Oozerts is a self-contained, math-based puzzle game designed for the Nintendo DS that extends the universe of Labyrinth - an online computer game created by The Education Arcade - onto a mobile format. You, the player, have had your pet stolen by monsters who are planning to use your poor pooch in awful genetic experiments! Your aim is to navigate the monsters' secret underground lair - which doubles as a pet food factory to fund their evil enterprise - disguised as a monster. Along the way, you are waylaid by the goblin in charge of the Oozerts production line. He mistakes you for the new assistant and sets you to creating more Oozerts - candy bars made from the toxic slime byproduct of the pet food manufacturing. Your job is to fill the differently sectioned candy molds with the appropriate amount of slime. If you successfully complete the job, maybe then you can be on your way to find your lost pet!
Division 6 faced a formidable challenge in the brief that I laid out for them at the beginning of this summer. First and foremost, their job was to design an educational, math-based game teaching the concept of fractions to middle-school kids. Fractions can be somewhat intractable for students, so the game needed to be really fun and rewarding. We did not want to just create a fancy, interactive worksheet, but to really teach the underlying logics of mathematical concepts. The philosophy of Labyrinth is that by introducing players to a mathematical concept before it is taught in school, the students will be more empowered to learn in the classroom because they will possess visual and procedural game metaphors on which to draw. This meant that the core mechanism of game play had to develop out of the concept of fractions while keeping it as intuitive as possible.
Secondly, Division 6 had to design a game that would fit into the established universe of Labyrinth in its story, but also in its puzzle formats as well. Labyrinth puzzles possess several key features that prevent success by memorization and/or cheating:
- Randomization. Every time you play a puzzle, the underlying logic and structure of the puzzle remains the same, but the game randomly generates a new set of numbers for you to solve. The only way to help a friend "cheat" is to teach them how the logic of the puzzle works, and we all know that teaching is an even better way to learn, right?
- Repetition. The player must defeat the puzzle three times. This makes sure that the player understands the principles of the game and guarantees that the player did not advance by chance.
- Difficulty levels increase. The player must master three levels of difficulty, each of which require three victories to truly defeat.
The object for Oozerts was to both look and play like the other puzzles in Labyrinth while covering new pedagogical territory.
The third and last challenge was in designing Oozerts for the Nintendo DS format. The mobile platform has several interesting features such as a split screen, little screen space, and stylus play. We really wanted the team to design a game that would make the interactive nature of the DS an essential part of the game, but also take into account the way mobile platforms are used. Rounds of play needed to occur in quick bursts, because players would probably be squeezing in game time on the commute to school, waiting in line at the grocery store, etc. If the player is interrupted, the game also needed to be visually intuitive enough that a player could pick up immediately from where they left off - even if hours have elapsed - and understand exactly where the game play stands just by looking at the screen. Finally, the Nintendo DS has severe memory limitations, so sprite size, fancy animations, and other features had to be carefully balanced against the other design goals.
Altogether, for Division 6, that meant designing and creating an intuitive, super fun game that could teach fractions in the style of Labyrinth, capitalizing on the Nintendo DS' unique interactivity, and was capable of being played in five minutes or less. All completed in eight weeks.
I am happy to say that Division 6 rose admirably to the challenge. Oozerts really delivers all these qualities in an intriguing little package, and I couldn't be more pleased with the game we produced.