Challenges, IHS & ‘Lite’ Games (Web/Flash) // February 2010 – December 2010

Can you have an ‘annus horribilis’ in games development? Not sure – but if you can, then 2010 was definitely mine… and worst of all, it was largely self-inflicted.

As I neared the end of my first year at Mangahigh, I started thinking about how we could make the games more useful to teachers. In particular, I wondered how we could align the games more closely with Prodigi, Mangahigh’s quiz engine that allowed teachers to set homework tests targeted at very specific parts of the maths curriculum.

After some thought, I proposed the Challenges system. This let teachers set games as homework, the trick being that students could only play the parts of the game relevant to what the teacher wanted to test. For example, Pyramid Panic covers circles, triangles, quadrilaterals, Pythagoras’ Theorem and trig; if the teacher was teaching quadrilaterals then they could set a Challenge that featured only quadrilateral-related problems.

In addition, the teacher could define whether students needed to pass the Challenge to Bronze, Silver or Gold grade, plus receive copious data about the students’ performance that allowed them to target their teaching by seeing who was doing well, who was struggling, who was lazy, and more besides.

At the same time, I proposed the innovative idea of the interactive help system (IHS), which detected whether students were struggling and offered targeted help specific to the area of maths they were having problems with. It also included interactive gameplay tutorials, to get players up and running quickly.

On top of all this there were many more revisions I wanted to make to the games, such as optimising their performance for low-powered netbooks, plus management were keen to push into the younger Junior School market by creating ‘Lite’ versions of our games with less-complex content.

The upshot of all this was that nearly all of 2010 was spent working with Jan Rigerl on a new version of the wrapper that enabled Challenges and IHS functionality, re-opening all the games we’d previously completed to implement the new wrapper, creating Lite versions of the games, and making loads of other fixes and changes.

It was a massive, massive, massive project and completely draining, but ultimately it was worth it – it made the games much more useful to both teachers and students, plus the Lite games extended our potential audience reach hugely.

Never again, though!

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Most games have interactive tutorials to get players up and running.