Aardman Digital has released several very good Flash games in recent months. Home Sheep Home is great fun, but isn't really all that relevant to educational games so I'm not going to spend any time talking about it.
Their most recent game Sprocket Rocket, was created to teach about the various functions of the the UK Patent and Trademark office. The game features the eccentric inventor Wallace, and his patient assistant Gromit, from Aardman's famous and award-winning animated Wallace & Gromit films Players get a crash-course in intellectual property law by flying their little steam-powered rocket pod around a map and collecting little stickers that reveal small snippets of information about copyright, trademarks and patents. The way the game delivers the educational content isn't that impressive, but the way the game gets players to care about that content definitely is!
Ive recently been exploring the idea of using the game genre known as the "Escape Game" for educational games. The best examples of games test your puzzle-solving skills, and include hints that you have to explore to find. I thought I would talk to fellow Flash game developer Merlin Gore about escape games, since he has developed so many of them.
Merlin started as a flash developer a few years ago when his friend introduced him to the world of Escape Games. He is still making games to date, but is now also a staff member at FlashGameLicense.com. He’s studying Computer Science in the UK and is going on to do a Masters next year. He aspires to be a game developer later in life and work for some big names like EA or Blizzard.
Do you need a fun way of teaching kids the basics of the physics and engineering principles behind bridge-building? You may not have to commission your own game, because a lot of that is covered by a fun new casual game called Cargo Bridge. Cargo Bridge is similar to Lemmings , in that you take the roll of powerful caretaker who must keep a group of creatures with no sense of self-preservation alive. In this case, you've got a handful of workers who need to collect precariously laid crates, elephants, and safes, and bring them back to their base. The way you allow your workers to succeed is by using your bridge-building skills. The game uses a physics engine to simulate the physics of bridges. You have a certain budget that you can use to buy walkways and supports, and you have to place them so that they support each other. You might be very surprised when you start out to see your bridge design isn't up to code. When an unstable bridge is created, it might fall apart under its own weight as soon as you start a level, or it might be a little more stable, and not collapse until your workers are trying to use it to move heavy crates.
Zero Sum is another math-based game that ends up being pretty fun. It's a standard Match-3 style game like Bejeweled. The difference is that instead of swapping two tiles, the first tile you click gets added to the second tile, and the empty space is replaced with the tile waiting at the front of a queue of tiles on the right side of the screen. The tiles only contain the ones place of a sum, so in this game 9+1 = 0, 5+6 = 1, etc. The "zero sum" mechanic comes in when you add up numbers to equal 10, because a 0 tile is a wild card that can match with any two other tiles.
Clark Aldrich once said that about educational games that:
"Game elements are the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down." (“Learning by Doing”, p. 85)
This is the attitude that learning is boring, and that we need to add the game elements to an educational game in order to make it bearable. I fundamentally disagree with this approach to educational game design. One of the central themes of Raph Koster's A Theory of Fun for Game Design, is that fun comes from learning new skills. Games get boring once we master the skills needed to play them, and they get frustrating when we aren't able to gain enough competency. That's why it's important to make sure your games difficulty curve is optimized to constantly be just challenging enough.
Electric Box is a very smart puzzle game that I had the opportunity to playtest before it was finished. In fact, the creator added Level Editor because I suggested it!
The game presents you with a partially completed circuit, an on/off switch, and a target. You also have an array of whimsical objects at your disposal that you can use to complete the circuit. For instance, in the first level you have a light-bulb and a solar panel that you can use to transfer the electricity from one. Other gadgets include lasers, mirrors, steam kettles, and water wheels! Some levels even require you to use objects to rearrange other objects, meaning you have to think ahead, or succeed by experimentation.