CuriouSer(OLD)

CuriouSer was a VR educational game for the Google Pixel, where the player works in a fast food pizza restaurant in space. This project’s aim was to create an educational game which teaches introductory computer science concepts for beginners of computer science. The CuriouSer team worked through extensive research and play-testing; pushing the boundaries of Virtual Reality educational experiences. In the game, the player must cook different flavored pizzas in a specified time for Aliens.

Role: Game Designer

Responsibilities:

  • Organized and participated in brainstorming design sessions.
  • Conceptualized situation and scenario to be inclusive and engaging towards the target audience (middle and high school students).
  • Paper prototyped concept with cardboard boxes to create a 3D space in order to mimic VR space.
  • Organized play-tests and feedback sessions from play-testers of all ages, primarily between middle and high school students.
  • Assisted in the creation of a sample lesson plan to help teachers include this new game into their pre-existing curriculum.
  • Worked closely in collaboration within a small multidisciplinary team.
  • Attended and participated in meetings among administration education professionals and teachers to confirm the information we are teaching is accurate and concise.

Software & Hardware

Software:

  • Unity
  • Photoshop
  • Perforce
  • Microsoft Office Suite

Hardware

  • Google Pixel (XL)
  • Google Daydream
Cosmic Kitchen Demo 2017

Full Process

Below follows a detailed description of the entire process.

Contents

Problem, Goal, and Solution

Problem

Learning CS in middle and high school is not engaging or fun.

Goal

To create a fun and engaging CS game which educates students on the use of methods and functions.

Solution

Create a virtual reality CS alien-space cooking game where the primary objective is making pizzas through creating “function” presets.


CuriouSer was an academic project created over the course of a semester. My team and I were partnered with our Client Alice who is a subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University. Specializing in Computer Science education, a representative came to us and requested we make a game facilitating CS education within schools though what we decided to teach in our game was entirely up to us. So we started researching…

Research

Over the first two weeks of the project we examined many different references that already have been proven to teach CS well. However, we were specifically tasked of making a game that teaches CS but also is “Fun”. Though our references were excellent at educating, we felt they lacked entertainment. The next thing for us to do was to discuss with teachers the methods they already use to teach CS, how they keep their student engaged, and how they assess student learning.

“The real struggle is keeping the students engaged. All of the students are very talented and receptive so it’s the teachers job to engage with the students. Discover about who they are, what they like, and then bring that back around into the lesson.”

With one other team member, we started visiting schools and conversing with teachers about their needs alongside their students needs. We wanted to know what aspects of the teachers experience we could make easier while maintaining effectiveness. We discovered the most important aspects were…

  • Engagement
  • Knowledge Acquisition
  • Assessment

Because of our findings above we determined the next steps would be to decide exactly what we will be teaching in the game. With endless possibilities, where do we even start? We revisited the programs we’d been referencing to see exactly what they were teaching and when within their courses curricula. After revisiting teachers we consolidated our findings…

  • Debugging
  • Infrastructure
  • Functions/Methods
  • Variables
  • A little abstract for Middle School
  • Excellent to learn early, if possible
  • Extremely versatile but hard to master
  • Useful, but is there something more so?

After discussing with schools and teachers with our list of options. It was conclusive that teachers saw a lot of value in making a game about functions/methods. We agreed and were excited because we already some ideas for how to make the game educational and fun. But first, we needed a platform.

Platform Research

We started looking at platforms, but we knew there was one condition that needed to be met. It needed to be mobile and easily accessible in the classroom.

Options?

A lot of the schools we were visiting had access to a lot more technology than we originally thought. They had HTC Vive’s, Oculus’, Google Pixels/Day Dreams, Chrome Books, Ipads, and so much more. We had so many options. However, due to the respect of our client Alice, they insisted that we either choose Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality because Alice’s mission was to bring educational CS instruction through VR, primarily.

Augmented vs Virtual

After attending several educational workshops, teaching seminars, meetings with teachers, and reading several papers and research books, it seemed clear which option was the better choice though I will write the pros and cons of each and explain our choice.

Augmented Reality

Pros

  • Students can see their environment and engage with it. Because a lot of classrooms have environmental information, this could be crucial.
  • Easier to incorporate more than one student.
  • Would not replace the teacher easily.

Cons

  • Believabilty for the student? Suspension of disbelief.
  • AR programs notoriously are buggy at this point in time.
  • Holding the AR systems is usually bulky and heavy after a short period.

Virtual Reality

Pros

  • Better immersion, suspension of disbelief.
  • Easier to theme an entirely 3D world.
  • Usually light weight and accessible and inclusive for most students.

Cons

  • Hard to incorporate multiple student interactions.
  • Most students aren’t familiar with VR controller schemes.
  • Unadvised to stay in the headset for a long period of time.

Due to the research above, it seemed better for educational purposes to choose AR because of the ease of incorporating multiple students and the visibility of the classroom environment but due to unexpected constraints from some of the schools and our clients burning desire for us to develop in VR, we decided to go with Mobile VR using the Google Daydream and Google Pixel.

Brainstorms/Concepts & Prototypes

Concept One: Function Forest

Function Forest, the first concept the team and I created. Function forest is a world building game where the player creates their own functions in order to build their own unique world. Once the functions are made, they are saved and easily called upon so that the players can change the layout and contents of their worlds confidently and easily. The original PowerPoint design doc is located below.

Concept Two: Function Kitchen

Function Kitchen is the second concept the team and I came up with during our brainstorming sessions. In this version, the player would be responsible for cooking for a restaurant. It would showcase the tedious nature that can come with having to rewrite code over and over again alongside a revelation of how creating and storing functions can help make code easier, more organized, and quicker.

