Magnitude (Part III)

To recap Magnitude (Part I), Millie Moreorless is driven by a mathematical principle called 'Magnitude', which is the instinctive ability to discriminate between arrays of different quantity. Or, in plain English, it is the ability to recognise that 7 dots is more than 6 dots without counting them.

So how do you turn a simple, instinctive choice between two quantities into a game?

Well, actually, it's not that difficult. Give two players ten array choices each, and the person who gets the most correct is the winner. 


But we set out not just to make a game based on magnitude, but to make a game that will help children with Down's Syndrome develop their number sense (of which magnitude is the foundation). So we need them to keep playing the game over and over again in order improve their skills. Thus it needs to be fun, repeatable and engaging over a period of time.

After a few false starts (detailed in Magnitude Part II), we concluded that Magnitude had to drive the gameplay, rather than be concealed within it. The player needs to have a compelling reason to make the correct magnitude choice: to Choose More.

So we thought of a quest narrative involving a linear movement towards a goal, with the choice of arrays acting as a kind of 'digital dice roll' (TM!) whereby you move by the number of dots you choose. Obviously, choosing the greater number of dots is desirable as it makes you move further. But then came the question of whether it really mattered if you reached the end after facing 5 or 6 choices.

The next logical step was to make the game a race - you move by the number of dots you choose, and the competing player moves by the number of dots in the other array. So if it's 5v10 and I choose 10, I move 10 and you move 5. This seemed to provide a compelling reason to choose more...

But unfortunately, one of the unhelpful qualities of magnitude in the context of game design is that the choice is harder when the quantities are large and close together. So 1v9 is easy, 4v7 is slightly harder and 20v21 is very difficult. In a race there's not much difference between moving 20 squares and 21 squares. What this means is that if you start the race with an easy array, the player will have a near insurmountable lead, but when they correctly solve a very difficult array choice, the reward will be minimal. 

So much for the race idea.

At this point, we started to question every aspect of our game - especially the magnitude part. The only definite we clung onto was that we were making a game for children with Down's Syndrome. And then we began to question even that...

It was a scary time. We thought about chucking everything away. But then what? It's amazing how game design, having posed philosophical questions earlier in this blog series, had now become almost existential...

We stepped away.

As so often, when we came back we saw with new eyes.

We figured out how to make magnitude fun...