QuBE - The Quiz Battle Editor:
An environment for educational game development
Facoltà di Ingegneria dell’informazione, informatica e statistica
Corso di laurea in Informatica
Sadman Sakib Rahman
2. An insight on the learning process
3. From theory to practice
3.1 Serious educational games
3.2 Commercial Off-The-Shelf games
3.3 Student-made games
4. An insight on gamification
4.1 A gamification workflow
4.2 Summary of the requirements for proper gamification
4.3 Towards game development
5. Last but not least: an insight on Game Editor Technology
5.1 Before further proceeding
5.2 Conclusions on Game Editor Technologies
6. QuBE: The Quiz Battle Editor
6.1 Game Concept
6.2 Game design choices and mechanics
6.3 Editor design choices
6.4 Discarded ideas
6.5 Game feedback
6.6 Editor feedback
“Computer and video games are of the utmost importance as cultural assets, as a driving force
for innovation and as an economic factor."
–Angela Merkel, Gamescom 2017, Cologne
As human beings, trivially guided by the pursuit of happiness during the
course of our existences, we often and gladly seek for pleasant activities, as
we associate our physical and mental well-being to our happiness.
It doesn’t come as a surprise then that we’re naturally inclined to combining
business with pleasure, to make our activities more fulfilling. Sometimes,
almost extraordinarily, we even favour these kind of activities to those
exclusively pleasant that involve no business.
This tendency, less abnormal than one might imagine, is not an accident, but
the result of a particular process that happens subconsciously: according to
the studies made by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (1990), the activities that we
find more pleasant are associated with a particular state of our mind, known
as the “flow”. During the flow state we happen to be concentrated, we lose
almost self-consciousness, we are fully absorbed by the activities we’re
doing, we have a feeling of total control, associated with an intrinsic,
autotelic pleasure (Deci et al., 1985).
This state of flow can be experienced in many different environments: it may
be felt by a surgeon absorbed in a delicate operation, by an athlete running in
an extenuating race, or even by a player involved in a hard video game
(Chen, 2007) (Sweetser et al., 2005). In the aforementioned activities there’s a
fascinating combination of distinct factors that make the experience
challenging, yet engaging and pleasant, in a singular manner.
The objective of this dissertation is to analyse video games, with the purpose
of using their potentiality beyond playful scopes, focusing ultimately on
building a proper environment meant for creating educational games.
An insight on the learning process
Before speaking of educational video games, or, alternatively, of game
based learning and/or gamification, it is appropriate to discuss the reasons
that may bring someone to think about mixing up two distinct worlds that
may seem to have so little in common, if something at all. Does it make sense
to merge what is a source of entertainment to what is pointed towards
The answer to this question lies in a branch of psychology, known as
cognitive psychology, its objective the study of those mental processes that
we use to acquire information in our cognitive system, elaborate it, memorize
it, and recover it.
Our objective, in our approach to this discipline, revolves ultimately around
improving our tools for the acquisition of information regarding education:
to create a digital instrument meant to teach, it is appropriate to understand
the mechanics the human brain uses to learn.
Our aim here is to outline a paradigm that will allow us to create an effective
application fit for our purposes, exploiting some fundamental notions of
cognitive psychology, hereby listed and described.
With the word “attention” we identify a mental state in which we’re
actively conscious and concentrated on some elements perceived by
our senses. The number of elements on which we can concentrate
however doesn’t match the actual number of external inputs we
receive from the environment: our brain in fact has limited resources
for what concerns the ability of concentrating on multiple things at
once, and to effectively use this ability, it requires to exclude other
inputs when our attention is required by some element in particular
Fundamentally, humans are poorly inclined towards multitasking,
unless the secondary activity we’re involved with is simple, or
automatic, like chewing gum. If the activity is particularly engaging,
on the other hand, like doing complex calculations, even a simple
activity such as contemporarily pressing a button when a red light
turns on can become difficult.
As we can guess, it is important to exploit the potentiality and the
limits of the human being acknowledging his ability to concentrate
at best on one task at a time. Forcing the user to concentrate on
multiple objectives at once at the same time, on the contrary may be
deleterious, and may cause a condition known as inattention
blindness (Mack et al., 1998) (an example of this issue is shown in the
famous “gorilla experiment”, where the participants are asked to
count the number of times a team of basketball players pass the ball to
one another; during the passages, a man in a flamboyant gorilla
costume makes his way through the players; the people involved in
the counting often can’t see the gorilla) (Simons, 1999).
Memory fundamentally is what allows us to elaborate, store and
recover information, and it’s divided in three kinds: sensorial
memory, working memory, (also known as short-term memory) and
long term memory.
Sensorial memory is involved in perception, and gathers sensorial
information for a relatively short time (like a fraction of second)
without being consciously processed. The persistence of vision (like
the one created by a fast moving image), for example, is caused by
sensorial memory, which allows us to perceive reality in 24 frame per
second, similarly as if it were an animation.
Working memory, also known as short-term memory, allows the
brain to store information for a few minutes and the manipulation of a
limited quantity of information, as much as necessary to do an
activity, like a calculation that requires to remember momentarily
some numbers. This kind of memory requires a lot of attention:
exceeding the cognitive capacity of an individual, as told previously,
can jeopardize the learning process (Atkinson et al., 1971) (Baddeley et
Long term memory, last but not least, keeps track of all the data
concerning knowledge and the abilities we possess. The limits of this
kind of memory are unknown, and it is believed that it can store
information for an indefinite amount of time, although it is possible to
forget; it is indeed demonstrated that the capacity to store information
decreases with the passage of time, and the maintenance of
information, without a proper emotional involvement or meaning, can
be fragile. Some variables have a great positive impact on the capacity
of memorization, like repetition. The human brain, on the other hand,
has a natural inclination to distort memories, and to cause memory
lapses (Ebbinghaus, 1885).
For such reason, during the designing of a learning system, it is
fundamental to keep in mind these limits: it is useful to decrease the
total amount of information to remember at the same time, and
redistribute it in a modular manner. Furthermore, using stored
notions favours the consolidation of information, (Sweller, 1994).
As can be guessed by the latter sentence, one of the most useful
methods to learn is through activities that require the use of the
Perception involves all the mental processes that allow us to perceive
the environment that surrounds us, and build a mental elaboration of
it. Naturally, all the processes involved in this scope represent the
lowest level of the infrastructure that connects the sensations to the
mental cognition. Our own representation of reality works in the
opposite direction as well, cognition can in fact influence sensation:
the “Save” icon, represented by a floppy disk in text editors such as
Microsoft Word probably doesn’t make sense to young people, until
they don’t find out its meaning through a computer. This example
shows also that perception is subjective. It varies according to the
context in which the input is presented, and the knowledge or the
expectations of the one to which the input is directed.
Consequently, a software user can have a vision that may differ from
the one belonging to whoever designed the software. To avoid this
kind of dissonance, it is important to develop following the paradigms
of User Centred Design (Hodent, 2014), pointing towards designing a
system that is suitable to the needs of the users (Isbister et al., 2008)
Some useful guidelines to reach this goal can be found in the
principles of the Gestalt psychology (Wertheimer, 1923).
Ø Good form: the perceived structure is always the simplest.
Ø Proximity: the elements are grouped in function of their
Ø Similarity: tendency to group together similar elements.
Ø Good continuation: all the elements are perceived as belonging
to a continuous and coherent set.
Ø Common fate: if the elements are in motion, they’re grouped
by the ones moving coherently.
Ø Background-shape: all the elements in a particular area can be
either interpreted as objects or part of the background.
Ø Induced movement: a reference scheme formed by some
structures that allows the perception of objects in motion.
Ø Meaning: in case the stimuli are ambiguous, a good perception
relies on the information caught by the retina.
It is common belief that the emotional component in the design phase
of a product is a substantial aspect in determining the success of the
product itself, more than the practical aspects. This emotional side, in
video games, is implemented through good aesthetics, a catchy
soundtrack, or an engaging narrative (Przybylski et al., 2010).
Nonetheless, another aspect needs to be considered as well: the “game
feel”. Game designer Steve Swink (2009) describes this concept as “the
feelings of mastery and clumsiness, and the tactile sensation of
interacting with virtual objects”. Keeping in mind the game feel
means putting attention on the design of elements such as the camera,
the controls, and the characters; a camera with a restricted field of
view, for example, may cause a feeling of claustrophobia,
inappropriate if the game is meant to give an experience of serene
exploration; on the other hand, it may come useful if the game belongs
to the horror genre.
