In some ways, we made Mathbreakers as a reaction to the state-of-the-art in educational games. Many other math games are great at teaching and testing certain concepts, but fail to be engaging to kids. We see engagement as important, not only because kids will enjoy the game more, but because this motivation greatly improves learning.
One of the ways we keep players in a state of tension and engagement is by using time pressure in our action/arcade puzzles. Sometimes you will be chased down by spikeys, or zapped by guards, or fall off cliffs if you don't react quickly.
Passing these challenges requires accurate calculation and planning in a short period of time. When designed well, they induce a flow state in the player. In addition to adding engagement and fun to the game, we use arenas for repetition and training of skills the players have just learned.
Designing ArenasWe like to use an arena format with a unique twist for action segments. One example:
Here, we have a prime zone which all the enemies stay inside of. This type of zone with turn any prime numbers into gems. This is how we make the conflict interesting - the player has to figure out an efficient way to turn all these enemy numbers into primes. Right now, the Multiblaster is loaded with 9s which will dispatch of the 20s (20 + 9 = 29, a prime number) but can't deal with the 15 or 9 guards. A player who has planned well can load up her Number Launcher with 2s to finish off the guards (15+2 = 17, 9+2 = 11).
Other arenas in our game require zeroing enemies, finding square numbers, making fractions, factoring large numbers, and so on.