There aren’t a lot of games out there that are engaging, genuinely fun to play, and let you learn something along the way. This is why we were so excited to sit down with Jochen Kranzer, one of the managing partners (together with Jörg Hofstätter and Hannes Amon) of Ovos Media to learn more about the cute and knowledgeable platformer, Ludwig.
GLG: How would you best describe Ludwig?
Jochen: Ludwig is an educational physics game on the topic of renewable energy. It´s content is based on the physics curriculum and the game has been developed together with teachers, physic didactics (Professors) and students. But with all that learning content it´s the approach to design a “real” game that is actually fun to play that distinguishes Ludwig from other serious or educational games. We started to build an adventure game that features a gameplay experience which kids are used to when playing other entertainment games and tried to include the learning content into gameplay and story in a way that is meaningful for the player.
GLG: Ludwig looks a lot like a disney/pixar style movie. Did you have any inspiration for the concept of the game’s art?
Jochen: There were many inspirations for the look and feel of the game. We started with a quite realistic look but quickly realized that we want a more comic-like style. Disney and Pixar were definitely good resources for inspiration, but there were other influences as well: for example the shading of Borderlands (although we didn’t use the cell-shading technique) or Team Fortress. The holographic interfaces in the gameworld were inspired by Heavy Rain.
GLG: Can you explain the knowledge map? What is it, and how does it work?
Jochen: The knowledgebase was our idea to visualize the content of the physics curriculum in form of a concept map. We developed this concept map together with the physics didactics of the University in Graz. They really liked the idea of showing the connections and relationships between physical phenomenons and principles and how they lead to applications we are used to. This is something, that is not often covered in schoolbooks (at least in Austrian school books…). The knowledgebase in the game is empty in the beginning. As the player reveals more and more phenomenons and principles, new nodes appear and get connected to the already existing ones. Step by step the player builds a complete physics concept map on renewable energy. We also do have ideas and concepts to put even more gameplay into building the concept map – yet this feature has to wait for a future release of Ludwig. Each node in the knowledgebase contains some content (images, text, links to websites) which can be used within a didactic framework setup by a teacher in school.
GLG: What inspired you to create an educational game about renewable energy?
Jochen: How to provide our civilization with enough energy and which forms of energy might be dominating in the future is a hot topic today. The initial idea for Ludwig arose from a customer project which dealt with a behavioural change on energy savings. We then thought that a great method of creating awareness for our energy issues is to educate our children. But this was only the first part of the story – the second was Ludwig as a robot-character which existed before we even started Ludwig the game. The connection between a research robot and a topic related with natural science suggested itself.
GLG: Did you have a hard time balancing fun gameplay and learning based gameplay? Is there a difference between the two?
Jochen: Yes we had a hard time balancing fun and learning. We followed the idea of
Prof. Michael Wagner who postulated the formula “game objective = learning objective”. This equation is easy to write and easy to read and understand, but really hard to implement. What it means is that the learning objectives need to be fully integrated in the gameplay. As a player I want to be motivated by the
game´s story, gameplay, action, and so on and I want to engage in the puzzles and challenges of the game on my own. What I don´t want is someone telling me what to do or what to learn. A game designer´s challenge is to integrate the learning content so cleverly into the gameplay challenges and puzzles, that the player hardly recognizes that he or she is currently engaged with learning content. So our final answer to your question is, no – we think there should be no difference between the fun and the learning parts of a serious game. (And yes, that´s hard to achieve )
GLG: What was the process used with making the game? Did you work with the physics specialists and teachers from the beginning, or did you approach them later on?
Jochen: We built a prototype which just illustrated the rough idea we had for the game. In a very early stage we contacted a lot of people with different backgrounds. We talked to people involved in game studies, game designers, teachers and physic didactics. Teachers and physic didactics were then involved in the production from a very early stage on. All the content and most of the gameplay elements were developed together. We also got a grant for a scientific supervision which has been done by the Danube University Krems (specialized in game studies). A couple of test schools and many students were involved in testing the game and their feedback went back into production pipeline. We implemented an interative didactic approach. This method differs a little from the usual iterative game design used in entertainment game productions. The difference is the didactic component which can not be changed (much) by iterating – contrary to the basic “fun” gameplay elements which get optimized with every iteration and often change completely from the first concept to the final implementation.
GLG: Have any educational institutions approached you to talk about including your game in the school curriculum?
Jochen: The austrian ministry of education supported the project from the very beginning (unfortunately not by giving us money ). But they helped with communication and finding partner schools for the testing. Soon it turned out, that there are many enthusiastic teachers, who would love to use a tool like Ludwig in their classroom – but schools don´t have money to pay for licences. So we launched a sponsoring campaign – 10.000 student licences were paid by sponsors and given to schools for free. More than 300 schools applied for class licences in Austria. This was a great success, so the sponsor repeated the campaign with a second contingent of class licences. We are currently talking to international partners to implement this model in other countries as well.
GLG: Have you done any playtesting with children so far? What have their reactions been throughout the creation of Ludwig?
Jochen: Yes, playtesting was part of the production process from the very beginning. We tested Ludwig with normal game testing criteria – so the result was a “fun-factor” reaching from 0 to 100%. Starting with rather bad ratings around 50% we managed to raise it up to 80%. Students in schools were often doubtfully when it came to play “another serious game” (boooring!!), but when they started Ludwig they often said: “Hey, that looks like a REAL game!” (Which made us smile every time we heard it!)
GLG: Is there a release date set for Ludwig and is there a demo available for the game?
Jochen: The game has been released for PC and is available for download at www.playludwig.com/en. In Austria there is also a retail version. Currently we are in talk with a couple of international publishers to release the game also in other countries. The next release will be the chinese version. Since the game is not only meant to be played in schools we also applied for a release on Steam via Steam Greenlight.
Yes, there´s a free demo available on www.playludwig.com. Everyone can download the game and install it on every computer. As long as one doesn´t purchase a licence to unlock the full version of the game, the free demoversion can be played.