Another important factor to consider, during the development, is the
motivation of the players towards which the game is addressed: the
appeal and positive effects of video games are, as a matter of fact,
based upon their potential to be able to satisfy some elementary
psychological needs. A game that satisfies the need for
competitiveness, autonomy and relatability, as a consequence, has
the requirements to be really engaging.
Competitiveness allows the players to comprehend their own sense of
mastery of the game, and gives them a feel of progression (e.g. in
FromSoftware’s Dark Souls players are required to have an increasing
mastery to proceed in the game).
Autonomy offers the players the possibility to make significant
choices, and gives the opportunity to express themselves (e.g. in
Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas it is possible to change
the course of the plot in a non-linear manner, according to the choices
made in the game).
Relatability, at last, is basically aimed towards satisfying the need to
feel connected to other individuals. This component often gets
implemented through the insertion of multiplayer functions, that
allow the players to interact with one another (e.g. the team chat
function in Overwatch, by Blizzard).
A solid motivation and a strong emotional component have an
extraordinary impact on the players’ liking, and not only: these
aspects influence the learning and the quality of the maintenance of
Thanks to these aforementioned notions of cognitive psychology, we may
positively state that there are indeed valid reasons to exploit video games for
learning purposes; nonetheless, it is important to respect some conditions.
The human brain’s potentialities have to be used taking account of its limits,
and designers should take into account the end-users’ needs. To grant
success, it is suggested to run usability tests, referring to pre-existent
heuristics (Desurvire et al., 2004) (Nielsen, 1994).
From theory to practice
We’ve shown that theoretically speaking, it is possible to use video games to
improve learning; nonetheless, this isn’t enough to prove that they’re
effective in practice. To reinforce our argument, it is convenient to gather
empirical evidence and analyse already existing games related to education,
to verify their effective potentiality (Fullerton, 2014). Furthermore, we’ll try
to extrapolate more guidelines from those products that may reveal as
effective, while, eventually, we’ll discard those ideas that prove ineffective or
First of all, we’ll analyse the games by dividing them in three categories,
according to the educational gaming models outlined by the studies of
Richard N. Van Eck (2006). These paradigms are distinguished as following:
v Serious educational games, created specifically by a team of
educators and programmers
v Commercial off-the-shelf games, not necessarily meant for education,
integrated in the courses by the teachers
v Student-made games, often created under the supervision of teachers
during programming courses
Nothing implies that these categorizations are absolute: it is indeed possible
the existence of hybrid variants that integrate one or more aspects that
distinguish these paradigms.
• Serious educational games
The first model we’ll analyse represents generically commercial titles
developed specially for educational purposes.
Although non-commercial serious educational games do exist, they’re
often exclusively implemented in particular environments, such as
schools and colleges; being niche, these kind of games are not really
popular, and consequently, it’s hard to find documentation regarding
them. Other aspects that explain their unpopularity are related to the
lack of use of resources to guarantee a good design. It is indeed hard
to find qualified programmers and educators willing to spend a great
amount of time without retribution for the development of a software
not meant for profit. This doesn’t imply that there can’t be valid
serious non-commercial games: later on, in fact, we’ll analyse an
example of a game belonging to this category.
For what concerns commercial educational games, often made with
the contribution of relevant software houses, on the contrary of their
non-commercial counterparts they require a discreet budget for the
employment of programmers, game designer, and above all,
educators, to guarantee a satisfying final product, that fits not only
educational purposes, but the laws of the market as well: the product
has to be designed to be popular among the end-users, to assure an
economical comeback to the developers. This model, although
doubtlessly advantageous for many reasons, has sadly some
negative sides inherent to the time and the money required for the
To ensure a major cognition of cause, in the next section we’ll study
and analyse some particularly popular titles among Serious
Educational Games. To evaluate them correctly, empirical analyses of
the aforementioned products have been run through individual tests
v Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training
This title made for Nintendo DS, first of a homonymous series of
video games made by Nintendo since 2005, is one of the most
popular examples of educational games available on the market.
The title is based on the tests made by neuroscientist Ryuta
Kawashima, resident professor in the University of Tohoku, who
appears in the game as a polygonal avatar.
Fundamentally, the game’s main goal is to allow players to
calculate their own brain age through math exercises, mnemonic
trials and Sudoku. Passing the trials, in function of the correctness
of the answers and the time spent answering, allows the player to
self-assess their own performance through a value named “brain
age”. The less this value is, the better is considered the
performance of the player. This title, centred on improving one’s
mental abilities rather than learning, seems to be particularly
effective on individuals who are more than twenty years old. Some
studies furthermore suggest its employment to prevent and fight
against Alzheimer syndrome at a late age (Nouchi et al., 2012).
Nintendo, though, has avoided releasing officially any declaration
about the potentialities of the game on a scientific level,
underlining how the company’s sole goal is entertainment. The
game modes inside Brain Training, except for Sudoku, are defined
by the following mini games.
1. Calculations X 20: One question will appear on the top screen,
and the player must hand-write the answer on the touch screen.
There is a total of 20 questions, including addition, subtraction,
2. Calculations X 100: same as Calculations X 20, although with
100 questions instead of 20. It features a Hard mode, which has
the same mechanics but adds division problems.
3. Reading Aloud: the player is given an excerpt from a classic
story such as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow or Little Women, and is
tasked with reading the story aloud to see how quickly he or
she can do it. The player progresses through the excerpt by
pushing Next, until he or she reaches the end of the excerpt. If
the player pushes Next too quickly, the puzzle will end
4. Low to High: it features several boxes on both screens, each in
the same pattern as each other. The game will count down at
varying speeds, and when it hits zero, numbers will appear in
these boxes for a short period of time. Afterwards, the player
must touch the boxes on the touch screen from the lowest
number to the highest by memorizing the numbers on the top
screen. Afterwards, the game will introduce one puzzle after
the other in a similar fashion. The quantity of boxes to
memorize increases after each correct answer, and decreases
after each incorrect answer, with the minimum quantity of
boxes being four, and the maximum being 16.
5. Syllable Count: it shows several phrases, one after the other,
on the top screen, and the player must write the number
of syllables in each phrase on the touch screen.
6. Head Count: features a group of people on the top screen. After
a few seconds to allow the player to count the number of
people, a house falls over them. The player must watch the
screen carefully, as the people inside will leave the house and
more people will enter the house. This will eventually cease,
and the game asks the player to write down how many people
are currently in the house. The puzzle gets more difficult as the
player progresses in it. There is also a hard mode in which
people also come in and out of the chimney.
7. Triangle Math: has a series of mathematical equations that the
player must solve. It is designed similarly to the Calculation
puzzles, in that the equation appears on one screen, and the
player writes the answer on the touch screen. The equations
involve three numbers and two mathematical operations (e.g., 3
+ 4 + 8 or 3 − 4 + 8), and are solved by performing the first
operation, and then the second. This also features a hard mode
where an extra tier is added to the triangle.
8. Time Lapse: two analogue clocks are displayed (e.g. one at
2:45 and one at 7:30), and the player is required to calculate the
difference in time between these clocks.
9. Voice Calculation: it is similar to the Calculations puzzles.
However, this puzzle requires the player to speak the correct
answer into the microphone instead of writing it on the touch
screen, similar to the Stroop Test (Stroop, 1935).
It is important to notice that Brain Training offers diversified
gaming styles: this characteristic makes the player’s experience
variegated, avoiding boredom caused by the repetition of the same
pattern of gameplay. From the latter part comes another
consideration: the game must entertain to keep active the player’s
In the main menu it is also possible to interact with Dr Kawashima,
using the integrated microphone. According to the words
pronounced, the avatar’s expression will change. This detail,
although not functional to the purpose of the game, makes the
game more appealing, merely speaking of design. It is interesting
the idea of using non-functional elements to make the game
The product seems to be particularly fascinating because of the
interface and the gaming method, as it requires a console meant
principally for playful use. An interesting concept behind this
experience is to develop ad-hoc software for platforms centred
on giving entertainment. Brain Training, in fact, even being a
game with simple mechanics and a low commercial potential
compared to other games on the same platform, owes its
popularity to the masterly use of the Nintendo DS technology. As
a further proof of the game’s commercial success, it is worth
mentioning that three sequels have been released up ‘til now in
Europe: Dr. Kawashima’s More Brain Training (released in 2007), A
Little Bit of... Dr Kawashima's Brain Training (released in 2009), and
Dr. Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused?
