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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.


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