Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reflections: Student as Designers Showcase

Last Thursday, Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre hosted as 'Students as Designers Showcase' where Department of Education teachers and Macquarie University academic staff participated in sessions led by Year 5 and 6 students from Cromer Public School on students as game designers and participative narratives, and Year 11 Caringbah High School students on Learning Design using LAMS. What an incredible job all the students did!

During our Game Design session, five Cromer Public School students talked about their journey as designers and what they learned from this experience. In the guise of investigators, the teachers and University staff then sat with the student game designers, talking to them about their games, what they liked best about their games, how they could improve them and what they learned from designing and building computer games.
We were also very excited to have Sam Doust, Creative Director, Strategic Development at ABC Innovation talk to the students and adults about the augmented reality drama, Bluebird, that he helped write and produce which is set around the leak of Bluebird, a clandestine geo-engineering initiative created by eco-billionaire Harrison Wyld. This presentation highlighted some of the exciting developments in the way we see digital narratives and games in literacy. The possibilities this type of narrative brings to students designing their own interactive narratives, and the depth of learning that would occur, has captured the imaginations of the staff at MacICT.

The hit of the day with the students (and many of the adults present) was the visit from ABC's Good Game hosts Bajo and Hex (aka Steven O'Donnell and Stephanie Bendixen). To the absolute delight of the students, Bajo and Hex mingled with them, chatted about the games the students had made and played some of them. They also talked to the students and adults for 40 minutes about what they like about games, what makes a good game from a player's perspective, how to make a game enjoyable and answered many questions from students and adults. Afterwards, Bajo and Hex stayed around and mixed with the students and were swamped with more and more questions about games and their jobs. This was certainly an experience many students claim has been a highlight of their year!

At both Sam, and Bajo and Hex's session, we had teachers and students from various schools join with us via video conference!

Students and adults also had the opportunity to participate together on an interactive adventure and explore a narrative that Anthony and I wrote with collaboration from my Year 6 students at Cromer Public School. Real and fiction were blended together in this participative narrative that invited the readers to be a part of the story.

When we reflect on what occurred during the sessions we saw, collaboration, cooperation, creativity, innovation, great discussions, teamwork and, we can't forget... some fun thrown in! Thank you to the teachers and academic staff who joined us on this fabulous day and, most importantly, a HUGE congratulations to all the students who, despite some feeling a little anxious, willingly shared with the adults present, their journey into game design. You guys are simply awesome!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Our Way...

Hi my name is Laura and I am a year 5 teacher at Collaroy Plateau PS. After attending the TPL at MacICT I decided to go ahead with the Game Design Project. It was a full-on day of learning and I came away enthused but also a little apprehensive, wondering whether I would be able to teach Kahootz well enough to my students for them to be able to understand the basics in order to create a game. I shouldn't have worried - not because I was spectacular at teaching it but because they have no fear and just jumped right in and went for it.

The students have really enjoyed the training phase and many of them go to the library at lunchtime and continually create or update their expressions. We are about to start the written phase of the project and are scheduled to have our VC with Anthony next week. So it will be interesting to see how the students actually move from 'mucking around' with Kahootz to actually creating a game. They will be working in pairs, and the game will be loosely based on our HSIE unit 'Gold!'.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Student Experience - Gladesville PS

Our Kahootz experience was enjoyable but there were a few minor problems along the way. We discovered very early on in our Kahootz experience that some of the effects didn’t work and it was very difficult to use some of the worlds and objects. Even though we had some problems we still all managed to finish our games. Our games were all based on the theme gold, which is what we have been learning about.

I would recommend this program to Year 5 and above as it is quite complicated to use, sometimes it quit unexpectedly and it was frustrating. No one in our class had ever used Kahootz before so we all learnt how to use the software. We also learnt a lot more about animation and game design as we completed the game. We were so proud of our games. It was a real accomplishment.

Chloe Year 5

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Beginnings at Calare PS

Hi I am Julie and I teach a Year 6 class at Calare Public School. The class is full of 32 students ready for High School.

I decided to take the project on with Rob, our computer wiz. I thought it would be an activity that would help keep them focused in their final term of primary school.

After talking to the students in my class, there was a lot of excitement with the prospect of creating their own game.

For the past few weeks we have been running though the learning phase of Kahootz. We dedicate 2 hours a week to Kahootz. Rob has been leading the lessons and I have been the extra set of hands in the lab. Team teaching allows us to get to each student group in the class.

During these first few weeks we have encountered some difficulties when saving. Students were losing their work – disappearing into server space. With a more time consuming method, we have been able now to save the students work, in their own directory, so they don’t have to use the same computer each time.

Each student keeps a Kahootz journal where they can record their thoughts, their initial ideas and any information that they need to remember, for example, where to find a particular scene or object they like.

We are now getting reading for the planning phase and the “Good Game Design” VC with Anthony.

Hi, I’m Rob, our school’s computer coordinator. It’s a joy to be involved in the Game Design Project. What a fantastic opportunity!
Julie and I are really looking forward to the next phase of the project (not to mention the students!)
Our team teaching approach is working well and after overcoming some technical hitches, the students are almost ready to attack the game design task. Bring it on!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First Post :)

Hi Everyone,

My name is Sally and I teach a very mixed ability 5/6 at Greenwich Public School. We recently spent the better part of a day at MacICT "cramming" the first few hours of the project into one day (due to time and technology restraints). The day went really well and the kids were all extremely engaged and were all super keen to get started. However, that was last term and I'm sure they have forgotten most of it, but once we get back into it I'm hoping it will all come rushing back (time will tell!).

I was impressed how most of the kids who picked things up really fast were willing to help their friends and teach each other, that made my job 1000 times easier!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Starting our game design project at West Pymble

Hi everyone, my name is Lisa Gielis and I am a Year 5/6 teacher at West Pymble Public school. My class is full of very bright students who are always up for a challenge so I figured I would sign us up for this project! We are studying The Hobbit at the moment and I also felt that was a great tie-in for a role playing game and another great way to explore narratives.

The class is just about to start storyboarding and designing their games after spending the past 7 weeks or so exploring Kahootz. Some students are fairly tentative, many are happily animating and keypointing away and a few are really roaring ahead - one student has already designed a game and it works quite well! Everyone is enjoying Kahootz and a session in the lab is always loud and engaging. Many students are working at a level that exceeds my own but I encourage them to team up and work things through and usually they come up with a solution (excellent higher order thinking here!). Although, Anthony, I am encouraging them to keep a list of questions for you for our first VC!

I'm looking forward to seeing how the students go with the pen and paper work and I'm not really sure whether to make them fully complete this section before they can create in Kahootz or whether to work a scene or section at a time?

