Arbor Defenders
Analogy Through Rapid-Fire Game Play

As part of a local event taking place in Ann Arbor, ICON Interactive designed and developed a Microsoft Kinect game for leading cyber security firm Arbor Networks. Called “Arbor Defenders,” the aim of the game was to boost awareness of the Arbor Networks brand, generate discussion among participants, and use the fun of motion sensing technology to demonstrate one of the many powerful threats Arbor Networks regularly guards against.

One area of cyber security that Arbor Networks specializes in is the prevention of DDoS attacks—when a server or website is under siege from multiple compromised systems, resulting in a “denial of service” when users try to access the targeted network. This is also the main concept behind Arbor Defenders; however, in order to best explain and demonstrate a DDoS attack to a wide and varied audience, the team at ICON chose to forgo all of the technical explanations and, instead, put players directly in the line of fire…

In “Arbor Defenders,” players use their bodies to control BlockTi, an adorably big-eyed, smiling, squid-like creature. Sporting Arbor Network’s signature Arbor Leaf, BlockTi stands ready to defend the world’s computer networks. The game places BlockTi on a flat plane comprised of multiple lanes, similar to the level design from popular rhythm games like Guitar Hero. Small geometric characters representing different types of Internet traffic charge towards the screen from each lane. As his name might suggest, BlockTi must block the bad forms of Internet traffic, “baddies,” while making sure the “goodies” pass through. It’s up to the players to discover the rules, discern friend from foe, and use their bodies to move BlockTi accordingly. Correct actions push the “World Status” gauge into the “Safe” zone. If the players make too many mistakes, it’s game over.

Of course, DDoS attacks wouldn’t be nearly the threat they currently are if they kept their assault slow and consistent, so the ICON team made sure Arbor Defenders wouldn’t pull any punches, either. As the player keeps up the pace, the game’s difficulty ramps up. The volume of traffic increases. The creatures, both good and bad, rush the player at higher speeds. Baddies don disguises, some relying on simple accessories or wacky hairstyles while others shroud themselves in full goodie camouflage. Now, faced with an onslaught of information flooding in from multiple channels, players must act on their toes—and quite literally—if they hope to figure out who is who without wasting precious time or letting bad traffic through. In many cases, it isn’t long until, just like a computer network under a targeted assault, they are completely overwhelmed.

It was this idea, rapid-fire gameplay analogous to real DDoS attacks, which prompted the ICON team to develop the Arbor Defenders experience for the Microsoft Kinect system rather than for a virtual reality device. The Kinect’s motion sensors allowed for a greater range of movement and interaction without the need for controllers, letting players feel the struggle as they use their bodies as shields.

GAME OVER, BUT NOT FOR ARBOR NETWORKS

At the end of each player’s run, the game presents them with statistics that are calculated based on a combination of real Arbor Networks activity as well as the player’s individual score. Some of the information provided includes the amount of bad Internet traffic Arbor Networks blocked, the amount of data packets processed, and the number of potential issues reviewed all within the player’s end time—be it a solid minute or only a few seconds’ worth. When paired with the aftermath of an intense gameplay session, these statistics bring to light the profound and sobering reality of just one of the many types of threats Arbor Networks regularly fights against.

DEFENDERS OF THE FUTURE

The Arbor Defenders project met its goals—and then some—by helping bolster awareness of Arbor Networks in a way that surpassed expectations.

“The response the game got was incredible,” said project manager Randall Spaulding. “It was a big hit with people of all ages, not just adults. One of the highest scores actually belongs to an eight-year-old.” And, as it turns out, it wasn’t just the game that left a lasting impression on local audiences: BlockTi himself made quite a splash since the experience was first deployed, with players inquiring about plush toys and other character merchandise. Could this tentacled defender of digital space see a physical appearance in the near future?