Recently we have been working to create an educational game on angles. Part of that requires designing puzzles that try to provide educational value. The following blog post is a continuation of a look at our process.
The most important part when analyzing our puzzles was first to recognize our puzzle metrics. Initially these metrics were as follows:
Number of slots
Number of gems
We began our first pass using these metrics to craft the thirty puzzles that would form the core structure of our game. The process essentially boiled down to a table of each of these metrics listed in columns. We incrementally increased metrics until key climax moments which we referred to as ‘boss levels’. Following a boss level we dropped the metrics to allow for the introduction of a new system in a simpler environment.
Our first pass at developing the puzzles allowed us to create the initial structure of the experience. On further examination, points three and four actually had more depth to them. We broke these points into each and every gem value. This additional depth warranted further analysis.
We then went about constructing a meaningful method of presenting what we called ‘angle distribution’. Using this we mapped out each and every gem per level. This method of analysis revealed several levels that were problematic for different reasons such as:
High angle overlap
Had no garbage
Levels that were similarly structured
These key points conflicted with our main educational objective of improving familiarity with both numeric and visual representations of angles. As for one having a large degree of similar angles meant that the exposure to different angle values in the 360 angle system was lower. So for our second pass we went about redesigning certain levels adding in garbage, and choosing angle gems carefully to avoid overlap.
On making a third pass at the we again found a problem. Our third pass took the form of playing the levels. What we found was some gems were included that were direct solutions to problems in hard puzzles.
We needed to weed out as though it is good that players are able to discern such a solution, we felt that doing so would mean engaging less with the angle gems in the level as several other gems were left out entirely in the solution. Thus we weeded such scenarios out during our third pass.
Essentially the process boiled down to a number of steps:
Carefully study the components within our structure
Extrapolate areas for further fine grained analysis
Develop a tool for analysis
Apply the tool
Identify and address problem areas
Replay the experience
Using this process we iteratively analyzed our puzzles redesigning when necessary to ensure levels had particular solutions to problems with minimal overlap. Now with a clear design process, all thats left to do is playtest and hope the design worked!
At the beginning of the week 9 we had our halves presentation. Following this we met Jesse Schell on Tuesday, and presented our thoughts on how we would go about designing our puzzles. His suggestion was simple.
JUST MAKE PUZZLES. Worry about the details later.
So that is what we did.
The inspiration for our puzzles came from a combination of two sources:
The teaching material that our client used
A map of element complexity against time
The process of considering elemental complexity began with a consideration for the interest curve of the experience. Essentially we wanted an initial large peak then a period of rest, followed by ascending peaks with rests until a climax at the end.
When designing puzzles Level Design for Games by Phil Cosuggested listing the elements of a game, and systematically designing puzzles with incrementally harder arrangements of elements.
In our case we intended to use the elements to increase complexity, but explore fundamentally the same (problems related to the 360 angle system). The elements of our game were:
Receivers & Obstacles
With these elements we create a table of level against elements, and incrementally increased the number of elements. When a new element was introduced we would drop other elements to lower the difficulty experience for players to more clearly grasp the new element.
A brief description of the process you used to create your adventure. Include any brainstorming notes, etc.
I begun the process of creating my adventure with a theme/fantasy. I had a number of ideas including:
A sports adventure theme
A wild west themed game
A game with vampires
I settled on doing something set in the time period of the Roman Civilization. In particular I loved the setting of the movie Gladiator so my intention was to recreate a similar storytelling experience.
Next I searched for an interest curve that roughly mapped onto what I wanted to create.
Next, based on the five point on the interest curve I imagined the main scenes of the story with a brief description of what I wanted to achieve in that scene, and the main story beats.
Capture – I wanted the player to be captured.
Training Ground – A scene in the gladiator house of them learning skills and familiarizing themselves with their new world
Gladiator Battle 1 – First gladiator battle, high intensity
Villanus Mansion – A more social situation, with a puzzle
Gladiator Battle 2 – Last gladiator fight, high intensity, kill the boss to win one’s freedom, or kill each other.
I was inspired by the game Shadow of Rome, and wanted to find a system that support combat and social situations. I could have used the roleplaying 101, but I instead chose to use a system from a tabletop RPG game I had played before called Vampire The Masquerade (VTM). More specifically I used Vampire: Dark Ages (medieval setting) for their armour, and weapons.
