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Designing for children...

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#1 lmbarns   Members   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:56 AM

Anyone have any good resources on the topic? I've been reading what I find on Google, most are about educational value or lack of in games and not so much about different age groups, cognitive/motor skills of the age groups, etc. in regards to gaming.

I'm making a short and simple game that consists of a few 3d mini games with a couple different control schemes for mobile devices.

One is a simple touch to move controller to move around by touching locations on the screen.

The other 2 use 2 touchpads, the left one gives the same as w,a,s,d while the right one rotates/steers. The player steers the vehicle through a linear course collecting items, or not. I figure I need to make a time limit on the level in case the player just wanders around aimlessly lost that will after 5min or something take them to the loading screen.

I was playing some kids games yesterday, maybe they were for a younger audience, but they took control away from the player completely, you just watch as your character moves along the track making noises, pressing a single jump button to jump over obstacles as they approach. So I'm wondering if driving, steering and jumping is going to be too much for a 5-7 year old?

So far assumptions I'm following:
-No violence, no combat, no scary sounds/monsters
-Constant feedback effects (audio, flashing icon/graphics)
-Happy/silly sound effects
-Only positive actions acknowledged (player doesn't die or lose lives)
-Simple as possible (goal is to make a game in less than 40 hours, so keeping as simple as possible)

Things I'm not sure about:
-Dialogue(I should probably do audio versions of all my dialogue? Or should I use dialogue to teach reading[simple phrases, or audio with reading])

-Losing pets (one task is to retrieve a lost animal, when you bring it to the npc it takes the animal away and rewards you) but I'm wondering if that would make a kid sad. I remember in UO angry parents cause their kids pet was killed.

-Controller, can a 5-7 year old kid move, steer and jump a vehicle? Probably need a demo to orient the PC with the controller before each level. Or a basic instruction lesson at the start of the level for sure.

Any thoughts or resources?

Here's my prototyped loading screen, I need to make graphics, badly...each of those 3 placeholder icons will be a mini game. (the horse and sheep randomly shuffle animations and sound effects in the loading scene)

The other picture is one of the "courses" with the dual touchpads(the text stats will be icons). So far I've spent 10 hours and have a full taming system with a dozen animals in the top down level, and 2 mini games roughed out.

What age group would you say I should focus on? Is 5 too young for this? I figured even if they don't do the course correctly they could ride around. Maybe that's fun enough for a kid if I get some decent sound effects.

Attached Thumbnails

  • horseLoading.png
  • horseFPS.png

Edited by lmbarns, 22 June 2012 - 12:05 PM.

#2 Stormynature   GDNet+   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:11 PM

Are you making the games for simply for the fun to play or do you plan to include educational components? From what I got from above you seem to be toying with the ideas of including educational components. This would lead to larger set of resources out there for you. Will come back and post properly but am actually in a conference atm and not paying the attention I should be to the conversation at hand.

Edited by Stormynature, 22 June 2012 - 12:16 PM.

#3 Dan Mayor   Members   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:20 PM

Can't say as that I have any experience or know how on this topic but just some things I would imagine to hold true...

Dialog, yes your going to require audio versions but large easy to read subtitles would help to add educational reading value. Try to make the dialog itself simple, use smaller words correct grammar and punctuation.

Losing pets, I would think that this would more so be teaching kids the values of helping out others more so then losing something of their own. It might require some further study to deliver correctly but I would imagine the general idea would be to announce that someone needs help finding their missing pet, try to avoid making the pet TOO likable so as that the child doesn't actually form a bond with the new pet before delivering it to the person.

Controls probably the simpler the better however very slowly introducing additional buttons would be more beneficial from a learning aspect. Maybe the first few levels all you have to do is jump, then maybe for a few levels you just dodge left and right, then the next few you dodge and jump.

Kids learn a lot faster then adults do, if done correctly you may have the child fully controlling the horse and learning the value of helping others while at the least being exposed to subtitles and starting to mentally match written word to spoken word. Just some things to think about.

Dan Mayor

Professional Programmer & Hobbyist Game Developer

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#4 lmbarns   Members   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 12:40 PM

Are you making the games for simply for the fun to play or do you plan to include educational components?

Well I wanted the riding levels to be for fun, you gather "treats" for your pet by jumping over obstacles along a course, accumulate a score, maybe keep track of your 3 top high scores.

The taming level could be educational though. Basically there's a scene with a dozen different types of animals(whatever animated models I have that are low poly enough) and a single NPC stablemaster. Currently, you touch the screen to walk to that point, and can touch a button to jump while moving(to jump onto or over things), if you stand close enough to an animal a text pops up saying touch the animal to begin taming. If you touch the animal, it starts taming, which displays little phrases like "will you be my friend", "Mr NPCname sent me to bring you home", "i want to be your friend", etc at an interval while taming.

-Player has a taming skill
-Each animal has a minimum taming skill
-Trying to tame an animal with too high skill says "The animal is too wild, you need higher taming skill"
-If you touch are in range of a tamable animal, touching it will start the taming coroutine.
-At the end of the coroutine it rolls a dice to determine success based off the PC skill to animal min skill ratio.

