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.