The ClueFinders

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The ClueFinders
The ClueFinders.jpg
The four members of the Cluefinders team: Leslie, Santiago, Owen, and Joni. The inclusion of four races in the main cast has been pointed out by many critics.
Genre(s)Edutainment, Adventure, Mystery
Developer(s)The Learning Company
Publisher(s)The Learning Company (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
First releaseThe ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra
January 6, 1998[1]
Latest releaseThe ClueFinders: Mystery Mansion Arcade
2002

The ClueFinders is an educational software series aimed at children from age 8-12 that features a group of mystery-solving teens. The series was created by The Learning Company as a counterpart to their Reader Rabbit series for older, elementary-aged students. The series has received praise for its balance of education and entertainment, resulting in numerous awards won.

History[edit]

The Learning Company era (1997-2001)[edit]

ClueFinders was conceived as a continuation of the Reader Rabbit series, appealing to the older 3rd-6th grade levels.[2] The first ClueFinders title, The ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures, was released in 1998 and most of the subsequent games were released within the next two years.[citation needed] The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures' was announced on July 13, 1998.[3] Later that year, The Learning Company used ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures as the prototype for Internet Applet technology that allowed users to download supplementary activities from the ClueFinders website.[4] Six games were released across 1998-1999, while 2000 and 2001 each saw one new ClueFinders game.[citation needed] These releases were followed by noneducational bonus discs.[citation needed] ClueFinders held a writing competition in 2001.[5] Sponsored by The Learning Company, the competition was open to 3rd-6th grade classrooms in the United States. The winning essay, a new adventure for the ClueFinders crew, won its writer an iMac.[6] In 1998, The Learning Company was acquired by Mattel for $3.7 billion. The following year, Mattel sold off their The Learning Company assets to Gores Technology Group.[7] 2000's The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures: was the first to include the A.D.A.P.T technology, which allowed teachers and parents to monitor the player's progress, and included auto-adjustable levels based on the player's ability.[8] In the year 2000, Mattel Interactive hired professional writers Jill Gorey and Barbara Herndon had designed a concept for a TV series, however, the franchise never made its way to television.[9] The ClueFinders Reading Adventures was discontinued in 2000.[10]

Riverdeep/HMH era (2001-present)[edit]

In 2001, Riverdeep acquired many of The Learning Company's properties from Gores Technology Group by selling $40 million in stock.[11] Carmen Sandiego, ClueFinders, and Reader Rabbit were then licensed to the KidsEdge Website in 2002 where they were available to play among 170 games and activities.[12][13] In 2003, The ClueFinders' Reading Adventures was reconfigured to run on Windows XP.[14] The 2004 RCN InterACTION service allowed parents to stream over 35 games in series such as Carmen Sandiego, Clifford the Big Red Dog and ClueFinders over a broadband connection.[15] Compilations including multiple previously released titles, such as ClueFinders Adventure Pack and ClueFinders Triple Pack' have since been created[citation needed] as well as bundled which includes a single ClueFinders title (often "The ClueFinders Reading Adventures") among other games (mostly other Learning Company games) in series such as "Adventure Workshop" and "After School Clubhouse".[citation needed] In addition, the 3rd till 6th grade titles were re-released on the iOS platform on December 19, 2010.[16] Around this time,[16] LeapFrog Enterprises created three Browser games, which cast different voice actors. As of 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (the successor of Riverdeep) is offering the ClueFinders brand as a licensing opportunity on its website.[17]

Design[edit]

Plot[edit]

Development of the games' "super compelling" and "rich" backstory took 16 months.[2] The ClueFinders adventures take place in the real contemporary world incorporating some elements of fantasy and science fiction, with merely the continued presence of LapTrap pushing the series into the realm of science fiction. They simultaneously had a sense of urgency toward an end goal while allowing players to explore and use their minds on puzzles.[2] Nevertheless, the opening titles from The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures place the series in the present day. The main cast of "complex" and "flawed" characters include ClueFinders founder and tomboy Joni, skater dude Owen, mechanically-minded Santiago, literary-minded Leslie, artificial intelligent LapTrap, and intelligent dog Socrates.[2] They were chosen to be around the same age as the players after the art director ran various character designs by a group of kids; unsuccessful designs included animals, rock stars, and FBI agents, which came across as babysitters instead of teammates.[2] They were designed with distinct personalities and with identifiable faults to increase their relatability.[3] The developers used a character grid to aid their writing; it contained information such as: "their flaws, their fears, how they met, where they grew up, and their likely reactions to certain situations." [2]

