Can you store custom characters on an RFID chip?

first run of gameplay before the player was implemented

There was an idea that everyone seemed sure on when it came to Level_Up, an upcoming interactive wing of The Strong Museum of Play; There needed to be a personal character/avatar that guests could have to represent themselves. Whoever it was they wanted to be or whoever they wanted to take through Level_Up with them. There was a little bit of down time another project while I was waiting for someone else's work to be done, so I decided to make a rough mockup of what the character creator for Level_Up could be.

One of my first tasks when I started at The Strong was researching different forms of physical media that we could use to keep track of a user's profile. Something that could hold a unique identifier that would reference a database for the profile information. In my research, I had an idea that would allow us to store more information on an RFID card than we originally thought. My thoughts were, essentially, if we stored simple data on the guests' RFIDs, we could just make sense of that data on the applications in which we want to use it, rather than storing anything complex on a server that the museum would have to worry about maintaining, cleaning up old users, etc. With the support of the exhibits team I did some testing of my theory and, after only a day or two of poking around with a few ways of reading/writing data to the RFIDs at my disposal, I came up with a solution! This meant that, if used and proven effective, the museum could write this simple data onto guest RFIDs, which are quite inexpensive, and would not require the upkeep/maintenance of potentially expensive servers. This was a big win for the whole team.

Reading the RFID cards we had on hand I found we had access to 16 "blocks" of information. The first 3 seemed to be reserved; typical for most RFID manufacturers to "sign" or even lock their hardware. But that means we had, as far as I could tell, free reign over the other 13 blocks! So I started schemeing how and what could be stored in this memory. Knowing that we wanted to keep the character customization to something relatively light, I figured we could really get a lot out of what we had to work with.

handwritten notes on the layout of a 'block'
handwritten notes on the layout of a 'block'

I devised a read and write method that was pulling the 2 digit hexadecimal number apart into two single digit hexadecimal numbers. We could use each single hexadecimal number to store a customization choice. This, of course, limits the amount of options per category at 16 (0-F in hexadecimal), but this wasn't the most future-proof in terms of adding new items and such in the future, if desired. But this method was still very handy in recording other information about the guest's experiences! I went back on the initial thought of breaking everything into single digit hexadecimal values, in thoughts of future growth, and opened character customization options back up to the 2 digit hexadecimal values that were in the first available editable block. The splitting of hexadecimal values came in handy, however, with the idea of saving guest "badges"; Acheivements of sorts. The idea was that as a guest went around the exhibit and interacted with things, played games, etc. they would unlock "badges" that they could show off of the kiosks placed around the exhibit space. These were simple to track as there were only a few badge "tiers". The plan was for 4 possibilities; unearned, bronze, silver, gold. So the value given to that specific value in on the RFID chip would essentially be an index. 0(zero) being unearned, 1 being bronze, and so on.

A Look Into The Journey

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