Anyway, it's all systems go at West Pymble and we are really enjoying the project so far.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Game Design Project

I am a Year 4 teacher at Allambie Heights PS and have just started using Kahootz this year. One afternoon a week I work with a Year 4 and 5 Enrichment Group as part of our Gifted and Talented program. The students have been participating in different projects with me this year, but Kahootz is definitely their favourite.
Kahootz is brand new to our school so it has been a learning experience for everyone. While I think I am up to date with technology I have discovered there is so much more to learn.
The group has finished the training stage of Kahootz and have proved to be very fast learners. Initially the children were blown away by the software and what they could do. Most of the children are very confident in using computers and love exploring the new software.
The theme for our game design project is based on an environmental theme. This links to a previous project, Murder Under the Microscope. The children are currently working on their storyboards, but can't wait to get back on the computers to actually start creating their games.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Along for the Ride

I have just got back from attending the Australian Council of Educational Leaders Conference where I was presented with the Microsoft NSW Innovative Teachers Award for 2010. I received this award for work I have done in the area of game design both with my own class at Cromer Public School, and with my MacICT project, Engaging Students as Game Designers, including the new work we are doing with Kodu.

I met with the other State winners, a group of amazing innovative teachers, who are all doing incredible projects in their classrooms and across their regions. What a privilege it was to spend time with such a diverse group of teachers and, after bonding very quickly, we are all looking forward to getting together next March.

Next March I will be off to Phuket, Thailand to participate in the Regional Microsoft Innovative Teachers Awards. I will be presented with many new experiences including working in cross cultural teams on different challenges. What an opportunity and what a journey I've been on. I'm definitely along for the ride and who knows where it will take me!

The huge screen at the Awards ceremony.

This award reflects the combined efforts of the amazing team I work with, particularly my immediate team, Anthony and Simon, and also all my colleagues at MacICT where we have the opportunity to collaborate around ideas, share intelligent conversations, debate and spark off one another. All the projects developed at MacICT are what they are because of the leadership of the Director (and my mentor) Debbie Evans whose leadership at the Centre promotes the process of innovation and creates incentives through giving project teams autonomy, the freedom to strive for mastery and a purpose for what we are doing. While perfection may not be attainable, the culture at MacICT is to chase perfection through repeated iterations of our projects and in chasing perfection, hopefully, we can catch excellence! (Vince Lombardi, American Football Coach)

In addition to this award, two students in my Year 6 class won first and second place in Australia in Kodu Kup, a game design skill competition aimed to recognise students who demonstrate excellence in a diverse range of technical, creative and game play depth and design in the use of Kodu Games Lab. What a fantastic achievement by these two students. I am one very proud teacher!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playing to Learn

This is a fabulous Prezi by Maria Anderson. It is well worth taking the time to view it.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's Make a Game - Part 5: Talking Without Words

Welcome back!

Last episode we dealt very briefly with a fascinating element of Game Design called Player Feedback. I just wanted to delve quickly back into it and maybe flesh out a couple of points before we get into the next topic. So, what is Player Feedback? Player Feedback is incredibly important to any good game, it's how your game speaks to you, how it tells you things, how you know what you're trying to achieve.

Good games are difficult to play. It's at the core of any gaming experience, it's the reward for playing. Things have to be difficult so that when you beat the game you really feel like you've achieved something.

Or you could just pull the stickers off.

But here is the important distinction: a good game has to be difficult, not impossible! There has to be someway for you to stumble your way into the right course of action and make it feel like you (as the player) knew what you were doing the entire time.

I'm free! I mean, I knew where I was the whole time!

How do you tell your player to go this direction rather than that one? How do you make them learn that the red apples are healthy but the green ones are poisonous?

This is where Game Designers use Player Feedback. Computer games are (obviously) highly visual. Think of them like a TV show or a movie. When you're watching a movie, you don't need words to know that that's the evil guy when he comes on screen. No one needs to hold up a huge sign that says "Look! The hero is now being brave!"

Movies prefer to use music and action on the screen to explain what's going on. Words tend to just get in the way. It's more exciting and the audience isn't getting sidetracked with huge blocks of text.

Oh wow! They're just about to start the gun-fight!

Last episode we used the way the forest looked and sounded to suggest that it was scary, and we designed the castle in such a way that it seemed daunting but exciting nonetheless. The players don't need to read anything - they just know that the forest is scary, or that the castle is exciting, just like it would be in a movie. Both levels make it very clear that the player doesn't want to stay there. The player almost instinctively knows that they have to get out, that to win the level means leaving.

And that's Player Feedback, simply: explaining a game without words. It can be very difficult, but it's always important to try to reduce the amount of pure text in your game. We've rushed through a lot today, well done! Don't worry if you're still a little confused, the Teacher- and Student-Handouts go into a lot more detail about Player Feedback, and suggest a few ways you can implement it into your game.

So we'll leave it here for now. Next week we'll be wrapping up our Let's Make a Game series with the fun part: Testing!

Stay tuned!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Games Sharing Day - a Huge Success

Recently we held a highly successful games sharing day at Cromer Public School at the conclusion of the MacICT Game Design with Kahootz project. With 107 Year 5 students participating in the project, we had to plan carefully so that everyone had enough access to the computers in the lab to play each others' games.

We decided to host one session in the morning for two classes and an afternoon session for the remaining two classes. For a hour and a half, students played each others' games and evaluated the games using a rubric which provided specific feedback to designers in the following areas:
  • Technical
  • Navigation
  • Spelling and grammar
  • Design
  • Game idea
  • Enjoyment
All students took their evaluation role seriously and provided constructive feedback to the designers. Parents were invited to attend a part of each of the sessions.  They also played their child's game and were encouraged to provide constructive feedback. Students were asked to demonstrate to their parents how they constructed some of the scenes in their games. The parents were overwhelming positive about the whole experience. They were amazed at the problem solving and critical thinking that it took to create the games and were surprised at the quality of many of the games.

Anthony and I were amazed at how engaged the students remained for the entire session. Despite a lot of movement and a great crowd of people, we did not see a student who was not either playing a game, evaluating a game, sharing their game with their parents or watching their parents play. It was fantastic to see so many Dads come along to play their child's game and also Debbie Evans, the Director of Macquarie ICT Innovations Centre joined in the fun. What a great time was had by all!

    My Game Design Experience with Kahootz by Angelica - A Year 5 Student

    I absolutely loved working on Kahootz with my fabulous teachers, Ms Howe and Mr Fennell. Kahootz was something I’d learnt about before, but when I revised it with my class last term, I learnt a lot of new things that I had never even seen before! It also built up my confidence a little, too. I remember playing on Kahootz before and seeing that little pink tab spelling out ‘Sound’ but I had been too nervous to click on it, in case I stuffed something up.

