Blindfold Racer: Scoring and the first few levels

The number of students participating the App Club each week varied from between one and ten. If ten showed up, I spent most of the time telling the kids to quiet down. If only one child showed up, I could work one-on-one with him or her, but we didn’t get a lot of divergent opinions. Five or six seemed to be the best at this stage of the game design.

With three students present, we created level 1: a straight road, and decided have the game tell game player if he hit the wall, and deduct points from his score when that happens. When he passed the finish line, the game will tell them they won, and say their score.

We built a chart showing how many wall hits, time to complete the road and what the score should be. We arbitrarily set the top score to be 20, and then just filled out the rest (for example, they get 10 points for hitting the wall 5 or less times, and finish in under 15 seconds).

The students wanted to start drawing out the road for higher levels. Each student drew a level, and the justified it to the other students. We decided that each level should be slightly more complex than the prior level, so level 2 was required a slight turn to the right, and level 3 needed a large turn to the right.

The game would tell you prior to each level what the level looked like; for example, level 4 would be “The road first turns to the right, then to the left”.

I asked them to come up with more levels, but some of the children kept drawing things on the pretend road that had nothing to do with a game that you cannot see (such as a lake and trees on the side of the road). One child drew a snake-like road, and we analyzed the road to determine how the driver would navigate it.

The students were getting accustomed to drawing roads, and how the game player would drive on it. One student suggested the game would be boring if its just one road after another, so why don’t we put some obstacles on it?

I told them that the obstacles would have to make interesting noises, otherwise the driver won’t know how to avoid it. They thought of a chicken, a tree. What sound does a tree make – he answered with the sound a leaf makes when hitting the ground. We rejected the tree. A moose, a ghost, a cow.

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Blindfold Racer: Controlling the car

We started the next session by figuring out how to control the car. For simplicity, we only focused on the iPad – there’s more room on the screen for things.

To turn left and right, you hold the iPad so the screen is facing your body, and you turn it like a steering wheel. To control speed, use the iPad like a gas pedal – push the top away from you to go faster, and the top towards you to go slower. Seems pretty simple.

We thought the game should give you feedback telling you about the car – when its stopped, it would say “STOPPED”; when moving forward, it would say “SLOW”, “FASTER” and “FASTEST”, and “SLOW BACKWARDS”, “FAST BACKWARDS”, and so on. Then we analyzed how long it would take to say those things, and looked at ways we could shorten it – such as saying “BACKWARDS” vs. “REVERSE” vs. “BACK”.

Using a book as the iPad, one student pretended to drive the car on a straight road, and another student pretended to be the app; and a third would draw the path on the screen. The “App” person would say how fast the car was going (BACK SLOW, FAST) and which direction (RIGHT, LEFT), and if it crashed. We determined the first road shouldn’t take more than about 15 seconds, and it should start to train the game player how the game works.

Five different students drove the pretend course, and finished in under 15 seconds, so we knew the overall concept made sense. We started developing the concept of what SLOW and FAST meant (how much faster FAST is than SLOW). To avoid confusion, we switched from 3 speeds to 2 speeds, and allowed the car to stop when the iPad was vertical.

We also decided to warn the game player if they turned too far left or right, or starting turning the iPad completely over (more than 180 degrees forward or backwards).

The students practiced turning left and right, and it seemed like our controls made sense.

Blindfold Racer: Auditory Learning?

I joked with the students that if the screen was dark (blank) while they played the game, and they used ear-buds or headphones to listen to the game, then they could play the game in their bedroom at night, and their parents would never know. They liked that.

A teacher who happened to be in the back of the classroom overheard us, and said “You know how else you can spin this? For anyone who has any sort of auditory learning disability – this would be a way to improve it.” We’ll need to think about other uses for the game once we’re all done.

The first step to laying out the game was to try to figure out how fast the car would move and turn. We ran experiments with the students, where they would count – one second at a time – while I moved a pretend car (a whiteboard eraser) around a pretend track (on the whiteboard).

We came up with general game rules:

  • It should take 3-5 seconds to make a full right turn
  • The iPhone or iPad should vibrate when you crash
  • The left and right fences will play music so you know how close you are
  • It should start beeping when you get close to the fence
  • When you crash into the fence it should make a crashing sound
  • There needs to be a tutorial at the beginning of the game
  • We will use tapping of the screen to control the game: once to start, twice for a tutorial, three times to reset the game, etc.

This was a pretty good start to get the feel of the game, but we have a long way to go.

Blindfold Racer: A racing game for blind people?

I put this challenge to the students: How would we build a racing game for blind kids?

Focusing on the iPad and the iPhone, they came up with that it would have sound and would vibrate, if you turned the iPad left, the car would move to the left (and vice-versa), and the goal would be to stay on the road.

Several of the students kept describing what would be on the screen, until other students would explain that since a blind person can’t see the screen, what’s on the screen doesn’t matter – it should be black.

We decided to run an experiment in class. One student would be the driver – she would close her eyes, and two other students were the left and right fences on the road. The driver had to get from the starting line to the finish line without bumping into either student “fence”. If she was about to hit the side of the road, the student fence would yell “crash”.

As she pretended to drive the car (by walking with her eyes closed), I drew her path on the whiteboard. She crashed into the fence about a dozen times, but the students understood the principals of the game. Now we can build it.

Students pretending to be a car

We’re building another app!

We started the app club again this January, and some new 5th and 6th graders joined. This time they want to build a game app.

We spent the first three meetings (once a week) talking about what game to build. I thought this was a good opportunity to teach the kids how to design a game, and would give me an excuse to learn how to program in one of the game development tools, such as Corona or Unify.

Unfortunately, every game they suggested looked like a thousand other games already in the App Store. One girl wanted to build “Muffin Puppies” – a look-alike game to “Break Kittens”:

bread kittens

There are so many games in the App Store, it just doesn’t make sense to build a game similar to an existing game. Building a quality app takes months, and the only way to make an app popular is for the app to stand out. I told the students we need to come up with something that’s never been done before.

Unfortunately, most students can’t “think out of the box” when it comes to designing a game. They seem to have more creativity in building an app that meets a need they have, or solves a problem they often encounter (i.e. WishToList).

I gave them these criteria for a game app: (1) It must be reasonably unique, (2) it must not require a lot of graphics (so we don’t have to find a graphic artist to work for free), (3) it must use the iPhone or iPad in an unusual manner.

Let’s see if they come up with something.