(released in 2017).
v Carmen Sandiego
Although this series of educational products isn’t well known in
every country worldwide, in most English-speaking countries,
particularly in the USA, the situation is quite different. The
fictional figure of Carmen Sandiego, in fact, is known on the
American soil as one of the most celebrated icons of the
With this word we refer to a particular kind of approach towards
teaching known as Educational Entertainment. To this tag belong
many different kinds of media, spacing from cartoons to TV
shows, and obviously, video games as well.
For what concerns the Carmen Sandiego series in particular,
technically it can be defined as belonging to all the aforementioned
media quoted before; this apparent paradox is basically related to
the fact that Carmen Sandiego is a product that uses transmedia
storytelling, (Jenkins, 2007).
Fundamentally, products that present this characteristic utilize the
potentiality of other entertainment media to expand their own
popularity, in a symbiotic manner. This approach, although more
functional to marketing than software design, is interesting
because, as it can be shown through the Carmen Sandiego series,
can be implemented later, following some precautions during the
In fact, although this series of products originated from a video
game (Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, released in 1985 by
Brøderbund for Apple II), since its release many TV game shows
and cartoons based on the brand have been made ever since. In
2015 the twentieth title in the video game series has been released
for iOS and PC, Carmen Sandiego Returns, while Netflix has
announced a new animated TV series coming in 2019.
So, what makes Carmen Sandiego such a successful product? The
use of an iconic character catches the eye: to be fair, in the Dr
Kawashima’s games, analysed in the previous paragraph, we’ve
got something similar as well. An icon, if chosen well or created
wisely, can be adapted in numerous contexts. These notions about
the power of cross media do not only work in one direction: as the
fame of a video game can bring to the creation of non-video game
media (Halo: Fall of Reach, by Eric Nylund, inspired by Bungie’s
Halo), similarly the opposite can happen: there are indeed many
games inspired by already existing products, like movies and
novels; this idea has even been applied for educational purposes as
well (Disney’s Learning with Mickey, 2002).
We won’t dwell on the latter possibility though, as it goes
excessively beyond the purpose of this dissertation, and the
possibilities we have: as a matter of fact, among the many
problems in using an already existing icon, intellectual property
comes in the way, and the costs related in acquiring it. Without
further delay then, we shall proceed with the analysis of “Where in
the World is Carmen Sandiego”, from where the whole series
The game’s purpose is to track down and capture the goons that
work for Carmen Sandiego, an infamous international criminal.
The final objective is to capture Carmen herself, all within a virtual
time limit per case. The player, who plays as a detective, starts the
game by going in the countries where the crimes have been
committed, to search for clues to find out where the criminals
might have gone. This clues come often in the form of play on
words that address the player towards the destination of the
These destinations, constituted by famous cities of thirty countries,
are represented by famous sightseeing places from the country
Every case starts with the user being warned of an incredible heist:
the player must go to the country where the crime has been
committed, and will have to investigate by asking questions; once
the player is sure that he has enough information, he’ll have to go
to the next location that fits the correct deduction. Every action,
like asking a question to a testimony or making a journey, will
decrease the time left to win, requiring a particular attention
towards every choice made.
As can be easily guessed, this game is about teaching geography:
using the same leitmotiv, that is the hunt of the wanted man, other
subjects have been taught through the other titles of the series, like
history (Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, 1989), astronomy
(Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego?, 1993) and many more,
according to the possibility of adapting the same narrative canvas.
The game’s user interface, pretty simple, takes inspiration from the
style common to the point-and-click genre, themselves being
modernized variants of the interactive fiction, inspired again from
gamebooks, known otherwise as choose-your-own-adventure: you
proceed through the story by making choices, building the story
A fundamental characteristic of the Carmen Sandiego series that
needs to be underlined, therefore, is the presence of storytelling:
although quite elementary in its essence, a solid storytelling
contributes immensely to the player’s engagement. It is a source
of motivation, and has a relatively influent emotional impact. We’ll
eventually consider this important notion during the development
of an educational game.
v The Oregon Trail
This title, among the oldest between the games we’re considering,
will here be quoted and shortly discussed for its historical
importance: it is in fact considered as one of the milestones of
educational games, and its heritage is yet vivid in the United
States: one of the game’s phrases, “You have died of dysentery”, is
yet printed nowadays on t-shirts.
Published in 1971 by the Minnesota Educational Computing
Consortium, The Oregon Trail allows the players to observe in an
active way the experience of the pioneers that went through the
Oregon trail in the 19th Century. In this case, the narrative
component is strictly related to the historical events, and doesn’t
require too much fiction. Beneath certain aspects, this is a great
example of “learning by doing”, one of the most suggested
methods to strengthen memory (Lesgold, 2011).
For what concerns the game style, it blends the dynamics of a
graphic adventure with the features of a management game. The
player's goal is to grant the survival of the five emigrants on the
Conestoga wagon on their way to the West, avoiding their deaths
by making bad choices. These choices are often about issues such
as the search for supplies or places to stay.
The quality of The Oregon Trail as a video game has given him a
discreet reputation: among some of the video game critics, in fact,
the title is counted as "one of the games that must be played before
dying" (Mott, 2010).
The Explorables, so called by the author of the project, Nicky Case,
represent an interesting case study regarding serious educational
games. Unlike the other titles analysed so far, the Explorables are
not educational titles meant for profit: in fact, they are non-
commercial educational games. They are therefore not particularly
well-known, beyond what is derived from viral sharing through
social networks, since they are not subject to advertising and
marketing moves. I, myself, came across these through an external
link shared on Facebook. The games themselves do not stand out
for an extraordinary visual component or for a particular
longevity; however, while maintaining a sober minimalism, the
Explorables effectively succeed in their main goal: to make
These small mini open source games, made by a community of
programmers who voluntarily participate in the project, consist
of individual lessons on singular topics that come from different
disciplines, taught through the subterfuge of gaming.
As an analysis sample, “The Evolution of Trust” was chosen
among the Explorables, a small game focused on explaining how
dynamics of trust work in society. The game is short, and it uses
the concept of learning by doing excellently, giving the player the
opportunity to experience the effect of human behavioural
dynamics through an eye-catching interface where the player
simply inserts the parameters and observes the outcome of the
evolution of society through simulation.
Among the design decisions some simple but fundamental choices
undoubtedly stand out: the game does not, in the first place,
make use of some abused gamification mechanics (Bogost, 2011),
which we will discuss later, like goals, scores, or rankings. The
author of the project, on the contrary, openly criticizes this concept,
pointing out how it is about modifying behaviour, while the aim of
the Explorables project is to change knowledge.
In addition, the user's evaluation is ignored, focusing on learning.
This approach to teaching, much more in line with some
pedagogical principles, is important to consider during
Within a certain perspective, it is reasonable to say that interactive
explanations are an evolution of the presentations made with
PowerPoint. In order to offer a greater understanding to whoever
is interested in this project, here is the link to it: http://explorabl.es/
• Commercial Off-The-Shelf games
Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) games include video games
already available on the market. In fact, even some Serious
Educational Games may fall into this definition, such as those
belonging to the Carmen Sandiego series; in Van Eck's three
paradigms, however, the distinction is not focused on the educational
medium, but on how it is used and implemented in the course by the
teacher. In the case of Serious Educational Games, the educator must
be an active part in the creation of the product; this approach
obviously is extremely costly in terms of time and money. In the
Commercial Off-The-Shelf approach, the educator exploits the
existing game, and tries to adapt it to his class. According to Van Eck,
this paradigm is the best in terms of effectiveness, cost and time.
These games do not necessarily have to be conceived as Serious
Educational Games: there are games that have educational potential,
even though their purpose is not teaching. Titles such as Assassin's
Creed, Europa Universalis, Age of Empires and Civilization, for
example, include remarkable notions of history, Age of Mythology
presents a particular approach to Greek mythology, The Sims can be
exploited to teach sociology, and Portal has an excellent sandbox
structure where to play with physics. In the following part we’ll study
an interesting use case of this paradigm.
v Making History
Making History: The Calm and The Storm (published by Muzzy Lane
for PC, 2007) is the first title of a series of video games that let live
the World War II events through a turn-based strategy game.
In the field of education, this title has been used by hundreds of
American schools for years; among the many experiments
conducted to verify its effectiveness, we will consider the one
applied by Mr Irvine, a high school teacher living in a rural
Midwest area (Watson et al., 2010).
