Category: Blog

History Meets Game-Based Learning in Highly-Anticipated Roman Town™ App from Dig-It! Games™

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On the legendary birthday of the ancient city of Rome, we’re thrilled to officially release the brand new version of the original, award-winning Roman Town game. Roman Town™, now an app for iOS 8 devices, is a social studies-based, problem-solving game that guides players through the ruins of the archaeological site of Pompeii to play challenging mini-games, discover clues, and explore the ancient Roman culture.

The interactive educational game engages middle grade students in the ancient civilization through conversations with characters, exploration of the ruins, and artifacts woven into its mini-games. Designed primarily for players 10-15 years old, Roman Town creates a deeper learning experience that features:

  1. Detailed factual information about Roman history, culture and artifacts;
  2. An active, engaging storyline for immersive learning;
  3. 11 interactive mini-games, including Knucklebones and Calculi, which are based on real games the ancient Romans played;
  4. Beautiful, realistic graphics that transport players to Pompeii;
  5. Download for free on iPad.

“History is not about fact-memorization and dates; it’s about the culture and learning how people lived in the ancient world,” said Suzi Wilczynski, President and Founder of Dig-It! Games. “Roman Town is a part of our goal to make history come alive for students, and with its basis in accurate and detailed information, the game allows for players to become immersed in the culture while being entertained.”

In this educational game designed exclusively for the iPad, Fiona and Charlie—the popular characters from Dig-It! Games’ series of top-rated games—partner with players to collect clues leading them ever-closer to the location of Ladrone. Featuring two play modes, students must beat both timed and untimed mini-games in order to earn clues from tourists in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

Anna, the winning character of the Mayan Mysteries Drawing Contest, acts as a guide to Fiona and Charlie, with the objective to keep the pair out of trouble.

Released five years ago to acclaim for parents and educators, the original CD-ROM Roman Town won several awards including Creative Child Magazine Game of the Year, National Parenting Publications Awards Honors, Common Sense Media On for Learning Award, and the National Parenting Center Seal of Approval.



Tuesday, April 21st is the 2,768th anniversary of the founding of Rome! We’re celebrating with the release of our newest game, Roman Town™. Latin teacher and archaeologist Kate Sheeler sets the stage for this exciting event with this fun blog post about a love of all things Roman. Read on to find out how Kate fell in love with Latin and Roman history and why she’s excited about the Roman Town launch. RT_thumb

I am in a seriously committed relationship with Latin and Roman History that started as a crush in the 5th grade. I met Latin through reading Roman and Greek mythology (I still own my very first copy of Edith Hamiliton’s Mythology), and, when given the opportunity to study Latin in 7th grade seized upon it.

In fact, my middle school Latin teacher, Maureen O’Donnell, trained us to compete in local Virginia Junior Classical League (VJCL) certamen tournaments (I was the team member responsible for knowing every state motto, all Latin phrases, and a collection of very random facts about Roman culture and civilization). In addition to certamen, I was fascinated by Latin grammar and competed at state and national Junior Classical League conventions in that subject area. I took the National Latin Exam (NLE) the first year it was offered and fell in love. Latin has been my “significant other” since I was 11. That makes it a 40 year relationship.

In 1988 I began working as an archaeologist at the site of Caesarea Maritima, combining my love of Latin and Roman History with classical archaeology. Working at Caesarea allowed me to explore various aspects of Roman history, culture and civilization: trade routes, politics in the provinces, water systems/engineering, art/architecture, and city planning. I saw first-hand the gleaming white columns Josephus mentions in his description of Herod’s capital city. Over the years, I have also excavated in Italy and Greece, though most of my summers have been spent in Israel, exploring the Romans in the Ancient Near East.

I started teaching in September 1990 and am currently celebrating my 25th year in the classroom. I teach at the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC, the same place where Suzi Wilczynski, the founder of Dig-It! Games™, went to school. Though I never taught Suzi, I met her while she was in college, studying archaeology. During a semester away from Dartmouth, Suzi worked with me, developing projects and designing lessons on Roman history and archaeology for my Latin students. Our friendship led from the classroom to the field where Suzi and I excavated together at sites in Israel and Greece. We both love all things D.I.R.T. – Digging In Roman Towns.

Suzi Archaeologist

It’s no wonder we’re both excited to celebrate April 21st, the legendary birthday of Rome: Suzi with a great new game on Roman history (click here for a sneak peek of Roman Town!) and me with my students. In my classroom, we will be celebrating this auspicious day by wearing togas, and retelling the story of Romulus and Remus: the ancestors of everything Roman. Abandoned at birth, the twin brothers were nurtured by a she wolf until a kindly farmer found them. The farmer and his wife raised the boys, always telling them that they were destined for greatness. In time, the boys reclaimed their birthright: they were the sons of Mars, the god of war, and the rightful heirs of a small kingdom. The boys returned “home” and fought each other for the right to be King. Romulus won this fight and named his kingdom Rome.

