Magicus Extremos

wand works spell simulation game by jose m rico, background by jeremy goncalvesAre you ready to see something stunning, amazing, and totally, wickedly, cool?

Above are screen shots from the custom Harry Potter game that was featured at our library’s Wand Works event. Set in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, the Spell Simulator allows kids to test 6 spells with their wands. I’ll share the game with you first, and then introduce you to its creator, Princeton University junior José M Rico (who is, incidentally, majoring in Computer Science and co-founder of the gaming company Kapricorn Media).

For starters, we wanted the game to play on a really big screen, have good sound, and have the highest resolution possible. Instead of cobbling something together with our library’s equipment, I did one of the smartest things of my outreach career. I hired NJ Backyard Movies. They brought a huge inflatable screen, big sound speakers, and a terrific projector. Best of all, a tech guy set everything up and stayed during the event to make sure it ran smoothly.

casting a spell 1One by one, kids approached the screen, where 6 spells were displayed on a menu – Bombarda, Glacius, Incendio, Lumos Maxima, Priori Incantatem, and Protego. Once chosen, the screen would briefly display the title of the spell, its use, and its linguistic roots. Then the caster would find themselves in the Great Hall. A sparkling circle would appear. With a flick of the wand and a shout, kids would cast the spell.

Discretely to the side of the spell-casting area, and controlling the game with keystrokes, was José. He wouldn’t activate the spell unless the kids spoke the spell and flicked their wands. And he wouldn’t stop the spell until they raised or lowered their wands. This made the game appear to react to the kids’ movements.

casting a spell 2This photo also caught Téa Wimer, our Curator of Muggle Artifacts, taking a break from her exhibit to check out the game. OK. Ready to see the spells? I highly recommend dimming the lights, cranking up the sound, and viewing these full screen.

 

 

 

 

 


AMAZING, right? I must admit, I was moved to tears when José first showed me his game. The amount of time, care, and talent he put into it is truly touching. At the event, there were huge smiles, gasps of wonder, delighted laughter, and long, slow drawn out exclamations of “Whoaaaaaa….”

José has very generously modified the game so YOU can play it. Yup. Download a Windows or Mac version of the game, for free, right here.


GAME DESIGNER JOSÉ M RICO

jose m rico

Tell us a little about Kapricorn Media…

Kapricorn Media is a two-man game development team. It consists of Luciano Obregon, the artist and designer and my friend since childhood, and me, the programmer. It was officially named and established by us in May of 2016, though it had inadvertently started in spirit years earlier. Luciano and I have always been searching for something in this world. This has led us on a path of creation, discovery, and uncertainty that involved our early immersions into many LEGO worlds, our wooden sword fights, our hand-drawn mini games, our video game mods, and ultimately our own game development team. Kapricorn Media is our next and most mature step in this constant search.

How would you describe your relationship with the Harry Potter books?

The Harry Potter books opened up a rich universe of magic and adventure. Even though I doubt I was even capable of reading at the time the first book was published, I quickly joined the Harry Potter craze as the movies and the later books started to come out. I spent several days trying to look for the perfectly shaped stick to use as a wand, and then casting spells at my friends and imaginary enemies. I remember Luciano and I made our own Marauder’s Map at some point. I also remember having a framed photo of Luciano and me, only I had cut out a picture of Hermione Granger and pasted it on top of Luciano’s face. I had a huge crush on Hermione.

How did you decide which spells to include in the game?

I started out with a huge list of spells, and a limited amount of time to implement them. Some of them, like Wingardium Leviosa or Accio, would have required me to develop more interactive controls. Some of them weren’t as visually interesting, like Alohomora or Expelliarmus by itself. Ultimately, I chose the ones that I thought were most visually striking and made the caster feel most powerful. I also decided to add Protego and Priori Incantatem to vary the mechanics of the game by introducing an opponent.

Describe the process of building one of the spells…

Each spell had three main components: visual effects, the physical effect of the spell, and sound. I usually implemented them in that order. All visual effects involved some sort of particle system, one or more light sources to integrate the particles with the game scene, and a conduit for the spell, usually a missile or beam. The physical effect of the spell was trickiest for Bombarda, since the explosion triggers an expanding shockwave that knocks back all props in the scene. Finally, the sound design consisted of me shifting through free online sound databases. The explosion sound for Glacius, for example, contains modified audio clips of people dumping out lots of ice cubes.

