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Rating: 4/5 (60 votes)
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FunnyManFor most games, the term "derivative gameplay" is a criticism at best. Not so for dRive by Alex Snyder of Twig Games, the only calculus-themed entry into our 5th game design competition (CGDC5) and quite possibly the first calculus-themed game to get a review on this site.

dRiveHang on, though, don't go fleeing for the high country quite yet. Yes, dRive is based in calculus, but that doesn't mean it's going to make your brain hurt. You don't need to understand the math to play the game, and if you've been having trouble with the math, playing dRive might even help.

At its core, dRive is a simple "catch the falling objects" game. Use the [left] and [right] arrows to move side-to-side, and catch the falling squares. Catch several in a row to start a combo, which increases the value of each square you catch. The larger squares are worth even more points, but don't touch the big dark ones, or you'll lose a life.

When you first start dRive, you're playing on the left-hand third of the window. After you rack up enough points, the board will upgrade, giving you a second screen, and this is where the math enters in. Use up and down to switch screens, but you can only control one screen at a time. The other screen is still active, and its movements are based on the screen you're on. If you're on the left screen, your movement changes where your ship on the right screen is. If you're on the right screen, it's your position that affects how the ship on the left moves. If you do know the math, you'll understand when I say that the left screen is position, and the right screen is its first derivative, velocity. If that went over your head, just play with it a bit and you'll get the basic rules of movement before long.

Once you've done well enough with two screens, dRive adds a third, acceleration, on the right. The same rules apply as before, but if you're on one of the end screens, you have no direct control over the far screen at all: everything gets filtered through the center screen. As such you may be tempted to control only the center screen, but if you try it, you may find that the right hand screen offers you more control. And there's an extra bonus to controlling that one directly: it's worth 4x as many points as the left screen, and twice the center.

As you play dRive, you'll also run into three more types of falling blocks. The (+) increases your speed, but only when you take control of the screen you caught it on. The (-) decreases your speed in the same way. And the smaller pink squares are extra lives, catch them to keep the dark squares from knocking off your screens.

Analysis: In some ways, dRive is hard to classify. Although it certainly acts like a game in many ways, the simple graphics, slow pace early on, and the fact that there are only 6 types of falling objects all combine to give the impression that it's more a learning tool or toy than a full game. This does not, however, mean that it's boring, especially if you expand your attention to all three screens instead of focusing on one and letting the others fend for themselves.

If there were a category for greatest innovation within the competition, dRive would have won it hands-down. It takes a lot of chutzpah to turn what many people consider a difficult subject into a game, and a lot of talent to pull it off. And the math geek in me rejoices at the thought that some time spent playing dRive might help struggling students get a visceral feel for the basic concepts of calculus.

It may not have won any prizes, but dRive is still innovative and fascinating, and we hope to see more from Twig Games in the future. Go ahead, give it a try. Despite its shortcomings, it's fun, and who knows? You might actually learn something.

Play dRive

Update: Well, maybe it won a prize after all! Lars A. Doucet has donated $250 of his 2nd place prize to dRive. Way to go, Lars, and congratulations to Alex!


I noticed out of all the games submitted for the contest that this was the one game that left me thinking about the it for the rest of the day. It somehow figures out how to be simple yet sophisticated at the same time. It's a fascinating title that is really quite interesting and I liked it a lot.

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It's interesting, but because you have very little ability to fine-tune your speed it's difficult to control your derivatives. It's usually better to play on the right-most board. Perhaps it should have been called inteGREAT?

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I can't get enough of this game. I love the math element and the creativity--as well as the fact that it's one of the first games I've ever played that I could really excel at. I was really disappointed that this one didn't win anything when it was so original.

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Don't forget the music: The three tracks correspond to the positions on the three playing fields, and the music "stutters" accordingly. Not an integral (heh) part of the gameplay, but I appreciate how unnecessarily cool it is.

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Wow, my very first Jay is Games review! Thank you for such a thoughtful writeup, FunnyMan. Hearing from people who found the game fascinating or compelling is really what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Fans of dRive may be pleased to hear that Lars, creator of second-place winner Super Energy Apocalypse, has very kindly donated $250 toward our audience prize! I'm really blown away by this spontaneous expression of generosity. Thank you, Lars!

LS, inteGREAT sounds like a great name - too bad it's already a registered trademark! I'm thinking that if I ever make a sequel, it could be directly mouse-controlled, with all three ships stacked up on a single track. I'd also like to elaborate on the gameplay and music interaction a lot more as well.

and just a quick note for the JIG team: you might change the "asnyder" tag on the review to an "axcho" tag because the latter is my unique and memorable interwebs name ;)

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greaseproofmonkey Author Profile Page April 22, 2008 5:31 AM

this game gets into its own when you have all three tracks open, but for me, there is nothing to visually stimulate me, i seem to be just racking up points so i stop playing after a few minutes, but the control system is great.

i perosnally can't help but compare this game to the "beer strip game", say if you had the girls as a backdrop for each track and they only start stripping when you have all 3 tracks, but that would mean the game isn't for everyone, but other themes could be implemented.

and would be nice if you could have a breakout style game as one of the tracks, but dont know if that is possible.

love the idea, and didn't know what calculus was until i played this and had to read up on it a abit.

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Woah. From the tone of the review I thought I'll have to solve differential equations in this game. Even the screenshots looked like some training video for air traffic controllers or something.

Anyways, the game has a fun concept, but in my opinion not really too engaging. At first I totally missed you could change screens so the game looked pointless, and afterwards after I got it I've found it merely mildly enjoyable. The falling squares move just a bit too fast for you to actually make much use of the whole "physics" (not calculus!!) mechanic and it's much easier to just switch between screens like a maniac instead of trying to create some coordinated multitasking. Three minutes of this and I think I'll never play it again.

Nevertheless, congratulations for creating a new concept, it's always nice to see fresh ideas instead of constantly rehashing same old stuff. Oh, and strange trippy music clashes nicely with the somewhat serious-looking interface... :)

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Or, as I learned it: Left screen is f(x), middle screen is f'(x), left screen is f"(x). I prefer the more abstract representation.

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Lucas Riggs April 23, 2008 12:58 PM

I may have an limited attention span. Though i have to be frank and it got tediuous after more than 5-10 minutes of playing it.

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It is indeed calculus not physics, but you don't need to know any calculus to make this game. Simply put velocity is how much your position changes in a frame and acceleration is how much velocity changes in a frame. With position controls you move at a constant speed, with velocity controls you have a constant acceleration, and with acceleration controls you move with a constant ?jerk?. To program it is really easy: y = y + dy, dx= dx + ddx, and ddx= ddx + dd

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Replaying one of my all-time faves. Such a cool concept, although I never do well when I'm drinking a glass of wine! haha

Anyway, I was gratified to see that after 3 years, I'm still in the top 10. That NEVER happens! Axcho...what ever happened to the idea of a sequel? This one was amazing.

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