The best way to make the Romans come alive for my students is to share my experiences from the field. The children I teach come to understand that I, too, am a student. My fieldwork and research in the summer complements my teaching in the classroom. The Ecce Romani textbook series we use focuses on a family living in Rome in 80 CE. Mt Vesuvius has erupted, destroying Pompeii and leaving one of the chief characters motherless. The Emperor Vespasian is building the Flavian Amphitheater with slaves captured during the Jewish Revolts in the province of Judaea. Having traveled to Pompeii and Herculaneum, and having worked at Caesarea Maritima (part of ancient Judea), I can not only put my students’ studies into historical context, but I can also share with them what it is like to walk the streets of an ancient Roman city and examine the material culture left behind by Romans of every social class.

Pottery sherds, a portion of a mosaic floor, murex shells (murex snails are used to make “royal purple” dye), and pieces of ancient glass from my fieldwork bring Latin out of the textbook and into the hands of my students. Games like “Roman Town” enhance what I do in class, allowing my students to travel back in time. Students can experience the history of a place while playing the game. They are immersed in ancient culture, exposed to important facts and given a hands-on opportunity to “be” Roman. This sort of game based learning offers students the chance to explore, while strengthening critical thinking skills. The Romans become real, history becomes an adventure, and my students get to start their own meaningful relationship with Latin and Roman History.

kate sheeler photoKate Sheeler earned a BA in Latin from the College of William and Mary and a MAT in Latin from the University of Virginia. During the academic year, she teaches middle school and high school at the National Cathedral School in Washington DC, where she has taught Latin for the past 24 years. Kate combines her passion for teaching Latin with her interests in archaeology, spending her summers working on various archaeological excavations. Kate’s experiences have inspired her former students to join her in the field, as well as to pursue Classical Studies in college. Since 1988, Kate has worked at various sites in Israel, Italy, and Greece. Currently she is a senior staff member with Hesi Regional Project in the northern Negev in Israel.

Ideas and Imagination: What It Takes to Design a Game

This week, we’ve had the pleasure of welcoming to our studio three classrooms from Wheatley Education Campus, a middle school in Washington, DC. We’ve met their sixth graders and half of seventh grade, and are looking forward to inviting the remaining seventh and eighth graders once they return from spring break.

Class PicThese students have surprised us and exceeded our expectations, asking tough questions, and ultimately designing games that are not only difficult, but more importantly—fun.

You may be asking—what happens during a field trip at Dig-It! Games? Well, read on!

The artists and programmers rehearsed the general framework almost six times before students actually arrived. Like all good teachers, they planned what they would say, what resources they’d use, and had everything printed and ready to go come Wednesday morning.

The students filed into the studio rather quietly, hung up their jackets, dropped off their lunches on a table, and sat on the floor in the main area of the studio—where Dig-It! Games founder and president, Suzi Wilczynski, was waiting.Suzi

“What games do you like to play?” Answers ranged from Madden Football to classics like Sonic and Kirby. “What goes into making a game? How do games like Angry Birds and Crossy Road come to be? What’s the process that designers go through to create a game? Who are the people that are involved in that process and what are their roles?” Suzi peppered the students with questions and they were eager to volunteer their answers.

BrainstormFollowing a quick introduction to the vocabulary of game design, the students broke off into three groups working with the producer, artists and developers to brainstorm their own prototypes using a simple goal format. As teams, they chose their backdrop, their character, the starting point and end goal of the game, and then were able to place walls and traps throughout the character’s path. They picked how players would move through the game—by tilting, by tapping to jump (Mario, anyone?) or swiping. They asked whether they should include a timer.

With a good background on how game design begins—simply, with an idea—they began rotations through production, art and development, learning hands-on with the help of the Dig-It! Games team. A pair of students created a volcano cone in 3D art. Another group of students quickly worked through the coding of a maze game similar to what they had brainstormed as a team. One boy tested their product to see if the game was solvable. Taking on the roles of level designers, producers and beta testers, students worked through the process of production.Art Intro Mash UpThen they had questions for us: “Can I test your games? How did you get to be a game developer? What’s it like to be a producer? How did you become a 3D artist? Can I work with you? Can we have more time? Can we do this again?”

