Digital scholarship blog

Enabling innovative research with British Library digital collections

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Tracking exciting developments at the intersection of libraries, scholarship and technology. Read more

10 May 2021

Making Games In The Woods With Bitsy

Our Games in the Woods jam, which is part of this year's Urban Tree Festival, launches on 15th May, and will run for just over a week - finishing on 23rd May. As part of the jam's launch, we are running an online event to inspire participants and highlight free digital resources, which can be used to create a game, including visuals, audio, and online game making tools.

A wood with a deer standing to the left and a fox standing on the right

We love the idea of encouraging people who aren’t programmers and coders to participate in game jams, so we are also highlighting and giving a run through of some no-coding game making tools such as Bitsy.

Bitsy is a free tool created by Adam Le Doux which enables people to create games with an early 1980s retro aesthetic by drawing objects (static scenery tiles, character sprites or object items you can interact with) which are 8 by 8 pixels in size. These objects can be added to the play area, and the play area consists of at least one 128 by 128 pixel sized “room” (you can have hundreds of individual rooms all interconnected if you want). You can add dialogue and variables such as scores to the sprites and items, which will be triggered when you run the game and bump your player (avatar) character into them.

I love how easy it is to use Bitsy to create narrative visual games, and you can get something up and running easily without, as I’ve mentioned, having to do any coding. It has a small set of tools within it that allow you to create the graphics and pull the game together in one place.

A Bitsy game image of a large pink cherry blossom tree, with a person standing in front of it
Three Haiku created in Bitsy by GiuliaC

On a basic level, a Bitsy uses only three colours for each palette, meaning that you can only have three colours on screen at the same time, and only two frames of animation for your avatar, and each tile, sprite or item. However, it’s easy to go into the game data and increase the colours of each palette and add more frames to the animations. These are the sort of additional changes you can make in the game itself, but there are many other free tools created by the amazing Bitsy community which allow you to build on the basics of Bitsy and develop the features of your game if you want to. These “hacks” allow you to do things like add audio, import your own images you’ve created outside of Bitsy, merge Bitsy games, and even create HD Bitsys (16 by 16 pixel tiles, sprites, and items), and 3D Bitsys too.

To get an idea of what you can do with Bitsy, take a look at some of these free to play tree themed games others have created using the tool.

In the Pines, In the Pines, Where the Sun Never Shines is by Laura Hunt and Thomas Möhring, is inspired by US folk tales and murder ballads (there’s a content warning on the page).

Three Haiku is a visual haiku by Giulia Carla Rossi, who also built The British Library Simulator in Bitsy.

Faerie Mist was created by Freckled Femme and is a great atmospheric example of what you can make with Bitsy 3D.

I created Midwinter Sprits, which focuses on winter folklore in a woodland setting.

The Legend of Stoodley Pike Standing Stones is a collaborative piece created as part of the 2019 Feral Vector event in Hebden Bridge.

Drawings of a purple poodle Bitsy sprite
A drawing of Boycie the ghost poodle made by Stella Wisdom for The Legend of Stoodley Pike Standing Stones,  a collaborative Bitsy game created as part of Feral Vector in 2019

We’ve curated an itch.io collection of these tree themed Bitsys, along with other tree themed games created using other tools.

To highlight a few of them, Puzzle Tree by BoxORox and Beautiful Tree by the Crounchy Brothers are both puzzle games, but with very different gameplay and aesthetics. There’s also Claire Morwood’s Forest Walk, which is a lovely looking hand-drawn 3D diorama style narrative flat game. Claire has created a number of Bitsys and Bitsy tutorials, which are worth checking out.

Speaking of which, the Bitsy makers community has shared a number of help guides, tutorials and there’s also a Bitsy Discord channel to discuss all things Bitsy if you need help building your Bitsy game. Please do also join us online on 15th May at the Games in the Woods jam launch for more tree themed game-making inspiration.

This post is by Ash Green (@ggnewed) a creative librarian, who writes music, digital stories and makes games. 

07 May 2021

Laying Down Roots With WikTreePedia

If there’s one thing we love here at the Library, it’s trees. They help make books, they’ve kept many of us grounded over the last year of Covid-19 lockdowns, and each and every one of them holds a unique and special history. London itself is home to over 8 million trees, trees like these in our towns and cities are celebrated annually by the wonderful Urban Tree Festival.

This year, the festival runs from 15–23 May and will consist primarily of online events. As part of the Wikimedia residency at the Library, we will be running an online Urban Tree Wikithon to create, edit and improve articles about trees on Wikipedia.

Two apples on a branch, one of them is a Wikipedia globe, the background is dark green

Working together with library innovator, Marion Tessier, literary tree enthusiast, Dr Danielle Howarth, plus Dr Sara Thomas and Stuart Prior from Wikimedia UK, we are excited to be exploring trees from many angles: historical (like some of the oldest trees in the UK), geographical (such as the most northern tree in the world), political (did you know about Glasgow’s Suffragette oak?) and literary (who could forget good old Treebeard or the Faraway Tree?).