This teacher, using Making History, has succeeded in passing from
the classical teaching model focused on the teacher, to a student-
centred teaching model, deftly implementing game sessions
within the school calendar, cutting out a week of time specially for
playing and discussing the knowledge gained or consolidated
through the game. As it is clear from this information, to
effectively apply the COTS paradigm, it is crucial for the teacher
to be willing to adapt his or her teaching to the video game;
Similarly, the developers of such games should aim towards
meeting the educators’ needs, and design their products
During the gaming week, students were divided into teams
representing the nations involved in the global conflict, each one
facing their own, historical problems, such as economic crises,
popular revolts, state strikes. Each group was confronted with the
consequences of these events within the game, and players found
themselves discussing and cooperating with other nations to solve
All of this, under the careful supervision of the teacher, proved to
be very effective from the learning side: students were emotionally
involved, either for the intrinsic fun of play and for the interaction
with others players, in line with the notions of cognitive
psychology previously exposed.
This experiment, while being extremely fascinating, cannot,
however, be considered a general example that represents
universally the outcomes of such approaches to education. There
are undoubtedly circumstantial factors that have favoured the
success of the experiment, and other factors that might have
undermined the effectiveness that have gone unnoticed (Watson et
To establish a valid functioning paradigm, it is important to establish
a good heuristic, conduct further studies on it, and raise awareness
among teachers, outlining guidelines to follow for those who just want
to try teaching through video games.
Another hindrance to the application of this approach is the common
mentality people share about the concept of learning through video
games: even today in American schools this idea is in fact linked to an
individual experience like The Oregon Trail: the student plays and
learns on its own, while the teacher has a mere passive role during the
The limits of this approach, as can easily be understood, are at least so
far determined by the teachers and, in minor part, by students: it is
plausible that a teacher may not be familiar with video games, as a
student may not be used to certain kind of games.
Given the non-irrelevant effectiveness of the COTS approach shown in
the aforementioned example, the best hope we can afford is that more
and more important software houses will eventually invest in the
education sector, and that similarly the schools will spend more
money to boost the use of educational games in classes.
• Student-made games
This kind of approach is very particular, and more niche than the
approaches listed above. In this model, teachers guide students to the
creation of a game as an active part of the learning process (Sheldon,
2011). Although this paradigm is not costly at all in most cases, the
problem here is time: for a teacher, in fact, learning and teaching
knowledge that does not necessarily relate to his or her course can be
This approach, much more common in some areas such as
programming, generally consists in the use of related development
languages and environments such as Scratch, GameMaker, Gamestar
Mechanic, Python, Alice and Adventure Maker, or modern counterparts
such as Inkle, Pixel Press, and Tynker, in order to design a game.
As use cases of this educational model, in this dissertation, we will
consider two examples utilized in the Computer Science Course at
Sapienza, University of Rome.
v Tag Invaders
During the course of Programming Methodologies taught by prof.
Roberto Navigli, in 2016, students were asked to individually
design a level of a game inspired by Space Invaders, nicknamed
"Tag Invaders," using LibGDX libraries integrated into Java.
Each student was given instructions on the contents to be included
in the level to be designed, such as a level where affected enemies
fall down according to gravitational force. Along with these
guidelines, source code packages, Java libraries, and precompiled
code parts were also provided to optimize the job. Students, to
effectively overcome what was in fact a homework, had to adapt to
the existing framework provided to them, by developing the
proper approach to programming independently. Students who
until then had to work exclusively on code written by them, had to
adapt to code written by others, and consequently learned the
importance of writing clear and comprehensible code accompanied
by comments where necessary.
Outside the class, moreover, students found themselves working
together, discussing and sharing ideas about the right approach to
complete the goal assigned to them, as far as it was allowed. Every
student was free to offer a trial of their own game to their
colleagues, adding a slight touch of implicit competitiveness in the
development of a level that was interesting, not counting the
intrinsic fun caused by playing at the designed levels. Lastly, it is
worth noting that students have been able to use the knowledge
gained during the course to complete the level. As can be fairly
concluded, Tag Invaders is an excellent case of "learning by doing":
although the idea of leaving the development in the hands of the
students can be risky, it is undoubtedly true that in a controlled
environment it can be effective for learning. We will therefore
take into account the benefits of this paradigm.
v The Type Tournament
The Type Tournament doesn’t properly represent a video game,
not being a digitally implemented game. However, its mechanics
and the positive feedback it has received from the participants
makes it undoubtedly worthy of mention.
This game, optional part of the final exam of the Programming
Languages course taught by prof. Cenciarelli in 2017, is structured
as follows: given a possibly equal number of students, students are
divided into pairs; if the number is odd, the professor may
personally compensate for the absence of an opponent for the
"excluded" player; alternatively, the extra player goes
automatically to the next round.
Tournament participants, following a group structure, must
challenge their opponents by proposing a type to be decoded. The
type must comply with some rules, and it can’t be too long. Each
player will then find himself with an abstract code string that
determines a type; main goal is to declare the type made by the
opponent before the opponent identifies the type that the player
The first player identifying the type must show the result of his
deduction to the opponent; if he believes the player is right, he has
lost; if not, he will have to prove that he knows how to infer the
type he himself created. If the opponent fails, the teacher declares
the first player as the winner. As a final prize, the winner of the
tournament will automatically receive a high mark, without
having to go through the oral exam; as a bonus, though, the
professor can give an even higher mark if the winner wants to do
the oral exam anyway.
The Type Tournament, as can be noticed, allows students to create
the game in a simple but intelligent way, without leaving to much
space to go astray. Players basically create the game, providing
their opponents with the types on which the challenges are based.
At the same time however, they cannot go too off track.
The game is fully in line with some principles of cognitive
psychology: it provides a valid motivation (e.g. an excellent final
vote), and promotes competitiveness.
In contrast, it is worth noting the time required by the
Tournament: the deduction of a particularly elaborate abstract type
can, in fact, take a long time. Since the game does not set limits on
it, a challenge can last for a really long time.
In both observed cases should be noted that the framework in which
the students had to develop the game had been provided by
educators: to be successful, this educational approach requires that
teachers spend their time properly implementing a structure in which
students can have creative freedom without exceeding the goals of the
An insight on gamification
Up to this point of the dissertation, the concept of gamification has been
quoted a few times, and in some cases, it has been spoken of in critical tones.
However, it is important to talk about it before proceeding with the
development phase, as we may extract some useful notions from studying it.
First of all, it is necessary to establish what it is: in general, this term means
the use of playful elements in non-playful contexts.
The purpose of gamification, of course, also varies from context to context: it
is used in many areas, ranging from education to sports, including business.
There are many valid gamified applications today: a trivial example is
Runtastic (Novak, 2015), a mobile application that provides goals to those
who want to keep fit, with rankings to compare your performance with
friends. The reason why these elements are implemented is an easy
deduction: it tries to give a motivation not necessarily intrinsic to the
context, hoping to get the typical benefits of the video games described in the
preceding paragraphs, including emotional involvement.
The problem often lies in the fact that those who abuse of the concept of
gamification ignore elementary game design concepts, misunderstanding
what the real attraction of video games is. This is due to various reasons, first
of all a lack of cognition of cause, such as poor knowledge of the products in
question, and a possible ignorance of brain mechanics that affect cognitive
Basically, anyone who exploits gamification, especially in the educational
field, acts in the belief that it is a simple solution to a complex problem; As
the study of algorithms teaches, however, a rudimentary solution is not
This is what happens in cases of poor implementation of gamification: many
educators, deceived by an erroneous perception of video games, focus on
superficial elements such as rankings, experience points, and goals with no
regard to storytelling, game context, or the game itself. According to game
scholar Ian Bogost, whoever has this superficial approach confuses the
magical magnetism of games with the simple drive offered by external
Superficial gamification, as can easily be guessed, causes little motivation,
miserably failing to offer one of the major requirements required by a good
game. Unless there is already a good reason to accept gamification (such as
wanting to be fit, in the case of Runtastic), it will prove to be a useless
Similarly to the COTS paradigm, however, gamification, if implemented
correctly, can be one of the most powerful methods to educate in terms of
effectiveness, time and cost. It is therefore appropriate to analyse the
mechanics and the advantages of gamification in depth.