How long did it take to develop the entire game?

The game probably took me a grand total of 70 to 80 hours to develop.

Which spell is your favorite?

My favorite spell is, by far, Priori Incantatem (which is not technically a spell, but more of an “event”). However, the spell with my favorite sound effects is Glacius.

What was the most creative aspect of this game for you?

The most creative aspect was choosing the appropriate way of presenting and controlling the game environment at the actual event. Even though I experimented with several options, including motion capture through webcams and Nintendo Wii remotes, I ultimately decided to do something extremely simple, yet effective. I was the one controlling the pace of the game behind the scenes. The players would point their wands and cast spells, but it would be me actually pressing the buttons and running the show. As such, the result was more of a visual effects slideshow than an actual interactive game, but I believe it was the best choice for this situation.

What was the most difficult thing to develop?

Even though I developed this game under the name of Kapricorn Media, I was mostly on my own, since Luciano was busy working on his own projects and plans at the moment. Therefore, I had to take over the visual design of the game. I had the good fortune of finding an amazing 3D rendition of the Hogwarts Great Hall by French artist Jeremy Goncalves. This scene grounded the aesthetic of the game and allowed me to take concrete decisions about the scene’s lighting and special effects.

How did event attendees react to your game?

The attendees, both children and parents, were impressed by the power of each spell cast! As the button-presser behind the scenes, I got to watch every single player flick their wand and react at the result. I saw plenty of smiles and surprised faces! There was the occasional skeptic who just shrugged and said “oh, it’s just a screen.” Most players tried one or two spells, though some of them got in line over and over again to try them all. The more attentive and talkative ones approached me and quickly realized that I was, in fact, the one controlling the flow of the game.


Many thanks to artist Jeremy Goncalves for allowing us to use his stunning 3D rendition of the Great Hall.

Muggle Studies 101

muggle studies 101

Deluxe Chicken Grooming Kit [c.2011]

Witches and wizards, it is with great pleasure that I introduce this most illustrious exhibition of Muggle artifacts for your edification and enjoyment. The 45 items were originally displayed at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event. An interview with the Curator, Téa Wimer, can be found at the end of the post.

Click on the images below to enlarge both the image and the caption.



MEET TÉA WIMER, CURATOR OF MUGGLE ARTIFACTS

muggle artifacts curator, tea wimer

Téa Wimer is a sophomore at Princeton University who intends to pursue Anthropology as her major, as well as creative writing. She’s also a massive Harry Potter fan, which made her the perfect Curator of Muggle Artifacts. With boundless energy, Téa sailed through everything with us – acquisitions, brain-storming, writing, edits, and installation – with creativity and confidence. The labels are a hoot (I couldn’t resist the fun of writing some too), but I particularly like object number 45. Stumped for an explanation, Téa decided to turn it over to the kids for feedback. You can see some of their responses at the end of the post.

The day of the event, Téa donned her Curator’s uniform (thank you Lewis Center for the Arts Costume Shop!) and strolled the exhibit floor, answering questions, doing demonstrations, and chatting about her findings. All with a tremendous sense of humor and a twinkle in her eye.

How would you describe your relationship with the Harry Potter books?

I was (and still am!) absolutely crazy about the Harry Potter series! I read whatever was released in the series up to that point early in elementary school in a short amount of time, and then my grandmother got me the last two books through pre-order. It’s hard to imagine that the series was still being written and released when I was growing up, because now it’s blown up to be a cultural phenomenon!

My dad is a huge fan of the movies, too, so every weekend spent at his house was spent re-watching at least one of them. Now, I definitely look back on Harry Potter with nostalgia. I keep meaning to re-read them because I’ve forgotten little things, but college and ever-increasing adult responsibilities make it to where I can’t spend as much time as I would like. So now I watch the movies a lot and spend more time on Pottermore than I probably should.

What skills did you bring to the table as Curator of Muggle Artifacts?

