Eight Bit Studios - creating the best mobile apps and websites in Chicago
Celebrating 10 years in Chicago executing mobile app strategy, design, user experience (ux), and development : design, user experience, frontend development for startups to enterprise teams.


Eight Bit Studios creates The Field Museum's first mobile app - Specimania

Specimania from The Field Museum of Natural History represents a celebration of our fascination and love for the sciences. Discovery and education can be fun and current and it takes institutions willing to think outside of the box to truly be successful. For The Field Museum's first iOS application, the goals were very clear:

  1. Engage young families with children 2-12
  2. Represent all facets of the museums exhibits/research without affecting the desire to visit the museum
  3. Find a way to involve the incredible scientific staff in the project without overwhelming them with tasks
  4. Reach audiences outside of the museum and encourage attendance
  5. Make learning awesome

Some incredible brainstorming with the New Media team resulted in a digital trading card game called 'Specimania'. Here's how we set out to achieve the projects goals:

engage young families with children 2-12

For children 2-5 we created a matching game. Cards from the game are placed in a 4x4 grid. Users tap and/or scratch the dirt off the cards in order to reveal matches. If a user finds all the matches in the game within 30 seconds, they unlock a new Character Card.

For children 6-12 we created a trading card game. The game mechanics revolve around a deck of characters, boosters that power the cards, and gotcha cards that act to trump normal game play.

represent all facets of the museums exhibits/research without affecting the desire to visit the museum

We separated the deck of cards into the 4 halls of the museum: Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology. From that, scientists nominated 12 Characters from their discipline to be professionally illustrated. The scientists were then tasked with coming up with 1-3 paragraphs of text that contained facts and history of the specimen/artifact.

find a way to involve the incredible scientific staff in the project without overwhelming them with organizational tasks

There are 48 scientifically accurate cards in the game that came together via countless research photos, 2+ rounds of sketches, 2 rounds of illustrations, character names, types of cards, halls, trivia questions/answers, challenge names/points, comments and approval status every step of the way. To keep this from becoming an organizational nightmare and our PM's happy, we turned to our friend Drupal for the insanely quick and dirty content collecting and syndicating action. Using JSON through the services module, we fed information directly into the iOS Application binary so that as we deployed the app to a large testing group, it had all the most up to date information from the Drupal site and the massive team of scientists.

reach audiences outside of the museum and encourage attendance

To help connect outside of the museum, we integrated game center (coming in the second update) so that users can play live against other players around the world. To encourage attendance, there are certain cards that can ONLY be unlocked through special codes found in the museum. To get the most rare and powerful cards, yes you still you need to go the museum.

make learning awesome

Our friend and Emmy Award Nominee Saxton Moore and his team at Pixel Pirate Studios did all the custom illustrations. The back of each card has a short description about that Character. Users who answer trivia questions correctly get 10 units of power added to their card! More points mean more powerful cards in the Vs game. We've also found that pretty much any age group gravitates to answering the trivia, including 3+ year olds with the help of their parents.


All the hard work and tenacity from both our team and The Field Museum has already paid off. The app is commanding a 5 out of 5 star rating in iTunes. The museum is getting great feedback from the staff, families, and children. Many specimens/artifacts that aren't viewable by the public are now being downloaded, played with, and learned about from people all over the world. We are helping pave the way for how museums around the world think about how they can engage new audiences.

To us, this is what it means to honor a great institution and use technology to enhance it's interaction with the public. This project represents a flag in the ground for what great Chicago brands can do when combined with Chicago's best ux, design, and tech. We hope to take this and continue to push the bar higher. Let's be great, Chicago. Let's be the best.


Go to the iTunes App store to download Specimania for FREE today! We hope you (and your children) enjoy playing!

John OstlerComment