James Moulang

/ Monster Safari

Monster Safari


I've seen a lot of 'chocolate-covered broccoli' educational games that basically feel like multiple choice questions, so with Monster Safari I wanted to make something that fully took advantage of being a game. The topic in this game is decoding - translating a printed word into phonemes, or sounds, and we were aiming it at a much younger audience than Spell Drive.

The simplest form of this game would just be:

  1. Player reads a word in characters.
  2. Player selects the sound that those characters represent from multiple choices.

I took inspiration from the Pokemon games and created a bunch of monsters, each with a unique nonsense word 'call'. The player has to watch a group of monsters and figure out which one is making the sound of the word they've read. The advantage is most of the gameplay doesn't require the player to use a mouse - something our younger audience more often than not struggled with. The mechanics also turned out to be well suited to a child and an adult playing together, with an adult using the mouse and the child pointing at the monster they want to take a photo of. Children also responded well to this 'hide and seek' style gameplay, for example, Where's Wally?

By presenting the game as a 'safari', we could give some neat explanations for the game rules that fit in with the world, rather than feeling arbitrary. For example: the monsters are very shy, and they're scared away when the camera flashes. If a player clicks the wrong monster, they all run away, but they eventually stop being scared and come back to the center. This stops a mindless trial and error approach but doesn't hugely punish errant clicks. Showing the player the photo they took is a nice reward for a correct answer, and gives the game a sense of pacing.

I would have liked to add a gallery of encountered monsters that the player could fill, a la Neko Atsume, to give an overarching sense of progress. Still, with limited resources to add visual variety to the monsters, that would be all the player would gain from it. This article by Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson explains some other reasons kids form collections:

I think Monster Safari achieved its goals. Players enjoyed the game, and the funny sounds the monsters made, and they were able to identify the monsters. It's also very much an idea that takes advantage of the audiovisual, interactive nature of videogames.

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