First of all, we need to determine for good what are the playful elements we
can use in an educational context:
The objectives of a course can easily be tailored to the objectives of
a game, transforming the acquisition of a concept into a mission.
v Interactive activities
Necessary to achieve a goal and to complete the challenges. The
activities of a course can be re-adapted to simulate game activities.
A trivial example: using quizzes instead of tests.
Characters include Avatars and Non-Player Characters. Although
NPCs are more difficult to integrate into a gamification process,
avatars are easier to implement. A simple virtual identity case is
the use of a nickname. Being anonymous in a public ranking can
avoid embarrassment when a player finds himself in a low
They determine how the player and gaming environment interact
with each other through game resources, objects, and relationships.
A part of the rules is the one that sets the conditions for progress:
how can the player earn points, and what are the conditions for
victory or defeat? These can easily be implemented in an
educational setting, for example by transforming the votes into
experience points, which are added by providing a score that gives
the player a position in a ranking.
They can be implemented in many ways.
They are usually represented by parts of the world where the game
is being played. The levels, in this case, equate to the set of lessons
that relate to a single subject.
Levels can alternatively represent the player's level of experience,
based on his score. In this case, the level may result in the final
Finally, the levels can refer to the difficulty of the game. A high
level would mean the skill required to overcome a difficult task.
It is believed that the easiest method to integrate the concept of
levels in the educational field is to reshape them according to
scores and votes.
In order to provide an enjoyable gaming experience, the various
playful elements must be in balance.
For example, the system that assigns a score for a given activity
must provide an adequate score, which has to be neither too low
nor too high depending on the activity being performed.
The difficulty is also subject to balance: as players increase their
skills, it is necessary to increase the difficulty of the course, in
order to match the students' ability and to avoid boredom caused
by too much easiness; at the same time, however, it is important to
avoid creating situations that are too difficult to handle, to prevent
Luck or randomness are part of the most famous gaming
mechanics: some successful games are in fact based on
randomness, such as Monopoly. Usually, however, players do not
like being subject to fate, and would rather prefer their success
being determined by their abilities. A discreet way to implement a
Luck factor in a course would be to use a dice to select who would
make a class presentation.
It's a form of interactivity. It can easily be implemented in a course,
with a collective project, or a team challenge.
Not all games require competition, and not all players love
competing; in fact, a rash use of this concept can have toxic results.
However, competition is considered one of the key factors in the
entertainment that can provide a game, and ignoring its benefits
can be a questionable choice.
Competition is not commonly used in education. Examples of
implementation of this concept are in the use of rankings, quizzes,
or debates organized between students.
v Game aesthetics
Many modern games have an extremely impressive graphic
component. However, it is complicated to create an educational
title that has the graphics of a “triple A game”, as you say in
commercial jargon. It’s easier to stick to the minimalist graphics of
titles created by independent developers, also known as “indie
Games do not necessarily have to be focused on storytelling (such
as chess, or any other virtual deployment of similar board games),
but in some areas the wise use of this concept can be a discrete
source of motivation. Transforming the course into a hero's
adventure is a method, as well as creating an avatar that evolves
during the game.
Unlike in video games, it is difficult for a teacher to provide
feedback to students, unless they are simple, such as the
"Successfully uploaded" message when uploading a homework on
a professor’s site. A practical solution consists precisely in moving
part of the learning environment to a virtual platform.
Games entertain because they provide a safe environment where
players can take risky actions: a player may in fact fail to complete
a mission numerous times before completing a goal. This
mechanics, however, can become overly accommodating if there
are no incentives to improve, and change the player’s behaviour.
Examples of games that skilfully exploit punitive mechanics are
those that require the use of limited lives, such as the famous
Super Mario: the fear of having to start over a whole level acts as a
deterrent, prompting the player not to make too many mistakes
and at the same time, without denying the possibility of making
mistakes more than once.
v Game world
The game world is the setting. It can be functional to the story, and
depending on the type of game can also be crucial. In the
educational field it can be simulated virtually by using a dedicated
web platform for education.
Once the game objectives are clear and the activities are organized
in an engaging way, participants can lose their sense of time and
stop worrying about themselves. This type of immersion is typical
of the best video games, and is the result of a wise synergy
between the various components of the game: entertaining
missions, eye-catching graphics, and an interesting story.
• A gamification workflow
After determining ultimately what these playful elements are, and what are
the criteria for implementing them correctly, we can finally go to the design
stage of our project. To work at best, a workflow model will be followed, as
shown on the left (Morschenheuser et al., 2017). To make the diagram more
understandable, every key step of the process will be briefly described.
1. Project preparation
We clearly define the objectives of the project, classifying them
according to their importance, and providing a justification for the
choices made. It is therefore possible to implement the gamification in
accordance with the requirements and material limits imposed on the
project. These may be of various kinds, such as ethical and legal,
associated with the budget or related to the project deadlines.
2. Context and user analysis
We identify the context, the system where we want to apply
gamification, and we study it in order to understand it: this includes the
analysis of the development platform, its architecture, its technological
limits, and so on. We define the conditions that must be met to
determine the success of the project.
We also outline the end-users to whom the project is addressed, trying
to understand the needs and motivations that guide them. For this
purpose, we use Persona models that identify user stereotypes based on
features like age, gender, needs, interests, preferences, or player type.
This latter feature in the gamification field is of crucial importance:
therefore, we will shortly list these types in order to have a better
understanding, referring to the standard nomenclature used in
• Achievers: These people like to solve the problems they face in
front of them. A good way to motivate this type of player is to
restrict access to some content in the game, prompting the
player to unlock these content by demonstrating their abilities.
• Explorers: These people love to discover the secrets of sandbox
environments, as well as to create new things. A good example
of a game that draws in this type of player is Minecraft.
Alternatively, in the educational field, Explorables are a great
example of a game that attracts this category.
• Socializers: These people love to build relationships with other
players. A good way to attract this type of player is to
implement multiplayer mechanics that allow cooperative play.
• Killers: This ominously ambiguous label identifies people who
love competitiveness, which can be offered by the game itself,
or by competing with other players. As mentioned earlier, it is
rare to implement such challenges in the educational field;
however, their benefits should be considered to attract this
category of players.
It should be considered that these categorizations are not mutually
exclusive: it is more normal for a player to have several different types of
interests. It is therefore convenient to design trying to satisfy every
At this stage, ideas are gathered through a process known as
Brainstorming. To this end, gamification experts recommend that you use
the tools listed below at your own discretion.
Table Games and Video Games: Trying games and discussing
their mechanics can stimulate the mind, bringing new ideas.
Design Lenses and Design Cards: they offer a particular
perspective on the design process, directing the work in a
Visualizations: they’re used to understand and show
relationships between users and their behaviour in a particular
Game Design Patterns: quite common gaming components.
They’re fundamental to the development of gamification
Story Cubes: dices with different faces, used to support the
creation of a story, which in turn can be a source for design
Canvases: Canvases can help to structure the ideas for
gamification systemically. They allow to easily communicate
ideas, identify any flaws, and compare different approaches.
Decision Trees: they help to make choices, and guide
developers in selecting game elements.
Good-Practice Gamification Patterns: Examples of recurring
gamification patterns, used as the starting point for the process
After conceiving a list of ideas, the developers must choose which of
them can be implemented, and then be consolidated for the design phase.
At this stage the design takes shape: a design concept is developed, a
prototype is created and evaluated. If the final product respects the
objectives of the initial concept, the development phase proceeds;
otherwise, the design cycle repeats until a satisfactory concept is made.
This phase is considered to be a continuation of the prototyping process.
Decisions are made regarding which developers will be employed, and
which environment will be used for development; therefore, under the
supervision of a gamification expert, the design discussed in the previous
step is implemented.
Thereafter, the gamified product is tested, until the testers feedback
reaches a positive reception rate. Upon reaching these conditions, a pilot
product can be finally released.
At this stage, the product’s success is evaluated quantitatively and
qualitatively: it is checked whether the product attracts the designated
user and meets the set goals. These checks are usually performed through
interviews, surveys, or comments made on players.
At this stage, after the product release, we observe the released product in
order to detect defects, and identify further improvements to be
implemented with subsequent patches.
• Summary of the requirements for
Based on what has been said so far, and thanks to the contributions of
various experts (Morschenheuser et al., 2017), it has been possible to
produce a set of recommended requirements for good gamification:
Ø Understanding the needs of the user, the motivation that guides
him and his behaviour, as well as the context characteristics.
Ø Identifying the objectives of the project, and defining them clearly.
Ø Testing gamification design ideas as soon as possible.
