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Scaling difficulty from Dora To Master Chief

vsb9 2 The Learning Curve in Games: From Dora to Master Chief


Robert Edwards of the Vancover Sun writes that “Scaling difficulty is something found on all levels of design, and when creating games for children this thorny issue is even more prickly. There has to be a challenge, for if a game is too easy and plays itself, it won’t engage a child. If it is too difficult, even by small amounts, they’ll get frustrated and either give up, or have the parent play for them.

It’s an issue we’ve faced in Pawcho. We took a look at some of the Dora the Explorer games during our initial design pass, to see how they approached difficulty. What we found was that many games aimed at children totally eschew any form of difficulty curve, presenting the main mechanic and never deviating or building on it. It was a crucial design decision for us not to follow this pattern.

Early Childhood Education is about building blocks. You take a skill, teach it, and have the child build on that to do a more difficult task. Pawcho’s main mechanic is drawing letters, initially in mostly block upper case. As the game progresses we introduce lower case letters, mixed in with the upper case, not only to teach children the two alphabets, but to slightly increase difficulty. In addition, the story, while still remaining silly and childish, takes on elements of complexity (Such as Pawcho interacting with various characters) to further  teach them about more advanced narrative. Neither of these is meant to be radical, or game changing on a fundamental level, but simply challenge the child a bit more when playing the game. A game like Halo, starring the Master Chief, will progressively introduce harder enemies, more weapons and vehicles to challenge the player, and we emulate this through harder letters, more options, and a story designed to engage, and challenge at the same time.”

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