Tag Archives: Educational Game

Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

In this article I will chronicle the design process and lessons learned in creating Trash Traders a multiplayer iPad game aiming to empower a sustainability mindset.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Trash Traders.

Trash Traders is an iOS app built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for West Virginia’s Steenrod Elementary. Trash Traders is an experience that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life.

Continue reading Flower Power – A Transformational Game Project

Trash Traders

Introduction: Trash Traders is an iOS app built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for West Virginia’s Steenrod Elementary. Trash Traders is an experience that has shown to be fun and promote discussions about living a more green life.

Platform: iOSTime: 15 weeks |  RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 6

Design Goal: The goal of the project was to promote a sustainability mindset in our target demographic.

Design Challenges: We faced a number of design challenges during this project including:

  • System design
    • Setup & Tweaking
    • Multiple difficulty configuration
  • UX challenges
    • UI Design
    • Tutorial
    • Trash Visuals and Content

My Contributions: As the game designer on the project I took the lead on directing our creative efforts. My efforts helped create a well received, fun, and engaging experience which made a good attempt to achieve our transformational goals. Other areas I made significant contributions in were:

  • An ideation process that created the main mechanic of the game
  • Conducting and interpreting playtests

Download: Trash Traders has been released on iOS and can be downloaded here

Angle Jungle

Introduction: Angle Jungle is an award winning puzzle game built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for Pennsylvania’s Intermediate Unit 1. Angle Jungle has value to first graders and above, its primary purpose though is as a supplement for 4th to 6th graders learning basic geometry.

Awards: Serious Play 2017 Gold Award Winner, CHI Play 2017 Jury Award Winner, Finalist for 50th Carnegie Mellon University Founders Award

Publications:

  1. Angle Jungle: An Educational Game About Angles
  2. Carnegie Mellon News Article

Platform: iOS | Time: 15 weeks | RoleGame Designer | Team Size: 4

Design Goal: The goal of the project was to achieve the following transformations in our target demographic:

  • Primary Transformation: Build familiarity with the angle by having players solve puzzles that use a mechanic that encodes the numeric and spatial representations of angles
  • Secondary Transformations:
    • Introduce positive and negative angles
    • Introduce clockwise and anticlockwise rotation
    • Introduce angles greater than 180 degrees
    • Build familiarity with the protractor tool

Design Challenges: We faced a number of design challenges during this project:

  • Protractor tool introduction
  • Finding an mechanic which made angles essential
  • Crafting fun and engaging puzzles
  • Crafting additional sources of motivation

My Contributions: As the game designer on the project I took the lead on directing our creative efforts. My efforts helped create a well received, fun, and engaging experience which made a good attempt to achieve our transformational goals. Other areas I made significant contributions in were:

  • An ideation process that created the main mechanic of the game
  • Crafting and refining transformational/puzzle complexity (game complexity that serves a transformational goal) within the experience
  • Design of the motivational elements within the experience
  • Conducting and interpreting playtests

Download: Angle Jungle has been released on iOS and can be downloaded here

Development Process: Post

Source Code: GitHub 

Presentation:

A Transformational Puzzle – Angle Jungle

In this article I will chronicle my design process in creating Angle Jungle an award winning transformational puzzle. Then how I went creating the puzzles within the experience, and finally lessons learned.

Introduction

At Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) multi-disciplinary teams work on projects over a semester to create an artifact. While attending I was the primary designer on the project which created Angle Jungle.

Angle Jungle is an award winning educational puzzle game for fourth to sixth graders studying geometry. At the start of development our requirements were up in the air. Following discussions with our client we settled on the following objectives:

  1. Create an experience involving angles.
  2. Integrate the protractor tool.

Design

Our ideation process began with brainstorming based on the objectives of our project. We then went through two iterations of paper prototypes.

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From our paper prototypes, we choose to refine two based on feedback.

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In parallel we began the process of creating digital prototypes based off these paper prototypes.

Pirates Life – Digital

Our breakthrough moment came when Jesse Schell, a faculty member at the ETC, posed to us that though these games used angles, both could be played without thinking about angles. We needed to make an angles essential experience. This priceless notion lead us to create Angle Jungle’s progenitor which we called Treasure Hunter.