    Making my game was a mixture of fun and challenge. I loved working with my friends and sharing ideas with them. Sometimes, while making my game on Kahootz, I found myself in the middle of nowhere-not sure what to do at all! I thought and thought, and finally ended up finding my way back home.

    Presenting at the conference was a bit nerve-racking at first, but as I practiced and finally came to the stage of presenting in front people, I found it really fun. I am really thankful that I was chosen, and received the opportunity to do something as cool as that. I didn't think that just making a game on a computer program would take me to where I am now.

    Overall, I absolutely loved everything about Kahootz; the designing, making and presenting. If I had the opportunity to, I would do it all again!

    Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Friday, August 13, 2010

    Teacher Post Gladesville Public School

    My name is Maria Kotouc and I am currently a computer RFF teacher at Gladesville Public school. I have been teaching computer classes for 2 years. Previous to this I have been a classroom teacher K-6.

    I gained plenty of experience with ICT whilst being the computer RFF teacher. I came across Kahootz through another Macquarie ICT course. I thought it would be a great way for stage 3 students to enhance their movie making skills. For the past 10 years stage 3 students at Gladesville Public School have been working on developing their movie making skills – planning, storyboarding, filming, editing clips & sound using the i-movie program. With these skills stage 3 students have created their own video clips that have incorporated – special effects, titles and animation (stop-motion & computer generated using Powerpoint) Kahootz seemed to be another extension, particularly with its 3D worlds and gaming options.

    When stage 3 students were told that they were going to create their own video games they were really excited. There are currently 4 stage 3 classes but I am limiting the program with the two year 6 classes until I become more familiar with it. Year 6 have an hour and a half lesson every week with me, which will enable them to really get into the program. For the first 3 weeks I allowed them to explore and create simple animations. However, during this time we were going through several technical problems running the program with our Mac computers and being on our network. Students could not save, the program was crashing and some of the functions worked for some students and not for others. This was getting very frustrating not just for me but for the students, especially when they could not save. Luckily there was a solution – Get the students off the network and let them work on the computer hard drive, which meant they had to stay on that computer all the time. This seemed to solve all the problems we were having. The students got their enthusiasm back for the program.

    When Anthony came from ICT, he showed the students the more difficult steps (using variables) and he showed them how to storyboard. At this stage the year 6 students became extremely motivated. Back in class, learning about Gold as their HSIE topic students began the process of storyboarding with their teacher Ben Grant (did the Kahootz course as well) who also initiated this process with the other year 6 class. Currently, we are at storyboarding stage and are highly motivated to get started.

    Hi my name is Ben Grant and I’m the Grade Six teacher here at Gladesville Public School. I have experience in being Computer Coordinator on a temporary basis at a previous school. I also studied ICT as my minor study at University. I am quite comfortable using and teaching ICT in the classroom and school environment.

    I came across Kahootz through Maria (see above) and attended the one-day introduction course at MACICT with Anthony and Cathie. I found the course extremely useful and the program very easy to navigate and work. Maria was very interested in running the program with two Stage 3 classes. I was happy to support her from the classroom supporting the students in planning & storyboarding. The kids are really excited about the program and are enjoying the planning and storyboarding process thus far.

    We are studying ‘Gold’ during this term and have asked the kids to base their game loosely around gold as a theme. All game-plans are unique and the students really get the chance to be creative as well as become competent users of technology in a fun environment.

    Both the students and teachers are very excited about the ongoing project and are looking forward to a very worthwhile and successful program.

    Monday, August 9, 2010

    Let's Make a Game! - Part 4: Growing a World

    Welcome back guys! I'm sorry I've taken so long between this post and the last, but as you can see we've been a little bit busy. Now we're starting to get things back under control and we can get back to making our game.

    It's been so long that I'll forgive you if you've forgotten what's been happening. Previous episodes of Let's Make a Game! can be found here (part 1), here (part 2) and here (part 3).

    Part 3 left off with a really brief discussion of game genres. I've spent a lot of time discussing genres in the distant past, so I won't repeat myself here. The fact of the matter is that although it's very difficult to pigeonhole games into one or another particular genre, it's very important to have a working understanding of each genre to know where your particular game draws its inspirations.

    Or how that idea has evolved

    Today's episode, Growing a World, is going to deal with all the tiny details that bring a world to life. As a starting point I highly recommend the excellent video by Extra Credit, that we have linked to on our blog. It's tough, but a good game requires an excellent atmosphere and great storytelling. And as the video suggests, games need more than just words alone to tell a story. You can use the gameplay, the mechanics of how the player plays the game, to tell a story just as well (or perhaps better) than words alone could.

    Let's fall back to our game examples. We are creating two levels that represent exciting events in the book The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

    Our first level finds Lucy struggling to make her way back to the lamp post and out of Narnia. When designing the level, we spent a lot of time writing notes about how the world might feel, what the player might see. We also drew pictures of how we might make the trees appear threatening, and certainly we've got an idea of how the lamp post might look like to a lost and frightened little girl.

    Like a glowing beacon of hope!

    Absolutely the first step would be to create the snow-covered Narnia in a scene in Kahootz. But is that all you should do? Always remember that your player is very good at spotting duplicates. If you don't go to the extra effort, if you merely place one tree in your world and clone it a hundred times to make a forest, your player will notice that all your trees are eerily similar. When you are building your world, little details count. Try a good range of trees and don't forget to make some smaller and some taller so that they stand out. Another good trick is to rotate each new tree slightly. Even if you have two identical trees side by side, having one slightly rotated will be enough that the player never sees the same two branches at any one time.

    What's with all the trees looking the same? Fake!

    Be as creative as you like here! Use every scrap of paper, and every little note you've written. Try to think outside the square when it comes to things like swatching the world.

    But making a realistic world isn't enough. This is a forest, it needs living creatures in it to seem real. And best of all we can add creatures in specific ways to remind the player that this is not just any forest, this is a scary forest that we don't want to hang around in for too long.

    We will need to add in a range of animals with simple keypoints to make it look like they are scurrying around on the forest floor. We might also need some animal noises - owls hooting and strange growling noises. Lastly what's more scary than darkness? If you add just a little bit of fog, perhaps dark like shadows or even white like a snow storm, you can raise your player's sense of excitement and fear. If you can't see what's up ahead you're going to be a little bit more cautious about exploring.

    Looks safe to me.

    So we've painted a realistic world, we've brought this world to life with simple keypoints, sounds and fog that all reinforce how scary and intimidating this world is. It's important to remember that we've done all this without any words on the screen!

