How Math Wizard’s creators were inspired by their own struggles
Before she led a team that created characters like Mumbles, (the most powerful wizard in Osmo’s Math Wizard series), art director Mary Shu looked back on her days as a student trying to learn math.
It was a struggle.
She has dyscalculia, which is often described as dyslexia with numbers, which made the subject of math difficult in school.
“I was one of those kids who passionately hated math,” she said. “Making math into something magical and fun? This is something I wish I had as a kid.”
So at Osmo, to create Mumbles, Mary and her team created a fantastical universe of anthropomorphic wizards that use the power of “mathemagic” to keep things running.
They drew inspiration from some of their favorite stories and characters and combined it with recommendations from curriculum experts and insights from current young math students.
“We transform equations into magical spells, and that takes away the intimidation factor,” she said.
MAKING MATH A ‘USEFUL TOOL’
To start the development of the characters in Math Wizard, the team started with mood boards and original concept art and narrowed their theme choices down to space and magic. A group of kids who play tested the product helped choose magic and then came the steps of figuring out what the characters would be, their backstories and even their wardrobes (a mix of conventional wizard garb meets modern street wear, like sneakers).
“We try to keep player motivation in mind – how do you make doing something mundane and difficult (math equation) a hurdle that you want to push through and master?” Mary said. “We definitely use things like story and characters to ignite that urge. Such as, helping a character fix something that’s broken.
“If you care about the character and want to help them, conjuring a ‘magic spell’ (aka math problem) fixes things for them and makes the character happy again. Math becomes a magical and helpful tool and that’s exciting.”
Mary said when she was working on her designs, she had three tenets that she wanted to make sure came across to kids through the game: First, Math isn’t “scary.”
Second: Math can be helpful, and, most of all, it’s OK to fail.
“When you fail, you can always pick up where you left off,” she said. “There’s nothing punishing about failing in our games.”
When it came to wanting to inspire all kids to find their inner math ace, Mary wasn’t alone on her team.
Jason Nowak was a fellow hesitant math student.
As the lead User Experience (UI/UX) designer for Math Wizard, he helped put into action a vision of what math should look like to encourage kids to tackle a subject that might just seem really hard.
Jason and Mary often collaborate, and together with the team, they aim to make sure students are surprised and delighted with new characters, magic spells, enchanting interactions and exciting new narratives.
“We aim to make the interaction of math problem solving as something enjoyable or something the player/kid actively wants to do over and over again,” Mary said, “ and for them to grow their skills and be proud of that growth.”