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Design News

Open-Ended Quests

In an MMO, a quest is a directed task that a player is asked to complete. The Radix Endeavor will largely be structured by sequences of quests in certain topic areas. We want some of these to be more open-ended quests, which might seem like a paradox but it’s one of the design challenges we’ve been thinking over since the beginning of the project. As we have conceived of them, open-ended quests don’t leave players completely on their own, but they don’t have just one right answer either.

  One example of an open-ended quest is an environment where players are asked to build a box that will fit a certain creature, perhaps with requirements such as extra space to store the creature’s food. There is no one right box that players can build, and different players’ boxes may look quite different.

  Similarly, in the marketplace where players are asked to trade items to get as much gold as possible, they can complete the quest by earning any amount of gold. However, by exploring more vendors and finding a more efficient sequence of trades, they may be able to get even more gold.

Quests like these can still be assessed by the game and its data collection methods because there is a stated goal, but players can feel some autonomy and begin to get creative with the tools available to them. Another key part of open-ended quests comes in the bridge curriculum – if the game is played outside of class, teachers can use class time to have students share their strategies and results from these quests, which will vary widely. The teacher can facilitate discussion around pros and cons of different approaches, and what other situations students might apply these skills to. In this way, we hope that open-ended quests will encourage students to reflect and think more about what choices they are making in the game and why.

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How Long Does A Quest Take?

Yesterday we presented a workshop on The Radix Endeavor at the MassCUE conference. We gave participants an overview of our concept of an educational MMO for STEM learning, and we had them play around with the Radix World Preview as well as an early prototype of the shape building tool. We got a great response from teachers and tech directors who were engaged in the demos and are excited to see how the final game comes out!

We also got a question that really gets at some of the important things we are trying to create in the Radix experience. That question was: How long does a quest take? This is naturally a very important question for teachers who will need to know how to plan their class time or their students’ homework assignments, and once the game is more developed we do hope to have some quantifiable answers to help teachers gauge those things.

However, we also feel that in a way if this question is unanswerable, it’s a sign that we’re going in the right direction. In the real world, some tasks are quick and easy to accomplish, and others are multistep, challenging problems that take many tries to solve. Not all jobs fit into a class period! Especially if you need some down time in between to think things over before you come up with a solution to a hard problem, which is the type of problem-solving experience we want students to have. And perhaps most important is that different students will be most interested in different content areas – Radix should provide a space where they can complete their task and move on, or choose to go deeper and “mess around” with an intriguing concept. Given the opportunity and motivation to experiment, many students will thrive and make discoveries on their own which is one of the most valuable experiences we can hope to create for them!

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Prototype Testing With Students Begins

So what are we working on these days you might ask? There are many pieces that go into developing a game such as Radix but one of our main areas of focus for the 2012-2013 school year is testing prototypes with students. Well before the game is completely developed, we are hard at work testing out everything from narratives to in-game tools. Once we decide on a particular curriculum topic and create a quest, we make a prototype of that quest.These can be either simple computer based tasks or even paper activities that will mimic what students will do in the game. We have a great group of staff and students, both undergraduate and graduate who help us create and test these prototypes. We are currently working with four local teachers, two in math and two in biology who are allowing us to come into their classrooms and get feedback from their students.

These sessions with the students are extremely valuable to us and help inform many aspects of development. We learn about whether the content is at the right level, whether the tools are usable and whether students enjoy the activity overall. Students are generally very happy to tell us exactly what they do and do not like about the tasks and we’ve received some fabulous suggestions regarding art, storyline and how to offer in-game hints to complete quests. Over the next several months we’ll be testing activities for genetics, ecology, geometry, algebra and statistics.Stay tuned for more updates from the classroom!

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A Geometric Lens

One of the topic areas covered in The Radix Endeavor is geometry, and more specifically modeling with geometry. This can mean building things in the world that are made up of geometric shapes, as well as solving volume and surface area problems by approximating the shape of real-world objects with prisms. We’ve already created a bare-bones prototype and had high school students use it this summer.

What we found is that students took the basic prisms the prototype let them create and really ran with them! They created cities and geometric sculptures, and enthusiastically asked each other how to create the cool things they saw on each others’ screens. We loved the potential we saw in this tool and we hope to be able to incorporate this level of creative play in the final version of the game.

While the Radix shape-building toolset will be kept relatively simple, it’s fun to look at other places where spatial thinking and design skills could be applied. The Stata Center building right here at MIT is a real-world example of geometric shapes gone wild. And the delightful images from the Geo A Day blog show that there is no limit to what you can create when you see the world in terms of shapes. This kind of geometric lens on the world is something we strive to provide students who play Radix!

 

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The Marketplace

One of the earliest pieces of concept art we got from Filament was this image of a marketplace. It was an instant favorite with our team because of the way the colors make it feel both dark and mysterious as well as warm and intriguing. As a player exploring this world, we can’t resist peeking in to see who is behind that curtain and what exotic wares they may have to offer.

At the time, we didn’t know exactly how we would use this setting but we knew we wanted to have a marketplace in the game world. Later, as we were working on the algebra curriculum, we decided on a bartering system for the marketplace that would play up the desire to explore the unique goods on offer there, while creating a place where players will need to think about unit conversions, ratios, and systems of equations. Using math skills in a realistic context, players will be able to get the best deals on their much-needed berbuckles, myzle flowers, and exploding fruit.

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The Radix Endeavor is an educational MMO game in development at The MIT Education Arcade, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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