4. The Math Garden Publisher: Sierra On-line Developer: Sierra On-line, Oakhurst Personnel: Jonathan Bock - Designer, Art Director Jon Bock writes: In 1993 I had my first big break in commercial game design as Art Director of "The Island of Doctor Brain", an educational title published by Sierra On-line. Sierra focused its attention on creating cutting edge educational titles in 1992. Our first titles were The Castle of Dr. Brain, prototyped by Corey Cole ( and yours truly...I did the proof of concept art for a "hangman" puzzle in Dpaint. ), and Ecoquest, an educational adventure set in the rain forest. With the success of these titles, Sierra announced its intention to build its educational division, and "beat Broderbund" ( we had recently "beat EA" for 10 shares of Sierra stock, ( which I still have framed and proudly displayed in my studio ). We were always being asked to beat somebody, on the theory that the sense of competition would inspire us to greatness. My greatest triumph in this area was "beating Lucasarts" in softball on their home ground at the Skywalker Ranch. The game was no contest...obviously they spent too much time in front of a computer. After the game they offered to take us on a tour of the ranch. What they didnít tell us was that we were not allowed INSIDE any of the buildings, just to gaze at them in wonder from the outside. I went to the beach instead. With the directive to build the greatest education software division on planet earth, we dove in with enthusiasm. Our battle cry was "Edutainment! We make learning fun!", and we began work on a promising line-up of products that were both FUN and EDUCATIONAL! Our line-up included the proven Dr. Brain franchise, starring the good intentioned but scatter-brained genius Dr. Brain, Pepper's Adventure in Time, a time traveling journey through mixed-up history in need of disentanglement, and Ecoquest 2, starring a boy and his dolphin, and teaching the evils of gill netting, whaling, and overfishing. Within a year, all three games were successfully released, with aggressive development schedules and impressively tiny budgets, and Sierra was well on its way to carving a niche in the educational market. The Island of Dr. Brain was launched with a minimum of infighting and back stabbing, and I was given my second chance at design, this time working with writer Sharon Simmons and the art team from Island of Doctor Brain. we dove right in to prototyping a children's math game. This was my first chance to REALLY show what I could do, and I hatched a grand scheme I called "The Math Garden". We visited local schools and drew cartoon animals for second and third graders to get a feeling for what they might like to see. This was my first exposure to focus groups, an indispensable tool in the game design process! We guaged the weight of their responses through the volume of their giggles, shreaks, and screams. Our conclusions: Girls liked colorful characters with big eyes and floppy ears; boys like characters that eat colorful characters with big eyes and floppy ears. I had a ball sketching lop-eared bunnies, humerous hedgehogs, burrowing bookworms, and bothersome beetles. We immersed ourselves in building a lesson plan, brainstorming puzzles, and designing math problems structured around a secret animal world in a backyard garden, where bugs, birds, and butterflys worked together to learn basic math. Unfortunately, others on the team did not share my vision of a garden microcosm where cute, jolly bugs and a "Picachu" like hamster learned to multiply and divide. A strong faction rallied around the idea of "Monster Math" with a cast of wacky and cuddly monsters, putting my Math Garden brain child in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Sierra management was focusing on expanding their empire through acquisition, resulting in a merger with the educational software company Brightstar. The evil demon of consolidation was aroused, and our grand design for an internal educational division was shaken to its roots. Our starting line-up was released as planned, but the doors were swinging shut. Brightstar was absorbed through a merger with Davidson, destined a year or so later to become Knowledge Adventure! New Management asserted its inevitable influence, and without ceremony, our division handed over the educational baton. The Dr. Brain franchise was handed off to the new and improved education division. "Pepper's Adventures" and the "Ecoquest" franchise met with the gaping maw of "The Can". About this time, as fortune would have it, I was taken aside and asked if I would be interested in art directing and co-designing a science fiction strategy game about colonizing distant planets. I am a gamer at heart, and the prospect of building a colonization mothership, and heading into the unknown depths of space captured my imagination. I bid farewell to The Math Garden...and began work on the game that eventually became "Outpost". My creative lovechild, "Math Garden", became "Mojoís Monster Math" OK! they were cute little monsters after all! Caught in the perilous tides of reorginization. Monster Math tumbled helplessly into "The Can" a short time later, and our in-house educational development group was no more. Sierra refocused its energy on making sequels to their core game franchises, and a noble chapter of the Sierra Saga came to a close. Little did I know at the time, the era of acquisition and consolidation in the interactive entertainment industry had begun. =========================================================================== thecan.org acknowledges all respective copyrights and trademarks.