As students interacted with the rest of the team, developer Jessica Dommes was hard at work bringing the students’ ideas to life. She built out the Fantastic Four’s app—“Astronaut Destroy”—in which their spaceman has to beat the obstacles (without floating into the traps) to capture a planet. In team Fast & Furious’ “I’m Free,” players had to tap to make their character jump onto different levels to get to its goal. In “Get the Moon,” students built walls into the game to make movement difficult for their spaceman, and players had to tilt the iPad to make their spaceman move towards his goal.Final GameBy the end of the day, our team was exhilarated, the teachers were thrilled, and the students were genuinely excited about what they had learned and created. They had discovered that the most powerful tool in game development is your imagination—because in the world of game design, everything is possible.

Coding Plan for Game Art at Work Good Listener Coding Joy iPad Testing Production Group Art Kids

Drawing Players In: The Art Behind Roman Town

We released the original Roman Town™ five years ago to critical acclaim from both educators and parents. That may not seem too long ago, but its technology fit for its time—still in a CD-ROM format, parents and educators were able to load Roman Town onto a computer for students, and they loved it.

Technology has changed more than we ever thought possible in just those five years. The students we now seek to serve – Middle Schoolers – were just starting on their educational journey. This generation of students has grown up with smartphones and tablets at their fingertips. Now, the tool many educators are using in the classroom is the iPad. For us at Dig-It! Games™ , that meant a complete redesign of the original Roman Town in order for it to become a modern, kid-friendly app for this tech-savvy group of students.

It takes months of planning to develop a digital learning app and to really get it right. The very first thing to consider is what an app hopes to accomplish. Will it be aligned to educational standards? What will the student walk away knowing? With the new Roman Town, the game aims to engage students in an ancient Roman culture. The goal is for students to immerse themselves in the world of the archaeological site of Pompeii.

One of the most impactful ways to do that is through art—it has to be realistic. Mikel “Menty” Wellington joined the Dig-It! Games team in October 2013. Since then, Menty has been focused on developing concepts, characters, and worlds that illustrate real life to spark excitement about education.

Consider this—when you are searching for an app via the App Store, the first thing you see is the logo, so we knew we wanted it to make an impression. Below you’ll see Menty’s original ideas, which stemmed from the very first Roman Town logo, to create what we called the “Roman Town 2.0” logo.

Roman Town Progress

Another important aspect of the game is the artifacts within Roman Town. Dig-It! Games is committed to complete authenticity in the factual details of its games, so we make the artifacts utterly realistic—not only should they apply to Roman culture, but they should be authentic to the site of Pompeii. Players should know that the artifacts are items they would see in a museum or discover on an excavation site. The objects should seem touchable, as if the player can pick them up. To do this, Menty begins with an image—a photo of a real artifact. In the mini-game Jigsaw, for example, players are asked to put together a puzzle of a mosaic. Menty had to start by considering the puzzle itself—how it would be shaped, how many pieces there would be—before he could begin additional artwork. This not only included the puzzle itself, but the table that it’s sitting on, and the other items on that table. All of these pieces come together to create an authentic experience for the player.

Jigsaw Progress

Have you ever played Cypher? Your opponent picks a 4-digit number, and you have to guess what it is. Based on your response, your opponent can tell you that a digit is in the right place, in the wrong place and should move, or does not belong to the number. You only have a certain amount of tries to beat your opponent. You can see the progression from Menty’s original sketch to the addition of more complicated buttons in the final product.

Cypher Progress

Players sometimes take their experience within a game for granted. They’re often focused on the finish line and forget to appreciate the graphics—but that’s the point. If the experience didn’t seem real, they would focus on the little things instead of having fun while learning. Because of artists like Menty and his team, players can concentrate on the content and immerse themselves in the world of Roman Town (Coming Soon!)


Top 5 Moments from the Bethesda STEM Night

Last week, we had the honor of participating in the STEM Night at Bethesda Elementary School, right up the street from our studio. STEM education has increasingly become a focus for policy makers, administrators and teachers in recent years, including the national effort to encourage minorities and girls to enter STEM fields. There is increasing demand for STEM professionals, but few of our kids are following that path. The Department of Education reports that only 16% of high school seniors are capable and interested in a STEM career.

At Bethesda Elementary School, surrounded by tri-folds showcasing experiments and projects in STEM-related fields, there was no shortage of kid genius. Two of our team members, Dayle and Steve, had the opportunity to wander the floor, speak to parents and educators, and most importantly—interact with the kids who were playing our games.


We set up a table with two iPads and one computer monitor, ready to show our stuff. Steve headed to mingle, and Dayle stayed behind to facilitate the games. By the time the night had ended, they both had some favorite moments to share.

1.          Student: “You make video games?”

Me: “Yep! We have some games set up in the cafeteria!”

Student: “Later, Dad!”

