Before maturing into a billion dollar industry, video games weren’t much more than distractions.
But today, games hold near-endless possibilities. They can teach, inspire or tell a personal story.
They can even teach the laws of physics.
Caitlin Kearney, 23, a recent graduate of UF’s digital arts and sciences program, teamed up with fellow graduates Sky Mardiat and Kyle Miller. Together, they made Newton’s Dream, a smartphone puzzle game made for virtual reality.
“Puzzles are one of those kinds of games that kids and adults can both enjoy alike,” Kearney said. They designed the puzzles to gradually teach new gameplay mechanics, so the player is learning the game as it gets more difficult.
The goal of Kearney and the team was to convey and teach Isaac Newton’s Three Laws of Motion while also creating a fun and immersive experience. Kearney said they consulted physicists and UF instructors when designing the game.
Newton’s Dream utilizes Google Cardboard, a $15 headset made to bring VR to smartphones affordably.
“I wanted to make something using virtual reality and education, as that’s where I see my career in,” Kearney said.
Each puzzle highlights a specific element of Newton’s laws and tests the player’s knowledge by using concepts derived from them.
For example, an orb will move on a set path around the level, and the player must move several walls in three-dimensional space around them to make the orb bounce into the goal. This illustrates the first law: An object will remain at rest, or continue to move at the same speed, unless acted upon by an outside force.
Drawing much of their inspiration from Valve Software’s critically-acclaimed 2007 game Portal, the team set out to take concepts from the game and mold them for more instructional purposes.
“I think Portal is brilliant,” Kearney said, “and I wanted to bring that kind of brilliance to the side of the educator.”
The team hopes to release Newton’s Dream this coming fall. While the game currently is only available for Android, Kearney said the three of them are working to release a version for iPhones around the same time frame. After that, they wish to continue expanding upon the game’s content and eventually release it for desktop computers to be used with the more complicated VR headsets, like the Oculus Rift.
Kearney said she thinks making VR for games is small-minded and wants the technology used in therapy and medicine.
“I think virtual reality is going to become integrated with other things in our life,” she said.