Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to make Checkers boring

Yesterday on Pinterest I came across a blog post about how to use traditional board games in "untraditional ways" to "make learning fun." I am all for educational games, but the ideas in the post made me cringe.

The first idea was to write subtraction problems on a checkers board, and then have students say the answer to the problem to move to that square. This sounds like a glorified worksheet to me! Checkers teaches good skills already, like strategy and sportsmanship. The other repurposes were similar--have students say the answer to a math fact before going to a dot in Twister or putting down a piece in Connect Four. I saw another, similar post on a different blog that had kids reading sight words in order to play Break the Ice. This kind of modification makes games less fun, because it introduces tasks that are irrelevant to game mechanics. How about using games that involve math facts or words directly, instead of inserting them into otherwise perfectly good games? We go to educational games to get away from the worksheets and flashcards. When a game uses math or reading relevantly, it helps motivate children to learn those skills (I anticipate that this academic article discusses that, but I can't access the PDF. This one looks really good too. U_U). It's not going to hurt a child to drill them on math facts as part of a game, but I think it isn't as enjoyable as it could be.

I had some ideas of games that would use educational material more relevantly:

Math fact games

  • Subtraction War: Like regular War (the card game), except each turn players turn over two cards each. They must subtract the lesser from the greater card (or the second from the first if you're using negative numbers too), and whoever has the greatest difference gets all the cards. Maybe that's too difficult? You can take out the face cards or just assign them all a value, like 10.
  • Prime Climb / Primo: This is an upcoming board game that is kind of like Sorry in that you can oust your opponents' pieces from the board, but instead of rolling two D6s, you roll two D10s. Also, the board is numbered from 1-100. You add, subtract (and multiply/divide if you like) the numbers you rolled from the numbers your pawns are on to move them. This one might be too difficult for lower graders... but maybe not?
  • Dice games like Farkle can be modified to practice addition and subtraction. Here's a great PDF with different card and dice games to practice math facts. 
Language and reading games
  • For sight words, a game like Spot It! only with words seems like it would be pretty fun and effective. They sell a basic English version. Admittedly, this one isn't something you could replicate exactly at home--the algorithm for making a set of cards with multiple images and having one thing always matching between two is actually rather complex. 
  • A matching/memory game using sight words. I wonder if some kind of speed matching would work too, or if that would just stress kids out. 
  • A maze game with images/objects in the floor and written instructions which refer to those objects. 
  • More games for language development on Sublime Speech
It seems like almost any game is going to be getting kids to think about things in a different way (unless it's too easy), but some games address school curriculum needs better than others. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ace Attorney's resourcefulness as an advantage

The Ace Attorney series of games lets you play as a lawyer/detective to investigate and solve mysteries, usually murders. The series is well known for its over-the-top characters and ridiculous dramatic twists.

I recently finished playing the first three Ace Attorney games, and I was impressed with how much they did with what seemed like not very many art assets. The first Ace Attorney episode has 11 characters, only 3 of which are exclusive to that episode. Pheonix Wright himself has about 10 different poses (with variants in how his mouth moves and whether or not he's moving). Most characters you talk to/cross-examine have around 6 different poses. I guess looking at it now, that does seem like a lot of art, especially if one person had to make it all, but it's not an impossible amount. But for a whole team of artists, that's totally doable! The different poses really show the character's personality too. The bizarre personalities and artwork are half the fun!

I found it interesting how the different poses could be combined to create different impressions. While a character might only have 6 poses, different combinations (surprised/worried, confident/thinking) make it feel not as limited. And usually, the character has one or two poses they only use rarely, which also helps give an impression that they have a wide variety (i.e., you don't see a character's whole spectrum of poses in just one conversation). The pose animations are usually super simple too, like one arm moving back and forth. The paucity of poses actually make the characters stronger because they have a few readily recognizable poses, which are carefully tailored to reflect their personality. This contrasts a lot of 3D art where half the characters have the same body and gait. With 2D art it is easier to make a variety of body types, tics, postures, and mannerisms.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Grace's Diary as educational media

I recently played the very short visual novel game Grace's Diary (play it here, more info here). It looks and feels a bit like Hotel Dusk, except it was made for a contest to educate players about teen violence without using violence in the game. You're a teenager concerned about your friend, and you look around your room to remember things about your friend that will convince her that she's actually in an abusive relationship. For some reason when main character is remembering these things that made her uncomfortable it feels natural and not like "here are the signs of an abusive boyfriend!" It's also somewhat difficult to get your friend to leave her abuser.

Seeing how natural it felt to have relationship education in a visual novel made me wonder what other types of knowledge visual novels might be well-suited to teach. With their emphasis on dialog (and choices), I think it would be fairly easy to make educational games about other types of relationships--like how to interact with screaming children, how to assert yourself in a conflict, and how to make a polite request. Of course, writing that type of game assumes you know what the best thing to say is, which can vary a lot depending on the situation.