Steve was in the gym talking to folks as they entered when he ran into a student who read his Dig-It! Games™ shirt and recognized the logo. After checking with Steve to make sure there were games within reach, he scampered off to play, leaving his dad in the dust. Kids maintained their high-energy, eager to play throughout the evening, which led to a moment like this next favorite.

2.         A child was playing MayaNumbers™ at our table, when his father came by to tell him it was time to head out. The student’s response? “Just one more number, Dad?” The dad’s answer was unfortunately a no, and while his child begged and pleaded for a few more numbers of our game, the father eventually had to physically pick up his son and carry him away. Dayle and Steve can still hear the son whining, “Just one more number, Dad, please!”


3.         The bake sale at Bethesda Elementary School was crowded the entire time. Eventually, Steve wandered over and what he found was delicious enough not only to merit a tweet, but to merit a favorite moment. He scoped out the trays and found a very pretty cupcake with sprinkles. The parents who organized the bake sale were raising money for the school and were very grateful for every purchase and donation. At the end of the night, they had some leftover baked goods, and Dayle and Steve were lucky enough to be approached not once, not twice, but three times with leftover cookies, brownies and Rice Krispies treats. To echo Steve’s sentiments: YUM!

4.       Throughout the evening, Dayle and Steve kept hearing from parents and students:

  •              “OMG, we’ve been waiting!”
  •              “We’ve heard so much about you!”
  •              “We want to play your games.”
  •              “We can’t believe you guys are just a block away from here.”

The principal was interested in how the school could be involved, how we could work together, and so were we! It was wonderful to see how excited everyone was to play our games and to learn about us as a company.


5.        One mother kept reaching over her daughter’s shoulder to try to play MayaNumbers. Eventually, Dayle reached out to her with an extra iPad—and with just a little bit of hesitation—she began to play with the same joy her daughter shared. The truth is, our games are fun for all ages. Dayle and Steve even met a first-grader who grasped MayaNumbers without any issue at all, taking his time and playing the “slow” way. One child was completely absorbed in the game and received 82,000 points—the high for the night. The team has been working on an update for MayaNumbers, and we’re excited to share a little bit of that with you. The updated app will include three different levels of difficulty for students:

  •            Numbers 1-19
  •            Numbers 20-399
  •            Numbers 400-150,000

Each of the levels will have a different number of glyphs for transcribing the Arabic number system into the Maya number system. This will make the game accessible for all ages—from first and second graders to adults.

There was one final moment—a bonus favorite to share with you.

6.         A couple of parents were talking with Steve. It turned out, they both had P.H.Ds in archaeology. Their daughter, eight-years-old, is math-obsessed and loves our games. The pair were interested in helping us design future games, but right now, they’re looking forward to the Roman Town™ update…coming your way soon.


Q&A with Paul Reynolds, CEO of FableVision, Inc.

When you think of fun and educational, what comes to mind? We conjure up things like games (of course!), stories, animation, museums and more. We also can’t help but think of our friends at FableVision Studios who have been some of the best partners in the industry. In fact, we had the pleasure of working directly with the one and only Paul Reynolds, CEO, in the making of Mayan Mysteries™. We took some time to talk with Paul about what inspires him, what book he’s ready to open, and much more!

paul reynolds

Paul Reynolds, CEO of FableVision, Inc.


Can you tell us a bit about FableVision and its mission?

FableVision is an educational media development studio located on the top floor of the Boston Children’s Museum in Boston’s Innovation District. We’re on a 200-year mission to collaborate on, create, and share positive storytelling, media, and technology to help move the world to a better place. Right out of the gate, our company tagline was “Stories That Matter, Stories That Move,” and we haven’t wavered from that focus.

FableVision was founded in 1996 by my business partner, the amazingly creative Gary Goldberger, along with my identical twin brother Peter H. Reynolds who is now also known around the world as a creativity champion and best-selling author/illustrator of storybooks for all ages including The Dot, Ish, Sky Color, The North Star, and dozens of other titles. So storytelling is and has always been one of the critical tools in our media toolbox.

Today, FableVision is proud to have an award-winning team of animators, coders, writers, developers, designers, and producers who create a wide range of media – including online games, mobile apps, animated films, interactives, websites, and media-rich software applications.

Our creative partners include publishers, museums, nonprofits, and broadcasters – including best-in-class organizations such as PBS Kids, Jim Henson Company, Classroom, Inc., Scholastic, Lulu Jr., McGraw-Hill, Smithsonian, National Geographic Society, and Dig-It! Games, of course.

FableVision Logo

What do you enjoy most about working in the educational space?

