Mangahigh.com // February 2009 – August 2009
In February 2009 I joined Mangahigh.com, a games-based learning website launched by King.com co-founder Toby Rowland that was intended to help kids from 7-16 years old learn and practise maths.
I was one of Mangahigh’s earliest recruits, tasked with creating, designing and producing new maths games. Of course, I can’t claim all the credit – without the invaluable input from some talented mathematicians and educators, most notably the boundlessly energetic Chris Green and the talented Richard Lissaman, the games wouldn’t have been half as good as they eventually turned out to be.
BIDMAS Blaster (or PEMDAS Blaster, as it’s known in the States) was already in development when I joined, with the coding duties being handled by Game Factory. The game was essentially a reskin of the developer’s Typing Of The Dead clone, Zombie Typocalypse, with zombies replaced by robots and typing words replaced by solving sums.
Of course, that makes the development process all sound a lot more trivial and painless that it really was! As we were to find in many subsequent projects, ensuring that the maths content was correctly displayed and processed caused a lot of headaches. We also lacked some key infrastructure elements, such as finalised wrapper code, which slowed development further.
We also narrowly avoided making a major error of judgement: in the original spec, the game was set in a college overrun by rebellious robots. However, during a school visit to test a pre-release version of the game, one of the teachers pointed out the blindingly obvious, i.e. that having a shoot-’em-up set in an educational facility was likely to cause problems… D’oh! Cue one hasty graphical revision!
BIDMAS Blaster launched alongside the website in September 2009 and was instantly one of the site’s most popular games, mainly due to its action theme and accessible gameplay. With the benefit of hindsight it could’ve done with better adaptive difficulty algorithms but, hey, it was early days. Overall, it’s a game I’m very proud of.