Howard Phillips, it is not overstating it to say, is a video game legend. As Nintendo of America’s former “Gamemaster,” he was a familiar face in Nintendo Power magazine and the company’s spokesman for years. In his backstage role as a Nintendo executive, Phillips was responsible for releasing of hundreds of iconic video games in the United States. After leaving Nintendo for JVC in 1991, he went on to a distinguished career at LucasArts, THQ, and Microsoft Game Studios. Phillips now has a new project: An educational gaming platform optimized for mobile devices. And, this being 2012, Phillips is turning to Kickstarter for funding and promotion.
Gamemaster Howard’s Know-It-All is a mobile app designed for quick memorization of data sets. The app is essentially a hybrid of flash card, board game, and puzzle game characteristics with downloadable access to over 15 million possible data sets. In conversation with Fast Company, Phillips said that the game uses a “novel methodology for the recall of just about everything” that emphasizes effortless recall, making learning foreign language vocabulary or pre-med anatomy an automatic process similar to learning how to ride a bicycle.
Gameplay is simple and can be seen in the video below. Players are given a text cue (in this case, a gaffe uttered by a politician) and then have to match the appropriate image (in this case, the politician) on the game board. Players can receive bonuses for making triple, quad, and quint matches. Once completed, the game will come with sample boards and a mechanism for importing material over the web–making over 15 million sets available–will be included. Know-It-All will also be bundled with an editor for making homemade data sets.
The origins of the project lay in a childrens’ literacy project Phillips worked on at Microsoft. Phillips made contact with the University of Washington’s LIFE Center for learning through the project; Washington educational technology expert John Bransford serves as an informal adviser for the learning mechanics on Know-It-All. Once Know-It-All is complete, it will join a crowded educational game market.
Phillips also resurrected the popular Howard and Nester comic strip from Nintendo Power magazine (which, incidentally, will cease publication at the end of 2012) for Kickstarter. A new series, illustrated by Matthew Taranto of Brawl In The Family and titled Howard and Know-It-All, is up on the Kickstarter page.
Funding from Kickstarter will go toward paying for baseline coding, refining game play, and porting the game to Android and console/PC platforms after an initial iOS launch. One thing Phillips does not discuss at length with potential investors on his crowdsourcing page are the learning mechanics, the recall mechanisms behind Know-It-All, or how data sets will be imported from the web. However, in the comments thread of an interview with Frank Cifaldi on industry site Gama Sutra, Phillips gave clues to the science behind Know-It-All. The gameplay, rather than focusing on conventional flashcard mechanics, instead centers on memory acquisition and retainment via automated “habit memory.” In addition, Phillips said that “spaced repetition and the more modern expanding recall are optimal for exercising the conscious effortful memory system. Know-It-All employs peripheral exercise in gaming format which is optimal for targeting the automatic near-effortless memory system” in an email to Fast Company.
For Phillips, who got his start at Nintendo bringing Donkey Kong to America and working on classic games like Super Mario Brothers, the stripped-down gaming mechanics on Android and iOS platform games–as well as browser-based games and the rich Zynga-inflected gaming culture of Facebook–recall 1980s platform games in their format and playability. “Games got big and complex in the mid 1990s; we had teams of up to 500 people working on games. However, mobile has lead to a rise in developers making fast and simple games, like those on the iOS software developers kit. Mobile gets rid of the overhead,” Phillips said when asked about the decision to work in mobile apps.