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News by all

The Pilot Has Begun!

Exciting news: the Radix pilot has officially started! If you don't already know, one of the reasons we are designing and building this game is not only so that teachers and students can play it, but also to learn more about the ways in which it is and is not effective as a learning tool. To do this we are conducting a research study in which we will collect data about how people use Radix - through classroom observations, surveys, assessments, and game data logging for example.

  • If you're a teacher interested in participating in the pilot study, find out more at radixendeavor.org/teachers.
  • If you want to know about the results of our research, stay tuned this summer!
  • And if you want to know more or help us spread the word about Radix, check out today's press release at education.mit.edu/blogs/carole/2014/02/04.
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Preparing for the Pilot

Good news! We will officially launch our pilot testing period on February 3, 2014. The game is currently undergoing a series of major updates in preparation for this official pilot research period. One of these major updates took place last week, which included significant changes to many quests and game tools. And here's the not-so-good news: these changes were serious enough so that it was necessary to reset all quests progress. So, if you suspect that your game progress has been lost recently, that is unfortunately true.

Please note that we do have another scheduled reset of accounts to accommodate some new features in our registration system. We recommend users to wait until our official research period begins prior to experiencing the game fully. As we conduct server maintenance and adjustments to the game in the next couple of weeks, you may experience some technical issues or periodic decline in performance.

The reset of accounts mentioned above will take place on 1/27/14, when game database will be purged for a fresh start. To play beyond that date, you will need to create a new teacher or player account.

Stay in touch with us as we approach this exciting milestone! To receive our updates on these important announcements, please register for our mailing list.

Onward!

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Radix First Steps

Now that you’ve created an account to the Radix Endeavor website and are wondering what to do next, here are some tips on getting started.

Playing the game You arrive on the island of Ysola, in an area dubbed Bladed Plains. Ysola is an earth-like world populated with people. Approach the child near you. She’ll send you on your way. Use the left-click and hold on your mouse to travel, or you can use WASD keys on your keyboard.

What to expect in game We began with a tutorial quest line to help get you oriented as a player. Following that, there are topic quest lines on genetics and geometry to get started – and we’ve got much more to come. A few notes to help you if you get stuck:

  • Game progress is being saved, so once you have completed a quest with an account you won’t be able to play that quest again. You can, of course, always create a new account.
  • If at any point you are disconnected from the game (whether by interruption of service or if you chose to log out), your in-game location will not be saved. When you re-enter the game, your character will return to Bladed Plains.
  • Information on your quest objectives and quest items are not saved when disconnected. If you are disconnected from the game while you have an open quest in your quest log, please drop this quest and begin again. (Please see note from earlier that *Completed* quest cannot be restarted.)

Using the website If you registered for a Teacher account, you begin with an unapproved Teacher account, which allows you to play the game right away. Once a Teacher account has been approved, you will see additional features under Dashboard. There are many Dashboard features in progress; you’re welcome to check out what we have so far. Dashboard tools include:

  • Create Class
  • Manage Class
  • Create Student

On-going Project We are continuing to polish our quests, in game tools and website features during the Beta period. If you find bugs as you make your way through the game, that is expected! You can send us feedback at:

radixhelp (at) mit.edu

We will monitor that mailing list for feedback, however we won’t be able to reply to each message. If you have questions related to the project and need a reply, contact us here.

Thank you for joining us during the Beta period and thank you for playing!

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Play The Radix Endeavor

The Beta version of The Radix Endeavor is here! Information on our project is still available at this link so you can read all about it: http://education.mit.edu/projects/radix-endeavor

If you are ready to dive in, register to play here.

Things of note:

  • Please create temporary accounts for now. You can even use a fake email address to register. At the end of the Beta period, we will do a full system purge of these accounts and start fresh.
  • If you selected the Teacher account type, please enter “MIT” as your school, and select MIT from the drop-down. The address info will auto-populate.

