Introduction: Angle Jungle was built by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center in 15 weeks for our client 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.
Platform: iOS | Time: 15 weeks | Role: Game 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
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
Can puzzle complexity serve a transformational goal?
In this article I will consider this question, by first describing the design process used to create puzzle complexity which serves a transformational goal. Next I will contemplate the results of that puzzle complexity which is contained in the game my team created.
Angle Jungle is an educational puzzle game for fourth to sixth graders studying geometry. Initially our requirements were up in the air, though we eventually settled on the following rather vague objectives:
From our paper prototypes, we choose to refine two based on feedback.
We parallel we began the process of creating digital prototypes based off these paper prototypes.
Our breakthrough moment came when Jesse Schell, our Professor, posed to us that though these games used angles, both could be played without thinking about angles. We therefore needed to make angles essential to the experience. This priceless notion lead us to create Angle Jungle’s progenitor, which we called Treasure Hunter.
Treasure Hunter we believed embodied a system where angles were essential. At its heart a mechanic that encoded the relationship between the numeric, and spatial representation of angles.
We then began refining Treasure Hunter.
After positive feedback from playtesting we next created a digital prototype.
This digital prototype went through multiple iterations.
At this point in the development process we had the beginnings of a game. The game cried out for something more though. It cried out for a greater experience.
How does one go about creating an experience? There are infinite ways, but we began with considering the difficulty curve within our experience.
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.
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 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.
Whilst conceptualizing our gameplay elements we also considered the possibility that the puzzle may not be intrinsically motivating enough for players. We therefore created two additional supporting motivational factors.
A gender neutral character than needed assistance (inspired by Jesse Schell’s lens of help). Given the use of characters in educational experiences is fairly common, and that there exists research on the potential beneficial effects for players. We hoped this would augment learning within our experience.
In addition we created The Cabin. The Cabin would contain our players reward 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.
We also recognized the need to space out our rewards for better impact. We therefore arranged rewards into evenly spaced intervals.
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, periods of rest at The Cabin.
The experience needed more though. It was a skeleton crying out for substance in the form of puzzles. It cried out for depth, and complexity.
With a high level view, and the fundamental elements of the experience in mind we went about crafting puzzles, inspired by our source material and gameplay elements.
This process resulted in a jumbled pile of puzzles which though was a good first step, did not fit the experience structure we wanted. We therefore turned to a mighty tool.
The spreadsheet consisted of columns of each gameplay element which we incrementally increased to increase 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:
Include drops in puzzle complexity when introducing new gameplay elements to allow for more effective tutorials
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:
Certain puzzles contributed to a 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)
Several puzzles had one gem solutions (solutions which required only one angle gem on more complex levels meant less interaction with different angle values within a puzzle)
Both these issues were detrimental to our goal of building familiarity with the angle system, therefore further puzzle analysis was required. Our analysis was twofold:
Angle Distribution Analysis – A spreadsheet of counts of each angle value used throughout the experience
Angle Solution Analysis – A comparison of solution angles against angle values used
These methods revealed a number of such ‘issue’ levels.
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.
So what objective was our experience serving? Though we began with a vague set of requirements. At the end of the project we ended up with a concrete primary transformational objective, and several secondary transformational objectives.
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.
Sharon Carver – ‘The actual angle choices at the various levels and the angle meter seemed to work well and COULD promote learning of the concepts and spatial relations of angles, as long as students don’t game the system’
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.
Protractor Tool Usage
To solve a puzzle a player had to work out the angle that was required to be made to hit an objective. This provided a natural opportunity to introduce a scaffolding tool, the protractor, a measurement device that’s original purpose was designed to aid in angle measurement.
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’
Introduce both anticlockwise and clockwise rotation, and angle addition and subtraction.
Angles Above 180
Expose students to angles greater than 180 degrees.
Whilst exposing students to our core mechanic (an encoding between the numeric and spatial representation of angles) through out the experience, initial levels would allow brute force approaches to be rewarded in order to draw in the player with easy rewards.
Considering the support of such ‘brute force’ (choices made without solid reasoning) approaches, the following criticism was raised:
What if players are not doing the thinking you want?
In defense of brute force we responded with a number of counter points.
Absolute mindless play is rare, so given the numeric angle values are essential, even with a brute force approach players are likely to at least reason about this aspect of the game
Supporting brute force approaches makes the experience more accessible (we had first graders reach level 22 with help!)
Brute force approaches are only reasonably satisfying in low complexity puzzles (playtesters who solely practiced this method eventually called the game stupid 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. As puzzle complexity increased we intended that the balance naturally shift to incentivize a ‘logical’ approach (choices made based on solid reasoning) given it is more efficient than a brute force approach.
In addition, we believed the benefit of a slow increase of complexity would naturally create skill appropriate ‘teachable moments’, which could be capitalized on by teachers, as students reached the boundary between brute force and logical. A complexity design of this type I called transformational complexity given the experience it created during gameplay.
The results of this process we believed created an experience that contained:
Suitable learning and puzzle complexity curves
An appropriate pattern of tense and release
Rewards interspersed appropriately
An exposure to a wide variety of angle values
A mechanic where angles were essential (encoded the relationship between spatial and numeric representations of angles)
Relevant and hopefully effective motivational elements
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.
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?
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!
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.
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:
Create an angle using a protractor
Obtuse, acute, right, and straight problems
Visual identification of obtuse, acute, right, and straight
Identification of obtuse, acute, right within different shapes
Given a protractor diagram identify the angle
Estimate an angle between two points
Find the missing angle given a total angle
Find supplementary angles
Finding complementary angles
Find missing angles in a cross shaped
Find angles in portions of a circle
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:
Receivers & Obstacles
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.
Kicking this week off we completed a paper prototype of idea 2 from week 2.
The paper prototype had the player make a sequence of angles including obtuse, acute, right angled, and straight angles to defeat a single enemy who approached them in a turn based manner. The decision for turn based gameplay over real time gameplay was made because we wanted to encourage strategic thinking. We named this prototype Angle Ninja.
We met Jesse on Tuesday who looked at each of ideas and gave us some advice.
During our meeting Jesse suggested the use of various lenses.
Jesse also commented that ‘spatialization’ was a good avenue to investigate for teaching angles. So considering his advice we adapted Angle Ninja. Instead of making gestures to create obtuse, acute, right angled, and straight angles to defeat a single enemy we would instead have multiple enemies which we would attack from a fixed position on the iPad.
The shift in design was due to wanting to focus on the fundamental lesson of teaching familiarity with angles rather than the more advanced one of the special properties of angles.
At the start of the week we presented the ideas we had in mind from week 1 to our supervisors. Our supervisors gave us feedback and we filtered down the initial ideas based on complexity and technical issues.
On Wednesday, we met Jesse and presented our initial ideas to him. Jesse gave us advice about our project suggesting we look into a number of educational games such as Battleship Numberline, and create lots of prototypes.
On Friday, the team visited the clients. We met Audrey from Intermediate Unit 1 and the students & teacher from Colonial School. We used the visit as an opportunity to collect information about our client and our players:
We presented a number of pictures to the students to gauge their art interest.
Based on what we learned from the visit, we had a better understanding about our audience. We then came up with many new ideas based on angles which was confirmed to be the main subject.
Our lead programmer Carl then built a prototype on the iPad based on one of our ideas. The prototype detected the drawing of acute and obtuse angles to explore teaching the special properties of angles (obtuse, acute, straight, right angle).