In The ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra a great city was built 1000 years ago in the Numerian rainforest until a monster named Mathra invaded. After Mathra was captured, the Numerians abandoned their city and sealed the entrance and hid the two halves of the key in the far corners of the rainforest - one in the Monkey Kingdom and the latter in the Goo Lagoon. Recently animals have started to disappear in the rainforest once again, along with Joni's uncle, Dr. Pythagoras. Mr. Limburger flies the ClueFinders in his airplane and briefs them on the events going on. The ClueFinders set off to find the lost doctor, animals, and the keys to the Lost Numerian City. Evidence that they find, however, suggests that there is more to those disappearances than the 1000-year-old monster as well as a sinister plot behind it.

In The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures: Puzzle of the Pyramid In The ClueFinders are on an adventure in Egypt with Professor Botch, Alistair Loveless, and their dog, Socrates. There, at a dig site, they uncover the tomb of Peribsen, a king from the second dynasty. Joni finds a mysterious ring and tries it on her finger, but it magically latches stuck on to her finger. Later that night, Alistair Loveless and his goons, kidnap Professor Botch and steal several valuable relics. Loveless intends to unleash Set, the Egyptian God of Evil and Chaos. The ClueFinders are left to recover the relics, rescue Professor Botch and prevent Loveless and Set from wreaking havoc.

In The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures: Secret of the Living Volcano The ClueFinders are on a mission with Captain Clark, Leslie's sailor grandfather, to find out why so many ships have been disappearing in a certain area of the Pacific Ocean. In one of the wrecked ships, Joni and Santiago discover a pair of metal plaques with strange symbols written on them called CrypTiles. However, when their ship comes into view of a tiny uncharted island, a tsunami promptly forms and hits their ship. Joni, Santiago and LapTrap are stranded on the island and set off to rescue their remaining team members, locate Captain Clark and his crew and find out what sort of activities are happening on the island.

In The ClueFinders 6th Grade Adventures: The Empire of the Plant People while playing a game of frisbee, Joni accidentally tosses the disc over the fence into the overgrown yard of their friendly neighbor Miss Rose. When Joni and Santiago enter Miss Rose's yard to find the frisbee, the ground opens up and swallows them. Owen, Leslie and LapTrap investigate to look for their lost team members and find a labyrinth under the yard inhabited by self-aware, anthropomorphic talking plants. They learn from a friendly plant named Ficus that the plants have captured Joni and Santiago and are concocting a plan to attack the town above.

In The ClueFinders Math Adventures Ages 9–12: Mystery in the Himalayas in a village high in the Himalayas, twenty-four priceless treasures have been stolen. An elder of the village calls the ClueFinders to help uncover the treasures and the thief's identity. Many, including the elder's pessimistic apprentice, believe the Yeti is behind the theft. However, the clues all point in different directions, and it appears a different person is responsible for the theft of each item.

In The ClueFinders Reading Adventures: Mystery of the Missing Amulet an asteroid has crashed in the Sierra Mountains. The ClueFinders approach the asteroid, discovering it is significantly cool despite its recent crash. Joni touches it, and the ClueFinders get beamed across space, arriving on the planet Millenia. The team is separated into two parts of the Millenia. Joni and Owen then meet Malveera, the princess of Millenia who brought them to help save her planet from the evil sorceress Malicia, who has also captured Santiago and Leslie. The only way to stop her and return to Earth is to locate the two halves of the Amulet of Life hidden by the Doldreks and the Sorrens.

In ClueFinders Search and Solve Adventures one night, when the ClueFinders are observing a lunar eclipse from their clubhouse, they see an SOS signal coming from an abandoned amusement park on the edge of town. They find Jacques Ramone, the curator of the local art museum, is trapped at the top of the drop-tower ride. He tells them that he was kidnapped and placed there, but says he doesn't know why. After Joni and Owen rescue the curator, Santiago and Leslie are captured by the curator's sister Mimi Ramone. Joni and Owen investigate the park finding some art supplies and damaged robots, indicated some art forgery crime taking place.