What could be better than dedicating one’s life to helping foster creative human potential? We love collaborating with other kindred spirits who understand the power of media, gaming, storytelling, and constructionist uses of technology. We have a great network of fellow developers, researchers, and creative educators who are helping usher in one of the most exciting moments in the history of human learning – accelerated by global connectivity that is helping transfer innovation across the learning network like wildfire.

Who or what are your biggest influences?      

There are many who have inspired our practice. FableVision’s approach has been informed by the following fellow visionaries:

-Ellen Langer’s mindful learning approach (establish personal relevance and meaning to engage learners, not mindless memorization).

-Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Constructivism (constructing mental models to learn).

-Seymour Papert’s Social Constructionism (socially co-constructing real projects to make the cognitive tangible).

-Chuck Dwyer’s concept of “learning as self-design” (if we can imagine our future, more actualized selves, how can we design ourselves to realize that vision).

-James Paul Gee’s work around the “regime of competency” in gaming and learning (the notion that effective gaming can throttle an experience between too easy/boring and too hard/time to give up – and keeps the learner fully engaged until they reach each level of mastery with no “game over” penalty) and advance to the next level when they are ready.

-Jean Piaget’s quote “Play is the work of children.” Playful learning or “hard fun” is how we are wired as human beings to understand the world from our earliest years. When we stop taking the play out of learning, we’ve not only robbed the joy from education, but tripped up one of our innate mechanisms for making sense of our world.

-Jerome Bruner’s theories about self-concept and learning (human beings live into stories and experience transference and personal transformation).

Peter and I recently had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Bruner at his home in New York City. At 99, he’s still going strong. It was such an honor to meet a kindred spirit who understands the power of narrative and storytelling to aid in self-design and learning.

He told us, “I’ve spent my lifetime explaining why storytelling matters in the process of who we might become – now your job is to take it to the school house.”

We gladly carry that torch forward.

featured-img-2FableVision Studios partnered with Dig-It! Games™ to create multiple games, including the award-winning Mayan Mysteries™. Can you tell us what aspects of these games you feel have the biggest impact in the classroom?

Social studies has been sidelined by a recent obsession with science and math. While STEM is definitely a critical area for studies and careers, there just hasn’t been the same investment in learning resources required to raise thoughtful global citizens in the 21st century on a planet that needs cooperation and collaboration for its survival.

Dig-It! Games™ provides an exciting new doorway into social studies that leverages game theory and design to get learners engaged in personally transformational ways. Teachers can leverage a student’s personal connection to the material – which includes math, science, and language arts, so there is a richness in the learning experience that goes far beyond standard lecture and reading that can easily dispirit learners.

It’s National Reading Month! What’s on your coffee table or night stand at home?

I have a book on my bedside that I have to start reading called Strong Boy by Chris Klein. The biographical novel is part of a town-wide read we’re doing in my hometown of Dedham, just outside Boston. It’s the story of Boston’s own James L. Sullivan, the first modern heavyweight boxing champion in the late 1880s, who also instantly became the first celebrity sports figure to earn over a million dollars. It’ll make a great movie someday – which must include the 75-round bout against fellow Irish-American Jake Kilrain.

What advice would you give to a young student who is interested in getting involved with digital game development?      

Get your hands on kid-friendly programming software like Scratch from MIT Media Lab. My son, Ben, cut his teeth on game coding with this free, online programming language when he was in middle school to create his own interactive stories, games, and animations.

There is now a new version of Scratch called Scratch, Jr. which children ages 5-7 can use to learn the concept of coding as they bring to life their own creations on the computer. It’s great to start them thinking this way early on. As we always told our boys, “It’s fine to play games, but even cooler if you make them yourself!”

What are your top three tips for teachers looking to bring games into the classroom?

First, network with colleagues to find games that have been successful in the classroom and share best practices around applications. There are apps such as Lure of the Labyrinth online math game, which FableVision produced with Learning Games Network for Maryland Public Television. It was co-designed with teachers for the classroom – with years of use and success. Definitely worth checking out.

Second, if possible, play WITH your students – let them see that you are as immersed in the experience as they are. It shouldn’t feel like an assignment – but more like group play that provides for the best kind of organic distributed learning.

Third, ask your students for recommendations and feedback. Giving them agency in scouring potential learning games helps build their digital literacy skills. That creative prompt will help them develop into mindful gamers.

Digital Learning Day Q&A with Suzi, founder of Dig-It! Games™ (from FableVision Studios)

Archaeologist, Social Studies teacher and video game designer – Suzi Wilczynski has done it all. With an arsenal of learning games, from the FableVision Studios-developed Mayan Mysteries™ to the soon-to-be launched Roman Town™, Suzi’s studio Dig-It! Games™ has a plethora of digital learning resources for students. FableVision recently talked with Suzi about Digital Learning Day and the important role games play in the classroom.

