About shawnrad


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.

Quest giver in World of Warcraft

Navi from Legend of Zelda
Pokedex from Pokemon

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.

Helpful owl companion

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://gamestudies.org/0801/articles/karlsen
  2. http://www.zeldauniverse.net/zelda-news/navi-pesters-comic-con-crowd/
  3. http://es.pokemon.wikia.com/wiki/Pok%C3%A9dex
  4. http://www.jrj-socrates.com/Cartoon%20Pages/winnie_the_pooh.htm

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.

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/

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.

Image references:

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