I think one of the coolest things about this process was that my developing skills as an ethnographer and anthropologist met with my creative side. I’ve always been looking for ways that those two (seemingly separate) parts of my interests can intersect, and even if this seems a bit “silly,” I really enjoyed taking a previously known object and regarding it as an anthropologist might look at an unknown cultural rite or artifact and creatively thinking up a way that a Muggle might use the given object.

I also had to think of myself as a different character sometimes too, as a wizard who is genuinely baffled by Muggles and their weird ways. I think that my child-like curiosity and imagination has never really left me, and that was also a huge plus as the Curator of Muggle Artifacts.

muggle cookie slicer

Where did you get the artifacts?

Dana, Katie, and I took a day and went to a nearby thrift store. We sifted through every inch of the store and picked out the most bizarre and random objects, and then convened at the end and I chose what I thought would be best to use. [Note: Objects 2 and 12 are from the private collection of Katie Zondlo].

How did you decide between the different artifacts?

There wasn’t really a set system for deciding between the different things we all amassed. I tend to be pretty impulsive, so sometimes it was just simply knowing that the object had to be in my collection because it was so weird – such as the Slimnastics language guide or the fuzzy pink Muggle trophy. You just can’t pass it up! Of course, sometimes I had to be practical, so if I felt like an object wasn’t giving me ideas, we would put it to the side. As we drew nearer to the event, some of the objects still weren’t prepared, so they were scratched and used as props or conjoined with other items in the collection.

muggle artifacts on displayHow did you decide to approach your exhibit labels?

Dana and I set up a lot of deadlines. I had to have a certain amount of labels done by a certain date, which was intimidating because we had nearly fifty objects and only so much imagination (plus it was really my first project with a real deadline that mattered, outside of school of course). But I just ended up doing the ones that I could think of very quickly first, and then the ones that needed a bit more time and consideration, I went to Dana and Katie for inspiration.

Which was the hardest object to write a label for?

There wasn’t any one particular object that was the hardest, but rather a bunch of the items gave me a hard time. It tended to be objects that had very straightforward uses, such as the World Checker (globe) or the Muggle wand (remote). I also noticed that it tended to be more modern items that gave me trouble, for obvious reasons. It was hard to be imaginative about things that I use on a daily basis, but a lot easier to imagine what a rusty old saxophone could be used for!

Which object is your favorite?

My favorite object is the Wave-Cooker, which is part of the Squib Assimilation Kit. It gave me so many cool ideas about what it must be like in J.K. Rowling’s world, as a magical family member who has no actual magic. What would that look like historically? What if there were social justice movements to make magical witches and wizards more accepting of their magically mute friends, relatives, and neighbors? What if some of the geniuses we know in history were actually Squibs who just knew more about the universe due to their upbringing in the magic world? It’s so interesting to me.

Another favorite few objects are the ones used by rich Muggles, like the curtain hooks (fancy bookmarks) and the custom engagement rings (beautiful glass napkin holders with giant flowers) because I think that working class people like my family really have no clue or can even grasp what a more well-off person can do with their time and money, so I think the imaginative process was close to the real thing (being a wizard and thinking about Muggles academically).

discussion of muggle artifactsHow did the event attendees react to your exhibit?

Overall, I think a lot of people loved it. Some parents were quick to explain what the objects actually were, and a couple of kids even came up to tell me that I had no clue what I was talking about – my favorite being when one of the children said I should be fired from my job at Hogwarts. Everyone seemed to really enjoy it, parents more than kids sometimes, and I’m very grateful that I got to share it with everyone at the event!


* Suggested uses for unknown object number 45 include, but are not limited to: hairbrush, spoon, sled, back scratcher (both human and cat), scalp scratcher, glove cleaner, jewelry hanger, shower scrub, mermaid’s display hanger, lost DAB, hat holder, fish’s home, hand of glory decoration, something that makes things smell good, telepathic device, skin exfoliating loofa, plant that makes you inconspicuous, very flammable device, future-predicting crystal, torch (both Muggle and ever-burning), booger holder, part of an underwater volcano, teleportation device (specifically, to the bathroom), space artifact, petrification device, monster that will grab you, exploding popcorn butter that’s frozen in time, and weirdly…coral.

