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I don’t quite get why computer game designers can’t figure out how to naturally blend math into their game play. Usually they do something fairly forced, like the game play itself being explicitly mathematical. (For example, you are moving a fish around, and it has to eat the number that is the sum of the two numbers on the side of the fish, or something like that.

A while back I wrote a quick and dirty game called Hungry Worms, which was intended to teach a bunch of mathematical stuff (number sequence, angles, mostly) integrated into the play in a somewhat natural way.

Here’s a screen shot of my game, and here’s the code.

The gameplay is sort of obvious: You set the launch trajectory, and when you press the “sun” (which says “launch worm”), a worm shoots out of the launcher doing more-or-less the obvious parabola. If it hits a bird, the bird disappears (the story line being that the worm has eaten it). When you hit all the birds, you’ve won. It’s hard to show the worm actually flying in screen cap, just because it’s so fast…and I’m too lazy to make a movie of it. Hopefully you get the idea.

There’s nothing particularly difficult about this game, and it’s pretty rough js code. The thing that I wanted to experiment with here was the explicitly math. Note the X and Y axes. To move the launch angle, you have to actually click on the desired X and Y values, NOT just drag the end of the launcher. The idea of making the player do that is that in order to move the launcher you have to think, at least a little bit, about the fact that the launch angle is defined by two values that you set separately.

Okay, so that’s my own personal try at a math game … and, okay, calling it a “great” math game is a little over the top. But there is one really really great math game that I’ve found, called Axiom, by Diwaniya Labs, Inc.

(This pic comes from the Axiom iTunes site.)

As with any sort of complex motion control game, it’s hard to describe the game play of Axiom. Here’s a youtube video that demos it, but doesn’t really explain it. The really nice thing is that it elegantly combines simple chain arithmetic with actually extremely interesting and intricate planning. Not only do you have to plan your route through the maze (recall that mazes are one of Leo’s favorites!), but you have to plan the route in such a way that it crosses the numbers and operations so that you end up with the numerical result that triggers the right actions to escape. All I can say is that I generally HATE computer games, and think that most math ed games are even worse than normal computer games, but I really liked Axiom, and don’t mind Leo playing it. In fact, we play it together quite often, discussing the plan, and the math, and so on.

Another thing that makes Axiom nice to play is that you can retry forever, which allows you to explore the maze, making lots of mistakes (getting killed a lot), and learn how to do the math, and figure out the plan, without time pressure. Then you get to try to execute your plan in real time…over and over until you either get it right, or give up.

Leo likes Axiom so much that he often draws his own levels in his complex maze art:

Unfortunately, we’ve got to the point where it’s even beyond my ability to succeed, and we’ve more-or-less had to give up. 😦