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UCI-made game explores a ‘magical world’ with costumes and spells

A UC Irvine professor and a group of students collaborated to create a mixed-reality game called Magia Transformo — The Dance of Transformation, in which players “investigate mysteries of the magical world” by wearing colorful cloaks and hats while casting spells and dancing around a cauldron.

Joshua Tanenbaum always envisioned creating a mixed-reality game that incorporated elements of theater, costumes and dance.

The UC Irvine assistant professor of informatics got his chance last fall when he collaborated with then-student Natalie Nygaard to start developing an interactive storyline for a physical game called Magia Transformo — The Dance of Transformation.

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The story enables players to “investigate mysteries of the magical world” by wearing colorful cloaks and hats while casting spells and dancing around a cauldron.

It requires at least three people to play. Players hold books that are embedded with smartphones that tell them what dances or chants to perform around the cauldron.

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The game is set up at UCI’s Transformative Play Lab, which Tanenbaum co-founded.

“We really wanted costumes central to the game, and we talked about staffs, wands and belts, amulets and complex costumes. But then we did the math and we’d have millions of possible combinations,” Tanenbaum said.

So, Tanenbaum and his team of UCI students scaled it back to get to the core of the experience.

The game lets users select from six cloaks representing different elements for different spells.

The team members worked to flesh out the game on a tight deadline once they were notified that their project was accepted to debut in October at IndieCade, a festival in Los Angeles featuring independently made games.

“This dorky, incredible game seemed like a far-off dream,” Nygaard said. “All of us thought it was a fun, cool idea, and we got to show that at IndieCade.”

Tanenbaum said it was well-received by players, and seeing others play it helped shed light on areas to improve.

“People are getting impatient with the narrative,” he said. “This is an enticing artifact you want to play with, but you don’t want to wait to hear a voice tell you things about the costume.”

The team is now working on a mobile game app with which users can further explore the magical world.

“We’re hoping to produce something greater and more accessible where more people can play,” Tanenbaum said.

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