In The ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure The ClueFinders are heading on a San Francisco cable car to the recently built toy store, Ultimate Toys. Owen goes to retrieve his wallet, along with Joni, and LapTrap, while Leslie, Santiago, and AliTrap head into the store, only to be shot by a shrinking ray and captured into a sack. Once they escape from the sack, they realize they've been taken to the sixth floor. Using Owen's red video phone, they contact Leslie and Santiago and inform them of their plight, prompting Leslie and Santiago to try to rescue them. To do this Owen, Joni and LapTrap need to make their way into the toy store and construct a machine to reverse the shrinking effects while nabbing the perpetrator responsible for the shrinking of things in the toy store.

In The ClueFinders: Mystery Mansion Arcade The ClueFinders explore a creepy house on a hill, thinking that Joni's uncle Dr. Horace Pythagoras sent a distress email that he was trapped in the house and needed rescue. It turns out to be a trap, and the four ClueFinders are separated. Four of the ClueFinders' previous enemies Fletcher Limburger, Alistair Loveless, Pericles Lear, and Miss Rose have joined forces with a mysterious new ally and created the trap to get revenge on the ClueFinders.

Gameplay[edit]

The series consists of "Multi-subject by grade" programs, in which players practice skills and advance understanding of grade-based content.[18] The player can choose to play the adventure mode or to play the game's activities outside the adventure in "practice mode." Choosing to play the adventure will lead to a follow-up sequence, which further establishes the premise as well as the overall goal of the game. The bulk of each game involves traveling between different screens in a predetermined area which has various educational activities. The user will have to play these games to advance. Most of the time, each area will have one activity that needs to be completed to advance onwards, but which can only be played by collecting items from all the other activities in the area. In all the games except for The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures, the ClueFinders are split into two teams at the start. A portable red videophone allows the two teams to make contact with each other and clicking on the phone provides the user with game hints from the other team. The other team will typically either be serving as backup, looking for clues or else be captured and in need of rescue. Games have different activities divided among different areas, each with their skill and goal. The games contain a number of parodies of and allusions to popular culture and other topics.

In The ClueFinders: Mystery Mansion Arcade, unlike the other games the activities are not as educational as the previous games, but more arcade-oriented. The mini-games consist of an obstacle course, category matching, a maze game, and a pinball game. In The ClueFinders Math Adventures the game is set up similar to Clue in that the central goal of each round is to identify three variables - who stole the treasure, which treasure they took and where they hid it - based on clues. Clues are acquired from playing games and helping the villagers with their work. Once the user has enough clues, he/she can limit down the number of possibilities until only one remains. When twenty-four treasures are restored, the game is won.

Graphics and coding[edit]

During the gameplay, 2D computer graphics are used in the style of hand-drawn animated cartoons with animations that use thick outlines and solid colors on two-dimensional backgrounds. For this reason, the series is often[19][20][21] described as imitating the look of a Saturday morning cartoon Scooby-Doo being repeatedly cited by reviewers. Cutscenes, however, use pre-rendered 3D graphics.

Educational goals[edit]

While Reader Rabbit was popular with younger audiences, the Learning Company came up with ClueFinders to appeal to third graders onward for both boys and girls. To coincide with kids' abstract thinking, the games were activity-centered and included cross-curriculum topics more sophisticated than preschool material, which included algebra, grammar, and spelling. To ensure that users actually learned something, the educational content came first before the puzzles, gameplay, and objectives.[2] Andy Young, vice president of product marketing for The Learning Company, noted that the ClueFinders series aimed to show children that it was "cool to be smart".[3] The A.D.A.P.T. Learning Technology was introduced into The ClueFinders titles in 1999; the system contained a series of customisable features that would facilitate the player's learning by Assessing abilities, Developing skills, Adjusting levels, Providing help, and Tracking progress.[22]

Products in the series[edit]

List of games[edit]

Games Platforms and Release Years
The ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra

Titled The ClueFinders Year 3 / Cluefinders 3 & 4 in UK

The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures: Puzzle of the Pyramid

Titled The ClueFinders Year 4 / Cluefinders 4 & 5 in UK

The ClueFinders Math Adventures: Mystery of the Himalayas

Titled The ClueFinders Maths Ages 9-12: Mystery of the Stolen Treasures in UK

The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures: The Secret of the Living Volcano