    There's just one final thing to keep in mind: How does Lucy move around the world? Let's think back to what Lucy is feeling, and ask ourselves how we can encourage the player to feel the same way. She's scared, she's alone, she's lost. She doesn't want to spend a lot of time here in this unfamiliar place.

    How about limiting Lucy's speed? What if she moved at a slow walking pace through this scary forest? This gives the player more time to absorb the atmosphere and more time to worry that there's something hidden that could jump out and grab them. Simply because she doesn't want to stay there is a great reason to make her stay there longer.

    How else could you use gameplay mechanics such as object keypoints or object swatches to make the player empathise with Lucy?

    I think we'll wrap it up here for now. There's definitely a lot more to be said about making a world feel believable even if they things the player is doing is absolutely unbelievable. Next time we'll be looking at Player Feedback, the little hints that your game drops from time to time to keep up the tension and build the story. But until next time, thanks for stopping by! It's good to be back.

    Stay tuned!


    Sunday, August 8, 2010

    Game Design............ the new crystal ball.

    How many people do you know that play computer games in some form or another? I would think that probably everyone you know plays games of some kind. Why do we do it? What do we gain from it? The overwhelming response I hear you say “Because it is fun.” Games have always been a part of my life since opening the wrapping of a Christmas present years ago to find an Atari 2600 gaming console. I can even remember a time before that when I would run over to my neighbour’s house to play Pong on a TV they had that had the game built into it. I remember them looking at me oddly when I arrived at their house at 9am on a Saturday asking to play Pong. Fortunately for them Atari where only months from releasing the console in Australia and they could go back to watching the Today Show or whatever it was that they were watching. It was with similar excitement I remember being asked to join the Game Design team at MacICT to work with Cathie and Anthony. I was over the moon. “Would you like to come and work with us and teach children and teachers how to use Game Design software?” they asked. “Are you kidding,” I felt like I had won the Gamer’s Lottery or something “sign me up!” I said. Well, here I am excited about having this awesome opportunity to work with amazingly talented people and being able to contribute what I know about games and teaching.

    A little about my background, I have been a primary and secondary teacher in the Department of Education and Training for 15 years, working in many roles. I have always worked with technology seeking out the latest gadgets and making use of them in my teaching. I have been a computer coordinator in two schools for a total of 10 years and understand only too well the challenges and benefits that technology brings to a school. I am an avid gamer and have played thousands of games, modded/designed games and been part of online gaming communities for as long as there has been online games.

    The gaming industry was last reported to be a $US 7 Billion industry, far larger than that of movies or television or any other entertainment based industry. That reason alone is enough to be teaching children game design but it offers a whole lot more. Game design is rich with learning experiences dominating the higher order thinking skills. Children are creating, analysing, deconstructing, organising, using technical and metalanguage, designing, it is 2 dimensional, 3 dimensional it asks questions and answers questions, promotes critical dialogue ....... and it goes on. In my opinion I feel game design is starting to become the medium for a new wave of creativity. Who knows what could become of children that understand how to make games, they could become the new Mark Zuckerberg “Facebook”, Bill Gates “Microsoft”, Sergey Brin or Lawrence Page “Google”. All of them had to learn how to write code and computer program.

    I hope to offer my experiences to the Kodu Game Design Project and help out in any other area if I am needed. Kodu looks exciting, and believe me kids are going to love it. I will try and keep you up to date with what is happening with our project from my end and would love to hear about anything you might be doing in the area of gaming.


    Simon Hutchison

    Saturday, August 7, 2010

    Video Games and Bad Writing

    I recently watch this short video published in the online magazine, 'The Escapist' on video games and bad writing and thought I would share it. I've summarised below a few interesting points from the video, but it would be worthwhile to take the time and watch the video yourself :
    • When writing for video games, you are writing for an interactive medium, and this medium is fundamentally different to all other mass media to date.
    • No-one wants to read huge blocks of text in a video game.
    • In 1 hour of game play, there may be 10 minutes of dialogue compare to 20 minutes of dialogue in a 1 hour high action TV show.
    • Games can't tell their story through disconnected segments of gameplay strung together by cut scenes.
    • Games need to tell their story through gameplay. Narrative should drip from every texture and be integrated in every facet of the world. It should come through in the menus and the interface and in every loading scene. But, most importantly of all, it should come through in the mechanics of the game. The mechanics should teach us about the story and reinforce the plot line.

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    All Systems Go

    We've been a little busy lately here at Game Design headquarters. Thanks to all the participants who made the trip out to us here at Macquarie Uni last Friday and spent a day learning Kahootz as part of our Game Design Teacher Training Day.

    We're proud to announce that our 15-week project, along with our Teacher Training Day, are now both registered on MyPL, offering teachers over twenty hours of professional learning.

    As we now wrap things up at Cromer PS, I'd like to also thank all the teachers and students who graciously offered their time and made some incredible games. Over the next few weeks I'll endeavour to get a couple of great games posted up here for other schools starting out with Kahootz.

    I'll leave it here for now, short and sweet, and next week we're back with our noses to the grind stone to round up Part 4 of our "Let's Make a Game!" series. In Part 4 we'll examine the art of populating a digital world that fits naturally with the narrative of your game. If you're new here and you've missed out the first few posts, or even if you'd just like to go back over it again, you can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here and Part 3 here.

    Stay tuned!


    Tuesday, July 20, 2010

    Engaging Learners through Innovative Practice

    Like Anthony in his previous post, I found the Office of Schools Conference a rewarding two days and you can read my reflections about the Conference on my blog. Within the next couple of weeks, Angelica and Indigo, the two students who presented along side us, will be blogging about their experience as participants in the Game Design project and presenting to a cross section of members from the NSW Department of Education. Along with teacher, Judy Farr, who also presented with us at the Conference, I want to thank them for their valuable, engaging and, at times, humorous insight into students as game designers.

    Amazing, educational time at the Office of Schools Conference 2010

    Welcome back, I hope you've all enjoyed the well-earned time off over the holidays. I'm going to deviate from the plan just this week, instead of delving further into the design process I'd like to take some time to have a quick chat about the 2010 Office of Schools Conference. Cathie and I from the Games Design team, along with members of the Local Environment Project, were invited over to Brighton to give presentations at the two day conference.

    It was a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about some of the great things we are achieving at MacICT and also a great learning experience. Over the two days, we got the chance to sit in on several workshops including cutting-edge Web2.0 tools and advanced techniques for engaging a variety of students.

