Thursday, April 29, 2010


Yes, I too, am a teacher-in-tttrrraaiining with the MacICT Game Design Project.

As a teacher of too many years to tell (started full-time 1982-you do the maths) I have jumped in at the deep end with the gaming project. However, I am happily on board having been thrown a liferaft by my wonderful and clever colleague, Cathie Howe. Her skill, enthusiasm, dedication and patience 'buoying' me, what ho. Having not 'grown up with' computers as it were, and not having technical inclinations (you get my drift) I have indeed been on a huge learning curve (and sometimes on a slippery slide!).

As a GaTs teacher for many years, learning to let go, that it's OK not to know or understand at first and that even as the teacher, I don't have to be good at everything, have been worthwhile albeit humbling lessons!
I am fortunate that I have a class of children who want to learn. The class consists of 24 girls and 6 boys. Within the class there is a small cluster of GaTs students whilst the remaining students have been placed in the class based on English results. Only a handful of my students have identified themselves as 'gamers' although not in the sense of game design, merely 'playing games' they tell me. However, most are fairly skilled in the area of ICT.

The class has eagerly participated in the Kahootz training, their eager eyes glued to the screen. It has been a delight to see their free spirits openly diving into the tasks. I feel there is the sense of a learning community with the children supporting each other along the way. I like the creativity, solution-finding and the persistence involved as well.

Interestingly enough, on questioning my class for the first time about the Kahootz training, in general, they have felt that it's been a bit rushed without enough time to consolidate their skills before moving on to the next thing. This surprised me as I felt that myself when I was 'in training',but assumed it was due to a lack of technical know-how and experience on my part. They said that they would have liked a whole day to 'sink their teeth' into the training in order to suitably acquire the knowledge and skills and really understand the process. Food for thought.

It will be interesting to see how they tackle the process of game design itself.
I will endeavour to post some written responses from them tracing their journey in future.
Once again,Cathie,thanks for the liferaft-I'm looking forward to climbing aboard the ocean liner 'real soon'!

Teacher involved in the MacICT Game Design Project

My name is Sarah Morgan and this is my 3rd consecutive year of teaching Grade 5 at Cromer Public School. I have had 7 years experience teaching K-6 classes, including working in London as well as in the Private, Catholic and Public systems in NSW.

I was a former student of Cromer Public School and was very excited to receive a teaching position here in January 2006.

As a child I loved playing with Nintendos and spent many hours playing games. As an adult I have not had too much experience playing games until now!
I have always been interested in technology and have had the skills to go with it to enable me to teach my students in this area.

I gained a lot of knowledge in ICT while being on the Technology Committee at Cromer in 2007 and 2008. However, most of my learning and interest in this area came about while working closely with Cathie on Year 5 the last 2 years. It was amazing to see what a great teaching tool technology can be and how much the students enjoy it!

This year I am very happy to be involved in the MacICT Game Design Project. My class have loved being taught Kahootz by Anthony and they are all very excited to start designing their own games. My class has a range of ability levels and it is very interesting to walk around the room and see all students so interested in the Kahootz program.

I am sure my class will benefit from this project, and I am hoping the process will encourage them to think more about their own learning while designing their games. Now that we are at the end of the teaching part of the project, I am really looking forward to seeing what types of games my students create..

Year 5 Game Design at Cromer!

My name is Judy Farr and I am currently teaching Year 5 at Cromer Public School. I have been teaching for many years from Kindergarten to Year 6 - in permanent, casual and temporary positions with the Department of Education. In 1983 at Winston Hills Primary School I encountered my first Apple computer and took it home to babysit during one school holidays to become familiar with this wonderful new tool. Probably the first game that I played was "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" and I spent lots of useless hours chasing Lemmings!

I moved into the corporate world for a number of years where I developed my skills with computer technology and when I returned to teaching in the early 2000's I found that I had skills that a lot of teachers from my generation were struggling to learn. I became a technology teacher for a number of years using many applications and assisting children to use the computer as an engaging part of the teaching , learning process across all areas of the curriculum.

To see my current class using Kahootz to design a game is amazing. My class is a very mixed ability group, but using this tool all children are using higher order thinking skills in designing a game. They are all extremely engaged, completely open to trying out all options, press any button to see where it will take them and are sharing their expertise with each other. This programme was completely new to me before I came to Cromer. We had a crash course in game design with Cathie (an excellent introduction but I still lacked confidence!) Now I walk around the room watching my children develop their skills without fear of making a "mistake" and thoroughly enjoying the game design process. I learn as they learn and I am as excited about the project as they are! I can't wait to play their games.

Teacher in Training-Game Design.

My name is Julianne Calvi and I am a Grade 5 Teacher at Cromer Public School. I graduated uni in 2007 and began my career at Cromer, teaching year 3 for two consecutive years. I attended the University of Technology Sydney and completed a couple of computer based learning courses through the 4 year degree. I am now teaching my first year 5 class in 2010 and am involved in the MacICT Game Design Project.

