander. It takes Google’s Street View and projects it onto a sphere.

Normal Street View

Normal Street View (Kororāreka Bay, Russell)

Sphere View

Sphere View

By distorting the normal view this way, it creates little globes. Buildings stretch out into the sky…

Power lines turn into a fascinating web…

Tunnels become quite trippy…

Auckland Harbour Bridge’s plain curves create an interesting pattern…

Signs hang off precariously…

Roads and rail lines wrap across them…

Here’s some more I couldn’t help sharing, but please comment below and share the best views in New Zealand that you find.

A Wellington intersection

A Wellington intersection

Paritutu Rock and Fuel tanks, New Plymouth

Paritutu Rock and fuel tanks, New Plymouth

Worser Bay, Wellington

Worser Bay, Wellington

A lone house, Worser bay, Wellington

A lone house, Worser Bay, Wellington

Heading onto the Auckland Harbour bridge

Heading onto the Auckland Harbour Bridge

Auckland Harbour Bridge (heading the other way)

Auckland Harbour Bridge (heading the other way)

McKenzie Cove, Northland

McKenzie Cove, Northland

Some trees on a back road. Can you see the face?

Some trees on a back road. Can you see the face?

Queens Parade, Auckland

Queens Parade, Auckland

The Te Ara Redesign

This post is a quick overview of the Te Ara redesign. If you have any questions, let us know in the comments below.

If you take a look at Te Ara today, you’ll find a few things have changed around here. We’ve had a redesign!

Last year we noticed people were having problems navigating through our stories and weren’t noticing some features. Also, anecdotal evidence suggested that many people loved reading Te Ara, but not on screen, which is a bit of a worry … for a website. A full site redesign is always going to be very time consuming and there is temptation to make radical changes. The danger is that radical changes can introduce as many issues as they solve.

However, a lot has changed in the world of the web since Te Ara was first launched in 2005, and we decided it was time for some improvements and a freshen-up.

The redesign keeps many elements from the original Te Ara design, but we made six main changes…

1) Improving the presentation of content


Enlarging the size of the content area meant the size of text could be increased. As well as increasing the font size, the stories now have larger margins, bigger line spacing and other changes that make the text easy to read or scan through. Also, the off-white background used in the redesign reduces eye-strain during long stints of reading, while maintaining ideal text contrast.

2) Better display for the main navigation


Te Ara has a really handy multi-column browser that allows you to find Te Ara’s stories through different categories. Chances are you didn’t know that, as only about 2% of users opened it. In the redesign the first column of categories is displayed as horizontal navigation items.

The categories take you to a new full-page browser that allows for much larger text and longer story names.

3) Better display for the ’short story’

Every story on Te Ara has a ’short story’ – an easy-to-read summary created for younger readers, but which also serves as a quick overview of the full story. The short story (like the browser) was hidden away and (also like the browser) only a small percentage of users found it. To simplify the structure of the stories – and to help people find the short story – we merged it with the story front page.

4) Improve usability

Improving usability was probably the most complicated of the changes. We were lucky to work with Optimal Usability, who helped us resolve some of the issues with the site. We made a lot of changes to the way you navigate each story and how your position in the story is displayed.

5) Modernise the look and feel

After attending Daniel Burka’s ‘Creating simple: Techniques for simplifying your UI and your CSS/HTML’ workshop at Webstock last year, I started considering ways of simplifying Te Ara. I could go into a lot of detail about the changes, but the main change I made to the design was to remove as many unnecessary elements as possible.

The old design had a lot of containers, highlighted above.

In the new design the only containers left outside the main article space are there to group menu elements and increase the text contrast. This goes a long way to making the design feel clean and simple, as well as help users make their way around the different sections of the page.

6) Simplify the HTML & CSS, and speed up the performance of the site

At the same workshop, Daniel showed us a way to use PHP to generate CSS, allowing the use of variables… whoops, I am getting a bit technical. The essence is that Te Ara’s 50 colour schemes could be generated in a much simpler way. We also moved to HTML5 and CSS3, which allow us to drastically reduce the amount of code – this makes the web pages load faster in your browser, and makes it easier for us to change things behind the scenes. CSS3 features such as opacity and rounded corners are only supported by the latest browsers, but degrade gracefully in older browsers.

There are a lot of other techniques we used to improve the performance of the site and we’re still looking at ways to better optimise the new design.

That’s enough from me, go browse the site, read a short story, read a full story or two, explore the images and media, and come back here and let us know what you think.