Figuring out Game Design

I’ve been mainly working on “behind the scenes” stuff the last weeks - game design & theoretical research (pedagogy/instructional design & educational games). The research was crucial to figure out the game design of my game & learn how to translate learning objectives into game mechanics.

Based on plant needs of butterflies

I found an useful table by schmetterlingswiesen.de which lists 8 butterflies and the plants the adult animal and caterpillar need. Caterpillars of a species usually require completely different plants than the adult counterpart.

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My first idea was to find a pair of butterflies with overlapping plant dependencies. I found the Common Blue, Essex skipper and Meadow brown to have partly overlapping plants like so:

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Common Blue: both butterfly (Bf) & caterpillar (Cp) need common bird's-foot trefoil

Essex Skipper: Bf needs common bird's-foot trefoil, Cp needs Dactylis glomerata

Meadow brown: Bf needs Achillea, Cp needs Dactylis glomerata

So if the player would plant all 3 plants in the order as above, they’d attract a new butterfly each time they plant a new species.

The next step was to figure out how to turn this into a fun game while keeping the learning outcomes in mind.

How to make a garden suitable for butterflies?

After some discussion with my aunt, who works in nature conservation, I decided to have as game goal “make a garden that is suitable for butterflies”. From the beginning one of my main inspirations was the game Viridi, which is a relaxing gardening game that makes you focus on the in-the-moment joy of gardening. You place seeds, water them and pluck weeds. The seeds grow in real-time into full plants.

My problem now was how to translate the general idea of Viridi into a short form experience with less plants & the addition of educational info. I got inspired by an interview of the main designer of Viridi where she stated how they realized adding goals, makes you focus on what is expected of you (extrinsic rewards) instead of the in-moment fun.

Here my initial explorations with the relations of caterpillars and butterflies with flowers helped figuring out the next steps.

Identify butterflies & caterpillars to unlock new seeds

The solution was to keep the freedom of letting the player decorate the pot with limited materials - much like in Viridi, but change the way new plants are being unlocked (in Viridi this is time based or you can also buy new seedlings trough microtranscations).

Once a plant is fully grown & flowers, it attracts a suiting butterfly. The player can observe the butterfly to identify it, thus learning which plant its caterpillar needs. You then unlock the seed for the caterpillar plant of this species & which you can grow into an adult plant.

Once you identify the caterpillar a new plant for a new species is unlocked (until all 3 species in the prototype are in your pot).

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Lots to learn from ugly prototypes

To test out my idea I made an intentionally ugly prototype (so I don’t spend time on graphics) in Scratch to test out my gameplay idea.

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It doesn’t have very good user feedback yet, but it was sufficient enough to show it to people and test it out. Something I realized is that I want to limit the number of seeds in the inventory. Else the player is likely just to keep planting them.

Next Steps

  • turn game design into actionable Game Design Document (started with this already)

  • theoretical: further show my approach to educational game design based on Lameras, Petros and Czauderna, André/Guardiola, Emmanuel

Rick HoppmannComment