For Teacher accounts, the system creates an un-approved Teacher account when you first register. Un-approved Teacher accounts will not display the Dashboard feature at the top of the page. These accounts will be reviewed by Admins to be confirmed and approved. Once approved, you will see the Dashboard feature after log in. Please note that it may take up to 48-hrs for an unapproved Teacher account to be reviewed and approved.

This being our Beta release, you will likely encounter error messages. Please bear with us! We thank you for your patience as we work to continue to improve your game/website experience.

Questions? Contact us.

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Fun With Phenotypes

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!

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Teacher Conference

Last month we went to both NSTA (science teachers conference) and NCTM (math teachers conference) to present on Radix. We talked to teachers about why an MMO is a good fit for STEM learning, what the Radix gameplay experience is like, and where we are in our current phase of production. We also told them about the exciting opportunity to pilot the game during the 2013-14 school year, and invited them to sign up here to get more information on the pilot program as it becomes available.

We love going to teacher conferences because we get to share our project with teachers who we hope will play it with their students and make it come alive. But we also love it because we get great feedback on the game and our implementation plans from objective potential users. We live and breathe Radix every day, but they help us see it through the eyes of someone getting their first look at the game and evaluating it as a usable tool, which tells us a lot about what’s necessary to actually adopt it. Teachers at both conferences asked great questions about how students interact in the game, privacy concerns related to in-game chat, how to track student progress, and much more. This gave us a good sense of what the most important elements are for teachers, aside from content and standards, that would enable them to use Radix “in the wild”. And knowing this helps us prioritize features when we work with our developers over the next few months.

One of our favorite comments came when a teacher we met voiced her concern about the game, asking, “What do we tell the English teachers when the students aren’t doing their English homework because they’re busy playing this game all evening?” Well, if this game is that engaging for students, we’ll just have to tell the English teachers they need to find an equally good literacy game! We’re excited for math and biology teachers all over the country to use this new style of learning game and help us research its merits and challenges, and if what we find is that students are spending that much time on it, that’s not a bad problem to have!

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The Radix Team

Eric Klopfer, the PI on the Radix project, recently wrote this article describing how not only his teams but each team member has interdisciplinary expertise. The Radix team is no exception and on a highly collaborative project like this, it’s essential that each team member be able to not only understand the problems others are grappling with but contribute to them as well.

For example, Susannah is our Education Content Manager. She has a PhD in biology, has taught high school math, and has experience writing curriculum materials. As the Lead Designer, I (Louisa) have a technology background, teaching experience, and knowledge of designing, building, and testing learning games. Jody is our Assessment Specialist. Her doctorate in Education combined with her expertise of innovative assessment strategies and extensive gaming background makes her the perfect person to design Radix’s game-based assessments. In addition, the staff and student developers in our lab are not only talented programmers, they also have an interest and often background in education and specifically educational games.

Having team members with the ability to understand a variety of aspects of the project is very useful. It enables smoother communication and we are better able to develop and refine ideas for the game. In addition, with a small team it means there are more people to help out on a given part of the project when necessary. Having people with a variety of skills but who all have a passion for learning games also means our teams are in tune and enjoy working together!

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A Helpful Companion

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.



Navi from Legend of Zelda



Pokedex from Pokemon

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.

Image references:

  1. http://www.zeldauniverse.net/zelda-news/navi-pesters-comic-con-crowd/
  2. http://es.pokemon.wikia.com/wiki/Pok%C3%A9dex
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Kinds of Feedback

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.



HUDs displaying game feedback for players in World of Warcraft


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.



Diagrams of the brain from Brain Age provide feedback for young players and their parents

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.

Image references:

  1. http://todowow.com/destacados/interfaces/ui-interfaz-raid-nui/
  2. http://www.joystiq.com/2006/04/19/ds-lite-and-brain-age-not-playing-well-together/
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The Importance of Feedback

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.

Image references:

  1. http://www.steveswink.com/articles/deconstructing-feel-1-of-3/
  2. http://www.playandroid.com/blog/android-game-review-asteroid-2012/
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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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