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
Introduction: Developed on the Oculus Rift with PS Move, DinoRancher had guests play atop a Triceratops armed with an electric lasso. The goal of the guest was to shepherd a herd of Stegosaurus to safety, protecting them from danger.
Story: You are a DinoRancher armed with your electro lasso and trusty trike. Travel across the desolate wasteland, and protect your herd from those nasty predators!
Integration of the PS move into Virtual Reality
Trike movement system
Design Goal: To create an experience that made the guest feel like a cowboy travelling through the desert protecting a herd of dinosaur from predators.
My Contributions: As producer I arranged meetings, delegated pending tasks, and contributed creatively. In addition as a programmer I was responsible for setting up the games environment which included, asset preparation, level design and developing agent behavior.
Introduction: Developed on the CAVE with Makey Makey, NoseDive had guests play in the CAVE environment using airplane controls we constructed using Makey Makey.
Platform:CAVE, and Makey Makey in Unity 3D | Time: 2 weeks | Roles: Programmer – Game Designer – Producer | Team Size: 5
Story: Our game had our guests take the role of make shift pilots thrust into having to fly a plane to safety through a terrible storm when the captain has become incapacitated.
Adapting to the CAVE environment.
Creating an authentic flight simulator experience with an easily understand story.
Design Goal: To create an authentic story of saving the day through the game we created.
My Contributions: For NoseDive I was producer, designer and programmer. Being producer involved scheduling and coordination of our teams artist, programmer and sound designer. In addition I assisted my fellow programmer with environment and Unity prop setup.
Introduction: A Playroom was a developed on the HTC Vive. A virtual reality device that allows a guest to walk around a calibrated virtual reality space with hand held controls.
Platform:HTC Vive in Unity 3D | Time: 2 weeks | Roles: Designer – Producer | Team Size: 5
Story: The setting of the game is in a play room where the guest encounters a ghost boy who needs help in-order to ‘move on’.
Design Challenge: To design a game for naive guests, conduct play tests, and make three predictions of what the guest will do all whilst having the guest ‘feel free’.
Design Goal: Round 2 of Building Virtual Worlds was indirect control round. This required we build an experience that felt free, and was intuitive enough for a guest to play from start to finish without any instruction or guidelines.
My Contributions: I analyzed, and designed the guests interactions as well as wrote our main non playable characters dialogue. In addition I conducted play tests which gave us invaluable feedback which we used to further develop the experience.
I focused on interaction development by first analyzing what we currently had. From that I wrote a draft story design which was a rough version of what we would aim for. Our current gameplay was clearly a linear story experience, and I believed we could achieve a greater sense of freedom by allowing a player a choice of what game to play.
From this notion I created two different interaction models.
I then met with the team, presented my two plans. We choose plan 2 which I further developed into a more detailed version.
Audio would play a vital aspect in driving this interaction model therefore I worked with our sound designer on a script for the game which we iterated over based on feedback (script documents).
Once the various audio cues, and interaction model was implemented we went about play testing the game. I conducted play tests with over fifteen naive guests which included an audience of fellow students, professors and non-students. This feedback was then used to polish elements of our experience.
In conclusion we correctly predicted each of the three interactions, and the guest understood our story, all with no guidelines or instruction from us.
We began our project with brain storming, and research into the platform on which we were developing. We came up with several ideas including:
Darkness– Use light to guide the guest through a street.
Space Exploration– Explore the universe, and pick a planet to colonize.
Dreaming – Flying a plane, flying elephants, flowers turn to buildings (freedom from constraints).
Empty Room – Furniture place (guide them to a correct place).
Having difficulty grappling with the concept of ‘freedom’ we spoke to a member of The Entertainment Technology Faculty Jesse Schell. After meeting with Jesse Schell we honed in on an idea of a ghost boy which we would help in some manner through objects around him.
Next we thought about location, which was first a storage room due to it making sense to have many object, we then changed to a play room as it offer the potential for a ‘warmer’ environment for guests to feel comfortable.
After creating a basic room with a simple number of interactions which included:
Place a train on the train track.
Hide & Seek.
Give a hug.
We had a prototype ready for interim.
