Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kids Educational Game Design

Behind the Scenes and Thoughts on Game Play for Kids Pattern Recognition

Kids Pattern Recognition is a math game for kids where the objective is to find the missing element in a pattern.  There are 120 ABAB and ABCABC patterns.  The difficulty level is about right for most four and five year old children.

I decided on doing a pattern app because I believe that strong math skills later in life come from a really good foundation of practical number sense and logic.  Recognizing, identifying and creating patterns are the basis of practically all learning, not just math. Human brains are always categorizing, and looking for similarities and differences in all we see and do.  Recognizing patterns in unusual places is a large part of what drives innovation and creativity.

A book I read called The Talent Code, talks about how deliberate practice strengthens the connections in the brain.  Mastery of a skill is developed by doing something over and over and over.  In doing so your body creates a substance called myelin that line the pathways for the skill in your brain and makes the skill easier, faster, and remembered. 

Drilling is a common teaching technique to obtain mastery, yet two aspects of repetitive practice are hard to overcome.  The first being attention span, the second being efficiency.  While drilling might be the best way to develop a skill it can become boring.  It is easier to spend a little bit of time to get good enough, then a lot of time to master a skill.   A computer game is ideal for drilling because you can provide the psychological challenge and reward system of a game to avoid boredom, along with a lot of problems in a short amount of time. 

Every good game has a narrative.  The story for Kids Pattern Recognition is that three bad aliens, a leader and two minions, kidnap a bunch of cute alien monsters.  The hero takes his rocket ship into space to rescue the cute aliens and lock up the bad aliens.  He travels to three galaxies that have approximately thirteen planets each.  There are only kidnapped aliens on a few of the planets.  Many educational games use an excessive amount of praise for rewards (ie “good job”, “you are smart”, etc).  While it seems innocuous, many psychologists and educational experts say excessive praise can back fire and make the child feel less interested and less accomplished.  In Kids Pattern Recognition the reward is moving to the next planet and getting closer to rescuing a cute alien.  The kidnapped aliens are placed intermittently to avoid diluting the accomplishment of a rescue.  At the end of each galaxy is where a bad guy is confronted. First you have to capture the minions, and in the final galaxy you get the leader.  The game play changes slightly in these levels to add a twist to the challenge. 

In the regular levels you must solve three patterns without making more than four mistakes.  In the final level of each galaxy you have to solve an unknown number of patterns before the time runs out.  By imposing limits in the game play, the child has to focus on the patterns and not just touch the screen randomly to get the correct answer. 

I am new at game making, and was unsure if the techniques I was using were executed well enough.  My daughter loved the game, but it was hard to tell if she liked it because I made it, or because she is just enthusiastic about everything.  Beta testing also seemed favorable and now that the app is live feedback has been really positive.  Kids in the target age group are engaged in the game and enjoy playing it repeatedly. Hopefully they are gaining good foundational experience in comparing, contrasting, and observing, as well.

What's Next:
There will be two or three more games of increasing difficulty added to this story line.

Purchase Kids Pattern Recognition from the following app markets:

Kids Pattern Recognition - Beginner (Preschool and Kindergarten) - Corvid Apps

Five free copies will be given away for iPhone/iPad in a giveaway contest for App Friday at 7:30am PST

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