Playlabs: Polish Apps That Make Learning Fun
A interactive wall map for kids? A virtual mirror that dresses you in folk costumes? The interactive solutions provider Playlabs specialises in creating innovative apps that are as much fun as they are educational.
Charming snake charmers
It looks like a very nice map, the kind you’d put up in a children’s room as a piece of horizon-expanding decoration. The world is presented in a slightly comic-book style with over twenty international landmarks, such as the Colosseum or Statue of Liberty, marked as easily noticeable pictograms. But it’s neither the cool graphic design nor the quality finish that really make the Mappka special. Maciej Szandar of Playlabs, the Polish developer behind the map, explains its key features:
Mappka combines the possibilities offered by a tablet with the aesthetics of a pretty, original wall map. You scan the map with a special app to see places in 3D, which you can view from any angle and zoom in on. You can read quite a bit about the history of each place, the cultures of different cities and countries as well as customs that are practiced there. There’s also a collection of photos and quizzes that allow you to check how much you’ve learned.
Since Mappka’s creators believe that ‘there’s no better way to learn than though fun’, the information is served up in a way that’s meant to engage its younger users. So, for instance, when you point your tablet’s camera at the pictogram of Taj Mahal on the map, it links to a digital page about… snake charmers! Now that’s a charming way to get kids interested in the great culture of India.
The life of a groundhog
Playlabs specialises in innovative apps which (like Mappka) use augmented reality or employ other state-of-the-art solutions. The company, with offices in Warsaw and Gliwice, was founded by Maciej Szandar, a former advertising Art Director, and Łukasz Lipka, a lecturer at the Silesian University of Technology, individuals strongly interested in how modern technology can bring together the real and the virtual. Sometimes the ideas for their creative designs are all theirs, like in the case of Mappka, whereas sometimes they work with other partners to develop projects, which is how Playlabs devised a series of educational games for Poland’s Tatra National Park. The Zakopane Environmental Education Centre of the park located in the Tatra Mountains, Poland’s highest mountain range, was in need of new ways to teach people about the park’s natural wonders. In this instance, Playlabs was given specific themes to work with.
Two of the games created for the park use Kinect technology thanks to which the player can control on-screen events with nothing but his own movements followed in real time by special cameras. In one of the games you’re a… goat jumping from boulder to boulder in the mountains, and in another you’re a deer running and trying to avoid obstacles such as fallen trees (no worries: the computer runs for you, you just need to manoeuvre). Over a dozen titles were prepared for touchscreens, these include quizzes about the various species inhabiting the mountains and even a backpack packing tutorial. An honourable mention goes to the touch table game Życie Świstaka (editor’s translation: Groundhog’s Life) which lets up to four players simultaneously see what it’s like to be a groundhog trying to devour enough food to comfortably go into winter hibernation. Szandar talks about how these games were received, after they were made public last year:
One day I got a call from my brother, who was on vacation in Kościelisko, asking me if I was the one who made the games for the Tatra National Park. It turned out that the owner of the hotel where he was staying kept urging him to go to the Education Centre. She insisted that the place had become one of the best tourist attractions of the region, especially for kids.
Playlab’s other interesting creations include the Virtual Mirror which can be found at the Chorzów Ethnographic Museum. This nifty device popularises regional culture by letting you see what you’d look like in different Silesian folk costumes without actually having to try them on – just stand in front of the virtual mirror and see yourself in full regional garb. Should you be especially fond of your appearance you can have your photo taken.
Playlabs is currently working on what seems to be a big project and it is being kept secret. All that they have revealed so far is that it’ll be a combination of an outdoor game, interactive solutions and a theme park. Also, the developers are currently finalising work on the English version of Mappka, which is scheduled to appear in July 2017. Something to look forward to!
Author: Marek Kępa, June 2017