Show & Tell winners! (at MindSnacks HQ v2)
Love learning with MindSnacks? Nominate us for Best Education Startup!
The 2012 Crunchies, awards given out by TechCrunch, are upon us and they’ve added a brand-spankin-new category that we think we’d be just *perfect* for—Best Education Startup! We’re willing to give major high fives to anyone and everyone that has it in their heart to nominate us for this most prestigious award. Those nominated are eligible to actually receive the award, so this is a crucial first step!
Feel like getting your nomination on?
Nominate MindSnacks here: http://bit.ly/QK72rc
The nomination period goes until Dec 6, and you can vote once a day, every day until the deadline. So set those reminders and feel free to vote vote vote away until then!
Thanks for your support and look out for more updates from us as the nominations close!
The making of Galactic
For our Mandarin Chinese app, we created a game called Galactic to teach the challenging topic of tones. In Mandarin, a word can take on an entirely different meaning depending on the tone that is used. For example, mā with a high level tone means mother, but mǎ with a falling rising tone means horse. Needless to say, not knowing your tones can lead to plenty of (possibly comical) miscommunication, so we decided to tackle it head-on by creating a new game. Here’s the story about how we built it:
Figuring out our approach
We started by interviewing oodles of Mandarin language learners. As we quizzed them on their knowledge of tones, we repeatedly saw them aiding themselves by waving their fingers in the air in the direction of the tones (swipe up for rising tone, swipe down for falling tone, etc.). It was a lightbulb moment for the team. We knew right then that a gesture-based game was the perfect way to piggyback off of the kinetic learning aid that we were witnessing in our interviews.
Before throwing hours into a digital prototype, we kicked around concepts on paper. This allowed us to explore as many options as we liked very quickly, while being critical about what worked and what didn’t.
After validating as many assumptions as possible using paper prototypes, we zeroed in on the feature set of the game by producing rough wireframes of potential concepts. Our tools of choice are Omnigraffle for wireframing and LiveView for making sure our designs feel right on small mobile devices.
Once we worked out the functionality, it needed to be wrapped into a theme/metaphor.
Galactic went through a few thematic development revisions. It originally lived as a game about samurais and sword swipes. While the idea seemed great on paper, we soon realized that it didn’t fit with the vibe of our other mini games.
We wanted to capture the ideas of exploration and progression. We ended up setting the game in outer space, embracing the notion of interplanetary discovery as our metaphor. Space naturally encompasses the concepts of travel and exploration, and using space as our setting brought a sort of mystique to the game that was easy and exciting to build on.
The biggest challenge was working out how to take the vast coldness of space and humanize it. Planets and constellations became characters for a player to be rewarded with as they progressed through the levels.
Iteration Iteration Iteration
After the guts were fleshed out enough, we worked on tuning the interface and interactions.
Galactic went through a few early interaction struggles. In teaching the tones with shape-based associations, we got stuck when creating a gesture-recognition interaction. It proved both hard to tune and a little complicated for a player to digest in the midst of trying to learn. We ended up simplifying the shape-creating method so as to remove player frustration; this resulted in a more responsive game.
In addition to conducting internal testing, we relentlessly playtested our games with neutral outsiders to get feedback on user experience. Galactic’s shape-capturing mechanism benefited from thorough testing and feedback-driven iteration. We continue to tune our product as it exists, live in the App Store.
Galactic is just the start of a bunch of new games we’re releasing. You can play it by downloading MindSnacks Mandarin for free. We hope you enjoy it!
Love the way Zuck responds to Charlie Rose’s questions.
Zuckerberg: Games is probably the biggest industry today that has gone really social, right. I mean, the incumbent game companies are really being disrupted and are quickly trying to become social. And you have companies like Zynga (which are going public soon and will be valued most likely at multibillion dollar valuations, and basically all of their games are built on top of Facebook for the most part) And a huge number of other companies as well.
So I mean, does Facebook build any games? No. We build no games.
Rose: You say that today –
Zuckerberg: No, we —
Rose: You say that today –
Zuckerberg: No, I’m pretty sure we’re not going to build any games.
Rose: I’m only saying this because people thought that Steve Jobs would never go into retail, and he did.
Zuckerberg: I’ll tell you why. Because building games is really hard. And what we’re doing is really hard. And we think that we’re better off focusing on this piece. I think that building a great game service is really hard. Building a great music service is really hard. Building a great movie service is really hard. And we just believe that an independent entrepreneur will always beat a division of a big company which is why we think that the strategy of these other companies trying to do everything themselves will inevitably be less successful than an ecosystem where you have someone like Facebook trying to build the core product to help people connect and then independent great companies that are only focused on one or two things doing those things really well.
I’ve never lost a hero before, so I’m not quite sure how to handle yesterday’s news. All I know is that aside from my parents, Steve Jobs was the single biggest force behind me becoming an entrepreneur.
My life has changed completely since taking the leap into entrepreneurship. Simply put, I’ve never been happier. I can’t imagine enduring a single day where I’m not working on building awesome things alongside brilliant, passionate people. As Steve puts it, “I want to put a ding in the universe” and there’s nothing that’s going to stop me until that happens.
I’m extremely lucky to have found something I love doing and it just feels right to thank the guy that helped me get to this point.
Thanks for everything, Steve.