Transformational games are tricky. With the daunting challenge of creating one next semester as our pitch project, team Wayward was excited to be invited to the Now I Get It! Jam at the Entertainment Technology Center, which started the day after the Transformational Experiences Summit. (As you can imagine, I was excited but still pretty exhausted.) The word “transformational” here indicates that the experience should impact the player in some way, causing a change, or in the jam’s words, “creating insight”.
At the jam, each team was assigned to a challenge, and ours was the one about thermodynamics from our pitch, re-skinned as “Microscopic Particles Create Macroscopic Behaviour“. The real challenge for us this weekend was to work with two subject matter experts, Michael Garing (teacher, Commonwealth Connections Academy) and Eric Keylor (independent, also an ETC alum). It was not like previous jams and game development processes for our team, no crunch all night and churning out features but more design-heavy discussions with our experts on what would be most effective in the classroom.
Eric was an excellent resource, telling us about testing games for effectiveness and how we could go about partnering with classrooms to do so. Michael gave us insight about physics and how he would teach it in the classroom, as well as problem areas for kids and any counterintuitive examples he has used. However, it was difficult to have them around for three days because after the design phase on the first day we went straight into dev time, where Akshay was busy coding and I was making art. In the future, it might be helpful to just have the experts around for the first day but still able to communicate over the phone or through email for the rest of the jam so we don’t have to waste their time being physically present while we are developing the game.
Transformational game jams are quite different from regular game jams, which makes me curious about the best practices and processes for the development of transformational games. It is slightly counterintuitive to have the goal of a game not be the game itself but the transformation the player gets out of the game. Designing for this takes a different approach, and eliciting helpful information from subject matter experts to help inform our design is something we will need to focus on. It is also a tricky balance to stay somewhere between the realms of “game” and “simulation” – we oscillated between these during the process, and Eric helped pull us back when we went too far in one direction or the other. The jam was a great chance to get our feet wet with this process, but we are still figuring it out.
I am quite proud of our final prototype, although it isn’t as polished in art as the others (keep in mind we had one of the smaller teams and no dedicated artist). I like that our game genuinely makes the player think, even though it’s a simple action. I found myself taking steps in my brain: I want the temperature to increase, so I have to make the particles move faster, so I need to vibrate them. I think this was a step towards real transformative action instead of having tooltips or walls of text with educational information. I like how we stripped down the interactions and concepts to teach to the bare minimum, and kept it simple.
Our game, “As Above, So Below”, focuses on dual view to show macroscopic and microscopic levels. The player can only interact with one side while trying to achieve a goal relating to the other side, forcing the player to think and make the connection between macroscopic and microscopic. The game shows how temperature and particle movement are related to heating and cooling a system.