Ø Following an iterative design process.
Ø In-depth knowledge of game-design mechanics and human
Ø Checking whether gamification is the best way to achieve the
Ø Stakeholders and organizations involved must understand and
Ø Focus on the needs of the user during the ideation phase.
Ø Defining clear reference values for the evaluation and monitoring
phase in order to properly determine success of the gamification.
Ø Checking that the system does not have any flaws that allow
Ø Managing and monitoring continuously to optimize gamification
Ø Keeping in mind the ethical and legal limits during the design
Ø Involving users in the ideation and design phase.
• Towards game development
In light of the above, it appears that the best approaches to education
through video games are the COTS approach (which usually uses
existing Serious Games) and Gamification. Since in our case the goal
is to create a functional game editor meant ideally for educators, our
first aim will be to design an easily adaptable game structure, and
proceed subsequently with the development of the editor that will
allow teachers to build the aforementioned game, keeping in mind the
educators’ skills and limits.
We will try to create a hybrid model between the serious game /
gamified system that fits in the most universal way to the needs of the
users and the educators.
Let's first outline some of the requirements set by the stakeholder: the
game in question must allow students to make assessments about
their knowledge through the subterfuge of gaming. Although I
personally feel that it is more appropriate to use games for learning
rather than for the assessment of students, keeping the two concepts
separate, it is undoubtedly of interest and challenging to be able to
make the latter an entertaining experience.
The game is meant to be released and played on a platform, named
DEV, a web based e-learning system that allows personalization and
adaptivity through student modeling. This means that the game
mustn’t require too many resources, or will otherwise become too
heavy to be handled on the end-user’s systems, and it must follow
Last of all, the final product must follow the requirements set in all
the previous sections as much as possible.
As a side note, before further proceeding, it must be noted that the
skills required to build a decent game often do not belong only to
programmers, but also to artists, and possibly writers, and sound
experts. As a matter of fact, Game Developers and Game Designers
are two distinct figures in the gaming industry. In the case of
educational videogames, it should also be considered the support of
It is important to understand that video games are a multimedia
product; while the idea of the single creator with many skills is
romantic (Undertale created by Toby Fox, or Minecraft created by
Markus "Notch" Persson), these rare cases seems to be discretely
inaccessible according to market mechanics and the enormous
development times required.
In this project, my goal will be to conceptualize and develop a proper,
entertaining educational game within the boundaries of my own
Last but not least: an insight on Game
As a quite obvious matter of fact, to develop an environment meant for
creating educational games not only is it necessary to know how to make a
video game, but is also advisable to see how already existing editors work.
With such a goal in mind, our last step before delving into the depths of
software development will be to analyse such aforementioned editors. Before
further proceeding, though, the reader must also acknowledge a simple
concept: almost any environment can actually be good to develop
educational video games, as even a modded version of Pokemon can be
educational, with proper coding. The only limit may be time, skills and
most important of all, imagination. What must be considered here is that
these three quintessential ingredients may not always be present, and their
lack can jeopardize a product’s success.
As we’ve seen before in the Student-made Games section, some well-known
environments for building games are Scratch, GameMaker, Gamestar
Mechanic, Python, Alice, Adventure Maker, Inkle, Pixel Press, and Tynker. While
some of them require a discreet knowledge about programming, others do
not. Pros and cons will be taken into account in the analysis of some of these
environments, and requirements will be outlined to develop the easiest-to-
use environment possible based upon best-practice cases.
Scratch is a free programming environment, based upon a
graphical programming language. It was made by Lifelong
Kindergarten, a group from the MIT Media Lab, lead by Mitchel
Resnick, in 2003. The language, inspired by the theory of
constructive learning and designed for teaching programming
through simple visuals, is suitable for students, teachers and
parents, and can be used for pedagogical and entertainment
purposes, ranging from studying mathematics to science projects,
allowing the realization of simulations, visualization of
experiments, animations, music, interactive art, and simple games
with mere ludic purposes. Scratch provides an object-oriented
approach called Sprite. The idea of this language is that children or
people with no experience of programming languages can learn it
through simple interactive interfaces.
While not diving deep into its mechanics, a simple look to the
interface is given in this dissertation to get a proper overview.
The area on the top left is the "stage area", where the results
appear and the code comes to life (animations, graphics, etc., all in
small, normal or full screen sizes) while the Sprite, the graphic
objects on which the code acts, are listed below.
By selecting a Sprite the user can associate the code blocks,
selectable from the Script area, where they are grouped by topic. If
a Sprite has associated code, this is displayed in the area on the
right and the user can edit it. Any block can be tested by double
clicking so the user can preview the action. Next to the Script
folder, there are two more for Costumes and Sounds. An
expandable bar on the right is dedicated to the tutorial.
While Scratch indeed represents a particularly powerful tool, it
is way far from being an immediate environment for building
games, as it requires time to be learned, whilst not assuring that
the final product is a successful and interesting game that
follows the requirements outlined in the previous sections.
Given so, it is nonetheless a worthy tool considering its
v Game Maker
Game Maker is an IDE (integrated development environment) for
video game development, originally created in 1999 by Professor
Mark Overmars, and later developed by YoYo Games.
Game Maker provides two programming methods: icon based
and code based. The first is aimed at beginners where thanks to
icons to drag-and-drop with the mouse one can create games
even without too much coding nor knowing any programming
language. The second method provides us with the Game Maker
Language, a programming language with a syntax based on the
union of Delphi, Java, Pascal, C and C ++ languages. The latter
approach allows to increase the potentiality of Game Maker to
levels almost identical to other, more highly professional
environments. The functions of the program can be extended
using the Dynamic-link library (DLL) files. It is also possible to
create GEX, aka libraries written in Game Maker Language to be
used exclusively in Game Maker.
Examples of well-known games made with the Game Maker tool
are Hotline Miami, Spelunky and Undertale. Although Game
Maker’s potential is doubtlessly tangible, while it can surely be
used to make educational games (as any other IDE), these games
can’t be made as easily as they’re made in Scratch, nor can
guarantee to be successful for the same reasons mentioned in the
previous paragraph: without proper knowledge of programming
and video game mechanics, Game Maker’s power can be wasted.
v Gamestar Mechanic
Gamestar Mechanic is a game-based digital learning platform
geared at nine to fourteen years old students that is designed to
teach the guiding principles of game design and systems
thinking in a highly engaging and creative environment.
Gamestar Mechanic allows students to learn about how systems
work and how they can be modified or changed. Students learn to
think analytically and holistically, to experiment and test theories,
and to consider other people as part of the systems they create and
inhabit. Through the game design process, students cultivate skills
involving: system-based thinking, creative problem solving, art
and aesthetics, writing and storytelling, science, technology,
The design of the game is based on research by some of the
leading academics in the field including Katie Salen (Executive
Director of the Institute of Play and curriculum author for the
New York City Public School Quest To Learn) and James Paul Gee
(author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning
Gamestar Mechanic, whilst being especially meant to teach
principles of game design, represents an interesting environment
for educational game development (Games, 2009). Unlike Scratch
or GameMaker, Gamestar Mechanic doesn’t give too much
freedom to the developer, as it is not remotely meant to develop
anything like the Serious Games we’ve seen before, but regardless,
the way it is built allows its users to create games according to
hard-wired game design rules; unskilled developers have less
chances of ruining their games because of their lack of
experience, as mostly everything is coded already, similarly to
what happens in the drag-and-drop coding of GameMaker.
Alice is a block-based programming environment that makes it
easy to create animations, build interactive narratives, or program
simple games in 3D. Unlike many of the puzzle-based coding
applications Alice motivates learning through creative
exploration. Alice is designed to teach logical and computational
thinking skills, fundamental principles of programming and to be
a first exposure to object-oriented programming.
The Alice Project provides supplemental tools and materials for
teaching using Alice across a spectrum of ages and subject matter
with proven benefits. Alice is used by teachers at all levels from
middle schools (and sometimes even younger) to universities, in
school classrooms and in after school and out of school
programming, and in subjects ranging from visual arts and
language arts to the fundamentals of programming and
introduction to Java courses.
Research has shown that Alice has a measurable positive effect on
performance and retention in computer science education
Being so similar to Scratch in the means of design and purpose,
Alice doesn’t give further insight on what we have discussed, yet
it underlines the importance of “ready-made” chunks of code:
people with no knowledge of coding can easily take their first
steps into game development if they’re not facing the intricacies
of real software programming.
