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Review by Chad Sansing, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2014

Patterns

Well-rendered 3D geometric world needs purpose to reach its potential

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Arts
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
3-12
Common Sense says (See details)
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Not yet reviewed

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Pros: Otherworldly graphics are grounded in familiar geometry with a deep sculpting system.

Cons: Camera is inconsistent, and goals are unclear.

Bottom Line: Gorgeous graphics and a deep sculpting system are engaging, but this alpha version of Patterns lacks clear focus or goals. At this point, Patterns is too much a sandbox for its own good.

Teachers can use Patterns to help students visualize different 3D solids, how they can be transformed, and how to calculate their surface areas and volumes. It can also be used to encourage exploration, creativity, and digital artistry. However, the frame of any work done with Patterns at this point in its development will have to come from teachers and students deciding together how to use the game. That isn't a bad thing at all, but other sandbox games out there (let's just say it: Minecraft) engender more user engagement through more intuitive gameplay. The complexity of Patterns, combined with its lack of helpful constraints or player guidance, may stand in the way of using it for collaborative projects or student-directed learning for novice players.

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Editor's Note: As of October 2014, Patterns is no longer available for download. 

Patterns is a downloadable 3D sandbox game that uses prisms and pyramids to let players sculpt a wide variety of geometric solids. Players control a "triangle man" who explores gorgeously rendered worlds to collect and build with such materials as heartwood, glowing moonstone, and runestone. In the single-player Realistic mode, players must collect all the resources they need and then use the game's crafting tool to build the basic shapes and patterns they want to use on a regular basis. For example, to unlock the cube shape to use with any material, the player has to first craft a cube. Players build large objects out of several smaller objects; they can even approximate spherical objects by building with interlocking pyramids. Multiplayer worlds also exist, as do worlds based on such mini-games as collecting a certain amount of a particular material in a given time frame. Users can also submit and share the worlds they build. The game uses a variety of 3D shapes (including cube- and pyramid-shaped worlds) and beautiful alien graphics to distinguish itself from other sandbox building games.

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In the right classroom, Patterns could be great for exploring geometric solids, their surface areas and volumes, and how they can combine into new shapes. The game is in its Genesis (alpha) version, however, so it doesn't play as fluidly as it might in later versions. The camera tries to follow the player dynamically and switches between perspectives, making it difficult for users to focus on building projects as they move. The camera requires frequent right-click adjustments, which makes it painful to play on laptops with trackpads. The "triangle man" protagonist is a bit too alien to identify with, and the lack of a tutorial or any real danger makes it unclear why anyone would play in the Realistic mode of the game -- a user might get crushed by a falling tree but doesn't have to worry about health, hunger, or threatening mobs. Because the game uses so many shapes, figuring out what to build using trial-and-error experiments can be daunting.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Patterns invites players to explore and remake a beautiful geometric landscape, but it fails to answer the question, "Why should I?"

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Given the ability to craft all manner of polyhedra from a variety of substances, persistent players can find a lot to teach and learn about geography, properties of materials, and physics.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Although Patterns has a fairly well-developed wiki and responsive help team, in-game support is largely missing.


Common Sense Reviewer
Chad Sansing Classroom teacher