-Failed attempts increase taming skill a tiny amount, play an animal grunt/snort, and restart the coroutine to automatically try retaming if you're standing in range.

-Successful attempt raise taming a lot, and will turn off the animal's wander script, play a happy animal sound, and enable a waypoint script that keeps it moving around the player.

If the player walks back to the NPC stablemaster, it'll destroy the pet, show a message thanking the player for bringing back the animal, and increment a score. At some point I was figuring of making a stable scene where you can load a pet you are now "friends" with, to pet them or brush them or something. Or just view information about them, listen to their different sounds and watch them shuffle through animations.

Educational part:
I was considering adding little quests to recover a specific type of animal, this could be partly educational. It could just be a popup window that shows an icon of the animal, with a description. Or triggered from walking near the NPC.

The other thing I was thinking which would be very simple, is when you're in range of an animal, if you touch it to start the taming cycle, maybe it pops up a window with an icon of the animal, what country it's from, etc information like that.

So basically you touch to move around, touch animals to try to tame, various sounds are triggered for each animal, pig grunts, horse neighs, dog barks/whines, donkeys, etc but there are some exotic ones as well like rhino, african deer, elephant, mountain sheep, etc.

The animals have around 5 animations each, idle, walk, run, graze1, graze2. It'll randomly shuffle the graze/idles and they have a wander script which does just that. I'd like to get around 5 sounds for each as well. I have some ambient farm sounds.

Hardest part is getting loopable sounds for say cantering a horse on grass, water, stone, etc

EDIT:: Also do you think it's important to include a boy character, I was making the main character a girl fairy with wings. LOL There's no character in the FPS levels, you just drive the animal.

Edited by lmbarns, 22 June 2012 - 12:53 PM.

#5 Stormynature   GDNet+   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 01:19 PM

EDIT:: Also do you think it's important to include a boy character, I was making the main character a girl fairy with wings. LOL There's no character in the FPS levels, you just drive the animal.

Always have the option for a boy character and don't forget race either - typically you would have the 6 basic models - you could also introduce hair colour as an option, but no more complicated than that would be needed imo.

Some resources for you




One important thing is if you include educational aspects - don't rely simply on repetition - Use multiple methods to teach the same lesson - For example if you are teaching numbers - then make the horse jump a 3 foot jump, a 5 foot jump, make the player find 3 lost chicks, collect 6 eggs etc etc.

Edit: Some additional links. The last one looks interesting.





Edited by Stormynature, 22 June 2012 - 01:54 PM.

#6 sunandshadow   Members   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 03:16 PM

When I was in the 5-7 age range I liked space invaders, galaga, klax, pac-man, oregon trail, invisible bugs (breeding sim), odell lake, a game involving solving math problems to make progress in investigating a mystery in a comically spooky house, and proto-sims-type dollhouse/pet games.

I want to help design a "sandpark" MMO. Optional interactive story with quests and deeply characterized NPCs, plus sandbox elements like player-craftable housing and lots of other crafting. If you are starting a design of this type, please PM me. I also love pet-breeding games.

#7 Acharis   Members   


Posted 22 June 2012 - 05:05 PM

The biggest problem are parents. Games for small kids are not designed for kids but for parents that buy these for their kids. And parents put "fun" very low on their requirement list :) You need to make boring games with "educational values" if you want to sell... So, making fun game for small kids is a waste of time because no one cares nor buy these :(
I would go for games for a bit older kids, these have enough saying in the choice of their games so the fun is important again.

EDIT:: Also do you think it's important to include a boy character, I was making the main character a girl fairy with wings. LOL There's no character in the FPS levels, you just drive the animal.

LOL, you really don't remember anything from your early youth :D I doubt there is a 5 year old boy on this planet who would agree to play as "A GIRL" :) Gender is extremely important at that age, it's a basis of identity, kids don't have things like "personality" yet, all they have is their name, gender, age and parents, that's what makes them different from others, that's what makes them "I".
Working on an Emperor focused, no micromanagement, asymmetric, 4X, space empire builder:

Stellar Monarch (4X, turn based): GDN forum topic - Twitter - Facebook - YouTube

#8 kseh   Members   


Posted 26 June 2012 - 01:41 PM

To suggest the obvious, watch kids play games to see what they like and what they can do. I can tell you that my niece (8) seemed to be quite happy playing one of those mahjong, match the pairs sort of games and both she and my nephew (5) enjoy Angry Birds. I believe they also both enjoy the various games on the Moshi Monsters website.

Of the two, my nephew seemed to enjoy the side scroller that I'm working on more. Watching him play, I realized his fine motor skills aren't quite sufficient yet to perform some of the more precise things that I do when I play the game. Also I got the sense that the level was just way too big for him to relate to very well. I have no idea what a good sized world for kids of various ages might be but it's something to consider.