Suzi Cropped Headshot

What is Digital Learning Day and why is it important?

Digital Learning Day is a wonderful concept that the Alliance for Excellent Education brought to life back in 2012. It’s a day dedicated to celebrating innovative teaching practices nationwide that leverage instructional technology programs to improve student outcomes. Since it launched as a grassroots campaign, it has truly grown into a national celebration that is driving awareness and recognition of how technology enhances the learning experience in K-12 schools. I think the Alliance says it best when referring to Digital Learning Day as “not about technology, [but] about learning.”

Can you share a bit about the history of Dig-It! Games?

In 2005, I began my quest to create fun, interactive learning experiences for middle school students. As an educator and trained archaeologist, I had used archaeology to bring history to life while calling upon a wide range of skills, including math, science, and language arts. To make these subjects relevant to 21st century kids, I set out to create entertaining, interactive digital games that could be played at school or at home. My goal was to use games to engage children in an immersive way that goes beyond what they can experience from a textbook, film, or lecture. After learning everything I could about game design and playing more games than I care to admit, I released Roman Town™ in January 2010 to critical acclaim from parents, educators, and the education industry. In 2012, Dig-It! Games™ partnered with FableVision Studios to produce Mayan Mysteries™, an award-winning puzzle-based adventure game about the ancient Maya. 2013 was all about math at Dig-It! Games™, with the releases of math-based games Loot Pursuit: Tulum™, MayaNumbers™, and Can U Dig It!™ In 2014, we released a continuation of the Mayan Mysteries™ story, a sequel to the Loot Pursuit™ series in Pompeii, and mini-games, including Artifact Snatch™ and Maya Quiz™. We’re so excited for what 2015 has in store. We just released our redesigned app for Roman Town™ and are looking forward to adding to our catalog of fun learning games for middle schoolers!

Suzi Archaeologist

You have a wealth of background experience to pull from in the work you do now. We hear you like to play in the dirt. What was your experience as an archaeologist like?

One of the things I liked most about fieldwork was the opportunity to be in another country for an extended period of time. I loved getting the chance to actually experience the culture in a way you really can’t when you’re just visiting for a few days. I do have to admit though, I liked the dirt a lot too! I’m one of those weird people that actually likes studying dirt layers. Finding cool artifacts is fun, of course, but it’s the dirt that really tells the story. Archaeology is all about every day life—artifacts tell us what people ate, what they wore, and how they spent their time. But it’s the dirt that tells us when and how people used those things. Archaeology is pretty hard work—all that dirt is HEAVY!—but it was all worth it to see first hand how people lived in the past.

How did your past experience as a social studies teacher help you in the transition to game designer?

It does seem like teacher and game designer are really different, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, they’re not. A big part of games, especially the kind we make, is teaching something. Even games that aren’t strictly for learning have to teach players how to operate in their world. The fancy word for it is “user interface,” but really, it’s not so different from planning lessons that will engage your students. The goal with both is to communicate information quickly and easily in a form that resonates with your audience. Then you have to figure out how to seamlessly build on that knowledge through the course of a game, kind of like planning a class. Levels are very comparable to units in that knowledge of a specific feature set builds slowly through the level and completing the level shows mastery the way an end of unit test does. Even grading has a place in game design: when you really think about it, grading a test and scoring a level are virtually the same thing—they communicate the level of mastery for the content. Good games, like good lessons, require deep understanding not only of the game content but how the user will respond to it. In that, game designers do have an advantage over teachers. Feedback in games is immediate and leveling up requires full mastery of the content. That allows game designers to communicate directly with the player and know instantly when a feature does its job successfully.

Do you have any advice for teachers looking to implement more digital games in the classroom?

Teachers have always known that games add depth to lessons by engaging students’ imaginations and allowing them to find answers on their own and in their own way. Games on mobile devices, computers, and interactive whiteboards combine graphics, audio, and movement into a coherent whole. These games are interactive and immersive, forcing the player to be truly invested in the outcome. Players are encouraged to strengthen weaker skills while simultaneously taking advantage of their proficiencies. For teachers looking to add digital games in the classroom, there are a few common denominators found in successful interactive learning games, such as being authentic and skills-based. Teachers should consider how different games can be woven into the curriculum based on content. For example, reinforcement games can be played just after students have begun to master new skills. Most importantly—teachers should show their students that they’re excited about adding games into the classroom; when teachers are excited, students are too. Just like playing digital games, enjoy blending fun and learning in the classroom with the addition of these tools to your curriculum!