Titled The ClueFinders Year 5 / Cluefinders 5 & 6 in UK

The ClueFinders 6th Grade Adventures: The Empire of the Plant People

Titled The ClueFinders Year 6 / Cluefinders 6 & 7 in UK

The ClueFinders Reading Adventures: Mystery of the Missing Amulet

Titled The ClueFinders Reading Ages 9-12 in UK

Windows, Macintosh (1999)

Included as a bonus disc with other ClueFinders titles

The Cluefinders Search and Solve Adventures: The Phantom Amusement Park Windows, Macintosh (2000)
The ClueFinders Real World Adventure Kit Windows, Macintosh (2001)

Included as a bonus disc with other ClueFinders titles

The ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure! Windows, Macintosh (2001)
The ClueFinders: Mystery Mansion Arcade Windows, Macintosh (2002)

Included as a bonus disc with other ClueFinders titles

ClueFinders: Doom Elevator Browser game
ClueFinders: Jungle Adventure Browser game
ClueFinders: Rescue Browser game

Compilations[edit]

Title Year Games
ClueFinders Adventure Pack[23] 2003
  • The ClueFinders Search and Solve Adventures: The Phantom Amusement Park
  • The ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure!
  • The ClueFinders Reading Adventures: Mystery of the Missing Amulet
ClueFinders Triple Pack[24] 2005
  • The ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra
  • The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures: Puzzle of the Pyramid
  • The ClueFinders 5th Grade Adventures: The Secret of the Living Volcano
Cluefinders Math Learning System[25] 2007

Books and fan fiction[edit]

Two ClueFinders books, The Mystery of Microsneezia and The Mystery of the Backlot Banshee, were written by Ellen Weiss and illustrated by Mel Friedman.

FanFiction.Net currently has exactly eighteen stories featuring the ClueFinders, and a ClueFinders section was added to Games in 2010.[26]

Other Languages[edit]

  • French (titled "Le Club Des Trouvetout"). These French versions were distributed/published by The Learning Company subsidiary TLC-Edusoft.[27]
  • German (titled "Die Schlaue Bande")
  • Portuguese (titled "Os Caça-Pistas")
  • Dutch (titled "Junior Detectives")
  • Russian (titled "Следопыты")
  • Spanish (titled "Los Pequeños Exploradores")

Reception[edit]

Reception
Review scores
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[28]
Review Corner5/5 stars[29]
Awards
PublicationAward
Parents' ChoiceGold Award 1998[30]
Bologna New Media PrizeBest Logical Thinking Program 1999[31]
Review CornerAward of Excellence[29]

3rd Grade won the 1998 Gold Award from Parents' Choice. During the Opening Day of the Bologna Children's Book Fair on Thursday, April, 8 in 1999, the game was awarded the Bologna New Media Prize for the Best Logical Thinking Program.

Reception
Review scores
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[32]
Game Vortex80/100[33]
7Wolf Magazine70/100[34]
macHOME Magazine3/5 stars[34]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[35]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[36]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[37]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame3/5 stars[38]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[39]
Reception
Review score
PublicationScore
AllGame4/5 stars[40]

Computer Shopper and SuperKids described 3rd Grade Adventures as the educational equivalent of the Indiana Jones trilogy,[41][42] while the Chicago Tribune thought the "hip environmental mystery" eased children into applying their thinking and thinking skills through its mystery, animation, and challenges, commenting that it "shines in almost every way".[43] Kiplinger's Personal Finance thought 4th Grade Adventures "works hard for its players' enjoyment".[44] Discovery Education wrote that 5th Grade Adventures "seamlessly combines fun and learning".[45] SuperKids praised the "cartoon quality animation and an alluring storyline" of Math Adventures, and the Cluedo-inspired gameplay.[46] 01Net asserted that in terms of 5th Grade Adventures, the activities take precedence over the merely incidental storyline;[47] in 2001 the site described the series' graphics as "very colorful" and "truly seductive"[48] but three years later the site decided they were outdated.[49] Asbury Park Press noted that Reading Adventures, like Carmen Sandiego Word Detective, "place[d] reading games in the middle of mysteries".[50] Teach thought the Search and Solve Adventures mystery was engaging, and that the game successfully combined storytelling with problem-solving activities,[51] while PC Mag thought it was "mysterious", "chill-inducing", and "engrossing".[52] PC Mag liked The ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure!'s maths, science, and language puzzles, and its adjustable levels,[53] while The New York Times praised the main cast's culturally diversity and maturity.[54]