Treasure Hunter V1

Treasure Hunters mechanic encoded the relationship between the numeric and spatial representation of angles. This was achieved by having players use numeric representations to create spatial representations in-order to solve a puzzle. We believed this embodied a system where angles were essentialWe then began refining Treasure Hunter.

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After positive feedback from playtesting we next created a digital prototype.

In the above video players slot numeric values into a beam maker which creates a spatial value. A certain spatial value is required to hit an objective to solve a puzzle and receive treasure. This digital prototype then went through many more iterations.

At this point in development we had the foundations for an experience. What was needed next was to design that experience.

Experience Crafting

How does one go about creating an experience? There are infinite ways, but we began with considering the difficulty curve within our experience.

Difficulty Curve

The above graph is an abstract difficulty curve which displays a sequence of tense and release cycles of increasing difficulty. This curve would form the underlying foundation of our experience. 

Gameplay Elements

With an idea of what we wanted the experience to look like, next we conceptualized the elements within the greater experience. The inspiration for this process came from a number of sources including the learning materials of our target demographic.

Our aim was essentially to gamify our target demographics learning material. We would achieve this through gameplay elements which attempted to capture aspects of the kind of problems they faced in the classroom. These gameplay elements would form the core components of the experience.

More Motivation

Whilst conceptualizing our gameplay elements we also considered the possibility that the puzzle may not be intrinsically motivating enough for players. Therefore we created two additional supporting motivational factors.

Supporting Actor

A gender-neutral character that needed assistance (inspired by Jesse Schell’s Lens of Help). Given the use of supporting characters in educational experiences is common, and there exists research on the potential beneficial effects for players. We hoped this would augment learning within our experience.

Golden Expectations

In addition we created The Cabin. The Cabin would contain rewards in the form of treasures and trophies. The Cabin would act as motivational element by creating Golden Expectations (expectation of rewards) through the aesthetic use of empty shelves as well as serve as a measure of game progress.

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We also recognized the need to space out our rewards for better impact. We therefore arranged rewards into evenly spaced intervals.

All Together

Together these pieces could further flesh out the difficulty curve of our experience. The peaks of our difficulty curve would now commonly correspond to the introduction of gameplay elements, and the dips would be periods of rest at The Cabin.

The experience needed more though, it cried out for substance in the form of puzzle content.

Transformational Puzzle Complexity

With a high-level view, and the fundamental elements of the experience in mind we went about crafting a set of transformational puzzles.

This process resulted in a jumbled pile of puzzles. This was a good first step, but it did not fit the experience structure we wanted. We therefore turned to a mighty tool. The spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet consisted of columns of each gameplay element which we incrementally increased to raise puzzle complexity. This tool complemented the design process as we created more puzzles based on these new complexity constraints.

Two additional considerations came to mind during this process:

  1. Include drops in puzzle complexity when introducing new gameplay elements to allow for more effective tutorials.
  2. Have the majority of learning occur early when complexity is low.

The result of this work was a structure of thirty levels which we then playtested.

Although initial playtests were largely positive they revealed two design issues:

  1. Lack of Angle Diversity – High occurrence totals of fewer number of angle values in the total experience meant a lesser exposure to different angle values.
  2. One Gem Solutions – Solutions which required only one angle gem on more complex levels meant less interaction with different angle values.

Both issues were detrimental to our goal of building familiarity with the angle system. Therefore, two methods of analysis were used to solve these issues:

  1. Angle Distribution Analysis – Counts of each angle value used.
  2. Angle Solution Analysis – A comparison of solution angles against angle values used.

These methods revealed a number of such ‘issue’ levels.

Angle Analysis Results – First Pass

The result of iteratively applying this analysis was that both the complexity and angle diversity was maintained and improved. This ultimately meant a better attempt at achieving our transformational goal.

Occurrence Totals of Angle Values

Transformational Objectives

At the end of the project we ended up with a concrete primary transformational objective, and several secondary transformational objectives.

Primary Transformation

Build familiarity with the angle system by having players practice solving puzzles using a mechanic that has an encoded relationship between the numeric and spatial representations of angles.

