This is The Indie Story Week # 02 – An ongoing blog chronicling the development ofPawcho Saves the ABCs, a mobile game being developed by an independent Vancouver team that aims to teach young children how to write the alphabet. Last week we introduced our team, talked about the history of the game and discussed our mandate for design.
To many people this word will bring forth images of oily and sweaty men labouring over cars or industrial equipment. To a game designer, this word is life.
In the gaming world, mechanics is the term for the framework that a game is built on. It is a critical function as it details what the player does in the game. If you’re playing a puzzle game, such as Tetris, your mechanic is moving the pieces to form an unbroken horizontal line. For a game to be successful, interesting, and engaging, that core mechanic has to be, above all, fun.
Our key challenge during the design phase of Pawcho was to identify that particular mechanic that was engaging and fun, while also helping children develop key cognitive and motor skills. We wanted to make sure to take into account scientifically proven principles of Early Childhood Education.
The first step was understanding the rules for how children learn to draw letters, and grade school teacher Nick Chatton introduced us to the top to bottom method used by educators. The second step was agreeing on implementation, how the prompts on screen would work to help kids learn how to draw each letter. We decided to associate each letter with a word, using the Dolch List of Sight Words. These words represent the earliest visual associations children have with written language, and the final challenge was deciding exactly what word to use… something that is much harder than it seems!
This was where we had to make sure that the mechanics were fun. A child fills in the A, and Apples appear on the trees, so they can visually see that their action is changing the world. With every letter a child learns, they help Pawcho on his journey to save the ABC’s.
Art style is another element that helps define a game. Jeff brought with him his Boximals brand which, as the name suggests, combines animals with cardboard boxes. The purpose behind this art style was to make our product stand out, and also provide something visually appealing to children and adults alike. Pawcho didn’t pop fully formed on the page though, and our team had a couple long design sessions before settling on the look for both him, and the world he lives in.
Check back next Tuesday where we’ll take a look at story and narrative, and transition to real-time…ish… progress reports on the game as it develops.
This Blog first appears on the Vancouver Sun's Community Blog Section, on April 9, 2013