** I’ve got the Deluxe Chicken Grooming Kit in my office if anyone needs to borrow it.

Wand Works

wizard with wandOf everything in the Harry Potter universe, I must admit I find the wands most fascinating. Not just because they play an integral part of spell casting – they also reflect the unique personalities of their owners. Additionally, shouting in Latin is so much more exciting when waving a wand. We tried to capture a little of that magic at Wand Works, our Harry Potter event.

gray magic woodworking wand displayOriginally, the event was just going to be about wands, wand making, and wand testing. But then I started thinking about the other ways students prepare for Hogwarts. So we brought book bags, text books, and owls into the mix. And, while I’ve recreated an assortment of Hogwarts classes over the years (check out this boggart from Defense Against the Dark Arts), I’ve never managed to do Muggle Studies. We had to do something on Muggle Studies!

Here’s how our event worked. As kids entered the library, they were greeted by a table full of these awesome book bags:

accio books logo by Polly CarlsonThat beautiful Accio Books logo was designed by Polly Carlson. You can find it here, on her truly clever blog Pieces by Polly. She was kind enough to give us permission to use it for the event. Also at the table were a slew of Crayola metallic markers for bag customization:

book bag decoratingThose are 13.5″ x 14.5″ polypropylene totes from 4Imprint. Specifically, it’s the “Value Polypropylene Tote (item #103873). We tested a couple of polypropylene bags for this project, and 4Imprint’s held the Crayola metallic markers ink beautifully (it smeared on the others). Also, 4Imprint had the best prices and customer service, flat out.

Tucked inside each and every event bag was a color ticket, which lead the lucky witch or wizard to my favorite fictitious bookstore of all time:

flourish and blotts ticketsHere’s our Flourish & Blotts, staffed by Princeton junior Gabrielle Chen (she’s also the artist behind that fantastic sign)!

flourish and blottsBehind Gabrielle was a shelf stocked with copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, Quidditch Through the AgesHogwarts: A Cinematic Yearbook, and the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay (alas, we missed the release of the text book version of Fantastic Beasts by mere weeks). There were also real quill pens with powdered ink packets, and some adorable Harry Potter Magical Creatures coloring kits.

stocked bookshelfThe tickets were color-coded with items on the shelves. Hand in your ticket, and receive the matching item! Just in case you’re wondering, we did sort and distribute the event bags by estimated age of the child. This was to insure that a 4 year-old received a Harry Potter coloring kit, not a copy of Fantastic Beasts.

Did you notice the little cauldron with the brooms sticking out of it in the above photo? Since we couldn’t buy books, quills, and coloring kits for everyone, the little brooms were the prize most frequently received by kids of all ages. But they are way cool because they are actually customized broom pens!

broom pensThese are “Personalized Witch’s Broom Pens” from Oriental Trading Company ($12 a dozen). For no extra fee, you can customize them with 1 line of text up to 16 characters in length. We went with “Nimbus 2000.” Everyone LOVED them! In fact, the whole table was a lot of fun. It was terrific to see kids, holding books (or quills, or coloring kits, or broom pens) with big grins on their faces.

fantastic beasts funElsewhere on the event floor was real-life wandmaker Lane O’Neil from Gray Magic Woodworking. You previously met Lane in this post. In person, his wands are even more beautiful, fantastic, and magical. His table was so swarmed. I couldn’t even get near it for the first hour of the event!

wands on display, gray magic woodworkingLane also displayed his lathe, tools, different types of wood, and wands in different stages of completion. He did demonstrations, showed slides, and answered questions throughout the entire event.

lane o'neil gray magic woodworkingNot far from Lane was our Muggle Artifact exhibit, curated by Princeton University sophomore Téa Wimer. The exhibit consisted of 45 Muggle objects complete with informative exhibit labels. Below, two attendees ponder a Cookie Slicer (which, amazingly, looks just like an old school photo enlarger).

muggle cookie slicerAnd here, two scholars consider a World Checker. Nearby is a rather puzzling object on a pedestal. Kids could write guesses as to what the Muggles use the object for. The full exhibit, as well as an interview with Curator Téa Wimer, is now online!

muggle world checkerOwls are another must for Hogwarts students, so we had a table where kids could make these awesome and super simple wrist owls.

wrist owl examplesAnd now we come to the main event – THE WANDS. After much searching and testing, we settled on wands made from cooking chopsticks, hot glue, and paint. They are, in fact, very much like the wands our kid tester made for her DIY Harry Potter party.