Academic Support

Secondary Transformations

In addition to our primary transformational objective we took the opportunity to introduce a number of secondary transformational objectives in manners that were natural extensions of the core experience (providing the experience with more puzzle content).

Protractor Tool Usage

To solve a puzzle, players had to work out the angle that was required to be made. This was difficult for some playtesters and therefore provided a natural opportunity to introduce a protractor scaffolding tool.

By making this tool available we built in the protractor in a manner that was of a natural clear benefit to our players. We hoped by doing so to build familiarity and appreciation of the tool by creating a puzzle environment where it was undoubtedly helpful. Playtesting showed that this strategy ‘seemed’ to work.

Sharon Carver – ‘I especially like the meter that shows the full 360 degrees while the player is working on selecting angles.  It would definitely be worth testing the impact’

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angles

Introduce the notion of positive and negative angle values.

Anticlockwise/Positive & Clockwise/Negative Angle Addition

Introduce both anticlockwise and clockwise rotation, and angle addition and subtraction.

Angles Above 180

Expose students to angles greater than 180 degrees.

Design Considerations

Whilst exposing students to our core mechanic (an encoding between the numeric and spatial representation of angles), initial levels would allow brute force approaches to be rewarded in order to draw in the player with easy rewards.

Allowing for such ‘brute force’ (choices made without solid reasoning) approaches, resulted in the following criticism being raised:

What if players are not doing the thinking you want?

In the defense of brute force, we responded with the following counter points:

  1. Absolute mindless play is rare, so since the use of numeric angle values are essential even with a brute force approach, players are likely to at least reason about this aspect of the game.
  2. Supporting brute force approaches makes the experience more accessible (we had first graders reach level 22 with help!).
  3. Brute force approaches are only reasonably satisfying in low complexity puzzles (playtesters who solely practiced a brute force approach experienced frustration on more complex puzzles).

Most importantly though, we admitted that when complexity was low players would not have to think ‘much’. This was intentional. The experience allowed it for a deeper purpose.

We intended to combine that brute force motivation together with puzzle complexity as a transformative tool to incentivize a ‘logical’ approach. As puzzle complexity slowly increased the experience would naturally create skill appropriate ‘teachable moments’ for teachers to capitalize on.

Results

The results of this process created an experience that contained:

  1. Suitable learning and puzzle complexity curves
  2. An appropriate pattern of tense and release
  3. Appropriately interspersed rewards
  4. An exposure to a wide variety of angle values 
  5. A mechanic where angles were essential (encoded the relationship between spatial and numeric representations of angles)
  6. Relevant and effective motivational elements

This combination resulted in:

  1. An engaging enjoyable experience
  2. Naturally occurring skill appropriate teachable moments
  3. An environment fostering collaborative play

The transformational puzzle complexity in Angle Jungle can be best exemplified by the following diagram (note it dips at times of gameplay element introduction).

Number of Gems against Level

Well what did the games design ultimately translate into? Get a glimpse in the following promotional video (I’m happy to share raw footage on request).

Lessons Learned

So what can we take away from this experience. First some classics:

  • Paper prototypes are your friend!
  • Ask yourself can I play this game without thinking about the core subject matter? Is the subject matter essential to the experience?
  • Consider experience curves from the get go to help structure your experience
  • Study your target demographics source material, and use it as an additional source of inspiration in your design process
  • When introducing new gameplay elements introduce it in a low complexity environment to make learning easier
  • Have most of learning occur early when complexity is low
  • When designing scaffolding tools try to design them in a manner that is of a natural clear benefit to the experience
  • If extending your experience is necessary, do so with natural gameplay elements that can serve transformational goals
  • Guess and check is not the enemy of education. In fact, I believe the availability of simple strategies can create accessibility to larger demographics

Additionally, whilst designing this educational puzzle game one question came to mind.

How can puzzles serve transformational goals?

At present my thoughts are twofold:

  1. Well designed puzzles can create engaging experiences for players which designers can use to piggyback onto to achieve a transformational goal.
  2. Puzzle complexity with brute force motivation can be combined into a transformative tool to create skill appropriate teachable moments at the boundaries of brute force and logical gameplay strategies.