Inklewriter is a free tool designed to allow anyone to write and
publish interactive stories. It’s perfect for writers who want to try
out interactivity, but also for teachers and students looking to mix
computer skills and creative writing.
Inklewriter lets users write as they play, branching the story with
choices, and then linking those branches back together again. It
keeps track of which paths have been finished, and which still
need to be written.
There’s no set-up, no programming, no drawing diagrams. Once
written, Inklewriter allows to share the story with the world,
because every story is given its own unique web-page that the
user can share however he or she wants.
Inklewriter, among the examples seen until now, represents the
less code-writing related approach to game-building, and its game
design may indeed be considered hard-wired if not untouchable,
similarly as what we’ve seen in Gamestar Mechanic.
Such hard-wired design though, although it limits the power of
the developer within certain boundaries, comes in handy as more
users can use the editor, and the games made with the editor
have less possibilities of being ill-designed.
v Pixel Press Games
Pixel Press is a technology company focused on building engaging
gaming experiences to develop analytical and creative skills
through a simple formula, namely the “build your own video
game” approach. Although Pixel Press has made more than one
game, the similarity between one another makes it simpler to talk
about them in a general way, as, concept-wise speaking, few
changes occur between one game and the other, often most in
terms of imagery and assets.
The graphical programming though, commonly present in all
their games, underlines yet again the importance of simplified
programming for unskilled users. The less people have to code,
the more they’ll likely enjoy making a video game. What makes
these games unique is that in some of these, level programming is
made directly on paper, scanned and implemented through a
special algorithm. A natural gesture such as drawing turns into
complex coding in the blink of an eye, allowing users to try
instantly the fruits of their imagination.
An insight that can be given upon the latter statement is that
programming through natural gestures (or to be more correct,
gestures related to previous experiences) give a particular appeal
to video game editors, and make human-machine interaction
easier and simpler. (Norman, 1988)
It is also worth mentioning that in a few of its titles Pixel Press
exploits the previously mentioned idea of using famous brands to
increase their own product’s attractiveness through commercial
partnerships: as a matter of fact, one of the games, “Adventure
Time Game Wizard” is based upon Cartoon Network’s
homonymous show, while another one, “Bloxels Star Wars”,
clearly takes its inspiration from the famous movie series.
• Before further proceeding
The Explorables project, discussed in one of previous sections, offers
another distinct approach towards game building meant particularly
for educational purposes, which surely comes in handy in this
dissertation. But being the project pointed towards different goals
from ours, it won’t be discussed here, as our aim is to study game
editors for people who don’t know how to code, and are probably not
willing to know how to code, while the purpose of the Explorables
project is to teach educators to make their games according to the
principles of good coding and game design. Further information can
be found on http://explorabl.es/tutorials/.
• Conclusions on Game Editor
Based upon what we’ve seen so far, a few things can indeed be
outlined in terms of editor complexity, user coding knowledge, user
game design knowledge, user creative freedom, and final products
effectiveness, defined hereby.
• Editor Complexity: this term, in this particular context, is used
to define how much an editor’s mechanism requires time to be
learned, and mastered. This is considered in the perspective of
someone who doesn’t know anything about programming, or a
coding amateur, and is calculated in terms of time to learn and
feedback given by the users to self-assess their acquired
expertise. The more the complexity of an editor grows, the
more time it will require to be learned, and the less will it be
appealing to people who don’t know how to code. Regardless,
a complex editor has its pros, as it usually hides more
potentiality within its structure. A complex game editor is more
keen to be the right tool to create a successful serious game,
compared to a simpler editor. Nonetheless, if the development
happens in an uncontrolled environment, the final product may
be unsatisfying. A good editor should empower the user
without allowing him or her to make too many mistakes in the
• User Coding Knowledge: with this concept we describe how
much a user knows about programming. Although knowledge
can’t be properly quantified, this can be relatively defined
through self-assessed evaluations by users, or tests about basic
knowledge of computer science. The more a user knows about
coding, the less he’ll have to adapt to most of the editors. More
programming knowledge often means games with more
functionalities, but a programmer that lacks knowledge about
game design may accidentally make mistakes during the
design phase of the game, risking to create an ill-designed
product. To avoid this kind of problem, an editor could wire
game-designing choices within its structure.
• User Game Design Knowledge: like the aforementioned kind
of knowledge, this kind of notion defines what a user knows
about game designing. The more a user knows, the more likely
he’s going to make a successful product. But if the game
designer lacks knowledge of good programming, he may not
be able to make a good game, or may create an ill-coded
product. To avoid this kind of situations, a good editor should
allow users to create games without heavy knowledge of
• User Creative Freedom: this term defines how creative can a
user be, in terms of programming and design. Absolute
freedom is what is given by any classical programming
language such as C, Java, etc., while restricted freedom likely
describes those environments where everything is limited by
strict boundaries. Absolute freedom guarantees unimaginable
potentiality, but can’t guarantee that it won’t get wasted. On
the other hand, limiting the user’s freedom may not allow the
users to create whatever they want, but avoids user-made
mistakes in terms of coding or game design.
• Final Product Effectiveness: with this concept we describe an
editor’s product’s effectiveness in function of the requirements
for a game’s success (such as positive feedback from the end-
users, eventual incomes), requirements for proper gamification,
and cognitive psychology’s guidelines. To guarantee
effectiveness, a game must at least be well-designed and well
coded. If the editor’s goal is to allow to create successful games,
it must sacrifice the user’s creative freedom, to avoid errors
related to coding and designing.
We can finally establish all the requirements for our editor. As the end-users
are ideally teachers who want to assess students, and may not have time to
learn how to work with a new environment, the editor must be simple. As
the end-users may lack knowledge about programming, the editor must
point towards as less coding as possible. The teachers may lack knowledge
about game design, thus design choices must be hard-wired into the final
product, so that the game follows the requirements of a successful video
game. A discreet amount of creative freedom has to be sacrificed in order to
accomplish so, but nonetheless it will be granted as much as required for the
The Quiz Battle Editor
• Game Concept
The concept for the game itself is quite simple, and takes heavy
inspiration from games such as Buzz!, a quiz game where the player,
facing other players, has to answer as fast and correctly as he can in
order to win. In the games made with our editor, the Quiz Battles, the
player faces a singular opponent, an AI with different degrees of
difficulty, expressed in terms of probability to answer correctly, and a
time slot within which the enemy player can answer randomly given
the total number of seconds required to answer (established by
whoever made the game). The higher the difficulty, the faster will the
enemy answer, and the more chances will it have to answer correctly.
• Game design choices and mechanics
As stated in a previous section, as these games have to run in an
internet browser within a web platform named DEV, Quiz Battles
have been made in a minimalistic style, in order to avoid requiring
heavy resources on the client’s machine. Nonetheless, every nook and
cranny has been calculated precisely to fit every notion we’ve
acquired until now. The first step that had been taken was to conceive
something that allowed to assess students, such as questionnaires. The
next step has been pure gamification along the lines described in the
game concept, following tests to see the effectiveness of the game.
Having received a positive feedback, the game has been developed
following the requirements.
Ø Plot: although simple, Quiz Battles have a sort-of-plot that’s
meant to work as an eye-catcher: it’s supposed to be
humorous, exaggerated, but entertaining in its own small way,
in the belief that even the slightest emotion can make the
experience a bit more pleasant and thus, memorable. The
fictional danger has been created to appease those who seek
risk (without actually there being one, obviously).
Ø Enemy AIs: these have been made to give a sense of
competitiveness. This feature implements a discreet amount of
luck in the game (as the probability of correct answering by the
AI is calculated randomly within certain bounds), and it’s
pointed towards Achievers (to give a sense of satisfaction by
beating a hard-to-beat AI), and Killers (as the AI also
incarnates a fictional player to compete against). To avoid
creating an excessively hard challenge though, different levels
of difficulty have been added, so that anyone can play
according to its own pace.
Ø User Freedom: beyond being able to select the difficulty, a user
can also select the number of questions he or she wants to face.
This grants power to the player, allowing him to choose the
kind of challenge he wants. It’s also a feature meant to appease
Explorers. The player creates his own experience.
Ø Health Bar: the hearts displayed in the Player HUD (head-up
display) are a gamified way to express how many errors can
the player make within the boundaries of reason: if the player
can’t answer correctly to at least half the questions, he may not
be ready to take the test.