After interim our two main points of feedback were
Make the boy and game generally less ‘creepy’.
To develop our interactions.
Point 1 was a significant design challenge which we tackled by investing time into solving by:
Making our main game character look more human like.
A warm game atmosphere.
A friendly, light and clear character voice.
I decided to tackle point 2 by first analyzing what we currently had, then writing a draft story design which was a rough version of what we would aim for. Our current game play was clearly a linear story experience, and I believed we could greater the sense of freedom by allowing a player a choice of what game to play.
From this notion I created two different interaction models.
After meeting with the team, presenting the two plans and convincing them of the need to carefully design the experience, we choose plan 2 which I then further developed into a more detailed version.
Audio played a vital aspect in our experience so I worked with our sound designer on a script for the game which we iterated over three times based on feedback (script documents). In addition to audio we used a number of other techniques including:
Lighting – To direct the players focus.
Color – Brightly contrasting objects such as with the yellow train on a blue chair, and a red book on a beige floor caught the players attention.
Uniformity – A suggestive picture fragment was placed in the frame, and other similar looking puzzle pieces were placed around the level.
After implementing these features with a new interaction model we went about play testing the game. We conducted play tests with over fifteen naive guests which included an audience of fellow students, professors and non-students.
Based on the feedback we received we continued to polish elements of the game. The end result of our work was that not only did we accurately predict each of the three interactions, but the guest completely understood the story behind our world all with no guidelines or instruction from us.
Story: Jam-O-Draw was inspired by the classic etch-a-sketch game.
Design Goal: We wanted to create a multiplayer artistic experience with a fascinating reveal.
Adapting to an unfamiliar platform.
Creating an aesthetically pleasing experience using visuals and audio
Having the user interface during the experience be responsive and informative.
My contributions: My primary role on this project was as producer which involved making creative contributions, arranging meetings, coordinating our artists, programmers and sound designer to create the game in a timely manner. My programming responsibilities included assisting my fellow programmer with development, and preparing the game environment and assets.
Introduction: Seize the Sky was built during Building Virtual Worlds at Carnegie Mellons Entertainment Technology Center. The world was constructed using Oculus Rift, and Leap Motion. Using these technologies we put our guest into a virtual reality space with an ability to use a natural interface in our world.
Story: A mighty giant heads towards a town with murderous intent. A country side boy notices, and cries to Zeus for help to defeat the giant to save the city. You are Zeus, save them all!
Design Goal: Our design goal with Seize The Sky was help character A (the boy) who is afraid of character B (the giant).
Incorporating a satisfactory use of Leap motion.
Achieving our a sense of character A is afraid of character B.
My Contributions: As the lead programmer on Seize The Sky I made large contributions to the code base for this project. I also took an active part in the design process with working with the team to develop various aspects including game play, and level design.
The development process started with being assigned teams. In our first team meeting we made clear our skills, started brainstorming ideas, and kept good development processes in mind.
During brainstorming we tried using several appropriate methods, such as gesture centered brainstorming (due to our use of Leap Motion). Finally we had five initial ideas:
Help mend relationship between characters.
Play piano to make baby sleep.
Use light to guide a character home.
Keep animal safe growing to adulthood.
Hold characters hand to guide them.
With our initial ideas we further boiled them down to three concepts with the following reasoning:
Concept one was hard to conceptualize compared to our other ideas which seemed simpler and more clear.
Concept five could be incorporated into concept three.
Creating sketches of each concept we then sought out the advice of our professor Jesse Schell.
With Jesse Schells feedback we went with concept C, because we wanted to explore squeezing in Leap Motion.
We then began further conceptualizing the idea with sketches, and research into the capabilities of Leap motion and Oculus.
With this in mind we began assigning tasks to complete, considering game play, and used a scrum board to assist us in tracking tasks.
On the technical side we used a NavMesh, and simple A.I. to run the behavior of the Hunter and Deer. The behaviors of the two agents were essentially:
The deer always moved to nearest tree that has an apple.
The Hunter patrolled around fixed points, and if it came close enough to the deer it began chasing it.
The result of our hard work was the following.
We then received feedback at interim, which sadly wasn’t good…