On Saturday the Tiltfactor team took Smorball to the Boston Festival of Indie Games. Our computers were constantly filled, as players loved the game and fiercely competed to top each others’ high scores!
Then, at the end of the day we were surprised and thrilled that Smorball won the “Best Serious Game” Figgie award, over the 100+ games in attendance at the Festival! The award itself was presented by Cambridge City Councillor Leland Cheung, and he spoke about how playing Smorball is more than just playing a game – it’s a form of civic engagement.
So what the heck is this Smorball game anyway? Why is it fun? How is it a form of civic engagement? Where can you play it? Keep reading!
What is Smorball?
You’re the head coach of the Eugene Melonballers, an up-and-coming team in the International Smorball Federation. Can you coach your team to victory, helping them win the coveted Dalahäst Trophy and bring glory home to Eugene?
Smorball is America’s favorite robot-smashing sport. In Smorball, you play the coach of the Eugene Melonballers, the newest addition to the International Smorball Federation. Smorball looks like a sports game, but it’s actually a typing game! In a series of matches, opposing teams from all over the country will send their athletes down the field from the right to try to score in your end zone. You must stop them by typing the word in front of one of your athletes. If you get the word right, your athlete will charge down the field and tackle the opponent. If you mess up and the opponent makes it to your end zone, you lose points – lose too many and you lose the match.
Smorball is not your 3rd-grader's typing game
As many Boston Festival of Indie Games attendees learned, Smorball is not your 3rd-grader’s typing game – it’s much closer in challenge to Typing of the Dead than to Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. In order to succeed you’re going to have to type quickly and accurately, but the words you’re typing are in Latin, or they’re only parts of words, or they’ve got punctuation and accents. No matter how fast a typist you are, if you want to win you’re also going to need to tactically deploy and equip your Melonballers with equipment, as well as strategically invest in training to make your team stronger.
Why Does Smorball Matter?
Smorball tackles a major challenge for digital libraries: full-text searching of digitized material is significantly hampered by poor output from Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software. When first scanned, the pages of digitized books and journals are merely image files, making the pages unsearchable and virtually unusable. While OCR converts page images to searchable, machine encoded text, historic literature is difficult for OCR to accurately render because of its tendency to have varying fonts, typesetting, and layouts.
Every phrase players type while playing Smorball comes from scanned pages from libraries. After much verification, the words players type are sent to the libraries that store the corresponding pages, allowing those pages to be searched and data mined and ultimately making historic literature more usable for institutions, scholars, educators, and the public.
Smorball is a completely free browser game that transcribes books as you play. As players at the Boston Festival of Indie Games proved, the game is a blast! The only thing Smorball needs is players – there are hundreds of thousands of book pages to transcribe and we’ve only begun to make a dent in them. What are you waiting for?