This year at Animeland Wasabi I had the fortune to run into Chad Hoover of Hoover Game Production. He is working in collaboration with Time Continuum Entertainment to try and redefine what it means to play an educational game. To this affect they have started the creation of Plank & Zero. Described, in the most simplistic form, as a mix of Ratchet & Clank, WALL-E, and Portal this will be a series of episodic games that each focus on a specific field of science. The goal of this is to take a specific field, such as biology, chemistry, or physics, and not only teach the player about them, but have them figure out aspects of it on their own using methods of applied learning to keep them engrossed throughout the game and series. Overall there will be 10 episodes to this series (that are planned) that will be playable individually but all together tell a larger story. It is slated to start out on mobile platforms with a plan to move it to full PC and console titles.
Our two main characters, as you probably guessed, are Plank and Zero. Plank & Zero are robots that created by Dr. Landaue. "The Order of Magnitude", a group that did not appreciate that Landaue acted on his own ideals, banished him from his home planet. In his search for a new home he finds a planet that is very much like earth, but with a crucial difference. The surface of the planet is immensely hot while the core is cooler and capable of supporting life. This is when Landaue creates Plank and Zero. Plank can handle the high surface temperatures while Zero can harness the resources they find on this planet. Over time "The Order of Magnitude" discovers Landaue made it to this planet and of the resources on it. Wanting to take advantage of the resources themselves they travel to their only to find that Landaue has passed away (most likely due to age as a lot of time has passed). At this point in the story Landaue becomes more of a ghostly aid (think Obi-Wan Kenobi in the last two films or Dr. Light for X). When playing the game you will have the opportunity to play as both characters at will, each with their own special abilities. Zero can hover so he can travel great distances when there is no ground and he can lift heavy items. Plank on the other hand is smaller and faster allowing him to access tight spots. Plank and Zero also have friends to assist them, the original inhabitants of the planet, Celsius and Kelvin. These two work as the comical relief of the game series and create side tasks such as saving Kelvin from some trouble he that he got himself into. These were described as a Pink and Brain dynamic.
So how does one make a game like this interesting to learn from? The first example that I was given is from the episode on biology. Plank brings some special crystals from the planet's surface to the core. Here Zero starts performing different experiments, one of which causes his arms to transform from their large robotic form to organic ones. Now plank has to shrink down, enter Zero, and explore his new biology to find out what happened. Very Magic School Bus, but it allows the player to explore the internal structure of an organic being in a way that is not defeat the disease. He also provided an example of how puzzles would work for the physics episode. It starts simple with you pushing a block on to a pressure plate and it allows you past. Then you see a pressure plate with different markings, and another block. Placing the block on this plate does not do anything, but rotating the room with the phone allows you to another level with another block. You can push the block on top of the first one which gives you have enough pressure to activate the plate and move on. These are relatively simple puzzles and will get more difficult adding electrical based puzzles and hazards you have to avoid such as spikes.
Chad was not able to give me an ETA on when the game would be completed, but he is actively working on it now. He did also give me a sneak peak on what his plans are after Plank & Zero. He looks to approach Capcom about a Mega Man reboot. He has several artistic impressions of what the returned bosses would look like and wants to be able to swap between a 3rd and 1st person. What he has planned looks great and very promising for what is basically a dead series right now.