Sabetrug used to be a bustling metropolis, at least as far as cities on Ysola go, but that was in a different age. Now most of it lies in ruins and it rarely sees any visitors. Except for the occasional intrepid explorer of course, and those are becoming more common since the Curiosi started organizing themselves. If you venture to the ancient ruins, you will find a variety of shapes as the ancients themselves had rather geometric sensibilities. Enough of the ruins are intact that you can measure them and even gather information from locals about what purpose the buildings used to serve. Step into the past and discover the rich history of the old Ysolian capital!
The island of Ysola has areas that spread across a variety of biomes and terrains. If you walk around the whole island you'll experience forest, grassland, swamp, volcanic desert, and even city environments. They each have their own charms, and possibly horrors as well, but we'll leave that up to you to discover. The educational benefit of having these varied environments is that not only will students come across different plants, animals, structures, and characters in each area, but they will be able to compare and contrast what they find. They can collect data about creatures and analyze it according to its source, and they can hypothesize about what may have caused differences in conditions and traits from biome to biome. The quest lines in the game facilitate this type of inquiry, but we hope that teachers and students will embark on their own independent investigations as well and get to know Ysola on an even deeper level.
The Cartogram is one of the many tool stations that Radix players encounter as they go on adventures in the game. It can be used to draw scale maps and plans, something which the in-game character Marabola asks you to do quite a bit of. When you visit the Sabetrug Ruins, you can measure the lengths of the ruined buildings in the world and the remnants of the maps provided, and figure out what the scale should be. In addition to helping Marabola, the cartogram tool can also act as an open-ended sandbox area. Players can create shapes using the rectangle tool or a point-by-point drawing tool to depict any shape they would like. They can then save those maps in their inventory and even share them with other players.
To help rebuild the old city and draw scale maps of the infamous Cricket District and Falcon District, watch the cartogram walkthrough video and embark on the Rubble Rouser quest line!
One thing that players can do in the Radix Endeavor game is experiment with breeding a variety of plants and animals. There are quests that require players to complete breeding tasks and make discoveries about inheritance patterns. However, one of the unique things about this game is that players can also explore independently, collecting cool-looking species and messing around with any of the tools that seem interesting. We've noticed some players setting their own goals and seeing how far they can push the limits of the game world. One example of this is that you can breed any creatures you find in the world, and you can breed as many of them as you want. A giant herd of glumbugs may not be everyone's idea of fun, but it shows how creativity plays a role in the exploration of the game world which is something that, as designers and educators, we love to see!
To try your hand at animal husbandry, watch the trait cross walkthrough video and get in the game! You'll find trait cross stations in Lednem Crossing, Bladed Crossing, and a number of other areas around Ysola.
When you make a game, designing the game mechanics (what the player does and how the game experience feels) is a huge part of the job. Writing the game content (all the stories, characters, and tasks) is another huge job! Writing content for an educational game is even trickier because we have to make the content appropriate to the game, fun and engaging, and also true to the concepts being taught in the game. In Radix, although it is a fictional world, this means everything about the world still has to follow the rules of mathematics and also plausibly fit into realistic biological systems.
One example of content we’ve been writing lately is all the phenotypes of the plants and animals in the world. “Phenotypes” refers to their genetic traits – the way they look or function, which you can see or experience. For instance, within the same species some flowers could be red and others yellow. Or, bugs could have long or short antennae. Real plants and animals have countless traits with very complex varieties, but in the world of Radix we simplified our system to focus on up to 3 traits per species, with up to 5 possible varieties within each trait.
Coming up with the traits and their varieties is both challenging and fun! It involves researching real species to see what is feasible, thinking beyond the most common examples like color and measurements, plus fitting the traits to the species in the world and what can be reasonably drawn or communicated to the player. For example, some myzle flowers have a shock factor while others don’t – shockingness is an interesting trait that leads to lots of fun uses in the world! Ripsnarls can have curly or straight tails, and may be bred for a certain variety depending on what is currently desired as pets. Other traits are not even visible, like an animal’s sense of smell or the stickiness of a plant’s sap.
