Monday, June 3, 2013

Space Patrol! My gaming experiment in numbers

The experiments in educational gaming never end here at Brains for Games, and I'm now pleased to present a new gaming project that I've been developing over the last month. The game is called Space Patrol! Adventures in Numbers, and it's browser-based side-scrolling space shooter... with a mathematical theme!

I've mentioned before that I've been participating in the One Game a Month challenge, although my participation has been sporadic at best. Well, this month the stars aligned and I got my game-making groove on again. The result is the beta release of my shiny new HTML5/canvas game, which you can now play on my Offbeat Games website.

My goals in making Space Patrol! were two-fold: 1. find a mechanic that's fun, independent of the learning component and 2. make the educational element engaging, but unobtrusive. Happily, I think Space Patrol! does a reasonably good job of meeting both of these goal.

On the first front, I think the game works well as a basic space shooter, totally independent of the mathematical component. The movements of the player's ship feel fluid and not too slippery. The controls are responsive, and the explosions satisfying. In short, I think it's just "juicy" enough to be fun.

As for the educational component, I didn't want the player to feel overwhelmed by the game's math element, and so I made it largely optional for the player to participate in the game as a math exercise. What I hope players discover, however, is that the game is actually more fun when you attempt to get the answers correct. It makes the levels more interesting and more challenging, which in turn makes the successes more satisfying. But I left players with the freedom to revert to blind shooting if things get too tough. In this way, I hoped to keep the level of challenge manageable, but create an environment where players are drawn into the learning, where they participate because they want to participate, not because  participation is being forced on them.

That being said, one of the reasons I was able to keep the game fun was by keeping the math quite simple. Space Patrol! really only focuses on multiplication tables, and it assumes players have been exposed to the basic concepts. But at the same time, having facility and quick recall with multiplication tables is a fundamental skill, and one that's usually rather tedious to practice. As someone who could always use a little more math practice, I certainly found myself getting something out of playing a few rounds, and I did so much more willingly than if you'd handed me a math practice worksheet.

So what's the catch and why is this game only in beta release? The game is playable from start to finish, but there are a few features still in the works. The bosses in the later stages of the game haven't been fleshed out in terms of their movement patterns, and at some point I'd like to create character graphics for all of them. I'd also like to create a few different enemy types (three is definitely not enough!), as well as more robust scoring breakdown, so that players get more helpful feedback about how well they performed with respect to the math in each level. Also, letting players select particular multiples to practice would be a nice feature to put in at some point.

Space Patrol! should be playable in the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments below!

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