Concept Paper Play-testing

After brief play-testing with students between the ages of 13 – 17 we discovered a key items.

Function Forest

  • Students more inclined to lose engagement.
  • Did quite understand interactivity.
  • Not many students had a desire to build their own world from scratch. Students wanted to do more elaborate and crazy designs.

Function Kitchen

  • Students understood interactivity and the concept well. Many of them said they enjoyed cooking.
  • Students had no desire to cook hamburgers. They suggested pizza or cake instead.

Teacher Response

After the play-test sessions, and consolidating the feedback the team and I went to discuss our findings with the schools, administrations and teachers. The faculties were in agreement that cooking was a good metaphor for coding that most of them have used in their classes before. Because of this, the team and I decided that Function Kitchen would be the way to move forward. But, there was still the issue of fixing the level of engagement. We asked ourselves how can we make the game more engaging for these students? So we held another brainstorm session.

Theming

The team and I decided that theming the game a specific way would be a good way to enhance engagement. However, we needed to make sure that we would try to include themes that are gender neutral and not boy or girl specific. Some of the many items we brainstormed are…

Boy
  • Futuristic/Cyber
  • Race-car Drive thru
Neutral
  • Fantasy World
  • Space/Aliens
Girl
  • Bakery
  • Forest world

Among these ideas, we play-tested them with our target audience, 13 – 17 boys and girls and found that Aliens was by far the most enjoyable for them and that’s when the Cosmic Kitchen was born. Where the player plays as a cook whose objective is to cook pizza in space for aliens.

The Cosmic Kitchen

We knew we wanted to have all of the ingredients and appliances easily accessible so we started designing the layout of the level.

Level Designs

Lessons Learned

We started our first designs as triangular and a square to try them out. After play-testing within the team, it was too difficult to reach all of the ingredients and appliances since the player couldn’t move from the middle. Especially because the Google Daydream doesn’t supposed locomotion like that. So back to the drawing board.

For this level design, we kept the square layout because of the amount of empty space. Having everything too close together gave our play-testers a sense of claustrophobia. However, when we brought this engine our play-testers started to reach too far. It was as if a mental block was happening and made them feel like they had to reach further in order to use the appliances and reach the ingredients. We had a few people fall from their chairs and knock their hands into objects in the real world so we decided to rework the design to solve the problem of reach-ability, and also the feeling that everything is reachable.

We finally came across this design. A circular design. Internal and external play-tests showed good results. Guests stopped falling out of chairs and they were overall more comfortable with their space. No sign of claustrophobia or feeling that everything is too separate. By bringing a circular/rounded design to our models we were able to subside most of the design issues with our layouts. However, once guests were able to play the experience uninterrupted we found other problems.

Problems

  • “Boring game”
  • “This game is about functions?”

Explanations

  • Guests would often sigh and feel bored of our game during the game play. They said that there wasn’t enough pressure or variety in order to make the game feel fun. It felt very stale and educational.
  • Some guests were confused about what exactly was being taught by the game.

Brainstorming and Solutions

The team and I decided that another brainstorming was necessary to make sure we were still on track and following our design pillars as well as how to solve the problems presented in front of us from our most recent play-test.

Solutions
  • More ingredients
  • Increase timer speed
  • Adding physical lesson plans and assessments
  • Add another oven
Fixing?
  • Add variety to orders
  • Adding excitement to the game could increase engagement
  • By adding supplemental lesson plans and assessments the teachers could assess the students learning and also help the students connect interactivity they are acting within the game to the real world.
  • By adding another oven, we could create double the amount of orders we have without making more 3D models of ingredients.

The team and I decided that due to the time frame we had, as we were nearing the end of the semester and running out of time, the best things to do would be to create a supplemental lesson plan with guided assessments on top of adding another oven. This way we are confronting our most recent and visible problems which are “Not enough order variety” and “Guests having trouble connecting the game to functions and computer science”.

Final Level Design

With the end of the semester approaching quickly, we locked our level design and started polishing our 3D environment.

Final Level Design

As you can see in the picture above, in regards to the variety of pizzas with the available ingredients, by adding another oven, or more over ” a freezer” we’ve easily doubled our variety. From play-tests students no longer stated that they thought the game had a lack of variety. The circle layout made it so all of the ingredients were very well reachable and the addition of excellent sound design by our audio designer, the layout to life and the players no longer experience any issues nor had any comments to say.

A view from the headset

Game and Cook-o-Matic Explained

Our final version of the game involved the player who is working an intergalactic pizza restaurant as a chef. Their task is to create the pizzas requested of them from their alien customers and build the pizzas from scratch, at first. The players will first form the dough, then add the ingredients, and then place in the correct oven. Sometimes aliens order multiple pizzas so the players have to be quick if they want to deliver the pizzas before the time runs out and their customers leave because of their dissatisfaction.

Our friendly Alien Customers

The point of building the pizzas from scratch at first was to represent to the players that doing something over and over again can be tedious. So what we did next was incorporate a magical piece of technology called “The Cook-o-matic” which allowed students to save a pizza type into the machine and all they needed to do was to click on the pizza and it formed, like magic. This was teaching the students that by using functions, you can make you job easier and less tedious.

Assessment & Example Lesson Plan

Alongside the game, we also delivered a sample lesson plan and assessment for the teachers and client so that they can more easily incorporate our game into their pre-existing curriculum.

Play the Game

The game’s downloadable APK is coming soon! Please keep an eye out for it so you can play the game!

The End!

Thank you so very much for reading and I hoped you enjoyed my journey from the beginning to the end of this project!