By providing a rich array of examples, we hope to get the idea across to players about how important biodiversity is, and at the same time let them figure out that there is a genetic system that can be discovered and understood. Most importantly, since Radix is set in a contextual world, players don’t just collect and breed animals because they are following instructions. Rather they are motivated to do so in order to use those special phenotypes to solve problems and improve their character and the world!
Among all the types of feedback being developed for Radix, communication with the player was one of the first considerations. Many open-world games bring a variety of strategies to the table.
Some games use the non-playable characters (NPCs) in the game to communicate all or most of the feedback. Sometimes these characters are simply civilians scattered throughout the digital world, who offer advice or quests when the player approaches them. World of Warcraft and the Elder Scrolls series employ this strategy. Other games, like the Final Fantasy series, will have characters accompany the player as part of their “party.” Sometimes a player gets a fantastical companion, such as Link’s fairy companions in the Legend of Zelda series. Other times, the player carries a gadget or other item to aid them, like the Pokedex in Pokemon. Some games include a central hub that radios the main character, like Alfred from the Batcave. Some games resort to simple pop-ups, like the God of War series, while others offer no hints at all.
Out of all these choices and more, The Radix Endeavor is interested in giving players a companion to accompany them on their journey. Even this decision has raised more interesting choices. Is the companion a sagacious guide? A goofy comic-relief? A loveable animal?
As of this writing, the team has opted to pair the player with a wise owl. The owl is an island native, so it is knowledgeable of the island, its inhabitants, and its mysteries. The owl accompanies the player and knows how the player is acting and progressing.
When a player is stuck, the owl may swoop in with helpful hints or insights to get the player thinking again. The owl could also recommend resources for the player to learn more. The owl then flies away until needed again. The player can even manually call for his owl for help, but the owl may not help the player every time he is beckoned. The owl offers personalized advice for each player depending on the player’s needs and actions. We’re looking forward to how players will utilize and perhaps bond with their new feathered friends in the world of Radix.
In my last post, I stressed the importance of feedback in digital games, as well as the variety of feedback that exists. In an educational game like Radix, there are three primary concerns: game feedback, educational feedback, and the audience.
Game feedback is information provided to a student so he can progress through the game. This feedback can be quest specific, such as when a player succeeds or fails at a task. This feedback can be more general, such as the location or wealth of the player. The designers of Radix are deciding the best methods to provide this information to users, including heads-up displays (HUDs), pop-ups, and in-game menus.
The educational progress of a student is provided through educational feedback. This feedback could be explicit, such as displaying comparisons between in-game quests and real-world problems, or implicit, such as progress bars or “character trees” that symbolize a player’s educational progress. The presentation of this feedback has the opportunity to stir feelings of pride, reflection, and curiosity among players.
Finally, the most important consideration is the audience receiving the feedback. First, one considers the players in Radix and how they are receiving game and educational feedback. Second, educators teaching with Radix also need feedback on the progress of a player in-game and in their curriculum. Third, parents may appreciate simple screens or read-outs that summarize their children’s progress. Fourth, a number of researchers here at The Education Arcade study the effects of games in education, and are actively invested in how players are succeeding or failing in Radix.
The ability to provide each kind of feedback to different audiences requires considering how the data is summarized, displayed, and navigated. What is important to some audiences may be negligible to others. Players care deeply about immediate feedback on their actions. Teachers care about a quick summary of their students’ educational progress. Researchers appreciate the ability to look at broad trends as well as unique anomalies. User interface designers have a lot of fascinating decisions to make to turn Radix into an informative experience for all audiences.
Hello everyone! My name is Shawn Conrad, and I am a student here at MIT pursuing my Master’s degree while working on The Radix Endeavor. My focus is in user interface design, and I will be publishing a series of posts about the thought process behind the feedback systems being developed for Radix.