    We were very lucky to also hear notable thinkers such as Jason Clarke and Adrian Bertolini share their thoughts on incredible topics such as superior team-building and the importance of design. Obviously these were incredibly important with regard to the value we in Game Design attach to the planning and design stages.

    We met some great people, had a lot of fun and we showcased students designing and playing their games to a live audience. All in all it was an amazing experience and on behalf of Cathie and myself we'd like to thank our corporate sponsor Panasonic, our incredible teacher Judy Farr and our two fantastic students Angelica and Indigo.

    Thanks guys! We couldn't have done it without you.


    Monday, July 12, 2010

    Reflecting on the Game Design Project 5F

    As I pull together my thoughts in readiness for the conference I thought that I would record part of my intended speech in the blog.

    "Engagement of the children in the game design project was powerful. They looked forward to our sessions eagerly, each week. I had many requests for lunch sessions in the classroom and computer library passes were in high demand so that the children could continue to build a polished game. In terms of the Quality Teaching Model, it certainly met the criteria for effective learning to take place."

    "This style of literacy gave all of my children a new way to express themselves. It provided some of my children, who have great difficulty with conventional literacy, an opportunity to create very effective games. We were very proud of their achievements and they were very proud of their success."

    "Literacy skills featured as the children articulated their thinking in the design process. They had to look at the complications in the story and decide on three main events to include in their game. Within this process the children were developing their higher order thinking skills and problem solving skills as they wrote their ideas; converted these ideas into a storyboard; developed a script that they might use and decided upon the written and visual guidance that the player might need to play their game successfully. Communication skills also featured as the children collaborated with their classmates at all stages of the game project. The children were continually improving their games as they observed others and had friends play their games to give them feedback."

    "Through this game design project my class has been immersed in digital literacy and as a consequence their skills across many curriculum areas have increased." Judy Farr

    Thursday, July 8, 2010

    Designing Games: Students’ Reflections

    Next week, we have the opportunity to present at the 2010 Office of Schools Conference: Engaging Learners through Innovative Practice. We are presenting on Students as Game Designers using 3D animation software. A teacher and two students, who were involved in the MacICT Game Design project last term, will also speak about their experience with the project.
    At MacICT we have been exploring multi-touch surfaces and, at the Conference, the students will be collaborating on a game design storyboard using a multi-touch IWB.
    Both students created games based on the book, Rowan of Rin which they had studied in class. I asked the students to reflect on:
    • How they turned one of their 'exciting events' into a game level?
    • What they learnt from designing and building their own game?
    • What did you find challenging?
    • What do you think about designing and building games at school?
    Below is their response.

    “For the last event, the Dragon’s Lair, I get the player to click on a series of baby dragons, which is completely different from the story. In the story, Rowan pulls a bone out from in between the Dragon’s teeth. Pretty much the only similarity is having the Dragon in the background. You have to blow up the little Dragons to finish, instead of earning the big Dragon’s trust.”

    “When I was designing my game, I had it all planned out in my head and I knew what I was doing. When I was making the game though, I changed practically every single scene and made it even better. I learnt a lot more about Kahootz as we had lessons on it, designed the game and built it. I knew about Kahootz before we had the lessons but I still learnt a lot of things I didn’t know before, like variables and actions.”

    “I found variables and actions a little challenging. Variables and actions are what you use to tell your game how to work. These were challenging because they were new to me. I also found it hard to think of different types of challenges.”

    “I think that designing and building Kahootz games at school is really fun and puzzling. I think it was really good for my learning on the computer and revision on Kahootz. I definitely think it is something we should go on with in the future.”

    “I based my game on Rowan of Rin, a book we read in class. The book is about the town of Rin. Rin was cut mysteriously of their water supply and Rowan, the main character, is chosen to venture up the mountain with 6 others as the town suspects that the dragon at the top of the mountain might have something to do with the drought.”

    “On the way up the mountain, the team faces 7 challenges. I took 3 of those challenges and changed them into levels of my game. For example, the forest of spiders was one of my levels and I made sure that the level could be as much the same as the book as possible, but it’s just impossible to make it exactly the same as the book, so I changed some of the items to give a new feeling to people who have read the book, and also because some of the items I needed were not there.”

    “When building my game, I learnt that you need support for you to strive for something better, and for getting ideas from your friends. I found that a lot of my game I thought up of after dwelling on my friends’ ideas so that my game would be different from theirs but with a touch of their good ideas.”

    “All I found challenging during the design process was making my game in the time limit we were given.”

    “I thought that the designing and building process was really fun because I got to work with my friends and I got to really use my brain power. Overall I’d be happy to do this again.”

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010

    Let's Make a Game! - Part 3: Nuts and Bolts

    Over the past two weeks we have thought about how to come up with an idea and then how to expand and sketch out those ideas. These are really basic steps that almost every game designer takes, and it's important to understand that these are steps that happen before we even get near a computer. It's very rare that a complete game can be made without at least a little bit of preparation and planning. But that's all behind us now, we've got the ideas for two levels - based on the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - and we've sketched these ideas out to get a feel for the emotions and environments that the player will experience. Grab all your drawings, grab the book and grab a computer. We're about to begin the final evolution from exciting event to game.

    For this post we're going to be looking exclusively at the Kahootz 3D software when we're making our game. Don't worry though, we won't really have time to go into any technical details or expect you to know how to use Kahootz. However, if you're a teacher and you're interested in learning to use Kahootz with your class, feel free to leave me a comment or visit us at our website

    As soon as we jump on the computer, a game designer has to start by thinking like a game player. What other games have you played before? How did they show you where you were in the world, what you could jump on or interact with. How did they show you something was an enemy or a friend?

    You've also got to keep in mind the limitations of the software you're using. Kahootz is really good at showing amazing, life-like worlds from the eyes of the player (ie/ first person perspective) but it's not so good at 2D Platformers like Mario up there.
    Fig 1. First-Person Perspective

    But that's great for us. If you think back to the two levels we've come up with, both are strongly centred around one character. Lucy is trying to find her way back to the lamppost and Edmund is fleeing from the White Witch and her castle guards. First-person perspective will work brilliantly to help the player think and act like Lucy or Edmund.

    This is only the start of the building process, and there's a lot more that I'd like to go into. But for the moment I think we'll leave it there. The very first step when it comes to turning an exciting event into a game is to find the right software to build it in. Some professional game designers even go as far as to create their own game-making software.

    Next week we're going to start building and populating our game worlds, and we'll talk about some of the decisions that need to be made about how enemies look and how we explain to the player the rules of our game. See you all next week.

    Stay tuned!


