OUR TOOL: Hive Mechanic

Hive Mechanic screen shot

CREATE: Our tool uses a card-based interface to allow anyone (librarian to community artist) to create a neighborhood game or interactive story (see a full list of example projects). No programming skills are necessary to use our online authoring tool.

PLAY & INTERACT: Completed games are run by our server. The server organizes the live game by coordinating players, sending text messages (with services like Twilio), checking on city data services (via API), and optionally coordinating with any kiosks or installations (e.g., with tiny Raspberry Pi computers embedded in physical space).

EMBED IN SPACE (optional): Our storytelling boxes and kiosks are powered by tiny Raspberry Pi computers, for use with a makerspace, a museum exhibit, or at the front desk of a library. The content is controlled by the same online tool above. We have also used old-fashioned telephones as accessible portals to Hive Mechanic content, sometimes by bringing them to public events or installing them at museums and libraries.

Design thinking and card interface

Paper cards are used to help newcomers conceptualize good feedback loops and create fun choices for their players. Then, in the online authoring tool, the card system allows them to easily translate their ideas into interactive experiences.

Our web interface for Hive Mechanic is how you create a game or activity — no special apps required. Our tool is designed to be visual and to help democratize game design. It is simpler than tools like Scratch and ARIS, with a hint of the internet of things like IFTTT.

Hive Mechanic is a simple tool to create games and interactive stories for cities. Hive Mechanic allows anyone to make outdoor and mobile experiences without coding skills. Instead, the system prioritizes text messaging (including photos and video messages), branching audio hotlines, and embedding play in public space with QR codes, posters, and events like street festivals that can bring local history to life.

The interface uses visual cards to show actions – like sending a historic photograph as a text response to a secret keyword. It is free and open source. For more, see screen shots on how it works.

Open source code

As a public service, we make our source code open and free to use. Typically this involves a high level of technical skill, which is why we are simultaneously investigating how we can provide Hive Mechanic as a service to libraries. While our system is designed with non-programmers in mind, advanced programmers can tap into our open-source code to create more complex playful experiences.

Skilled developers are free to branch the project for their own goals, and install it on their own servers.

  • Main repository for our Django version of Hive Mechanic (on GitHub)
  • Interaction cards – the building blocks for making new games (on GitHub)
  • Python client – for connecting to Hive Mechanic remotely, including via a Raspberry Pi or laptop (on GitHub)

We are also looking for collaborators in cities and communities around the world to design with us. For select projects, we host the server installation as well. Be in touch with your ideas, or just to explore!

History and origin story

The software was developed by the Playful City Lab at American University through collaborations and funding from the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Women’s Committee, the DC Office of Planning, the DC Public Library, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS reference # LG-250108-OLS-21), and the Humanities Truck. Seed funding was provided by the Office of the Provost at American University.