The Prime Number Game Experiment

Design + Creativity + Serendipity

Here’s an interesting question. Suppose two teams started with the same carefully thought out moderate design for an educational game, and went their own ways with it. The starting point would be a reasonably concrete and carefully thought out plan, but then creativity and serendipity would be allowed to make their influences on each project. How similar would the two projects end up?

Bubbly Primes and Prime Escape

We have done just this with two independent companies each coding independent math games based on the same design. The design clearly describes the game, but not in precise detail. For example, although ideas for the graphical content are explained¬†in prose, the actual artwork was left to be realized. Gameplay was done in the same way. General functionality was described well enough to convey basic ideas, but technical detail was left to the realization. Two parallel projects were then undertaken by professional software engineers, each of which with decades of experience building production software. Prime Escape, Randy Schenks’s Android game has just been released on Google Play. Nuhubit Software Studios LLC’s game, Bubbly Primes, for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch is just a little bit behind.


Screenshots of Bubbly Primes for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch (left) and Prime Escape for Android (right).

Similar but Different

The two math games are similar but different, in interesting ways. They both accomplish their educational goal (the player becomes adept at factoring, recognizing prime numbers, and so forth). Gameplay is similar on a high level. However, the pace, the look and feel, and strategic play on deeper levels is extremely different. The artwork is definitely different.

No surprises?

I wonder to what degree people might feel they are different versions of the same game or perhaps different related games. Having played beta versions of both, I’m not sure what I would say myself. Although, I’m not exactly sure whether I would consider them to be different games or different versions of the same game, I do think that what is different makes sense, and really, is what I would have expected. At their core, the games are pretty similar, and yet, beyond that, they ended up very different.

Nothing is Easy

Organizing ideas into a design is hard. Implementing computer software based on a moderate design is hard. Shepherding a software project to completion is hard. Our approach acknowledges difficulty at every step. Instead of attempting to front load the difficulty of the project by putting together a foolproof design ahead of time, conceptual work is spread out more evenly over the project, requiring experience, judgement and hard work from beginning to end, from the top-down and from the bottom-up. And occasionally, it permits an invigorating glance past the threshold of chaos.

Update [June 2019]

Unfortunately, Prime Escape seems to no longer be available on Google Play, and its website is down. It was fun while it lasted.


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