    Wednesday, June 30, 2010

    Let's Make a Game! - Part 2: Cooking with Games

    Last week we took the very first steps in designing our games, we came up with a bunch of ideas. This week, we're going to take those ideas and start molding them into something resembling a game.

    Following on from last week, we'll continue to make our game around The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Last week we found two exciting events:

    Lucy, lost in Narnia, hunting for the lamppost to get her home
    Edmund, captured by the White Witch, escaping back to his friends.

    In game terms, these two exciting events are going to become two levels in our overall game. Both events provide great opportunities to excite the reader and challenge the player, and we can use them to start drawing out the transformation that takes place from book to game. Let's dive in!

    Lucy and the Forest of Narnia
    Last week I spoke briefly about the key difference between a book and a game. Basically, all the action in a book happens to someone else. You're just reading about them. In a game, you are right in the thick of the action. Your decisions have meaningful effects on the game, you are in control.

    We've got to make the player feel like Lucy does when she is lost in the forest. We have to start thinking about what emotions we want our player to experience, what we can do to add an element of danger or maybe even fear. This is not meant to be a nice, friendly level.


    Right now, we're still working with pen and paper. Start by drawing up a few pictures of the scary forest. What do we know? We know it's full of snow, that there's a couple of forest creatures such as Mr Tumnus and his friend the beaver and there's a lamppost that serves as Lucy's goal. Make sure you include these in your drawings. You should be imagining what the player might do and how they might feel, hunting through a forest for the elusive lamppost.

    But hang on, the book doesn't tell us much about the forest other than to say simply that Lucy was lost in it. Why are we making up so many extra details? Here is where we start to make the exciting event into a game. The book has other ways of letting us know that Lucy is a little scared. It's not much fun if the game started with a sign that said, "You are scared." We have to expand on what we know to find other ways to make the player feel like Lucy does when she is lost in the forest, and we do this by making the forest seem scary.

    Edmund and the Castle of the White Witch
    In Edmund's level we can maybe have a change of tone. It would be easy, and understandable, to make the castle seem just as scary as the forest, but remember that Edmund is a bit braver than Lucy. Edmund might think the whole escape is a bit of an adventure. There's so many more interesting things to look at inside castles, so many things to play with and knock over. In other words, we can make the escape feel a little less stressful and a little more fun.


    Again, we're going to jot down a few drawings of the castle. What do castles often have? Suits of armour, candelabras, roaring fireplaces, amazing art across the walls. But also keep in mind that this is the White Witch's castle and she's a cruel, nasty person. She might have decorated in a similarly cruel and nasty style.

    What's happening to Edmund? Maybe he's being chased by castle guards. Maybe, as he's running, he can knock over the suits of armour and bring down the hanging portraits. That's going to hinder the guards chasing him, for at least a couple of seconds. Maybe then he can buy himself enough time to escape.

    We better leave it there for this week. We've now got some ideas, and we've drawn up a couple of pictures of how each level might look to the player. We're getting a pretty good understanding of what the player will have to do in each level, what they're looking for and what's trying to stop them reaching their goal.

    Next week, it's time to grab a computer and start building our levels in Kahootz. Looking forward to seeing you all then.

    Stay tuned!


    Monday, June 28, 2010

    5C Kahootz Gaming!

    Wow...Has been my reaction to the skills my students have displayed this term creating their games!

    5C have been creating games based on the novel we are studying this term "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe". The fantasy element of the story has had students creating interesting worlds which accurately reflect the descriptions of the book. There are wardrobes, upturned beaver's houses, witches castles and not the mention the roaring Aslan.

    A common problem I have noticed students facing is that they know how to play their game, and they assume it is quite clear what a player needs to do without detailed instruction. However, when I have played alot of their games, instructions have been forgotten or at the most minimal level. Once a student faced this problem while playing another students game, they understood the importance of clear goals and instructions.

    Asthetics also seems to be the primary concern of most students, wanting their scenes to look as close to Narnia as possible. This is a problem, as most students spend their valuable ICT time on the way their worlds and characters look and not how their game actually works.

    However, once these issues have been pointed out, students are quick to rectify their problems and have created some great games!

    Can't wait for the parents to come in and see their Little Tech Kids in action!

    Saturday, June 26, 2010


    As we are getting close to the end of the Game Design Project, 5M's games are almost completed. My class have had the opportunity to play each others games and give feedback on how they could improve their games. As a class we realised the importance of clear instructions in a game, as well as making it challenging for the player.

    My students have all responded extremely well to the Game Design Project. They were enthusiastic, excited and interested at all times. Thursday has now become their favourite school day because of the Game Design Project. They have all loved using Kahootz.

    I have been really impressed with my students' games. They are based on 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe' which we studied in Term 1. It has been great to see the students really thinking about their spelling as they were putting instructions into their games. This project really helped my class work together. They were all more than happy to help anyone having trouble with animation or swatches, or show someone how to make something explode!

    As a teacher involved in this project, I have learnt how capable my students are when it comes to technology and how much they enjoy it. Technology really keeps students interested and this project has been a great tool for teaching literacy, problem solving and working with others.

    To improve this experience for the students I would like to have had more time allocated for the project. It all went so quickly and unfortunately with different things coming up, we didn't always get the full amount of time needed each week.

    Overall we have loved being involved in the Game Design Project and 5M are very proud of their games!

    Thank you to Cathie and Anthony for a very worthwhile experience. We wish the project was continuing in Term 3!

    Friday, June 25, 2010

    MacICTGameDesign on the SS5A

    The leaky boat has been fixed and we're up and sailing! The kids are at the helm whilst their teacher manns the lifeboat-so far she's the only one that 's really needed it!

    Overall, the students in 5A have responded very well. They have all managed to produce some very appropriate and cleverly designed games and have all been very keen to work on and finish their games. Many of the students have given up lunchtimes to work on their projects in the classroom.
    We've only lost the keel a couple of times in that a couple of children have found it somewhat stressful. I think that's due to the time frame and speed at which they had to accommodate the 'new language' of Kahootz.

    On the other hand, one parent said that 'Kahootz' is her son's favourite time of the week!
    Both of the children who have been chosen to present their Kahootz expressions at the ICT Conference in the school holidays have been more than happy to write speeches and prepare for their presentations.
    For myself, I have learned to overcome my initial trepidation and am keen for my kids to teach(re-teach) me, during my lunchhours, to create an 'expression'. I'm now keen to master this foreign language!

    A suggestion I have for the future, is to slow down the teaching/learning time to enable all students, of varying abilities(and ages!!), to feel confident about their skill acquisition and subsequent ability to design their own game. Minimise stress, maximise participation!

