Water Wonders

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A game for the OLPC laptop targeted at 8 – 12 year old children. The objective of the game is to teach children about how pollution, global warming and mismanagement of the water supply is affecting the world’s water resources. This is accomplished using an intriguing storyline, fun characters, a variety of interesting environments to explore, and an appealing graphical interface. The game adheres to a high level of scientific accuracy and realistically depicts many aspects of the job of an environmental scientist.

Description of the Game


The object of the game is to successfully conduct 5 experiments at the Oceanic Institute. This is done by controlling the player or players around a series of rivers, lakes, ice caps, and oceans to make observations and collect samples, to be used in the experiments back at the Oceanic Institute Lab.


  • Players
  • Players' sidekick: Harry Hydrologist
  • Enemy: Darko Dehydration
  • Enemy's sidekicks: Phil Phosphate, Carla Contaminate, Paula Pollutant



There are five experiments, one for each body of water: ice cap, ocean, river, lake and aquifer. The objective of each experiment is to prove a hypothesis, and to refute the hypothesis of Darko’s research team. The experiments get progressively harder and more complex. An experiment consists of solving puzzles related to the data, and interpreting the data. In multi-player mode, the puzzle-solving will be collaborative. Experiments will be conducted in the lab.

Navigating Bodies of Water

The player must navigate each body of water (ice cap, ocean, river, lake, aquifer), which will be designed like levels in a side-scrolling platform game. Measurements must be taken, observations made, and samples must be collected in each level. As well, the players must answer factual questions about the world’s water supply, posed by creatures living in the bodies of water. In multi-player mode, players will collaborate in collecting samples and answering questions.

Some tools that will be used to make hydrologic measurements are:

  • Disdrometer - precipitation characteristics
  • Infiltrometer - infiltration
  • Piezometer - groundwater pressure and depth
  • Stream gauge - stream flow

These add a high level of realism to the game.


This game has a multi-player mode. Players can collaborate on all activities through the mesh network.

Educational Value

In collecting the samples and performing the experiments, players learn about water resource management and the effect that human actions are having on global water supplies. They also learn more about the scientific process and what it’s like to be a scientist.


Main menu

Outdoors Portion of Game (Collecting Samples)

  • 1 side-scrolling platform environment.
  • 1 sprite for each player, for up to 3 players. customizable appearance.
  • 5 skins for the environment, corresponding to each of the bodies of water (ice cap, river, ocean, lake and aquifer).
  • Creatures that live in each environment.
  • A set of 100 - 300 trivia questions for the creatures to ask.
  • Tools used to make hydrologic measurements in each environment.
  • Equipment to collect samples in each environment.

Indoors Portion of Game (Lab in Oceanic Institute)

  • The lab environment (probably a static, 2D screen).
  • Experiments to conduct in the lab (total 5 experiments, 1 for each body of water).


3 Days - Research

  • Consult environmental scientists and hydrologists
    • University of Toronto environmental sciences group - can get an introduction from my professor Greg Wilson.
    • OLPC partners in water sanitation
      • Find out what kind of experiments they perform as part of their research and related the experiments in the game to them
      • Find out what kinds of information they think children should know about the world’s water supply
  • Consult child education specialists at OISE (Ontario Institute of Studies in Education), University of Toronto.
      • Get info about specifics of designing for the target age range.
  • Consult OLPC programmers and game programmers at local Toronto OLPC group, on online forums, on mailing lists, and among my friends.
      • Get info about possible technical difficulties I will face in coding
  • Contact native Spanish speakers for assistance with internationalization.
      • Find volunteers to do translation
  • Consult graphic designer/UI expert about ‘look and feel’ of application

3 Days - Programming the Main Menu

5 Weeks - Programming the "Outdoors" portion of the game

  • Side-scrolling platform environment ‚~1 week
  • Sprites ~1 week
  • 5 Skins ‚~3 days
  • Creatures ‚~3 days
  • Tools ‚~2 days
  • Equipment ‚~1 day
  • Trivia questions ‚~2 days
  • Testing and Debugging ‚~2 days

5 Weeks - Programming the "Indoors" portion of the game

  • Designing the experiments ‚~1 week
  • Lab environment ‚~1 week
  • Testing and Debugging ‚~2 days

3 Days - Translation into second language

Several hours per week

  • Testing
  • Getting feedback from wide variety of people (teachers, kids)
  • Translation

Technical Details

Programming will be done in Python, using the OLPCGame wrapper.

Mesh networking technology will be used in multi-player mode.

Benefit to Community

Children will increase their knowledge and understanding of the global water supply and how it’s being affected by human actions. These children will become more environmentally aware and responsible. They will make better decisions about issues related to water in their local communities when they grow up and become policy-makers, businesspeople, etc.


Options for extensibility will be explored.


The game will be offered in English and either Chinese, Spanish or Hindi. Translation will be done with the help of volunteers

Inspirations for Game

Aspects of other games that have inspired me and that I will try to incorporate into Water Wonders.

Visual Style

Its charming crayon-inspired visual style was also unlike anything else we'd seen up to that point.

- Yoshi's Island for DS, Gamespot review

The game's graphical style and presentation is very basic. The overall look is akin to a picture book, with geometric shapes and stylized design elements instead of realistic grass or wood textures, all presented from a classic top down perspective. But despite the low-res textures (some of the objects and faces look terrible when viewed close up), Animal Crossing is actually a very pleasant game to look at.

- Animal Crossing, IGN review

Creative and Original

It was a lesson in originality – every single level threw something new at you, something unpredictable that wouldn’t be repeated anywhere else in the game. Every stage was a stand-alone experience, a beautiful, magical self-contained world where you learnt more and more as you went along. There was tonnes crammed into it, without a daunting learning curve or a baffling amount of things to remember.

- Yoshi's Island review


The unique "communication game" focuses on community and real-world interaction.

- Animal Crossing, Gamespot review

Having a friend who plays Animal Crossing is what makes this game so great. It's an essential part of what the game is all about... It's a communication game both inside and outside the actual gameplay experience.

- Animal Crossing, IGN review

Adventure in doing Everyday Things

Many of the activities will be based on everyday tasks done by scientists.

At the very heart of the game is a sense that adventure can be found in your very own backyard.... The game definitely seeks to teach players that doing everyday things can be fun and interesting, too. And nature and communication are at the center of it all.

- Animal Crossing, IGN review

Links to Further Resources