But there were problems. While these types of wands are wonderful in small batches, we needed hundreds. The event was recommended for kids ages 5-11. Would someone poke their eye out? Hot glue is used to create the texture of the wand. Would someone burn their fingers? The wands require paint. Would they dry sufficiently? And – how messy was this all going to get?

Turns out, we solved all these problems, and everything went beautifully.

First, we bought 2 kinds of cooking chopsticks on Amazon. 13″ pointy ones (4 pairs cost $7.40) and 10.5″ blunt ones (10 pairs cost $11). If you’d like to know the exact brands we used, e-mail me for the links.

wand chopsticksFor the event, we made trays out of box lids, separating the wands into blunt and pointy sections. This was primarily for the benefit of parents and caretakers. The pointy chopsticks were definitely the most popular, but we also had many adults who were very grateful for the blunt wands. There was even some quietly-switch-from-pointy-to-blunt-while-the-kid-is-distracted going on.

tray of wandsNext came the hot glue. While we would have loved for kids to make their own hot glue designs at the event, we knew that just wasn’t possible on a large scale. So we hot glued all the wands in advance. It took us a couple months of chipping away here and there, but in the end we had hundreds of wands, and no two were alike.

hot glued wandsNext, the paint! After testing a number of different paints, we settled on Michaels Craft’s in-store brand, CraftSmart. We used their satin acrylic paint because it was water-based, non-toxic, fast-drying, and there were lots of different shades of brown. The regular acrylic paint was too dull, but the satin left a really nice finish on the wand.

finished wands, both kindsAt the event, kids selected the wand they liked from the tray, and then picked the paint color they wanted. To make the color selection easier, we made several paint choice panels out of cake pads and jumbo craft sticks. The numbers below the paint samples corresponded to the name of the colors (which were written on the back of the panel for the table staff).

wand paint panel From left to right, the CraftSmart satin acrylic paint colors are khaki, golden brown, brown, burnt orange, and espresso. Burnt orange and espresso were definitely the most popular. But all the colors looked fantastic.

You need very little paint per wand. To keep the mess down and conserve paint, we gave each kid a 1.25oz plastic cup with a little bit of paint inside it, a paint brush, and a paper plate to work on. When the kid finished, his/her paint cup and brush could be used with another kid.

the painting of the wandsThis paint was extremely fast drying on the wood, even with multiple coats. The hot glue, however, was another story. In order to dry the wands faster, we put together a wand-drying chamber out of a piece of cardboard, jumbo binder clips held down with packing tape, and 2 box fans running on low.

wand drying chamberBelow you can see the wand drying chamber in action, with the wands inserted in the clips. At the event, kids wrote their names on little bits of paper, which were clipped with the corresponding wands. Depending on how many coats of paint were on the wand, it typically took 5 – 10 minutes for a wand to dry in the chamber (15 if there was a LOT of paint).

wands drying in chamberTo be clear – the wand drying chamber was tucked behind the event tables, away from the crowds. Only event staff had access to it for obvious reasons. However, if I was to do this event again, I would definitely add a designated “Wand Pick-Up Area” to make things run even more smoothly.

FINALLY, we had an activity that I only dared dream of, but Princeton University junior José M Rico made a reality. A virtual, interactive, wand-testing classroom. It was AMAZING.  here’s a photo of Katie casting one mean Bombarda spell.

katie and bombardaAll the details of the game, as well as video and a free download, can be found here!

I’d like to thank everyone who made this event possible. Thank you Polly Carlson for graciously letting us use your Accio Wand design, student artist Gabrielle Chen for painting the awesome Flourish & Blotts sign, and Lane O’Neil for bringing his talent and wands to the event. A hearty round of applause to our incredibly creative Muggle Artifacts Curator Téa Wimer. Further applause to our wildly talented game designer Jose Rico, as well as artist Jeremy Gonclaves, who allowed us to his 3D game background.

A big shout out to our extensive team of wand hot gluers, Andrea Immel for swooping in to help at our owl table, and all the Princeton University students who volunteered their time to help at the event. Many, many thanks!