Friday, June 19, 2015

iOS App: RGB Express - Mini Truck Puzzle

RGB Express App
RGB Express on iTunes ($2.99, sometimes free)

What it is: A simple puzzle game where you plan a route for the game pieces: Trucks that deliver same colored packages to same colored houses. You start at the truck, you map a path through the via point(s) to pick up packages, to the destination house. Trucks can't use the same road twice (neither theirs nor each other's). After you map a path for each truck you hit "play" to watch them drive.

The screen Shots show an example of one puzzle at a simple/mod complexity level. Screen Shot 1 is the starting position, and in Screen Shot 2 you see how the puzzle is solved: you draw the path of each truck to pick up the appropriately colored package and deliver it to the appropriately colored house without using the same road twice by either truck. Once you draw the solution, you press "play" and the truck driving and picking up/delivering packages is animated. Previous levels had one truck and many possible solutions, and subsequent levels may have more trucks/colors, and more than one package per truck resulting in more complicated routing and fewer possible solutions. There is no time limit to solving the puzzles, and you can redraw the paths until you're ready to hit "play" and test them.

Screen Shot 1
How we can use it in Tx: There are 3 key features of this puzzle game that benefit its use for treatment activities. First, it doesn't involve a time limit for solving each puzzle. The time limit, to me, is what eliminates many puzzle apps from being used in Tx. We want to challenge our clients in the skills we are working on, not frustrate them. More importantly, we want them to take the time to USE those skills and improve them.

The second useful feature of this app for Tx is its gradual increase in complexity. Unlike many puzzles that get too complex for most cog patients within just a handful of levels, this one increases the problem solving task slowly, and the increased complexity is focused on the reasoning aspects - that is, the exact skills we want challenged are the ones slowly increasing in complexity. Again, not the time limit or the distractions, but the specific spatial reasoning tasks: more complex routing for planning, more via points, additional colors to match, and eventually sequencing how many packages can be carried at once.

The third useful feature of this app for Tx is the ability to self correct: One can draw the possible routing solution, and if one determines there's a problem with it, one can redraw it before pressing the "play" button to animate the solution. So your client doesn't only get a chance to take their time planning a solution, they can produce a visual plan and determine its value before proceeding. This isolates some of the steps in problem solving and allows you as therapist to work on the component skills that require help and not merely the overall macro skill. The benefit of this aspect to Tx cannot be overstated. It is very rare to find a fun, motivating, task that allows us a glimpse into the micro component skills of reasoning.

Screen Shot 2
Although I don't list it as one of key beneficial features, there's one more thing I like about this app: It's simple and while it has use of color (necessary to the puzzle) and some animation, the color and animation are not distracting to the user. It doesn't feel inappropriately childish

So to use this in Tx you just let your client play the game, preferably on a large screen of an iPad or iPad mini. I usually have the sound on muted, and offer cuing as needed. Keep track of how much cuing was required to solve a puzzle, and what was most difficult (matching colors, drawing a path to destination and via points, addition of more via points or addition of more trucks, determining correctness of solution before hitting "play", etc.).

Goals we can target in Tx with this app: Planning a route for each truck via the point where the "package" is picked up to the destination (the house) requires problem solving, spatial reasoning, planning and scanning. Other skills engaged in solving these puzzles involve direction following, use of full visual field (as such, it can be useful to tasks targeting visual field neglect of various etiologies), sequencing (e.g., the order of packages before reaching the destination while avoiding the path of other trucks), focus/attention, categorization (colors, stopping points, destinations), and--as I always suggest--memory (e.g., to carry out the plan one comes up with to solve the puzzle). Also, as mentioned above, this task breaks up some of the components of problem-solving and allows you a glimpse into what specific component (planning, carry through, etc.) may need the most work.

Some specific examples:

1. For a lower functioning client you may want to work on recognizing a solution rather than generating one. Start at the lower levels with simpler road paths (like the one in the screen shots) and one truck picking up one package (one path to draw, one via point, one destination). Draw a route and ask if it's the shortest route to the destination. Draw one that passes the destination before the via point, and ask if that will work as a solution. Press "play" to determine if it works or not.

2. If you determine which increased challenge leads to the most errors (e.g., more complicated map or more via points or more trucks/colors) you can skip along to the levels that increase challenges in other areas but not the specific one causing problems so your client can continue to be challenged but not overwhelmed.

I also recommend doing these on your own so you can access all the levels in Tx because, as with most puzzles like this, advanced levels are unlocked as you complete previous ones. So make sure you have access to various levels that doesn't depend on your current client's progress.