11.127 Computer Games and Simulations for Education and Exploration
Mind Bending Maze
Click the mouse to play the prototype of Mind Bending Maze, or click a picture to play an individual Scratch project
Mind Bending Maze is an online game where players become Louis the Lab Mouse and must escape from the Mad Professor's Maze before his amazing brain power wares off. Louis becomes incredibly intelligent when the Mad Professor gives him Super Cheese, but Louis must keep eating the cheese or his mental power will fade! Louis has no more Super Cheese, but the Mad Professor left a huge stockpile of Super Cheese just outside of the maze. The Mad Professor's Maze has many locked doors that can only be opened with passwords found from completing difficult logic and math puzzles. Can Louis make it out of the maze and find the Super Cheese before his brain power wanes?
Mind Bending Maze uses math and logic puzzles to motivate students to create their own puzzles and to combine them to make playable mazes. The math and logic puzzles in the game are made to build on the knowledge gained from previous puzzles. For example, the water bucket problem can be varied by having different size buckets for every problem. One could make the problem more difficult by giving the user the option of having more buckets that use higher numbers. By having similar puzzles, users should gain an understanding the process of how to solve the puzzles.
In order to assist users in creating their own math and logic puzzles, the game would link to Scratch galleries which would contain puzzles examples and useful utilities, like a hint display system. We expect students would play this in an unstructured environment, or a semi-structured environment, like an after-school club that was facilitated by an instructor who could assist students with their Scratch projects.
Setting up a New Game
When players come to the Mind Bending Maze site, they are required to use their Scratch username and password to log in. While this provides a slightly higher barrier of entry for the game, it does put users a step closer to creating and sharing Scratch projects, which is an objective of the game. From here, players can choose to play a New Game or create a Custom Game. See the "Custom Game" section of this manual for more information on the Custom Game.
Playing Mind Bending Maze
Once in the game, players are able to move Louis through the maze. In this prototype edition, Louis lacks the mental fortitude to turn around and can only move forward. At various points in the maze, Louis will come across a door that requires a password. These passwords can be obtained by completing the logic puzzles that the Mad Professor left in the maze.
While players are moving through the maze and completing the logic puzzles, a timer on screen displays how much time is left before the Super Cheese’s effect wares off Louis. Players need to escape the maze before the timer runs out. Sometimes Louis will find small pieces of Super Cheese at various places in the maze that will extend the timer.
The Puzzles of Mind Bending Maze
The puzzles in the standard game focus on math and logic. In this prototype version, there are two types of puzzles in the game, Water Bucket puzzles and Math Block puzzles. Also outlined in this section are two types of puzzles to be added to the complete game, Math Pegs and Belts Math puzzles.
Water Bucket Puzzles
In Water Bucket puzzles, players are given a target amount of water to pour into a funnel from a faucet using two or more buckets. The buckets hold various volumes, but to get the required volume of water into the funnel players must pour water between buckets to measure out the desired amount.
The Water Bucket puzzles require the player to see math that is not obvious to them when they first attempt the puzzle. While at first the task seems simple, the player must not only think about the amount of water the buckets can hold, but also how much water one can obtain by mixing the buckets.
This prototype only features puzzles with two water buckets, but the full game would include puzzles that have three or four buckets available.
Math Block Puzzles
Math Block puzzles present the player with four or more math problems that must be solved simultaneously. To solve the problems, players take number blocks and drop them into the equations in order to solve the math problems correctly. The math problems overlap so that placing one number block in one problem will also influence the math of another problem.
Although a very different puzzle than the Water Buckets, this puzzle requires much of the same type of thinking. Math Blocks requires players to think about a larger math problem or multiple math problems at the same time. Both games require users to think multiple moves ahead to make decisions that will solve the problem.
This prototype only features puzzles that use four number blocks and all of the math problems are based on addition. The full game would feature problems with nine and sixteen number blocks as well as subtraction, multiplication, and division.
Math Pegs Puzzles (not included in prototype)
At first, Math Pegs appear to be very similar to Math Block puzzles. The puzzle is presented with a grid of spaces for numbers that when combined mathematically vertically and horizontally (usually by addition) result in the numbers that sit at the edge of the grid. (See Fig. 1.) There are a few key differences, however, that make Math Pegs a very different problem. First, the size of Math Pegs is much larger--the smallest version of the puzzle would have at least four columns and rows. Secondly, the pegs are not filled in by dragging and dropping numbers already provided, but by the player typing in numbers. The tricky part of Math Pegs is that there are different shaped pegs for a player to write a number in, such as triangle pegs, square pegs, and round pegs. Whenever a player types a number into a peg of a certain type, all pegs of that type are assigned that number. For example, if there is a round peg in the top left corner and the player types seven into that peg, all round pegs in the puzzle will be seven.
Math Pegs draws on the same problem solving skills that other puzzles in Mind Bending Puzzles test. Players are challenged to not only solve math problems in different directions, but also to realize that adding a number in one spot will effect problems in other rows.
Belts Math Puzzles (not included in prototype)
This puzzle presents the player with four or more simple math equations, each one listed on top of the other. (See Fig. 2.) The equations as listed are incorrect. Players can rotate the belts of numbers to the left side of the equal sign to rotate the numbers in each column up and down until the equations are correct.
This puzzle continues the theme of math puzzles that require players to be aware of multiple problems at once. This skill is being built and tested in yet another way in the Belts Math puzzle.
Winning the Game
In this version of the game, users begin the game by having the option of opening two doors from any given room. If a user exceeds the number of allowed guesses or the allotted time for a puzzle, they will only have one option of a room to go into. If they get another question wrong, then they receive a game over, and must begin the puzzle again. If the player can make it to the end of the Mad Professor's Maze before the timer runs out on two puzzles, Louis will find all the Super Cheese he will ever need to stay smart!
Mind Bending Puzzles also features the ability for players to create their own puzzles in Scratch and import them into a custom game. These player created puzzles will be used as the challenges that Louis faces as he makes his way through the Mad Professor's Maze. Players can also use the Custom Games feature to import any other Scratch project into the maze as a challenge. (See Fig. 3.)
Figure 3: Custom Game Creator
Custom Games also feature other customizable features such as selecting the color of the maze and the time that Louis has to complete the maze. Future versions of this prototype can include allowing users to type descriptions of their maze, much like the project notes that are provided on Scratch projects. Allowing users to mark puzzles they enjoyed also would give users a sense of belonging in the community in addition to promoting the best puzzles on the site.
MIT students did initial user testing of the prototype. The testing protocol included allowing the students to go through the web interface, playing through several of the Scratch puzzles and asking them questions as they interacted with the game. The most common concerns included the lack of instruction on the games. While Scratch projects that are uploaded to scratch.mit.edu have the benefit of containing project notes, no instructions were provided for the puzzles so users are forced to figure out how to solve the puzzles on their own. As a consequence of this problem, users had trouble controlling the interface on the Scratch projects. Specifically, in the Math Blocks puzzle, users did not know that they needed to press the space bar to place the squares in the appropriate boxes. Also, one user did not know where to deposit the water from the buckets. Instead, they filled the buckets with the requested amount of water without putting it in the funnel.