Any game can be broken into four main parts: goals, rules, player participation, and feedback. These pieces form a dialog loop between the player and the game. The game provides the goals and the rules, the player interacts with the game, and the game gives feedback to the player. The goals and rules of a game are considered “game mechanics,” and the game designers are working hard to provide mechanics that are challenging, stimulating, and of course a lot of fun.
As an example, the game Asteroids has two goals (destroy all asteroids and stay alive) and a few game mechanics (rotate, move forward, and shoot).
Equally important, however, is the development of feedback in a game. While there is a vast number of choices for the goals and rules of a game, there is also a vast number of choices in how to present these facts to the player. The manner of telling a player when he stalls, succeeds, or fails can be frustrating or enlivening given its speed, delivery, frequency, tone, and a variety of other factors. For example, Asteroids has a simple counter for lives and score. The game mechanics and feedback of a game also decide the speed of rotation, size of asteroids, and frequency of bullets.
As a comparison, Asteroids 2012 is a remake of the classic game that keeps the goals of survival and mechanics of moving and shooting. However, this new game uses different controls, an over-the-shoulder view, and updated graphics.
Developers at The Education Arcade are working hard to give players feedback that is “just right” to provide smooth gameplay and subtle direction to encourage exploration in the world of Radix.
All of this work is done to make sure that the final, and most essential, part of the game continues: the player participation. With interesting game mechanics, players will push themselves to reach their goals. And with thoughtful, responsive feedback, players will be empowered while reaching for them.
The Radix island world is full of plants and animals living everywhere from cities to swamps. While the setting is “earth-like”, it is not actually earth. This means that our artists and designers have lots of freedom in what they create. However, we have to think carefully about the properties of everything that we create. To begin with – can these plants and animals really exist? We don’t want to make animals that seem anatomically impossible – a grasshopper the size of the empire state building would collapse under it’s own weight! We also want teachers to be able to relate the game world to the real world so we try to not stray too far from what we know. This often leads of a bit of fun – we spent an afternoon looking up all kinds of plants that could glow in the dark. Bioluminescence is amazing.
Since our plants and animals are being used for biology quests we have to think about them in even more detail. Anything used in the genetics quest line needs to have well defined traits. As we think about those traits we have to decide which ones are dominant/recessive combinations? Which ones are sex-linked? One of our favorite creations is a striped trait for slugs. Some have horizontal stripes, some have vertical stripes – we decided those traits would express a co-dominant inheritance pattern and that meant we could breed plaid slugs! As we develop ecosystems, we determine predator-prey relationships and fit all the plants and animals into food webs. In most cases, we don’t reveal these relationships to the players. Instead, through the quests, they discover them. We set evolutionary relationships in the world allowing students to track changes in traits over time, try to determine common ancestors and make predictions about how organisms in the world might change.
We want the world to feel new and exciting, but we need it to be accurate. Sometimes it feels like a very fine line between fantasy and biology. Occasionally though, just when we thought we’ve gone too far into the fantasy world, an internet search shows us that nature can be just as odd as our imaginations.
As we talked about previously, open-ended quests are an important type of guided activity in The Radix Endeavor. However, we hope to take it even further by providing real “sandbox” environments in the game as well. These are free-play areas designed to have no goals, where players can use the available tools to do essentially whatever they want. We think it’s important to give players time to just explore certain concepts, because by messing around they will figure out what they find interesting and make their own discoveries.
These sandboxes could take the shape of an arena where players can work together to build 3D shapes, putting them together to design cities, sculptures, or anything they can imagine out of shapes. Another type of sandbox might be a breeding ground where players can experiment with breeding animals with different combinations of traits, until they discover some rare recessive trait or produce offspring with whatever trait they feel like collecting.
Unlike other quests, the things players do or create with sandbox tools can’t be assessed by the game. Instead, we want to encourage players to share their discoveries with other players, either their classmates or friends, or even any other players in the world who happen to be walking by. Seeing what others have done will hopefully inspire players to build on those ideas and explore further, ultimately gaining a deeper understanding of the content and a genuine interest in the field.