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  • Inside the IGF 2009: Sneak Peek at Polyglot Cubed

    - staff
  •  The 2009 Independent Games Festival celebrates independent and student-made video games. In this series, GameCareerGuide is sneaking a peek at some of the games submitted to the student competition. Here, MFA student Lindsay Grace from University of Illinois, Chicago, discusses her educational game Polyglot Cubed, which facilitates language learning.

    Game title: Polyglot Cubed

    School/Affiliation: University of Illinois, Chicago

    Game description: Polyglot Cubed is a puzzle game for learning languages. The highly modular system was designed at the University of Illinois, Chicago. It is designed to aid in the retention of listening vocabulary. Polyglot is a user modifiable environment created to facilitate learning a variety of languages with minimal training.

    The game is designed around six rooms of floating, cubicle tiles. Each tile is assigned a foreign language word, and a pictographic representation of that word. The cubes are clustered by topic, usage, or form of speech to encourage contextual recognition and aid visual memory. The player must match the spoken word (by selecting the bottom of the screen) with the cube that corresponds to it. Move through various rooms (click and hold the edges or use arrows) to learn specific vocabulary.

    Polyglot Cubed versions include a dialect of Portuguese and Mandarin Chinese. The game is meant to be a language game any age would not be embarrassed to play.

    Polyglot Cubed is designed for use on a tablet PC, but it may be played with a mouse and keyboard. Add your own images and vocabulary using the mod tool or simply replace the files in the programs installation directory.

    Q: Tell us how Polyglot Cubed came to be.

    A: Polyglot was originally designed as a mission-based adventure game called Bangkok Taxi. I wrote a game design document and prototyped a game where the player drove a taxi and needed to follow the passenger's directions as they were spoken in Thai. The prototype proved that the idea wouldn't work well. I discovered that it is too much stress to require someone to translate a foreign language and drive a car at the same time. I really should have seen that coming.

    I was about ready to abandon the project when I realized that casual gameplay was the secret. Even the most committed language learner doesn't want to spend hours in translations, so I designed a game that really emphasized a few minutes of simple gameplay.

    After a few iterations, I came upon the idea of breaking the experience into rooms and really compartmentalizing the language goals. The rest of the work, like designing a sign system for the pictographs, just involved lots of good old-fashioned creativity and research.

    Q: What was your goal in developing the game?

    A: Like most people, I'm extremely busy. The project was my way of blending several goals. I'm a full-time MFA student, so I needed a semester-long independent research project. I also teach games, so I wanted to get in some design and development practice. Lastly, I've been trying to teach myself Mandarin Chinese and Portuguese. The project just blended all of my needs and passions.

    Q: What do you think is the game's greatest asset? What sets it apart from other games in the IGF?

    A: The game's greatest asset is its design. In my research I found many educational games set their sights on primary and secondary school students. They also tend to focus on one very specific skill, like learning numbers in Spanish.

    Despite precedent, I tried to design a game for a wide audience and provide a very general set of language skills. As a matching game, it's pretty easy to understand and could offer that sense of universal appeal that more complicated games may miss.

    In technical terms, the game is also extensible. If you want to use the Polyglot game mechanic to learn medical terms or even Klingon, you can just build your own game. I provide a program for modifying the game with your own content.


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