As part of our pre-PAX East coverage, I'd like to re-introduce two games made during the Summer 2009 session at the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. Waker and Woosh are practically the same game, that is if you don't consider a game's story, characters, and narrative an important part of a game. That sounds ridiculous right? Of course story is important, what would Quake be without an engrossing storyline and memorable cast of characters?
Okay, that was a cheap shot. But seriously - just how important is story, character, and narrative to you when you play a game? Waker and Woosh were created to explore this idea in a very specific context. The team of students that would call themselves Poof Productions were given a very complicated (and difficult!) task of creating a game that would teach middle- and high-school-age children about two basic physics concepts: displacement and velocity. Actually, they attempted to cover a third, acceleration, but were unable to get it into the game in the 9 weeks they had to develop the two games. That's right: one team of 10 students created two games in 9 weeks!
The common basis of Waker and Woosh are the controls, the basic mechanics and the levels. In Waker, the player maneuvers a cat-like entity through a dream world of platformer levels, to collect wisps needed in order to awaken a dreamer from her sleep. In Woosh, the player does the exact same thing, except all of the graphics and cutscenes have been replaced with abstract graphics (your cat-like thing becomes a ball) and the voice-over and story explanation has been completely removed! Everything else is the same: maneuver the ball through the levels, manipulate the graphs using displacement and velocity mechanics to create new platforms, and collect the abstract items to get from beginning to the end.
What an odd setup! Researchers Scot Osterweil, Lan Xuan Le, and Eric Klopfer gave the team the challenge to create these two games in order to study whether either the narrative or abstract form of the game is more effective in promoting student engagement with, and understanding of, the physics topics.
We're putting both games on display and side-by-side in our booth so that Expo goers can experience both games at the same time. Let our staff and students know what you think - is the story important? Which game do you like best? At the lab, we're split fairly evenly about which one is our favorite. What this means for the research question, however, we won't know until the researchers publish the study they'll be conducting.
As part of our Game of the Week video series, Embedded Staff Sara Verrilli gives an explanation and insight into the games' development:
You can play these games today, online for free:
Tomorrow: fellow Boston Indie Showcase selectee Dearth!