    I feel the project has been very worthwhile as it has added a new dimension to my students' learning and a new medium for problem solving and creative expression ie curriculum enrichment. Many thanks to Cathie and Anthony, (the lighthouses!), for their constant guidance and creation of the project. ...Glad to have been invited aboard!

    Wednesday, June 23, 2010

    Game Design with Year 6 at Cromer Public School

    My Year 6 class have been busy this year designing and building games using Kodu.

    To give you a little bit of background information on my students, last year, in Year 5, they were involved in the MacICT Game Design project with Kahootz. My students built games related to many aspects of the curriculum including:
    • literature, particularly the book Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
    • micro-organisms
    • maths
    • spelling
    This year, my students have been using the software Kodu to design and build their own games. Kodu is a visual programing language made specifically for creating games. The students have learnt how to create their own 3D worlds and then program objects to interact with each other and the player. We initially experimented with racing games and now the students have just finished designing and building their first arcade game. We have had a few technical hiccups along the way with running Kodu on the NSW Department's T4L roll out machines, but have managed to work out a base platform on which to run Kodu successfully.

    A few of my students created the Prezi below for our class blog about using Kodu to design games.

    We also set up a wall in wallwisher where the students reflected on what they had learnt on their journey into game design and some of the challenges they faced.

    Next term, some students will go onto designing games in Kodu or Kahootz as part of a rich task related to our Science unit on sustainability, 'Cool Kids for a Cool Climate'.

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010

    Let's Make a Game! - Part 1: Ideas, Man

    I'm going to mix it up this week. Instead of talking about professional games that already exist, we're going to peer inside the head of a game designer as they actually work. I've been 'volunteered' as a live test subject for this experiment. We'll follow the train of thought that takes place to get from an idea to a game.

    It's full of delicious ideas!

    The first step is to sit down and have an idea. This can often be the hardest step. You've got to think of an interesting character, a cool setting or a new way to play. Many ideas won't even make it past this first step, but it's important to write down everything you think of. If you don't use that awesome Gorilla-with-a-Jetpack idea in this game, it might fit in something else.

    Or maybe your idea is simply to improve on something that you've already seen. Far from plagiarising, this is actually a fairly common fact of game design. Everyone can make games about soldiers and guns, but what if you were a firefighter and your gun was a firehose? Innovating and building upon existing ideas can be just as valid and important as (and often easier than) coming up with something completely new. The trick is to emphasise what makes this game unique, not what makes it just like everything else.

    We're going to start with an idea from a book. One of the benefits that comes from teaching game design is that it's so easy to tie in whichever fantasy book your class is currently reading. We'll take The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Take a moment and try to think back to what happens. What exciting things happen to the main characters? What difficult things befall them? What choices do they have to make?

    Remember when Lucy gets lost in snow-covered Narnia and has to find her way back to the street lamp that serves as the signpost back to the wardrobe? Or how about when Edward has to escape from the White Witch after she tricked him into coming back to her castle with the promises of power and turkish delight?
    It's full of delicious power!

    What other exciting events happened in the book?

    Once we've found a couple of cool story ideas you've got to stop and ask yourself a question. "It was exciting when I was reading about this, but how would it feel if this was really happening to me?" This is the key distinction between a book and a game. In a book, the reader is rarely a character in the book, rather they are a detached observer. In a game, the player is the star. They are front and centre when things go well and when disaster strikes.

    When the player feels scared it's because there's scary things in front of them. When they feel victorious it's because they've struggled and succeeded against difficult puzzles and obstacles. Emotions are very personal for the player. How would you feel if you were lost in Narnia hunting for the lamppost? How would you feel if you had been tricked and kidnapped by the evil White Witch?

    You want your player to feel exactly like that.

    But that's enough for this week. We'll start next week with a pile of good ideas that are ready to be poked and prodded into something resembling a game.

    Stay Tuned!


    Monday, June 14, 2010

    Intriguing the Player

    The best games tell a story. And the best stories are those that keep you asking for more, where you're desperate to find out what happens next and perhaps a little sad when you get to the end simply because the story's done and there's no more to read.
    "And then Ron and Hermione just got married, what a crock."

    This week we'll be intriguing and enticing, we'll be talking about games that hook the player in to their world. These are the games that succeed in bringing a world to life.

    Capturing your player and drawing them into your world isn't an easy thing to teach. Many people already spend a great deal of their time trying to work out how to teach others how to write a good story. I'm not going to throw my hat into that ring just yet.

    Start hard with stream-of-consciousness, then two
    quick metaphors to the left and an irony uppercut.

    What I can do is tell you why a good narrative is a pre-requisite for a great game and an excellent teaching tool. A good story makes your game memorable, dramatic and interesting without being repetitive and there's never the lack of momentum that haunts lesser games. Games with great stories never run out of steam.

    But be careful! A great story alone will not save a game if the game doesn't know how to tell that story. There's been a number of games with great stories, and depending on who you ask this either made them fantastic or fantastically boring. Personally, I love a good story, and for that reason I've excused many games such as Alan Wake, Max Payne and Half-Life 2 when gameplay gets in the way of a good story.

    And of course we can't talk about stories in games without looking at my personal favourite: the Metal Gear franchise, and particularly Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.

    North American cover art

    The brainchild of video game wunderkind and wierdo Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear series tells the story of rogue secret agent Solid Snake. I've picked MGS2 partly because it wasn't well received by fans when it attempted to take the franchise is a new direction and partly because I'll never forget the time when playing this game late one night, my character got a call on his military comm-phone from his Commanding Officer telling me to turn off my PlayStation and to stop playing the game. I'd gotten so into the story that it came as a shock when his commander called and literally told me to stop playing. It was a confronting moment, but that's what MGS is all about. And no, I'm not going to tell you why. You're just going to have to play the game yourself, but trust me it's worth it.

    If you want moments where you're not sure if you're playing a game at all, all brilliantly written into an immersive story, I highly recommend Metal Gear Solid. If you want to come back next week we'll have another piping hot blog post. Next week's focus we're going to sneak a peek inside a real game designer as they work. Thanks for stopping by, see you all again next week.

    Stay tuned!


    Thursday, June 10, 2010

    Anne McLaren - Pennant Hills Public School

    I'm a year 5 teacher who is currently acting as computer coordinator while our 'real' one is on leave.

    I am not actively teaching Kahootz in the computer lab as we have a relieving computer teacher, but all the planning is being done in the classroom and the kids are loving the experience.

    We have some fantastic game ideas under way and some of the children are now at the stage of putting some scenes together. All of Stage 3 are participating in the program and the teachers and students are starting to see some progress.

    Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    The Secret of the Paradigm Shift

    Over the last few weeks, we took a look at what not to do when designing a game. The top ten most common mistakes made by game designers can be found here, here, here and here. Now we're going to do an about face. It's not fun looking at where games went wrong. This week we're going to recongnise the games that got it right, and maybe pick out a couple of hints to take away for our own games.

    Fig 1: Nintendo employees still celebrating release of
    Super Mario Bros, 25 years on.

    Specifically, this week we'll be examining a technique called the 'paradigm shift'. It happens when the rules of your game are suddenly and massively changed. The world is reformed around new rules, everything old is new again, and your player basically has to relearn how to play your game. It's easiest to think of a paradigm shift as the twist ending in a movie.

    For this reason, the paradigm shift is a rare occurence. There should be at the utmost one per game, and there has to be a good narrative reason for the rules as they once were to come crashing down on the player. But when done right, a paradigm shift breathes new life into a game right before the end, where it's often most needed.

    Fig 2: Before the paradigm shift

    So who does it right? Alien vs Predator and Rune get the idea of pumping up the player right before the end (sorry, spoilers), but the best example of a paradigm shift lies in the final chapter of BioShock. I'm not going to give away the ending but suffice to say that towards the end the game, and your role in it, is turned on its head. Suddenly enemies are friends and your own survival is no longer the only focus.

    Rather than just arming the player with some mega-cannons for a spectacular final boss fight, BioShock basically throws a whole new way to play at the player right before the end, resulting in one of the most stressful and most enjoyable levels I've ever played. The paradigm shift turns BioShock from a basic yet dramatically beautiful shooter into something great.

    Next week we'll be continuing this theme: looking at how games can intrigue and entice the player. Once again, thanks for dropping by, looking forward to seeing you next week.

    Stay tuned!


    Wednesday, June 2, 2010

    The 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers - Part 4

    Welcome back for this our last in a line of the top 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers. Part 1, part 2 and part 3 can be found here, in which we detail the good and the bad. But this week, we're rounding up the list with the ugly. The top two most embarassing mistakes made by everyone, Game Designers included. This week we look at the silly mistakes, the ones that break a game, that seem so minor when you're making the game but stand out so obviously when your player gets their hands on the finished product. Let's roll up our sleeves and dive right in to:

    2. Bugs, Glitches and Typos
    The game starts. A man named 'Sir Charles the Nite' appears, instructing you to "hant down teh Goulden Mask fo Power". You hop on your trusty steed and head into the dark forest, where you encounter horrible Blood Spiders who aren't so horrible when they just stand there like that or bump into each other. You can just walk right past them! You find the Golden Mask of Power and return it Sir Charles, who takes it gladly then asks you to 'hant' it down again.

    "Hant it down and brung it bak too me!"

    High-profile sinners:
    Zero Wing, Max Payne

    Why it happens:

    Making a whole game takes a lot of time and effort and it's a nightmare working with a deadline looming and your publisher screaming for a finished product. It's amazing that through all this a game gets made at all, so you can forgive the little typos that manage to sneak their way in here and there, right? Of course, it's not only games that fall victim to this. I've submitted many a uni essay, last minute, without bothering to check for typos in the important things, like the heading.

    You don't notice it, and frankly you're glad to see the end of it. But your player does (or in my case uni professor). They see these silly mistakes and it's all they can think about. The game itself could be amazing, but somehow your game Dwarf Spelling Forterss has lost some of its glamour. Or maybe it's not spelling, maybe the terrifying Nightmare Guards of the Beyond aren't quite so nightmarish considering they keep bumping into walls and keep getting stuck in invisible holes in the ground.

    How to avoid it:
    When it comes to avoiding spelling errors, bugs and glitches, the simplest and least helpful response is don't make them in the first place. But not only is that impossible, it ignores the important role of testing your game. Sure, you might be the only person designing or building your game, but you shouldn't ever be the only one testing it. Grab your friends, your parents, your neighbours. Show your game to everyone who will sit still in front of a computer screen long enough. Make them play your game again and again, until they're dead bored with it, and then make them play it again. This isn't about showing off, this is about ironing out the bugs and getting everything absolutely right. And to be honest, it's exactly what professional Video Game Testers get to look forward to every single day.

    1. Hogging all the fun
    You turn a corner in this dank cave. The sound of dripping water echoes unseen from deep within. Tiny yellow eyes watch your every move from the shadows. You push on, unafraid, towards the mysterious green glow that pulses and hums in the dark. You take one step, then another, and another. And then you might as well put the controller down and make a cup of tea because the next fifteen minutes are going to be dedicated to one long cutscene. Don't get me wrong, this is one incredible cut scene. There's explosions and magic whizzing through the air, and there's a dragon! But the question remains - if this is so cool, why can't we be playing this?

    "Hey, I've got this awesome new game, it's called DVD!"

    High-profile sinners: Bayonetta, Devil May Cry, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

    Why it happens:

    What is a game if it's not letting you have any fun? It's not a game anymore, it's a movie that stops running if you stop moving your thumbs. Suddenly your player feels a bit like a mouse on a wheel, running round in circles, disconnected from the game. As a side note, these obtrusive cut scenes at their worst dump the player right into the middle of some huge boss fight and expect you to sit through the whole overblown, dramatic fifteen minutes again when you lose - which you will, again and again.

    How to avoid it:
    Less is more when it comes to cut scenes. There should always be an initial cut scene to quickly introduce the main characters and show off the world. After that cut scenes are handy to show emotional interactions between the heroes and the villains, and that's it. Anything more exciting should be gameplay. It's more engaging and more rewarding and your player will end up caring more about the story when it is shown (through gameplay) and not told (forced down their throat by awkward cut scenes).

    And there we have it, the top 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers. I hope you've enjoyed it, and maybe even learnt something. Next week we'll be looking at how to turn a good game into a great one. Looking forward to seeing you all again next week.

    Stay tuned!


    Saturday, May 29, 2010

    Year 5 Designing Games linked to Literature

    I have been working with four classes of Year 5 students who have recently completed their training in the use of Kahootz. Over the last couple of weeks, they have all been busily designing games linked to the books they have been reading and studying in class. The books include: Rowan of Rin, Finders Keepers and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

    The students were asked to identify three exciting events in the books that could be turned into a level in a game. They were then asked to identify a challenge or obstacle that the player would have to overcome, what was happening in the scene when they came across the obstacle/challenge, and what would the player have to do to get past the obstacle. This was all part of the design document students filled out in preparation for building their games. Most of the students are now currently completing storyboards for their games.

    It was exciting to see the conversations that occured between students when discussing ideas for their games. It was also interesting to see the level of synthesis that was required for students to turn events from a book into a game idea. This generated some very creative ideas!