In our ongoing experiments in blog writing, we decided to both play the same game this week and then share our perspectives. The game we chose is Cargo-Bot, an iPad puzzle game where the goal is to make the robot move blocks into particular arrangements. (On a side note, Cargo-Bot is also interesting because the game itself was programmed on a iPad using Codea. Maybe we’ll play around with that for another post.)
We each played the game and recorded our thoughts separately, without reference to each other’s notes (just like The Newlywed Game, but a lot geekier!). So here goes…
1. It’s about programming!
Programming is really hard to teach and learn for myriad reasons. But the steep learning curve is often the arch nemesis of many newbie coders. Getting your brain around the idea of “if” statements, loops, and all the other logic that comes as part of coding is tricky. This boils it down into nice tutorials and engaging puzzles.
2. Are those really hints?
The hints are frustrating and inspiring. The first time I got stuck on a problem, I hit the hint button and was pretty disappointed at first. A short sentence “Reuse the solution from the previous level with a small modification.” Blergh! That’s a tease! But then the next sentence, “The shortest known solution uses 8 registers.”
Registers are the small blocks of space that you use to create the program for the robot. By telling me the number of registers in the shortest, meaning most efficient, solution they’ve now awakened my obsessive hyper-competitive side. Try, try, and try again. I can find lots of solutions and all of them are correct. But I MUST find the most efficient path.
3. But wait, that’s a STEM mindset!
It’s a trial and error mindset that I’ve talked about before (STEM!). And they’re inadvertently fostering a community of people who are talking about the game outside of the immediate game-space. And teaching programming logic at the same time. <3 <3 <3
1. I can program, suckers!
For someone who’s never written a line of code in her life, the premise of this game and the simple puzzles of the first few tutorial levels briefly made me feel a rush of power. Programming is easy! Drop the blocks of code in the right order and watch the robot obey your commands! There is something immensely satisfying about figuring out the puzzle of how to get a task accomplished and putting the pieces in place to do so.
2. But I don’t want to program!
That said, after about 15 minutes it was immensely clear to me that I’ll never be a programmer. My immense frustration when I couldn’t figure out one puzzle – my robot kept breaking apart as my flawed instructions forced it to smash itself against a wall – made me want to say a lot of nasty words (ok, maybe I did say them under my breath). My brain just isn’t set up to function in this way and though the challenges made for fun puzzles as a leisure-time activity, if I was trying to put together blocks of instructions together like this and other people were depending on me for my code to work consistently, I think I might cry.
3. Wow, I respect people who can really program
Although I’m clearly not cut out to play in code for my day job, I have to say playing this game gave me even more respect for programmers. This game is about as simple as it gets – the building blocks are already set up and the tasks I was trying to accomplish in the game were phenomenally simple, devoid of any character animation, voiceover, or any of the other million things that an actual programmer might be dealing with on a daily basis.
I feel like I should understand how to play this game better than the average person – I do design games, after all – and it still often took me several attempts to accomplish a task (and certainly not in the most efficient way – I was tanking on my efficiency scores throughout). So I have to hand it to the real code experts, the people to whom this kind of thing is second nature. I wish I could borrow one of their brains for a bit and see how a really successful coder feels at the top of their game. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just play the easiest level of Cargo-Bot over and over to boost my programming ego…
So those are two perspectives on Cargo-Bot, courtesy of the No Crusts crew. It’s been fun playing the game (separately) together this week, and a great reminder for us of the different things that games can accomplish and the varying perspectives that players bring to them.
Have a suggestion for the next great game that we should play? Email us at kidsGotGame@noCrusts.com or message us on Twitter @noCrusts.