Ø Enemy Feedback: Enemy AIs give feedbacks according to the
player’s behaviour. If the player answers correctly, skips the
question, doesn’t answer, gets the question wrong or loses all
his lives, the AI is going to act in a particular manner. Every
enemy has a unique comedic behaviour, following a style that
resembles a formula applied in cult games such as Nintendo’s
Ø Timer: the timer is a necessary mechanism, although not
dearly beloved by those who have to stand against it. Were
time-to-answer a calculable asset, it wouldn’t be required from
editor users, as it can be bothersome to guess a reasonable
amount of time within which a player would have to answer to
a particular question. But as the AIs have to answer in a
reasonable manner, without either being too slow or too fast, it
is ultimately considered peculiar to know how much time is it
needed to answer. Showing the timer is important as well, as it
guarantees in-game fairness, as the player must know within
which limit he or she has to answer.
Ø Game Over: the old-school screen that pops up when you fail.
Losing all lives (basically getting at least half the questions
wrong) triggers the Game Over screen, prompting the user to
consider if his or her knowledge is enough to try the test.
Although the game isn’t meant to be excessively punitive, this
kind of mechanism is quite mainstream, as it shows up in
many modern game titles. It’s part of the fictional risk in a
Ø Score: the score is the ultimate feedback, that allows the
student to see his or her own performance once the game is
over. While the game has its own way of calculating the score
according to the rules of the game, the actual assessment of the
student (academically speaking) is calculated separately with
another function. Regardless of what the AI has done, what
matters is that the player has answered correctly.
• Editor design choices
As it has been said previously, the editor has been built in a really
minimalistic way, in order to allow as less client-side coding and
game designing as possible. Since most of the game mechanics can be
hard-coded without fear of tampering by ingenuous users, the editor
has been built to resemble a classical questionnaire spreadsheet. This
way, the educator using QuBE has the feeling of doing something
“natural”, already related to his or her previous experiences, since it is
normal for a teacher to write tests for students.
Nonetheless, there is one feature that can be dangerous if mishandled,
and ruin the game: the time required to answer to each question. As it
has been explained before, issues regarding this feature can’t be
solved without a bit of hope in the judgement of the educator using
The editor, pretty simple in its structure, will be described hereby.
Ø Editor Main Page: the first page of the editor, quite simple in
its structure. The user can choose either to create a Quiz Battle
from scratch, or modify an existing quiz created previously by
Ø Creator Interface: if the user clicks on the first option from the
previous page, he’ll find him or herself in page structured as a
dynamic HTML5 form with a list of empty input text areas. At
the top of the form goes the Quiz Title, which can be for
example a subject studied in a course. Questions, structured as
<div> elements (Document-Object-Model-wise speaking), can
be added or removed by clicking on the buttons to the right of
each question, in a pretty intuitive manner. The answers to
each question, which recursively follow the same concept, can
be dynamically added to the form with the same principle.
Following discussions with the stakeholder, the number of
questions for a Quiz Battle has been set to a minimum of 20.
These questions represent a pool from which the game draws
randomly the questions the player sees during a Quiz Battle,
thus making the game a bit more random and complex. The
more the questions are, the more is the game going to
Ø Modifier Interface: If a user wishes to edit a Quiz Battle
instance he or she has created previously, it can easily be done
using the “data.html” file from the game folder that is
generated using the creator interface. “data.html” is basically a
Base64 encrypted file that contains the questions in a particular
format. The encrypting has been done in order to avoid
Once the file has been uploaded, the file is parsed by the editor
which automatically generates a web page with a pre-compiled
form that resembles the creator interface.
Ø Download and Test: last but not least, at the bottom of the
page are two distinct submit buttons. The first one allows to
download the quiz (if all the required fields have been
Once the game has been downloaded, the “Test” function is
unlocked, allowing the user to try out the game he or she has
As can be easily seen, the editor is incredibly simple to use, and the
game itself is almost lightweight. This guarantees basically no game
loading time, no time to upload the game to the site where it’s
supposed to run, and heavy modifiability.
• Discarded Ideas
Some programming choices, as well as game-related mechanics, have
been ultimately discarded for one reason or another, among which
was the misunderstanding of how DEV, the container website, is
structured or how it works. Nonetheless these ideas are briefly
discussed here, with proper justification for the choices that weren’t
Ø Quiz Data Base: the first version of the Quiz Battle was
conceived as a stand-alone game on its own site, without
requiring external container sites. Users could have chosen the
Quiz they wanted to play from a list of Quiz Battles. This list,
updated through a separate web portal, is based upon MySQL.
This “alpha” version is still existing and available for show, or
Ø Default Music and Images: although they could’ve been easily
implemented (and have been tried as well), these assets have
been discarded as the web platform within which the game has
to be put in would have generated a useless quantity of
duplicated assets, since the games created with the editor
wouldn’t have had a shared assets folder. The sole idea of
having so many redundant files felt discouraging, ultimately
pushing towards discarding the use of assets.
Ø Items: this idea has never been implemented, as it was too
distracting (more info in the Attention section on Cognitive
Psychology). Ideally, it was about adding “Mario Kart” styled
items in the game. These were meant to be used both by the
player and the enemy AI, with their effects being, for example,
an ink spot on screen for a few seconds, time freezing, an extra
heart, or anything reasonable that could’ve been imagined.
But, as it has been said, it hasn’t been implemented as
ultimately it lead to players being too distracted and unable to
concentrate, especially on complex and tricky questions. Being
there already sort-of distracting elements such as the timer, the
player lives and the enemy behaviour display in the HUD,
items have been discarded.
Ø High score: the idea takes heavy inspiration from old-school
arcade cabin games. Players, at first, were meant to be able to
register their game score, along with a nickname, as an
incentive to play again and try to get a higher score, by maybe
facing a tougher opponent. This could’ve been possible it the
game ran in PHP. Due to DEV’s nature though, PHP files can’t
be allowed to run for security reasons, thus making this idea
available for use only on the stand-alone version.
• Game feedback
Game testing made with the alpha version of the Quiz Battles allowed
the gathering of a few interesting opinions by the users, a small pool
of Computer Science students, with their ages ranging from 21 to 25
years old. Quiz data has been extracted from a Computer Engineering
course material, by courtesy of a teacher, to simulate an accurate use
case of the product.
First of all, it has been noticed that if the time-to-answer has been
wrongly calculated by the game creator, a player may not be able to
waste any time in looking at the enemy in-game messages, needing
some extra-time, which has subsequently been added by default; if
timing is totally ill-calculated though, the player may be unable to
answer in time anyway, thus being led to frustration.
As the game doesn’t relatively differ all that much from a classical
timed Quiz, a serious person who doesn’t have time (or feel like)
playing games may play at its own pace against the non-existent-AI,
basically an AI that is rigged to always answer late and not correctly.
A player who isn’t keen on having a laugh may as well ignore any of
the messages displayed in the Player 2 section, and keep on enjoying
the Quizzes as if they were boring school tests. The game works both
ways, regardless of the player interest in having fun. The player
shapes his own experience, and the game can go only so far in being
appealing to people who do not like to enjoy things. This odd fun-
hating behaviour by end-users (also seen in the studies on the
educational use of Making History) has also been considered in the
development phase, thus leading to the implementation of a “No
Comedic in-game messages have shown positive feedback by users
who took time to see what was going on, when the answering time
hadn’t been miscalculated. Thanks to the amount of possible
behavioural pattern that can be displayed by all four kinds of AI and
the ever-changing questions (within the bounds of the question pool
from which these are drawn), the game can also guarantee a discreet
• Editor feedback
The editor has been tested as well, although by an intermediary
person in contact with an educator. While it was found indeed easy to
use, writing a minimum of twenty-five questions was felt as a
tiresome activity; the minimum has thus been decreased to twenty.
Calculating the time to answer has also been found as a complex
activity, especially in the case of questions that required logical
thinking rather than the use of memorized notions, which require less
time. Nonetheless, as the platform upon which the game is
implemented allows other users to download and mod other users’
games, this problem of time may be solved by an active community of
users and amateurish “game developers”, people who may correct
timer-related issues through feedbacks, or game importation and
Integration with DEV, the system within which the game is supposed
to run, has been successfully tried out as well, although it has been
found less simple than creating the game. Since DEV integration has
been found relatively difficult, the editor has been modified in order
to allow to make games that may run everywhere, whether they are
on the platform upon which they were meant to be… or not.
The dissertation is over, have a nice day.
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