Secrets of Palazzo Falson

The Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum in Mdina has just enhanced its visitor experience by tapping into Augmented Reality technology, as the interactive game ‘Secrets of Palazzo Falson’ opens the museum up to fresh intrigue to anyone with a smartphone ready to hand. TEODOR RELJIC speaks to three people instrumental in making the game into an easily-accessible reality for all those who darken the Museum’s door and embark on a journey with Lady Catarina

Secrets of Palazzo Falson can be downloaded for free on a smart phone or tablet upon purchase of a ticket at Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum in Mdina.
Secrets of Palazzo Falson can be downloaded for free on a smart phone or tablet upon purchase of a ticket at Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum in Mdina.

Caroline Tonna

Curator, Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum

Collaborating on a romantic tragedy

“[Game/Interaction Designer] Eleni Papadopoulou is a wonderful Greek young lady and a very creative designer. Back in 2016 she started working on her research project on an interactive design intervention and engagement practices for Palazzo Falson with the support of Malta Arts Fund. She was inspired by the beauty of our medieval palazzo and the many myths and tales about it. She created a romantic-tragic story and further developed it to a creative concept of how interaction and game design could be applied to Palazzo Falson. Eleni’s practice-based artistic project was very relevant to our museum and we were excited to experiment with an innovative technology that was not only a first in Malta to use in a museum but it was also not yet widely available in museums worldwide.”

Caroline Tonna
Caroline Tonna

Making it happen

“To materialise the project, in 2018, Fondazzjoni Patrimonju Malti entered into a joint partnership with Vodafone Malta Foundation that led to the fruition of a fully inclusive AR game. We explored ways to reinforce Eleni’s story and we chose paintings and artefacts from our museum collections to integrate well with the mystery solving game design. The creative team of programmers, graphics and animation designers from Mighty Box were engaged to develop the game under the direction of Marvin Zammit.”

The breath of life

“Once the game was designed, a group of well-established Maltese artists were chosen to record the voice-over of the protagonists of the game, both in Maltese and English. Lisa Micallef Grimaud is the voice of the lead protagonist, Lady Caterina, the ghost, who narrates her own story and invites the players to solve her mystery. Lisa is also the voice of the Maid, in a completely different accent. Kenneth Scicluna is the voice of the butler, while Henry Zammit Cordina plays Kemal, Lady Caterina’s lover, and Pia Zammit interprets the refined voice of Contessa de Falsone and the more humble voice of the cook. The players have an option of using the audio narration or follow the storyline and search for clues by reading the script available in the game. This additional feature was aimed at people with hearing impairments.”

Eleni Papadopoulou

Game/Interaction Designer

Immediate Inspiration

“There’s a number of reasons why I chose Palazzo Falson for this project. The location of the Palazzo in Mdina, the emblematic architecture of it and, of course, the many different collections of gorgeous artifacts. Just being there already made my mind travel to medieval times, trying to simulate how it must have been to live in this house, what stories took place there. The Palazzo also inspired an escape-room feeling so I chose Augmented Reality as the format of choice, so as to be able to combine game and real world elements in a seamless and engaging way, especially for younger audiences. Moreover, the curator of the Palazzo and the whole team were very open-minded and welcoming to new ideas, so the decision was then made easy for me.”

Eleni Papadopoulou
Eleni Papadopoulou

There’s Something About Catarina

“Lady Catarina’s story was inspired by several myths and legends that were told about the Palazzo, some of them involving testimonies of a lady ghost in the house during a restoration. I was very amused to find out about them during my research so I incorporated them into the story of the protagonist as they fitted very well with the overall mystic feel of some of the chambers. Lady Catarina is young girl who follows her heart and her instinct over the dictates of conventional values, but she’s cursed to live at a time when freedom of choice was a luxury for some, and especially women.”

Marvin Zammit

Game Developer, Mighty Box

Expect the Interactive

“The technology allows a user to walk around the Palazzo, looking at objects inside the room through their mobile camera. Certain objects will come to life, becoming animated, or offering some interaction through the mobile’s touch screen. More simply, by looking at objects through your mobile, some of them will move or animate, and you can see new objects which aren’t there in real life. You will be able to collect objects, use collected objects with other objects, and thereby unravel the mystery of the Palazzo.”

Marvin Zammit
Marvin Zammit

Technical Challenges

“There were several challenges in a project of this magnitude, but the primary technical ones were the following. First of all, we wanted the app to run on as wide a variety of devices as possible, and also wanted it to look beautiful, seamlessly matching the ambience of the Palazzo. At the same time, in order for the people to enjoy the full experience we wanted the app not to be too taxing on the battery life of the devices, so that they could go through the full tour of the Palazzo without fully draining their mobile battery.

“Secondly, most AR apps work by having the users scan printed markers, but in this case we didn’t want to use such markers for two reasons: namely because inside Palazzo Falson, being a historical building, printed markers would not look good; and secondly because we wanted the users to look for items they could interact with, and not see a marker and go directly to it. So, we had to use a markerless technology, which is a big challenge with current technology to work well with a wide variety of devices.

“Several huge steps have been made over the past few years, even during the development of this project itself, and yet markerless technology is still an area which is undergoing a lot of development. So we’ve been working with cutting edge technologies which were also constantly changing. This was not easy on the development team, to say the least. But we do like challenges, and took it all in our stride, and we’re happy with the final result.”

Secrets of Palazzo Falson can be downloaded for free on a smart phone or tablet upon purchase of a ticket at Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum in Mdina. The game is suitable for ages 12+. Use of own headphones is recommended. The entrance ticket also entitles the visitor to tour the museum and is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm (last entry at 4pm). For more information call on 2145 4512 or send an email to [email protected]

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