Intelligent Mobile Games

brain superimposed on head

In my previous post on mobile games, I observed that commercial game manufacturers have a huge advantage in financial and other resources over most educational game creators.  Another huge advantage commercial developers have is intelligence.  That is not to say that one group of developers is necessarily smarter than the other, but the games they produce often are.

By intelligence, I’m specifically addressing the complexity of games.  A dumb game will have one linear path that is only repeatable in the same way every time.  Adding some intelligence enables the game to respond to the user in a way that varies the experience or tailors it to the user’s actions and choices.

classic cars app screenshot

Is this a postwar sedan or iconic musclecar? Um, no.

Take for example, a simple quiz game (which is using the term game loosely, perhaps).  There are many of these available for mobile devices such as the classic cars quiz at right.  I admit to being a car guy, but I’m really not familiar with cars of the vintage pictured.  I couldn’t tell this apart from a Model A Ford at a glance, for example.  But the other three choices are not even close.  The Tucker ’48 was the subject of a Hollywood movie and the other two are iconic muscle cars of the ’60s.  Perhaps this is picking nits, but I think we can do better.

As a way to learn to make mobile apps, I’m considering pulling together a basic Ohio State quiz in which the user would identify the name of a building in an image.  I think I could figure out how to do this, which makes it a good first game for me to work on, though I recognize it may not be that useful an application or even a very good game.  But there are enough Buckeyes out there who would give it a try and it might help people new to the campus get acclimated (including ESL students, my audience of interest).

One of the issues with these quiz games is that the “wrong” answers in the multiple choice are clearly wrong — like in the classic cars example — which can be answered with very little knowledge of the content.  Further, in the simplest games of this type the same three wrong answers in the multiple-choice quiz are served to the user every time it is played, preventing it from being challenging if repeated.  This is not a flaw in the design of the game but a flaw in the design of the quiz — a potential problem with most quizzes on most content management systems as well.  Some intelligence can go a long way to addressing these issues.

For example, a quiz on buildings on the Ohio State campus could be made more challenging by offering three wrong answers that are geographically close (using map coordinates), have similar features (color, date or material of construction) or levels of notoriety (there’s only one Ohio Stadium).

Perhaps this is more accurately an issue of complexity or, at least, very close to the low end of the intelligence spectrum.  Some quiz games do use algorithms to track which questions are answered incorrectly so that they may be repeated.  I’m not sure if or which mobile-game / application platforms can accommodate this layer of intelligence or complexity.  But as I begin to build mine, I hope to find out.

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