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.

HUDs displaying game feedback for players in World of Warcraft

HUDs displaying game feedback for players in World of Warcraft1

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.

Diagrams of the brain from Brain Age provide feedback for young players and their parents2

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.

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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,”

Mechanics of Asteroids1

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.

Asteroids 20122

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.

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Biology Meets Fantasy – Creating the flora and fauna of Radix

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.