Electropocalypse at The Tech—Saturday April 26

250x250-open-makeThe Tech Museum in San Jose on Saturday April 26 is having an Open Make event on electricity and we’ll be showing our game there. It sounds like a fun day of electricity with a bunch of groups showing off their electrical projects, including the Young Makers who are preparing for the big Maker Faire in San Mateo next month.

Here is more information: http://www.thetech.org/partnership-programs-tech/open-make-tech

Some articles on puzzle design

I’m working on a game to teach basic electronics. It’s hard to come up with electronics puzzles instead of homework problems. I found these articles to be useful in understanding puzzles:

http://www.scottkim.com/thinkinggames/GDC00/bates.html — The art of puzzle design lies in creating an original set of problems and solutions that are appropriate to the story you are telling. Even so, puzzles fall into recognizable categories and it is important to know what they are and when you can use them. Here are some of the categories.

http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/5901/evaluating_game_mechanics_for_depth.php?print=1 — Former Insomniac designer Mike Stout takes shares a useful rubric for judging the depth of play mechanics, including checks for redundant ones, in this in-depth design article, which contains examples from the Ratchet & Clank series.

http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/09/20/untold-riches-an-analysis-of-portals-expressive-level-design/ — Hamish Todd’s writes, “Portal has the best-designed first-person puzzles I’ve ever seen. They’re surprising, focused, and concise. They are also designed very perceptively, and we can learn a lot from looking at this perceptiveness. Read on for an analysis of Portal’s level design, and some lessons about what learning from it can do to improve game design.”

Compare Experience of two Serious Games

I just played these two games about a serious subject, sweatshops. Both games are simple 2D drag-and-drop games, relative inexpensive to produce (compared to a 3D game), and they want to teach a little bit about the evils of Sweatshops.

 

http://www.playsweatshop.com/

In PlaySweatshop.com the boss fired the old manager and made you (forces you to be) the new manager. He yells at and threatens you to make production quotas, hire kids because they are cheaper, and tells you to find “well endowed” workers because he wants to look at them. Yucky.  The graphics are excellent and the gameplay is a tower-defense type game–you hire workers for a certain cost and deploy them along the assembly line.

http://www.simsweatshop.com/game/

In SimSweatshop, you are a line worker assembling shoes. You have to put each part in place. You are paid a paltry sum for a 12 hour days work. Sometimes when a big order comes in you have to work longer hours too. And if you don’t meet quota, your pay is docked. To make matters worse, you need to buy your own food and water otherwise you get tired and it’s hard to see what you are working on. The graphics are fair, definitely not as professional as PlaySweatshop.

The remarkable thing about these games is the difference in experiences.PlaySweatshop’s initial impression is much better than SimSweatshop–it looks more professional and more interesting of the two. But PlaySweatshop’s gameplay feels like the standard tower defense game. The evils of sweatshops are conveyed through the boss, threatening to fire you every minute, but is unconvincing because he is so sterotyped. SimSweatshop on the other hand feels like you are a slave laborer–when you get tired your vision of the shoes gets blurry. When you realize you have to buy your own water to drink, you feel indignant. When you are going as fast as you can but you didn’t meet quota, you feel hurt that you only got paid half for all that effort. The next day when you cannot afford to even drink some water and you have to try and work with blurry vision, you feel miserable. What a different experience.

SimSweatshop is a throughly convincing experience of being in a degrading work environment where all the odds are stacked against you. It was by far my favorite.

—Winston

Play Long-distance Hangman

I’ve had the pleasure of working on Scoot-n-Doodle for the past few months and you must try it, it’s so much fun.

Scoot-n-doodle is video conferencing plus a drawing pad with games for families. Have you ever tried talking on the phone with your young nephew–a one minute conversation is about all you can hope for. It’s so hard to keep them in one place and there is not really much to talk about. With Scoot-n-doodle, you can play hangman, tag, or other games from your childhood. I’ll often play with my nephew for an hour at a stretch—what a difference between a painful 60 seconds of strained conversation to an hour of fun drawing crazy dragons or games of tic-tac-toe.

If you want to play with your relatives but they are far away, try  Scoot-n-Doodle. It’s part of Google Hangouts so you’ll need a Google Plus account.

-Winston

Moving Learning Games Forward

Ben Chun just told me about Moving Learning Games Forward, a paper by MIT’s Education Arcade. It’s a great article which gives both an overview of the state of learning games, and also areas to consider for people who want to make or promote educational game.

Having prototyped many games which turned out terribly boring, my favorite part of the article is where they recommend the game designer to find “those pleasures of the discipline that motivate its expert practitioners.” In other words, don’t try to add math problems onto an adventure game, instead find out what mathematicians or accountants love about their field and make a game about that.

Assessment and Learning Mechanics in Games

Very interesting talk: Video Games and the Future of Learning by Jan Plass and Bruce Homerwho from the Games for Learning Institute.

They discuss some of their research findings on what is effective in learning games, and also assessment and learning mechanics. For example, some people like to learn by exploring and don’t want to be told how to do it. Others are the opposite — they don’t want to waste time re-learning the wheel and would rather have you tell them how to do it. I’ve observed this too. I consider it an important “learning style” and one not covered by the seven learning styles such as visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc. I forget the fellow who came up with those.

They also coin the terms assessment and learning mechanics for game rules that might affect the way the player learns and how effective your game can assess the player’s skills. They cite an example geometry game where you calculate angles. If you ask for the angle a number, you are testing both their ability to choose and apply the geometric theorem, and also their addition. So if they get the question wrong, you are not sure where they failed. If you change the game so they just choose the theorem that applies, a wrong answer is a better indicator of misunderstanding. Someone in the audience points out, however, that you must balance your assessment mechanics with the game mechanics too–your game needs to be fun as well as a good assessment. Sometimes you have to compromise one for the other.

Prototyping for Pixar’s movie UP

My friend Najeeb pointed me to the blog of Lou Romano, one of the artists who worked on the movie UP. He shows samples and writes about his prototyping process for the film. The samples are describe as tests to pin down the art style, experiment with lighting, composing, etc.

http://louromano.blogspot.com/2009/05/art-of-up_3697.html

Prototypes are a huge part of our game design process and its exciting to read about other people’s methods.

Transferring Skills from Video Games

from Cultural Framing of Computer/Video Games by Kurt SquireJames Squire has an interesting article on using video games in education:

Cultural Framing of Computer/View Games

He talks about research on using SimCity and Civilization in the classroom, and also brings up Education Arcade project. My take-away is that how the game is used in the classroom is as important as the game itself. Just playing the game may be somewhat educational, but real learning happens when the players discuss the game afterwards, generalize strategies learned in the game to other situations, and identify places where the game is different from reality.