Tag Archives: Games

Angle Jungle

Introduction: Angle Jungle is an award winning app 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 Gold Award Winner, CHI Play 2017 Jury Award Winner

Publications: Angle Jungle: An Educational Game About Angles

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

Presentation:

Transformational Complexity

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.

Introduction

Whilst working towards my Masters of Entertainment Technology at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center I had the pleasure of working on Angle Jungle.

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:

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

Design

Our ideation process began with brainstorming based on the objectives of our project.

We then went through two iterations of paper prototypes based on our ideas.

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

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

Pirates Life – Digital

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 V1

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.

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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.

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 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. We therefore created two additional supporting motivational factors.

Supporting Actor

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.

Golden Expectations

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.

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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, 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.

Complexity Crafting

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.

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:

  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. 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)
  2. 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:

  1. Angle Distribution Analysis – A spreadsheet of counts of each angle value used throughout the experience
  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

New Objectives

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.

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.

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’

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) 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.

  1. 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
  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 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.

Results

The results of this process we believed created an experience that contained:

  1. Suitable learning and puzzle complexity curves
  2. An appropriate pattern of tense and release
  3. Rewards interspersed appropriately
  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 hopefully effective motivational elements

This combination we believe resulted in:

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

The transformational complexity we created can be visually best exemplified by the following diagram (note it dips at times of gameplay element introduction).

Number of Gems against Level

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

Conclusion

So what conclusions can we take away from this experience. First some classic takeaways:

  • 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 the majority 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

Now finally back to our original question.

How can puzzle complexity serve a transformational goal?

At present my thoughts are twofold:

  1. Well designed puzzle complexity 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

DinoRancher – Build Virtual Worlds, Round 5

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.

Platform: Oculus & PS Move | Time: 2 weeks | Role: Programmer – Designer – Producer | Team Size: 5

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!

Design Challenges:

  • Herd behavior
  • Enemy types
  • Environment design
  • 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.

DinoRancher was featured at The Forbidden Forest in The Entertainment Technology Centers end of semester festival!

Festival Footage

NoseDive – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 4

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.

Design Challenges:

  • 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.

Continue reading NoseDive – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 4

A Playroom – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 2

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.

Development

Interaction Design

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.

a-playroom-interaction-general
Interaction Analysis – Development Diagram

I then met with the team, presented my two plans. We choose plan 2 which I further developed into a more detailed version.

a-playroom-interaction-map-detailed
Interaction Analysis – Component Breakdown

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).

Playtesting

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.

a-playroom-playtesting-form
Sample Play Test Feedback Form

In conclusion we correctly predicted each of the three interactions, and the guest understood our story, all with no guidelines or instruction from us.

Full Story

We began our project with brain storming, and research into the platform on which we were developing. We came up with several ideas including:

  1. Darkness Use light to guide the guest through a street.
  2. Space Exploration Explore the universe, and pick a planet to colonize.
  3. Dreaming – Flying a plane, flying elephants, flowers turn to buildings (freedom from constraints).
  4. 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:

  • Playing catch.
  • Place a train on the train track.
  • Hide & Seek.
  • Give a hug.

We had a prototype ready for interim.

Interim

After interim our two main points of feedback were

  1. Make the boy and game generally less ‘creepy’.
  2. To develop our interactions.

Less ‘Creepy’

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.
  • Soothing music.
  • A warm game atmosphere.
  • A friendly, light and clear character voice.

Interaction Design

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.

Interaction Analysis – Development Diagram

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.

Interaction Analysis – Component Breakdown

Implementation

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.
Meeting the Boy
  • 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.
Train & Puzzle
  • Uniformity – A suggestive picture fragment was placed in the frame, and other similar looking puzzle pieces were placed around the level.
Puzzle Placed

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.

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Jam-O-Draw – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 3

Introduction: Jam-O-Draw is a game we created in the lightning round (single week round) of Building Virtual Worlds.

Platform: Jam-O-Drum | Time: 1 week | Roles: Producer – Game Designer – Programmer

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.

Design Challenges:

  • 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.

Jam-O-Draw was featured at The Forbidden Forest in The Entertainment Technology Centers end of semester festival!

Festival Footage

Seize the Sky – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 1

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!

Platform: Oculus Rift + Leap Motion in Unity 3D | Time: 2 weeks |  RolesProgrammer – Game Designer

Design Goal: Our design goal with Seize The Sky was help character A (the boy) who is afraid of character B (the giant).

Design Challenges:

  • Incorporating a satisfactory use of Leap motion.
  • Achieving our a sense of character A is afraid of character B.
  • Level design.
  • Game-play design.

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.

Development

Iteration 1

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.

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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:

  1. Help mend relationship between characters.
  2. Play piano to make baby sleep.
  3. Use light to guide a character home.
  4. Keep animal safe growing to adulthood.
  5. Hold characters hand to guide them.

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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.

bvw_round_1_initial_three_concepts

With Jesse Schells feedback we went with concept C, because we wanted to explore squeezing in Leap Motion.

bvw_round_1_post_meeting_notes

We then began further conceptualizing the idea with sketches, and research into the capabilities of Leap motion and Oculus.

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With this in mind we began assigning tasks to complete, considering game play, and used a scrum board to assist us in tracking tasks.

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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…

Iteration 2

Continue reading Seize the Sky – Building Virtual Worlds, Round 1