N.B. It looks like the same developer, Hima, made another really similar game another year for the contest called Janie's Sketchbook. This time the protagonist had some bad relationship habits!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Twine Prayer

About a year ago I wrote a choose-your-own topic prayer in Twine. I think I entered it into a writing competition, so I didn't want to share it at the time, but the competition is long over and I'm happy to share it now. It's a Christian prayer, and maybe its contents reveal more about me than they will about how to talk to God, but I found it an interesting exercise.

Your own kind of prayer. Kind of. (A Twine game)

Much thanks to Dan Cox's tutorial for hosting a Twine game on Google Drive.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Indier than Thou (Visual Novel Review)

It's pretty cool to be an indie game developer these days. But while some have seen great commercial success, there are plenty of great indie games that people haven't played simply because they don't know about them. Some may also think that if a game is free, it must not be any good.

This is even more true for visual novels. Visual novels still seem to be in a somewhat awkward niche between “real computer games” and choose-your-own-adventure novels.  That is unfortunate, because these are some of the best interactive fiction I’ve read lately, with powerful twists and realistic characters and a lot of emotional impact.  Since they are available for free for Windows, Mac, and Linux, you really have no excuse not to at least give them a try!



Time-travelling, mad science, and killer robots are great and all, but they are not enough to make a good story.  But SOON is not just a romp through time and space - it also has funny, realistic characters we care about, who make tough choices and change over time. Your sympathies and goals will change as you change time in this choose-your-own-adventure visual novel reminiscent of Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile.

The Dreaming


Don’t be deceived by the simplistic anime art style - this is psychological horror of the best kind. While movies can sometimes make you feel some of the things the main character feels, games and visual novels are a much better medium for really experiencing complex emotional questions such as “Is this real?”, "How can I help someone who seems delusional?" and “Would I know it if I was insane?”.

Romance is Dead


This quirky supernatural romantic tragicomedy’s greatest strength is its characters. The main character’s witty dialogue and intelligence are a refreshing contrast to the angsty indecisiveness so often found in the romance genre. It’s definitely worth replaying several times to uncover each character’s secrets, past, and true motivations. The jazzy music lends a distinctively New Orleans flavor to the game as well.



In Adrift, you are the human in charge of an underwater city, but your body is locked away in a stasis chamber. You must get both robots and humans to be your eyes, ears, and hands in this game that will test your perception, management skills, and creativity.

Friday, March 14, 2014

New Adventure Games

Here's some new adventure games recommendations from my sister:

New Adventure Games

Adventure games, where you make choices or solve puzzles to make your way through a story, used to be one of the main genres of video games.  Though now most adventure games usually have other elements (either RPG/adventure or action/adventure), here's some classic-feeling games for those that still love adventure games.

Gemini Rue


If cyberpunk/mind-bending/noir would be one of your favorite Netflix genres, you definitely need to give Gemini Rue a try.  Its retro graphics feel a little austere at first, but the twisting story and evocative soundscape more than make up for the simple graphics.  Some of the puzzles are a little tricky, but that just adds to the old-school appeal.  ($5-10, PC, iOS, Android)

Detective Grimoire


This detective-adventure game incorporates deduction as part of the puzzles you solve in order to find a murderer at a remote swamp tourist attraction.  With dry humor, whimsical graphics, and plenty of interesting evidence to sift through, this is an entertaining mystery adventure.  The only downside?  At around 4 hours of gameplay, it’s a little short, but it’s also inexpensive.  ($4-7, PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android)

Zombies and Elephants


Expressive, suspenseful prose and haunting symbolism set this twine-based text adventure apart from the rest. Warning: Contains zombies and elephants. (Free, all platforms)

The Matter of the Great Red Dragondragon-screenshot.png

This post-post-post-modern Twine text adventure tale both examines and revels in the save-the-world fantasy tale. (Free, all platforms)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Do your moral values and videogame preferences correlate? Help us find out!

You might have seen this survey about how your political compass results and favorite game genre might be correlated. I found it really interesting, but some of my friends pointed out that the political compass has a lot of weirdly-worded and loaded questions. I was also wondering how they measured a person's favorite videogame genre. A friend of mine suggested that if I wanted to, I could do a similar survey using the Moral Foundations Questionaire. Seeing as how half the work of making a similar survey was already done, I found a videogame preferences survey in a master's thesis about personality and videogame preferences, mashed the two together in a Google form, and started trying to get participants.

BOTTOM LINE: I'd love for you to take this survey on morals and videogame preferences. We have 69 responses so far and I'd love you to make that 70, 75, or even 100. Stay tuned for analysis!