Cause and effect seems to be a popular thing with kids, I know it was with me and still is. Being able to see the effect that my actions have is more rewarding and interesting than knowing that there's a statistic in the background that has an effect on whether I'm able to do something or not. Imagine that you have to learn how to do something for the first time and need to approach the task a few times to get it right. Now, are you failing because you need to figure out the controls or are you failing because your character's stat says that the character isn't ready yet? There's a difference between saying that you have to complete something 6 times and you have to fail at something 6 times before you can move forward. I'm thinking go with the more positive of the two.

As much as parents are the ones buying the games and they'll likely be figuring on exposing their kids to educational games, there are parents out there that have learned that a game like Angry Birds can sufficiently distract a kid while sitting at the Doctor's office or wherever to make their lives easier. Not sure how that translates into marketing stuff but just an observation.

From how you describe your game it does sound like you're on to something and going in the right direction. Finding and returning lost animals home sounds to me like a goal that kids might enjoy. For animals that are effectively too high a level for the player to retrieve yet... the one thought I have is that it might be a good idea to give the player an indication of which animals they are ready for. Rather than a number the player doesn't see, what if the character was given different titles like say Assistant, Pet Specialist, Farmer, Zoo Keeper, Jungle Adventurer and if the player comes across an animal that he's not ready for say something like, "You need to be Farmer to be able to handle this animal." Maybe don't put too many animals out there that are beyond what the player can handle and give a good sense of progression. I'd also suggest you take the random element out of the training. A roll of the dice behind the scenes gives players no indication of what went wrong with what they were attempting to do and it isn't obvious to me what the point of having a player simply touching an animal sprite for a second or third time would be. A mini-game would be a better mechanism if you want to include a possible failure element.

One unthought-out suggestion just because I think it might be cool, maybe after you've taken an animal back to the stable or wherever and you're "friends" now, maybe allow the player to take an animal out with them to look for the next one. They'd be always safe from any dangers and wouldn't have to do anything other than just follow the player around but I gotta figure kids would get a kick out of that.

#9 lmbarns   Members   


Posted 27 June 2012 - 02:08 PM

Thanks tseh for your great response.

I'll ditch the minimum skill for the animals and might just make it a flat 2/5 chance or something.

I made a stable scene where you can load each different animal in a stable and it randomly moves around playing animations/sounds(I could limit it to only animals you've brought to the stable, for functionality testing it lets you load each one). For animals that are rideable I was thinking of throwing up an icon to launch the riding scene from the stable, with that particular animal. I was thinking maybe adding some extra effects like feeding the treats you gather from the riding levels, or touching the animal to trigger different sounds/animations. Here's where I could add some educational info about the animal, what it eats, where it's from, typical use of that type of animal, etc. maybe a friend and foe list. hehe

One thing I want to flesh out more has to do with time limits. Right now they can just ride the courses collecting items without a time limit. I was thinking of tying in time limits without just having a "countdown" on the screen, so was thinking of giving the player small "missions" to go perform before the sun goes down, or before the sun fully rises. Maybe "get to the finish line before the sun goes down", meanwhile there's a timer that blends the ambient light/skybox darker over a 5 min period until the scene is pitch black, then if they haven't finished by that time it ends the level with the objective not met.

To make the most of the courses I do have, which aren't much yet, I was making multiple rideable animals, each with it's own sounds/effects. I made some tunnels that aren't big enough to ride a horse through, but you can ride a pig/sheep/fox/dog to see that content.

I was also thinking for the more "open" field level to give little missions like the farmer saying: "I haven't seen the sheep in several days, do you think you could ride around and locate them for me"? Or similar for different animals or combinations of animals, "Could you ride around and report back the locations of the different animals?" type things.

Watching my gf try to use the touchpads gave me a better idea. Instead of the touchpad for w,a,s,d input, when she just wanted to go forward it would stop, strafe, or move diagonally. I swapped it out for a "go" button that moves you forward, you still steer with the second touchpad but it's way more intuitive.

Right now the riding levels are very linear, when you get to the end of each it takes you to the next. I should probably put a minimum achievement needed to move on("x" points in under "x" seconds) so they unlock new content at several intervals or retry until they can move on.

#10 lmbarns   Members   


Posted 13 July 2012 - 09:51 AM

Here's the prototype of the first 4 mini games
The riding levels aren't until the second half...fast forward if you want.

I was looking at adding another competition mode that functions similar to mario kart, but you race as an animal against other animals around some tracks with a couple powerups and different speed/turning/jump heights for each animal as a base. Mario kart was fun at a number of ages, very simple, I think I can make my own variation that will be different.

Here's a little waypoint system for the racing AI, I'm going to change it to a different system but this is the basic idea, the player will race against a herd of animals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkr_AO-3vsM&feature=player_detailpage

I need to keep them from running through each other, and drive them by physics rather than just moving them towards the next waypoint and playing their animation.

But it runs on the kindle:

Maybe I should just make a racing game by itself and ditch the taming/stable stuff. Thoughts?

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