Lemon Dragon Studios Revolutionizes Language Learning with Word Wizard
The student-driven studio, part of the Haverford Innovations Program Incubator this summer, is on a mission to transform learning through its innovative game.
This summer, Neha Thumu ’24, Gavin Sears ’25, Miko Fleming ’24, Katherine Hong ’24, and Charlie Crawford ’24 united under the banner of Lemon Dragon Studios. Their shared goal was to develop an engaging and educational game, Word Wizard, designed to make language learning more effective and fun, particularly for English-as-a-second-language (ESL) learners. The group connected through their shared passion for game development and saw the opportunity to participate in the Incubator.
Every summer, a select group of students get the chance to turn their ideas into reality with the support of the Haverford Innovation Program (HIP) Summer Incubator. The program, designed to accommodate two teams each year, offers students the financial backing, resources, and mentorship required to tackle a problem of their choice by embracing an entrepreneurial startup mindset.
“We wanted to create a game that could truly enhance language learning experiences,” explains Thumu, acting project manager and one of Lemon Dragon Studios’ co-founders. “We recognized that there was a gap in the market for a role-playing game-style language learning game, one that would immerse players in an interactive environment while making language acquisition enjoyable.”
Lemon Dragon Studios embarked on their entrepreneurial adventure by consulting with alumni who possessed valuable experience in both ESL and computer science. Holly Smith ’88 was their ESL education mentor and Solomon Lutze ’11 was their mentor for development and the popular video game engine Unity. The team dove head-first into the mechanics of production and researched existing games with a focus on enhancing accessibility.
Through the process of game building, the team found it unique to build something from the ground up. Fleming, the only art major in the group, says “most of the people [in the group] were from a computer science background, so working from start to finish on a team with them was invaluable.”
“Being exposed to all of the business aspects of it like pitch meetings was kind of terrifying, but eye-opening,” says Sears.
The team reached out to experts to gain insights into the specific needs and challenges of building an ESL game. Amber Magee, who mentored Lemon Dragon Studios throughout the incubator as a project and product management coach, was instrumental in organizing their work. “We owe a lot [to her] for being such a lovely person in this process and, of course, without Shayna Nickel none of this would be possible,” says Thumu.
Collaboration and teamwork were at the core of their work, and each member of the team sought to strengthen their abilities throughout the program. “We ended up splitting three mini-games among ourselves, so we could each individually work on our own parts without having any problems with timing,” said Crawford.
Hong found her niche in writing and composing the game’s music, a strength she discovered after taking a music composition class last year.
“Although I do not have a formal background in ESL teaching or learning, I used the research skills gained from my history major and the courses I’ve taken over the years. My music background—I play piano and viola—provided a foundation where I could start and experiment and the course ‘Realtime Interfaces for Creative Expression,’ a 200-level course taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Visual Studies Matthew O'Hare, was especially helpful in broadening my understanding of music structure and encouraged me to play around with various notes and instruments,” says Hong.
For those interested in pursuing an Innovations Fellowship or nurturing their startup ideas, the message from Lemon Dragon Studios is clear: seize the opportunity. The Incubator Program is open to anyone with a solution to a problem, no matter how nascent the idea.
As for the future of the game?
“We definitely need to focus on advertising and marketing moving forward with Word Wizard and testing with educators to make sure it’s worth selling,” explains Thumu. Lemon Dragon Studios has begun development on their next project, a personal endeavor for the students.
Watch the Word Wizard gameplay in the group’s Incubator presentation on Vimeo.