If you have a hankering for all things arboreal, come and join us - Wikipedia editing training will be freely provided at our online launch event on Saturday 15th May at 11:00 BST, plus there will be some drop-in online sessions through the week of the festival to support and nurture your article acorns.

No previous editing experience is needed, we will have a forest of useful resources, hints and tips to help guide you on your way. During the festival please use use #wiktreepedia on social media to share details of your work in progress, including links to tree related articles that you create or improve, or photographs of trees that you have added to Wikimedia Commons.

At the end of the festival, we will celebrate the fruits of our labours at a Show & Tell event on Sunday 23rd May at 11:00 BST.

This post is by Wikimedian in Residence Lucy Hinnie (@BL_Wikimedian) & Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom).

05 May 2021

Games in the Library and Games in the Woods

Congratulations to the winner, runners up and everyone who made a game last month for Leeds Libraries Games Jam on Novels That Shaped Our World, which invited jammers to create playful interactive adaptations of books in the BBC’s Novels that Shaped Our World list. To accompany this jam, they programmed a fantastic series of events, which if you missed seeing live, or want to re-watch, can be found in this YouTube playlist.

I absolutely love the premise of the winning submission Frankenstein's Double Wedding, Or, The Modern P…romeo…ethius by WretchedBees (Will Binns). You need a deck of cards to play this solo or cooperative game. Playing as Dr. Frankenstein, with the help of both your monster and betrothed, the game’s aim is to organise a double wedding, arranging catering, a florist, a venue and inviting wedding guests. Not forgetting, that you also need to create a spouse for your monster, before you can both get wed.

A silhoutte profile of a face looking to the left with a bolt of lightning in the face. There are also brains in lightbulbs and the spade, club, diamond and heart symbols from playing cards
Frankenstein's Double Wedding, Or, The Modern P…romeo…ethius by WretchedBees

Well deserved recognition also goes to the two runners up, these are The Open Wizarding Challenge by Suzini56, where to win, players navigate rooms and corridors of their wizarding school, dodging moving staircases and obstacles, aiming to be the first to reach the exit with their bag of collected items, picked up on the way. Also, Fortune of War: A game of Napoleonic era Naval Life by webcowgirl, which is based on Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander books. Writing about her submission she says “this game tries to capture the flavor of the books, with its humor and humanity. Winning isn't just about money, it is ultimately also about pride, honor, and dignity.” Something we would all do well to remember.

A boardgame on a table with a paper ship at the centre of the board, and pot plants behind it
Fortune of War: A game of Napoleonic era Naval Life by webcowgirl

Other #NTSOWgamesjam submissions re-worked Pride and Prejudice, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Herman Melville's Bartleby, the Scrivener. You can check these out on the jam’s itch.io entries page. Being a Sandman graphic novels fan, I enjoyed looking at Of You by DarrenLEdwards, which has been structured so this tabletop roleplaying game could also be based on many other fantastical worlds such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Neverending Story, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials etc.

If exploring fantasy worlds and playing games has inspired you to want to make a game, or if you are a seasoned game maker, then you may want to take part in our Games In the Woods jam this month, which I am running with Ash Green, Marion Tessier from Story Circles and Kingston Upon Thames Libraries, and Cheryl Tipp. This is an online tree themed game jam for all ages, which will run throughout the duration of the Urban Tree Festival. There will be an online launch event on Saturday 15th May with inspiring examples of interactive digital experiences featuring trees and a virtual “show & tell” event on Sunday 23rd May for jammers to celebrate their creations.

Before and during the Urban Tree Festival, game jammers can meet and chat with organisers and each other on our Discord Server: https://discord.gg/qWXH8NcjHE, so please join and say hello on there and use #gamesinthewoods on social media to share images and details of your work in progress.

A wood with a deer standing to the left and a fox standing on the right
Games in the Woods game jam

You are welcome to join alone or in a team to create digital and analogue games, interactive fiction, web comics, board games, escape games, card games – anything you want! The only constraints are time, the theme and your imagination. We especially encourage creative re-use of images from the British Library’s Flickr collection of digitised 19th century books, do check out these online Flora and Fauna galleries. There is also a fantastic curated selection of wildlife and environmental sound recordings picked by my colleague Cheryl Tipp, which you can use in your creations. These are available via this SoundCloud playlist.

Portrait photographs of Sue Thomas, Irini Papadimitriou and Cheryl Tipp
Sue Thomas, Irini Papadimitriou and Cheryl Tipp

Cheryl is also speaking at a free Digital Nature online event next Monday, 10th May, 19:30 - 20:30. Chaired by Irini Papadimitriou, Creative Director at Future Everything, this event also features Ben Eaton from Invisible Flock (read more about their woodland work Faint Signals here), and author of books on nature and technology Sue Thomas. This is part of the British Library’s springtime season of events The Natural Word, which explores nature writing and reflects on our need to reimagine our relationship with the environment. Hope to see you there.

This post is by Digital Curator Stella Wisdom (@miss_wisdom)