FableVision Studios partnered with Dig-It! Games™ to create multiple games, including the award-winning Mayan Mysteries™. Tell us a bit about the game and how it applies to digital-game-based learning?

Mayan Mysteries™ is an exciting educational adventure that turns middle school students into real archaeologists as they explore the mysterious world of the ancient Maya and learn about their remarkable civilization. In the one-of-a-kind puzzle-based online game, players embark on a thrilling expedition with “Team Q” to catch a secretive thief. Play involves visiting excavation sites, identifying and carving dates into the Maya calendar, using real archaeological tools such as trowels, picks, and brushes to uncover authentic artifacts, finding hidden objects, creating maps, using the Maya number system, and more. Mayan Mysteries™ is true game-based learning: it is standards-based, cross-curricular, purpose-aligned, interactive, age-appropriate, and fun. It can be played at home or at school, and is ideal for interactive learning in the classroom. Its authentic content, contributed by a world-renowned Maya expert, aligns to multiple National Standards, including: National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies and Common Core Standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. Players are immersed in a long-term gaming experience that sparks imagination, excites young minds, and teaches new ideas. It motivates and encourages independent and critical thinking for all learning styles, which are critical components of digital-game-based learning. I’m very proud that Mayan Mysteries™ has consistently ranked among the top downloads on iTunes. Players around the world are downloading the game that engages kids and brings history to life.

Dig-It! Games™ produced their first game, Roman Town™, five years ago. Now you’re releasing an updated Roman Town™ for the iPad. What can you tell us about the game and how it’s changed?

We are very excited to celebrate the five-year anniversary of Roman Town™ with a brand new version of the interactive game. The original Roman Town™ was created in a CD-ROM format, which met the needs of students and teachers when it launched back in 2010. What kids want and need from educational games has changed dramatically since we first introduced Roman Town™ almost five years ago. Today, Roman Town™ is an intuitive social studies-based problem-solving app for the iPad. The game engages and inspires students as it teaches them about the ancient civilization through interactions with characters, exploration of the ruins, and artifacts woven into its mini-games. Players explore Pompeii, play ancient games, and help Charlie and Fiona (the popular characters from Dig-It! Games™’ series of top-rated games) find clues to track down the infamous Ladrone. The new Roman Town™ includes even more challenging puzzles to exercise strategic thinking, spatial reasoning, memory, logic, and math skills, among others. The factual information about Roman life has been expanded and new graphics create a truly immersive experience. Most importantly, today’s Roman Town™ is even more fun than the original!

Suzi Wilczynski launched Dig-It! Games™ in 2005. Wilczynski is a trained archaeologist with nearly 10 years of dig experience, including projects in Greece and Israel. Formerly a middle-school teacher, Wilczynski noticed a lack of classroom options for teaching students about the fundamentals and importance of archaeology. She developed a continuously expanding suite of learning games including Mayan Mysteries™ and Roman Town™ to give classroom instructors and parents fun, interactive tools to help students learn about the ancient civilizations through archaeology.

Five words that describe Dig-It! Games™:

Fun – When kids and adults play our games, they can’t help but be entertained!

Educational – Our games incorporate age-appropriate content in math, science, social studies, and language arts into interactive learning experiences. Authentic and accurate information that conforms to curriculum mandates and Standards of Learning is built into every game we produce.

Engaging – Dig-It! Games™ engages different learning styles and allow learners to proceed at their own pace and explore topics that are meaningful to them.

Cultural – Our games are tools that allow kids to explore cultures, expand their knowledge, and discover a love of learning.

Inspirational – Through our seamless blend of fun and learning, we seek to foster the joy of intellectual discovery and inspire kids to think differently about learning.

(This blog post was originally featured on FableVision Studios’ blog on 3/13/15)

Spreading the #GBL Love

love teachers

Today is the day before Valentine ’s Day. Do you remember what it looked like to celebrate Valentine’s day when you were in school? Picture the scene: each desk adorned with a paper bag, decorated with bright red and pink foam stickers, filled to the brim with candies and paper Valentine’s with cutesy messages—You Rock, Valentine! You’re Sweet, Friend!—and the laughter of children in the air. At a larger desk in the corner sits an exhausted, but pleased teacher with a mound of Valentines of her own.

You may not know this, but she was up until midnight writing personal I’m proud of you notes to every student in her classroom. She lugged two big plastic shopping bags of stickers, decorations, snacks, and extra Valentines (just in case) into the room that morning—all of which she purchased on her own.

Right now, the kids are excitedly whispering. The students are grouped around their desks, each with an iPad in the middle. And on that iPad? A game. They’re thinking: we get to play! Their teacher is thinking: they get to learn.


