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Sep 20, 2016

The People Behind Your Favorite Lumosity Games

At Lumosity, our bread and butter is our games -- we have over 50 games in our online library and more than 25 in our mobile library. We know from the data that your favorite games are Train of Thought, Trouble Brewing and Pet Detective, and we wanted to share a little bit about the people who steer the game development process from conception to launch.

Our game development process is rigorous: each game needs to meet a long list of criteria before becoming available in our library, and only a small percentage of games make it from original idea to your computer or phone. The central tenets of our game development philosophy are that games must be rooted in neuropsychological principles, adaptive and engaging, and beautiful. To ensure that each game you play meets these criteria, every game is the product of a collaboration between three people: a research scientist, a games engineer, and a games artist.

The Research Scientist

Each of our games is inspired by neuropsychological research tasks and assessments. When developing a new game, it’s the research scientist’s job to investigate neuropsychological tasks and develop new cognitive tasks that our engineers can turn into games. For instance, Color Match was inspired by the Stroop Test and Lost in Migration was inspired by the Flanker Task -- both examples of classic psychology tasks -- while Train of Thought was inspired by the research scientist’s investigation into studies of continuous partial attention and multiple object tracking.

“The most challenging part of my job is condensing the disparate ways in which various researchers approach cognitive abilities,” says Aaron, a research scientist. “But people are often surprised that science and fun aren’t necessarily incongruent.”

Beyond providing the scientific inspiration for new games, the research scientist remains closely involved through the game development process. They ensure that the games engineer’s interpretation of the research maintains the core mechanics of the original task designed to challenge a specific cognitive skill, as well as assist with certain aspects of gamification like scoring and leveling.

The Games Engineer

Transforming research tasks into adaptive, engaging games rests with the games engineer. Although preferred methods for prototyping depend on the specific engineer, each game undergoes a lengthy prototyping period -- often starting with paper prototypes. During this time, engineers are primarily focused on ensuring that their interpretation of the research task has effectively preserved the task’s underlying mechanisms, for which they work closely with the research scientist.

Additionally, games engineers work to make sure each new game is both fun and challenging. They “playtest” the games, letting other teams at Lumosity try out new games and provide feedback on what worked or didn’t work, what they liked or disliked. The engineers incorporate this feedback into subsequent versions of the games, so that by the time a game finds its way into the library it’s been perfected over the course of several iterations.

Ethan, the games engineer behind favorites like Train of Thought, explains, “The design of our most popular games evolved to reflect the experiences of dozens of coworkers and guests who volunteer to play. These players had an active part in making the games as interesting as they are, and I'm grateful to those who bravely and patiently played crude and experimental versions of the rules.”

The Games Artist

For each new game, the games artist works with the research scientist and games engineer to develop a fresh visual theme to complement the game experience. Some of the themes are suggested by the very nature of the games -- a game about recognizing synonyms naturally lends itself to a “newspaper” theme in Editor’s Choice -- while other games see the artists searching for ideas in everything from mid-century design to daily life.

One game artist, Andrea, says, “People are normally surprised when I say that I get to take the game I'm working on all the way through production. We function very differently than other companies in that I get to work closely with one game engineer and help create an entire game from scratch. This means that my job is not just limited to the layout of a game, but also includes the entire look and feel and all the animations.”

To keep game art fresh and appealing to every Lumosity user, the game artists use a combination of retro and modern design influences. You can read more about Lumosity’s design philosophy in this interview with our Creative Director.

This is just a snapshot of the game development process at Lumosity, and there are lots of other people on the team vital to making sure our games live up to the high standards you’ve come to expect from us. Look forward to more information about things like user testing in the coming weeks.

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