Adding the juice 2

glass of orange juice

Here at 7 Generation Games, our jobs can change from week to week. As a small company, our work is decided not by title but by what most needs to be done.

For the last few weeks, Dennis has been working on the 3-D game, making an application that does not run in a web browser. This makes the game much easier to install and less likely to crash. While his job has been reliability, mine has varied from increasing quantity to increasing quality.

In Spirit Lake: The Game, I added 15 new pages to teach problem-solving. These are interspersed between levels, and each level is a slightly more difficult problem.  I also added a couple of videos, also on problem-solving. I added a couple of quizzes to practice math problems and a virtual puppy students win as a prize for getting their answers correct.

dog thinking of a bone

Ah, the puppy. This is part of adding “juice” to the game. A juicy game feels more alive. It reacts to stuff you do.

So, in the practice quizzes and pages on problem-solving, I added things that shake, shrink, disappear, fade in and out. I added sounds and animation – anything that might make the game more fun for kids, and more educational at the same time.

Take this example:

If Tasina and Hoksinato each caught two fish, how many total fish did they catch? This problem has a picture of the absolutely ugliest dead fish I could find, and if you click on the fish, it shakes. When the page loads, a sound file plays that is the word for fish in Dakota. If you hover over the word fish you see the text displayed “fish- hogan”, which is the word for fish in Dakota.

That is just one problem. I tried to do something similar for every problem, so it is a little more interesting than a regular math problem. If you get all of the problems correct, you win a puppy, who you can name, and feed a bone before you go back to the next activity in the game.

At the beginning of Fish Lake, there is a fairly long path the player must run down to get from the camp to the lake where they are going to club fish. (That is how some tribes caught fish – built a dam from rocks and clubbed them. )

I added this video clip that plays about 10 seconds down the path, then there will be trees and rocks strewn across it so that players need to learn to control their character well, jumping over obstacles and moving carefully enough to not step on a snake and die.

Dennis is going to need to add the rocks and trees on the path but since we already have those assets in the 3-D game, it is not a major effort.  This is just one of a hundred changes I’ve been adding the past few weeks.

Notice, too, that the text on the screen is read out loud. I’ve also been adding lots and lots of “read it to me” buttons or autoplay where a page is read to the students automatically when the page loads.

We know that there is a mountain of research showing that children benefit by having adults read to them, so we are adding that experience to the game. We also have most of the pages read by one of five different people* – three female and two male, ranging from 30 to mid-sixties, and from California, Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain. Whatever resonates with a particular child – whether it is someone who sounds like their own mother, grandmother or grandfather or a professional voice actor from television commercials – we’ve got it.

We understand that an educational game has to be both enough of a game that children want to play it and enough education that it is justified taking up classroom time.  So my job has been alternating between adding the education and adding the fun. Nice work, if you can get it.

* The voices of children in the game are done by actual children, including the crying. (If you are throwing a temper tantrum around one of us, you may end up providing sound effects.)

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2 thoughts on “Adding the juice

  • Lisa (Flores ) Lockwood (Justin's mom)

    Hey, Dr. AnnMaria, is there a plan to add narrative/reading aloud in a language other than English? (ie a Native American language? or Spanish?) That way some of the children’s learning/exposure to their cultural heritage could also be enhanced, for those who may not hear other than English at home. Just a thought – kinda like killing two snakes with one stone;-)

  • AnnMaria De Mars Post author

    Yes, there is a plan for that and I already have lots of Dakota and Ojibwe words and phrases recorded, with speakers from the Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations. They are on my list of improvements to add to the game. Also, we’d like to have not just words but more sentences, so the students learn to use the language. That, too, is on our list of improvements.