Golden Expectations

As part of the educational game project my team was working on we were required to build a reward system. This system took the form of a trophy room which would display trophies that players had earned. After playtesting though we found we had created an expectation for treasure which we were not fulfilling. The following is a gameplay video where our players would collect treasure chests at the end of each level.

So in order to fulfill this expectation we created additional art assets which we would use to fill up our empty room. We faced a dilemma in this regard. We did not want to force players to see treasure added to the room at the end of every level. This would be far too disruptive to the game experience. So how does one fulfill the expectation of reward without forcibly having the player see the reward appear?

Well one thing helped us in this regard. We already designed fixed reward intervals through the trophy system which forced players to go to the trophy room and observe the new trophy being added to the trophy room.

Fixed Visitation

In our experience we had periods of fixed visitation where the player would be guaranteed to be seeing the Trophy Room. Looking at the experience more methodically we were giving trophy’s at the following intervals (we had thirty levels).

One and thirty were absolutely necessary since they began and ended the experience. The others were decided based on difficulty curve which was designed in previous weeks. Again we asked ourselves the question. How does one fulfill the expectation of reward without forcibly having the player see the reward appear?

Continue reading Golden Expectations

Angle Analysis

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.

Breakdown

The most important part when analyzing our puzzles was first to recognize our puzzle metrics. Initially these metrics were as follows:

  1. Mirror Numbers
  2. Number of slots
  3. Number of gems
  4. Gem Types
  5. Receivers
Game Elements – Draft

First Pass

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.

Level Structure Table

Second Pass

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
Gem Distribution Analysis Result

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.

Third Pass

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.

Third Pass Adjustments

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.

Conclusion

Essentially the process boiled down to a number of steps:

Analyze

  1. Carefully study the components within our structure
  2. Extrapolate areas for further fine grained analysis
  3. Develop a tool for analysis

 Adjust

  1. Apply the tool
  2. Identify and address problem areas
  3. Replay the experience
  4. Repeat adjustment

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!

Educational Interest

As part of my Masters in Entertainment Technology I am working on an educational game project at The Entertainment Technology Center. My team aims to essentially create a living 360 degree angle system for fourth to six graders to interact with whilst solving puzzles. We hope that through our demographics interaction with this system we will:

  • Clarify misconceptions about the system
  • Build a familiarity with the system through puzzles which require students to use estimation

In approaching this problem we have gone through an extensive ideation process, and the result is that we finally nailed down a core mechanic that makes considering angles essential. The following is a prototype of what we came up with:

Currently in our project we are at a point where we have to create the puzzles that will make up the heart of our educational game. To do this properly requires the creation of an interest curve; but not just any interest curve! As well needing to be an entertaining experience we must go one step further, and include the element of educational value.

Design Process

With the objective of gamifying the material that our client uses to teach their students we began designing an interest curve. The first part of this process is to study the material which took the form of common core sheets.

We looked at each of the sheets, and broke down the different tasks involved which were as follows:

  1. Create an angle using a protractor
  2. Obtuse, acute, right, and straight problems
  3. Visual identification of obtuse, acute, right, and straight
  4. Identification of obtuse, acute, right within different shapes
  5. Given a protractor diagram identify the angle
  6. Estimate an angle between two points
  7. Find the missing angle given a total angle
  8. Find supplementary angles
  9. Finding complementary angles
  10. Find missing angles in a cross shaped
  11. Find angles in portions of a circle
  12. Find the angles in a triangle

Next with these tasks we looked at what tasks were best suited to the game we have created which was 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12.

In parallel we created a number of game elements to help us create these problems:

  • Clockwise Gem
  • Anticlockwise Gem
  • Beam Generator
  • Power Gem
  • Receivers & Obstacles
Game Elements

We then identified what is essentially our core gameplay challenges that our player will face:

  • Dragging angle gems into beam generator/receivers
  • Remove angle gems from beam generator/receivers
  • Value deciesions between angle gems
  • Clockwise angle gem addition problems
  • Anticlockwise angle gem addition problems

Given our design and students curriculum, we made some assumptions about these challenges:

  • We consider clockwise movement a more advanced topic
  • Increasing complexity means increasing challenge, which can be achieved with more mirrors, angle gem slots, and receivers with obstacles

Now with these elements we imagined an interest curve.

Continue reading Educational Interest