That’s the beauty of game-based learning. A good game is a seamless blend of fun and learning. It allows the child to learn without impeding the student’s fun factor.

So on this day—the day before Valentine ’s Day—we’re spreading some game-based learning love. To all the educators who are using games in your classrooms to encourage deeper learning and long-lasting love of education, we say:


Step by Step: Building the City of Pompeii

Pompeii Lego

It took professional Lego artist extraordinaire Ryan McNaught 470 hours—that’s less than three weeks—to build his rendition of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. It took developers and artists at Dig-It! Games eight months to build the ruins of Pompeii for one of our newest interactive games, Loot Pursuit: Pompeii™. Pompeii will also be the jumping off point for Team Q’s newest adventure in Roman Town™ (coming soon to an iPad near you!).

McNaught mixed historical and modern elements in his representation of Pompeii. The model depicts Pompeii as it would have been found right before its destruction by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, how it looked when the city was rediscovered in the 1700s, and finally, how it looks today.

Pompeii with Artist

The process of building a city with 190,000 individual Lego blocks and building its ruins using 3D art development software are similar, but game production involves not only the building of the art within the game, but also programming, coding, and other elements.

A lot of work goes into making a game. From initial design to the game’s release, the team at Dig-It! Games™ hunkers down and gets busy. There’s the game’s conception and its design, the research, the programming, art, sound and—very important—testing.

Artists at Dig-It! Games™ researched the city, much like McNaught must have done, through archaeology books and the internet. One of the coolest tools used is Google Earth. Google Earth allows visitors to pinpoint anywhere on Earth by viewing satellite imagery, maps, terrain, and 3D buildings. In fact, when looking at a street view within Loot Pursuit: Pompeii™, the art team at Dig-It! Games™ can find that exact spot within a recent image of Google Earth. The tourists in the game are even based on those who were visiting the site when Google took their picture.

main menu

The objective is to make things look real to our players. Can they imagine themselves within the ruins of Pompeii, helping to rescue stolen artifacts and perhaps catch the notorious looter, Ladrone?

Much of the 3D art within the game begins with a ball. It can be stretched, manipulated and molded to create the artifacts hidden throughout the site of Pompeii. These artifacts come from years of archaeological discovery and research. But while players have a goal in mind to collect all the artifacts and win the game—they’ve got to solve timed math problems to do it.


Craig Barker, education manager at Sydney University Museums where the Pompeii structure is on display, has been quoted as saying, “Education and entertainment need not be mutually exclusive in a museum.”

Well, that’s certainly true about museums, but it also plays right back into our mission. We believe that fun and learning can be blended seamlessly into an interactive and engaging learning experience for kids.

That’s why our games incorporate age-appropriate content in math, science, social studies, and language arts with mini-games and challenges that encourage our players to think critically and outside the box.

2014: Something to Celebrate

It’s January 1. At last, the New Year has finally arrived. Last night, people all over the world hosted New Year’s Eve parties, ushering in 2015 and saying farewell to 2014.

Did you know that if we were the Maya, we’d be celebrating the New Year in July, not January? According to the Haab Mayan Calendar, the New Year does not begin on January 1 but rather July 26 each year—based on the earth’s rotation in relation to the sun.

Either way, we’ve got a lot to celebrate.

This past year has been exciting for Dig-It! Games™. We announced the winner of our 2013 Character Drawing Contest, Michaela and her character Anna, an archaeologist specializing in deciphering codes and identifying artifacts. We launched the conclusion of our award-winning game Mayan Mysteries™, and the app skyrocketed to being one of the featured iTunes apps for Kids 9-11 and is a top download around the world. We released the next game in our Loot Pursuit™ series, Loot Pursuit: Pompeii™, and focused on meeting Common Core standards so that students can practice their math skills aligned to what’s being taught in the classroom. We developed Maya Quiz™ as a complementary trivia app to Mayan Mysteries™, a game that’s fun for the whole family.


Then we began work on our next game: an update to the first game we created almost five years ago—Roman Town™—with a sneak peek through one of its mini-games, Artifact Snatch™.

Outside the realm of general company news, we hosted two Open House events at our studio in Bethesda and watched children, parents, and teachers fall in love with our games.


It’s exciting to see how one of our games can affect its players. It’s incredible to see kids get excited about learning—both through our game content, but also about game development and the work that goes into a game’s creation.

Now, for a toast to 2015. Here’s to the things we know now, and to the things we will learn in the coming year. To students and their teachers, returning from a (hopefully) restful break for the second half of the school year. And to the Dig-It! Games™ family—for their dedication to our mission, helping to turn students into lifelong learners with a love of curiosity, discovery and play.