To flesh out my world of I needed to perform significant research, namely:
Be aware of the different types of gladiators to give my players and generated enemies some grounding in the world
I also wanted to include animals at one points so I found applicable stats.
Made a list of important characters and some of their traits to help me roleplay them.
Each scene needed a map so I drew one, including details about who was in each scene.
Refamiliarize myself with VTM’s leveling scheme, social and combat systems.
Found example stats to base my NPC’s on.
There were also a number of things I did not do:
Also thought of adding in some currency and letting players by equipment but thought this might add too much added complexity.
Thought of adding special sections such as chariot racing but left it out due to the added complexity.
All of this I compiled into a long supporting document I used whilst DM’ing that I will include in the following section.
We began week 8 with preparing our digital prototype for playtesting, iterating on various artistic, and functional elements including sound, and animations. The following was used for our first internal digital playtest.
Based on a focus on Treasure Hunter at the end of Week 5 we added various design additions to the idea which was shaping up to be a dungeon adventure where players:
Could move around a character
Had an inventory (method of dealing with many gems in a level)
Could defeat monsters (requested by our audience)
Could pick up gem bags (method of incrementally introducing gems incrementally to our puzzles)
Features 1, and 2 were integrated into the following early prototype.
A New Perspective
We met with a designer from Zynga who was visiting The Entertainment Technology. She had a look at our idea, and advised us to focus on our core mechanic which was the slotting gems into the beam maker.
So based on the feedback we:
Removed gem bags.
Made our main character stationary. The character would now be an assistant who would act like guide (akin to Dora the Explorer games) giving advice, information and hints but not actually solving the puzzle directly.
Constrained problems to only 180 because the teacher requested it.
Finally created 10 levels at the end of the week.
Simultaneously our artist continued to make aesthetic progress.
Considering the feedback from quarters we went about revamping our ideas.
One concern was raised regarding the complexity that physics considerations adds to the game which were not core to teaching angles to our target demographic. Since both our current ideas had an element of physics we took this feedback on board. We then changed the design direction, and made decisions to minimizing the element of physics.
Since we are firing a cannon ball, we wanted to change the perspective to lessen the look that the cannon ball is making an arc so that players don’t consider that aspect of physics.
To enhance learning we also would not having monsters move when missing, instead we would give them a new problem.
To give us more design flexibility we would have the pirate ship not be fixed to bottom center of ipad, instead have it so that it can be move around but remains fixed so as to allow us to create more types of problems.
One critique was that in both games angles were not a core part of the experience, and so we ‘tossed’ Alpaca Toss. Yet we used some of its core in a new idea.
This new idea came about whilst playing Tomb Raider, and remembering a scene from The Mummy that involved light beams that lit up a room.
The idea was essentially that we used ‘angle gems’ to move around a source of energy that charged up a power stone that opened up a door with treasure behind it.
We named this new idea Treasure Hunter, and designed five levels on Wednesday to try out the new mechanic.
On Thursday we prepped to visit Colonial School on Friday. We fancied up the Treasure Hunter prototype, prepared a playtest format, planned a drawing activity for the kids, and prepared some questions for the teacher.
Week four was spent further fleshing out our two prototypes for our 1/4s presentation.
Design decisions made at the start of the week were:
Making each monster advance towards you each turn in order to provide more interesting angle challenges
Adopting a Pirate theme for our Crayon King prototype because the fantasy of being pirate and destroying and looting fit our demographic better than a king ruling subjects
By the end of the week we presented the two paper prototypes to our supervisors. They suggested focusing on them, and make them more visually appealing.
Fancying it Up
In order to improve the prototypes visuals we first adapted the Abstract Ball Glue prototype into Alpaca Toss (alpacas somehow often turn up in our brainstorming process!). The aim was to make it more appealing to both genders as well as root it in something more realistic rather than the current abstract idea.
Armed with these ideas our artists spent the weekend doing just that with the following results.
In addition our lead programmer developed digital prototypes with two interfaces. One prototype used the gyroscope and the other with slider we tried different ux methods for game.