Editorial Review

Hack 'n' Slash

A fun way to learn about hacking!
Graphite Rating 4
Teacher Rating
Not Yet Rated
  • Hack ‘n’ Slash is definitely inspired by the Legend of Zelda.
  • Players can start by hacking values for various variables on unfriendly ravens and other discrete objects.
  • Later, players can see and hack code structures, not just variable values.
  • A magic device lets players literally go into the code of an object and change condition statements causing the object to believe certain things occurred and reacting accordingly.
  • A literal library where snippets of code are stored for each room in the game.
Pros
Manipulating objects is made literal in this adventure game where players hack the world.
Cons
Later stages of the game are pretty convoluted and easily overwhelm.
Bottom Line
A great intro to variables and how algorithms work, Hack 'n' Slash would shine as supplemental to a larger unit on programming.

Graphite Expert Review

Tanner Higgin
Common Sense Graphite Reviewer
Other
Graphite Rating 4
Learning Scores
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Lots to love about Zelda-inspired Hack 'n' Slash, while learning about variables and algorithms. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 5

Hack 'n' Slash gets progressively more intricate in its presentation of programming logic to players in a fun, engaging way.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

Forums and a wiki are readily available if players get stuck, but there’s not much current activity going on. 

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What's It Like?

Double Fine's Hack 'n' Slash is a commercial game that does a wonderful job of being educational. Think of it as similar to the older top-down Legend of Zelda games, except instead of a sword to combat enemies, the protagonist and her faithful sprite Niva use a USB stick to plug into and hack various objects in the game world. The player can manipulate variables, setting a monster object to be friendly instead of its initial unfriendly setting, for example.

Just as with the Zelda games, Hack 'n' Slash slowly introduces players to new skills and abilities through the introduction of new magic items. One of them sets the rate of regeneration of health during a day, while another lets players change how quickly the day/night cycle changes. Combining these two helps make the player feel sort of like Neo in The Matrix, changing the game world itself to give the protagonist "superpowers." Other magic items expose the programmed behavior of objects in the game, allowing players to manipulate them in more and more complex ways, culminating in a memorable boss fight that threatens the existence of the game itself!

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Is It Good For Learning?

Hack 'n' Slash’s slow intro to object manipulation is emblematic of good scaffolding, at least in the earlier parts of the game. When players first discover they can change blocks so that they are movable, it feels super empowering, but then it builds from there with each new expansion of power eclipsing the previous layer. By the end, players are exposed to the basic underlying language of the game and can negate any obstacle if they know where to find and manipulate its programmed behavior.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the game, this expansion of power can become overwhelming. There are too many sets of code to look at that it becomes difficult to sort out which ones are relevant to the current challenge. At this point, it helps to either seek help through online forums or to stop playing for a while to give solutions some time to surface to the player's mind.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Teachers would do well to include Hack 'n' Slash as a complement or supplement to introductory computer science or game design courses. The beginning of the game provides contexts for thinking about simple variables and how to manipulate them to change the behavior of different game objects. Instruction about variables, programming logic, etc. could be interspersed with game play to reinforce each other and give examples of how they work.

Playing the game takes several hours, however, so it may be best suited for a longer unit or as homework. Students are likely to get stuck towards the latter stages of the game, so it may be good to cultivate a sharing culture of tips and tricks and to provide time and space at the end of the unit to help students troubleshoot their way to the game’s ending.

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See How Teachers Are Using Hack 'n' Slash

Lesson Flows