Exploring Values Through Literature, Multimedia, and Literacy Events highlighted the series for its multicultural and balanced cast in which the nonwhite characters have equal status to the white character, noting that Leslie and Santiago are the main sources of knowledge, though noted there were no examples of software with the primary character being non-white.[55] Meanwhile, while The Boston Herald commented the series had "come a long way", the paper suggested that the decision to include a Caucasian (Joni), Asian (Owen), Black (Leslie), and Latino (Santiago) in its main cast smelt of interference from the California School Board standard.[56] The paper praised the series' "television-quality animation, broad educational focus and lively situations", though thought the early games were uneven in difficulty.[56] Exploring Values Through Literature, Multimedia, and Literacy Events further praised the series' focus on character interdependence; how missions are not successful until and unless they work together.[55] Children's Software Review managing editor Ellen Wolock criticised The Learning Company for focusing too much of its resources on repackaging its old software, commenting that she received the impression the company was "just throw[ing] together" entries in its newer ClueFinders series.[57] Working Mother thought the series offered a "painless way for kids to hone their skills".[58] The Cincinnati Enquirer recommended the "strong" series to gamers who were unable to locate the then-soon-to-be-discontinued title The Sims: Livin' Large,[59] and said "there is a lot to like" about entries in the series, such as its closed captioning of later titles.[60]

One piece of research used the game as a "tool for assessing how children worked on computers in social interactions and influence acceptance by peers in classroom interactions."[61] The Times Shepperton felt 4th Grade did a " nice job of integrating the learning activities into an engaging adventure".[62] Battle Creek Enquirer and The Tennessean felt 4th Grade's strong sense of mystery encouraged players to learn academia.[63][64] Arizona Republic felt Search and Solve would intrigue children due to having the right mix of "scariness and intrigue".[65]

4th Grade received positive reviews. The Computer Paper felt that it offered the sugar to help the medicine go down.[66] All Game Guide gave the game four out five stars, writing "The cut-scenes successfully build excitement, providing an incentive for completing the entire game [though there is no] real reason to play a second time...Gameplay is simple with an easy to use click or click-and-drag mouse control scheme, and the lack of a written manual is overcome with full explanations of all activities within the game...The game seems a delightful mix of adventure and learning". Game Vortex rated the game 80/100, saying "Clue Finders 4th Grade Adventure: Puzzle of the Pyramid is a typical edutainment game that teaches your child the ins and outs of what he or she needs to know to make it through the fourth grade". 7Wolf Magazine rated the game 70/100, while macHOME gave it 3 out of 5 stars.

Reading Adventres received positive reviews. A review at Superkids [1] was mixed. Whilst the "teacher reviewers were especially impressed with the reading comprehension section," they felt that "unfortunately, too many of the [activities] require fast-twitch gaming ability in addition to knowledge of the subject matter." Of the kids appeal, the review stated that "the activities themselves, however, are inconsistent. While some are novel and quite educational...others are tired repeats of games seen many times over in many other programs." It concluded by saying "his likable Clue Finders adventure provides an entertaining way for kids to practice their reading and language skills. Students who need significant help with their reading skills would do better with a more academically oriented title, and those who are not adept gamers may become frustrated with some of the activities." The Educational Value was rated 4/5. The Kid Appeal was rated 4.3. The Ease of Use was rated 4.0.

South Coast Today appreciated that the series made the activities amusing as well as educational.[67] TechWithKids felt the series had the right combination of scariness and intrigue.[68]

Commercial performance[edit]

The ClueFinders' 3rd Grade Adventures a top ten best-selling educational title in retail stores during the months of March, April, and May.[3] By 2001, the first six games had sold around 3.5 million copies.[2]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Since its creation in 1998, the ClueFinders series has won over 50 awards and accolades in three years.[69] The Incrdible Toy Store was an Edutaining Kids General Learning software pick of 2001.

Year Award Recipient Result
1998 Award of Excellence The Cluefinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra Won[1]
1998 Thunderbeam Web site Seal of Approval The Cluefinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra Won[70]
1998 Children's Software Revue's All Star Software list The Cluefinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra Featured[70]
1998 Parents' Choice Award - Gold Award The Cluefinders Math Ages 9–12 Won[71]
1998 Parents' Choice Award - Gold Award The ClueFinders' 3rd Grade Adventures Won[72]
2002 Parents' Choice Award - Silver Honor ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure Won[73]

References[edit]

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