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The ClueFinders
File:The ClueFinders.jpg
The four members of the Cluefinders team: Leslie, Santiago, Owen, and Joni.
Genres Edutainment, Adventure, Mystery
Developers The Learning Company (formerly SoftKey)
Publishers
  • The Learning Company (formerly SoftKey) (1998-9)
  • Mattel Interactive under The Learning Company label (1999-2000)
  • The Gores Group under The Learning Company label (2000-2001)
  • Riverdeep/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under The Learning Company label (2001-2018)
  • Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2018-present)
First release The ClueFinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra
January 6, 1998
Latest release The 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 (formerly SoftKey) 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.

Design

Plot

Development of the games' "super compelling" and "rich" backstory took 16 months. 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. 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 Savage, skater dude Owen Lam (Asian-American), mechanically-minded Santiago Rivera (Spanish-American), literary-minded Leslie Clark (African-American), artificial intelligent LapTrap, and intelligent dog Socrates. 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. They were designed with distinct personalities and with identifiable faults to increase their relatability. 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."

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: The Phantom Amusement Park 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

The series consists of "Multi-subject by grade" programs, in which players practice skills and advance understanding of grade-based content. 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. Using the acquired clues, the player can limit the number of possibilities until, with enough clues, only one remains. When 24 treasures are restored, the game is won.

Graphics and coding

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 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

While Reader Rabbit was popular with younger audiences, The Learning Company (formerly SoftKey) 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. Andy Young, vice president of product marketing for The Learning Company (formerly SoftKey), noted that the ClueFinders series aimed to show children that it was "cool to be smart". 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.

Products in the series

List of games

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

Title Year Games
ClueFinders Adventure Pack 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 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 2007
  • The ClueFinders Math Adventures: Mystery of the Himalayas
  • Mighty Math Number Heroes

Books

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

Other Languages

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

Commercial performance

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

Awards and nominations

Since its creation in 1998, the ClueFinders series has won over 50 awards and accolades in three years. 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
1998 Thunderbeam Web site Seal of Approval The Cluefinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra Won
1998 Children's Software Revue's All Star Software list The Cluefinders 3rd Grade Adventures: The Mystery of Mathra Featured
1998 Parents' Choice Award - Gold Award The Cluefinders Math Ages 9–12 Won
1998 Parents' Choice Award - Gold Award The ClueFinders' 3rd Grade Adventures Won
2002 Parents' Choice Award - Silver Honor ClueFinders: The Incredible Toy Store Adventure Won
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