Finalist 2021

TRIOS - lofi beats / numbers to chill to

Samurai Punk

TRIOS is a relaxing, minimalist maths puzzle game. Take your time, chill out with some numbers. Deceptively simple, surprisingly challenging.

TRIOS is a minimalist maths puzzle game, born out of a desire to translate the joy of solving mathematical problems into a form that is both approachable and satisfying for a wide audience. It features a soothing visual / audio aesthetic and a safe interactive space for players to solve puzzles. There are no failure states, and the game features an adaptive difficulty feature that tracks their performance and matches challenge to their skill to guide players into a state of flow. It is available on PC and Nintendo Switch.

Design Brief

We tried to make an experience that could convince players that anybody can enjoy mathematics. There is a large group of people who consider themselves "not a maths person", and they'd immediately dismiss anything to do with maths because they believe they're not capable enough. Our team believes that the mechanics of mathematics can be enjoyed by anybody, but they're so often presented in dry and intimidating ways that we felt we could offer a much more inviting and gentle way for people to enjoy maths puzzles, regardless of their skill level.

The first key challenge was to have a simple set of mechanics based on arithmetic, and pair it with an intuitive and satisfying user interface. The second key challenge was to create a puzzle generator to dynamically tailor the experience based on players' skill, so that both newcomers and confident players feel challenged and rewarded.

This project was developed by:

Design Process

The game was first prototyped in 2019, which had the basic mechanics and aesthetics, but with only hand-crafted puzzles.

This version was fun, but was too challenging for those who weren't maths enthusiasts. However when playtesting it, we found that children were engaged by the concept, it was just too difficult.

Since that time, we set out to create the more polished and adaptive version that could be enjoyed by more players. We playtested with people from the age groups between 10 - 65, to get a broad understanding of how different players felt about the challenge. We started developing a puzzle generator with intelligent generation, rather than rely on hand-crafted puzzles. Based on their feedback, we'd iterate aspects of the user interface and the puzzle generator so that the game was easy to play and that the challenge felt "fair" based on the players' individual skill levels.

We've brought our 7 years of experience as game developers to make an educational experience engaging, tactile, fun and rewarding. We brought on a talented and experienced UI programmer, and together were able to significantly elevate both the presentation and usability of the game. We made several iterations of the interface throughout development, testing internally and with playtesters to refine towards the current interface. We worked with our sound designer to create a soothing soundscape and curated list of songs. We've received lots of positive feedback for the presentation, and users are surprised by how premium and pleasing the game is for a "maths game".

Design Excellence

We felt that the aesthetic and usability design of TRIOS was critical to it succeeding as an accessible and inviting maths experience. We find that "non-maths people" quickly get scared when seeing lots of numbers and operators, so we needed to ensure their first impression was a positive one, to undo the conditioning of past experiences.

To this end, we did a lot of research and development on different art styles and looked closely at mass-market applications and how they communicate their affordances for as wide a possible audience. Most games are designed for core gamers, but we looked towards mainstream apps and mobile interfaces as a basis, because we intended our game to be playable by both very young children and eldery adults who may not be as digitally literate as core gamers. We combined elegant visual design with subtle visual / audio cues to teach players the basics of the mechanics with as little hand-holding as possible. The interface responds with satisfying visual / audio feedback to players' actions, informing them of the state and creating a pleasant experience when solving puzzles. We feel that we've gone above and beyond most "educational games" in our level of polish and tactile game feel, and would be one of the leading examples of gamification of mathematics.

We entered the Australian Game Developer Awards 2021 and are nominated for best audio and best serious game, so it is being recognised as one of the top games developed in Australia this year.

Design Innovation

We set out to build a game that makes maths fun and accessible. From our external testing, we've found that an incredibly wide range of players have been enjoying the game. Particularly we've been told that young children and the elderly enjoy it, and young adults are finding them surprisingly enjoying it despite no previous interest in maths.

The core mechanics could have been implemented in a dry and clinical way, and we believe that it'd have limited appeal only to maths enthusiasts. However we believe that our combination of soothing visuals / audio, adaptive puzzle generation and tactile gameplay feedback creates a unique experience that effectively creates a welcoming maths experience for players.

We also put considerable effort into retention mechanics - in game design, we needed to consider what will bring players back to play more. Players needed to feel a sense of progression and reward, but we also needed the game to have infinite replayability. To solve this, we created our Infinite Mode which uses the adaptive puzzle generator to give players new puzzles that remain challenging and has the number collecting mechanic. When a player solves a puzzle, they collect a number which is added to a stack on their planet. The planet grows infinitely as players complete puzzles, giving them a sense of growth as they play the game that is able to scale infinitely.

Design Impact

In recent years, there has been a lot more opportunities for children to enter STEM fields as we prepare society for our technology driven future. Mathematics plays such an integral role in STEM, we feel that TRIOS has the potential to create genuine interest in the joy of mathematics in children. We're open to exploring licensing the game for schools to use, as we feel that the game's simplicity and easy-going nature is a great way for kids to learn basic arithmetic skills, and develop their working memory with numbers that can then apply to more advanced mathematics.

We also believe that it has potential to open up to more premium game experiences for elderly gamers. Much of the marketplace for casual games is full of advertisements, time-wasting mechanics or predatory microtransactions, but TRIOS is an experience that is accessible to the elderly whilst also being a fun and mentally stimulating activity.

Digital Design 2021 Finalists

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