December 21, 2016

Lightneer is game for future learning

In Big Bang Legends, players collect quarks, create protons and build atoms.
In Big Bang Legends, players collect quarks, create protons and build atoms.
Lightneer

Finnish Lightneer doesn’t want to develop the best learning games in the world; it wants to compete with all games, and help players learn on the side.

You wouldn’t think particle physics to be a subject that fascinates four-year-olds. Well, Finnish game studio Lightneer is on course to change this. Whilst its first-ever game, Big Bang Legends, is simple enough for small children to grasp, by no means is it restricted to toddlers’ playrooms.

“I went to introduce the game to a class of fourth-graders,” says Lauri Järvilehto, Lightneer CEO and co-founders. “In the beginning, I asked the group of 25 pupils if they knew what atoms are, and two raised their hands. After less than an hour of Big Band Legends, all hands were up.”

In Big Bang Legends, players collect quarks, create protons and build atoms. The entire periodic table is rendered to Pokémon-style collectible characters – which, as has been seen, appeals to all age groups.

Whilst playing the game, the player will almost by accident gain knowledge and understanding regarding topics traditionally deemed complex and difficult. What products can be used to make an ice hockey stick more durable, and how? Why do helium balloons float in the air?

“Our dream is to one day see a four-year-old, a 54-year-old and a 94-year-old learn physics like this,” Järvilehto notes.

Another dream is to see Lightneer games high up on the list of the world’s most popular games. Not just learning games – any games. Learning is a side product of entertainment.

A team picking up good vibrations

Lightneer CEO Lauri Järvilehto.

Lightneer CEO Lauri Järvilehto

Lightneer

The story of Lightneer boils down to Rovio, where Järvilehto previously worked as a consultant. When his team eventually dissolved, the innovations they had been working on felt too good to be buried. It was a close call, though; Järvilehto was about to move to New York when he started chatting about his ideas with other mobile gaming veterans.

“I realised that although opportunities arise all the time, this is something that’ll bother me for the rest of my life if I didn’t follow through with it,” he recalls.

Lightneer founding fathers managed to find a group of investors passionate about learning. So is the team, now consisting of over a dozen employees and a handful of freelancers.

“We’ve been outrageously lucky in our recruiting,” he says. “Everyone is not only top notch in their field, but also get along with others like a house on fire. Despite our high ambition levels, we’ve got good vibrations all over.”

CERN’s head of global outreach, Rolf Landua, is a great addition to the team as a scientific advisor. He, together with Finnish professor Mikko Voutilainen, makes sure that all things go according to the laws of physics. Landua has plenty of experience in popularising science: he’s spent a lot of time behind the scenes in Hollywood, including for the film Angels and Demons, to make sure there are no errors in the film’s antimatter science.

“In certain things we’ve taken artistic liberties to keep the game interesting, but underneath the surface there’s a lot of hard-core expertise in physics,” Järvilehto states.

A game could get everyone reading

Big Bang Legends keeps growing in features, and it’ll be accompanied by an animated series, now in production, that will dig deeper into lessons of the game. Järvilehto mentions the possibility of creating textbooks including characters familiar from the game.

Lightneer is often asked if the game is meant for children and schools. No, says Järvilehto: the target audience is simply gamers. Again, Lightneer games aren’t played only for the sake of learning, but for fun above anything else.

Lightneer is already planning its second game, which is also related to physics and chemistry. At some point the company could take a break from science and jump into something else, such as languages.

“A lot of companies are fighting for getting everyone on the planet online, but what do you do with the Internet if you can’t read?” Järvilehto asks. “Creating a game that would teach all children in developing countries to read and basic English skills is a hugely intriguing idea.”

The game was soft launched at Slush in November, and became available soon after in the Philippines. Next year it’ll travel across the world, as there are ongoing negotiations with partners in different corners of the world, including the vast and populous China.

There’ll be no global launch; instead, Lightneer wants to go and launch the game in one country at a time. This spells plenty of boarding passes and flight miles for Lightneer in future – and a lot of fascinated four-year-olds.

Text: Anne Salomäki

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