I have grown up with Super Nintendos, Game Boy, computers, the birth of the internet, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii and use mobile, email and facebook as main communication methods. However, I have no prior experience in game design and am very fortunate to work with and learn from the experience of Anthony and Cathie with my year 5 students.

A term into our game based training and I am impressed at how engaged and motivated the students are to solve problems and create their own games. I find that walking around the room to assist students, that they are infact the ones that are assisting me and teaching me new skills. You can either see this as discouraging that the roles are reversed, or as I see it, empowering to the students that they have the opportunity to share their knowledge, teach concepts they have learned and gain confidence.

I look forward to seeing what games the students will design and implement in this game design project! It is a great experience and I encourage all teachers to get involved, even if you have limited experience using any computer technologies, you'd be surprised what the students can teach you!!

Good Luck!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Design Process

Making a game takes planning. In fact it takes a lot more planning than most people expect. Kahootz and Kodu allow people to jump on and start making a game straight away, but unless you've put some thought into it before hand, more often than not you end up with something that isn't very fun.

Don't get me wrong, when you're first learning to make games, jumping in head first may be the best learning tool you've got. You're just playing around, seeing what happens when you do this or that. It's the way I recommend when people ask how to make games. Problem is, once you start to get familiar with the game making tool you're using, and you start to get an idea of the type of game you want to make, it's time to step away from the computer and go back to basics.

And I do mean BASICS. Pen-and-paper is perhaps more important to game design than keyboard-and-mouse. The design process is a set of steps that are meant to maximise your efficiency through design. Basically, the design process means you know exactly what you're doing at each step of making your game and there's no time wasted to confusion.

The Design Process

The Design Process, also known as the Development Cycle, covers five basics stages. The Design Process is an old friend for any designer, and while the names of each stage might change depending on who you ask, their purposes remain the same. I prefer the cycle written as it is above because it better suits a learning environment and provides easily assessable outcomes. This cycle covers everything from start to finish in the game design process, or in any designed or creative endeavour. Keep in mind as we run through each stage that stages 1 and 2 are best done by pen and paper, and you shouldn't even look at a computer until stage 3.

Stage 1: Identify a Problem
Everything starts here, your problem - quite simply - is that you want to play a particular game but you don't have it. It doesn't exist yet, it's just a figment of your imagination.

Here you think about everything you want your game to be. Don't let anything hold you back at this stage, you can be as creative as you want. All too often I'll hear kids in this stage asking questions like "I want to make my character fly, swim, explode, etc. How do you make him do that in Kahootz/Kodu/etc?" I'll invariably tell them that at this point we don't even care about how we make our game work. We're just imagining the end product and writing down what we want it do to. We worry about the hard part of making it all work later in stage 3, otherwise we'd never get our game made because everything would seem too hard, or impossible to make.

At this stage we ask ourselves:
-Who is this game for? (Who is our audience?)
-What does our audience want our game to do? (What is the context?)
-What can I do that is fun and new?

Stage 2: Design a Solution
You've got a problem well thought out now. Let's start drawing! On a piece of paper, draw what your player will see on the computer screen. Draw up how some of your enemies will look, how some of your maps will look. Start writing down in dot points how your enemies act, points of interest in your maps or worlds, how your player interacts with the world.

This Design Stage is much to big to go into great detail at this point, but I will dedicate an entire blog to it in the near future. For the moment, a brief introduction to the entire process will suffice.

At this stage, we ask ourselves:
-How does my player interact with my game?
-What powerups or threats can change the way the player plays our game?
-How do I make my game suit my audience?

Stage 3: Build a Solution
We've made it past pen and paper. It's time to start actually making our game.

Of course, I can't tell you exactly how to make your game. Each one will be your own. However, I can give you advice. Start small and build outwards. This is called bottom-up programming. Divide your entire game into manageable portions. For example, you might want to focus first on getting the player to run and jump around your world. Then once that's done you can look at making the enemies run and jump around. Then, maybe we work out how to get the player to turn invisible, hang off ledges or fly around with parachutes.

Bottom-Up Programming (as opposed to Top-Down Programming) sees your game as blocks in a pyramid. Build the foundation first, the basics of your game, before working on the harder parts. Let your game come together from separate pieces rather than trying to make it all in one go.

Stage 4: Test and Refine the Solution
This stage, I would argue, is the most important stage of them all. If you've rushed through your game and haven't spent any time testing it you could have all sorts of bugs and glitches waiting to ruin the fun for your player. And if your game isn't fun for the player, it isn't a game at all.

You've got a working model of your game at this stage. So show it to your friends and family, watch them as they play around with it. Do they get confused or lost? Do they not know what to do sometimes? Of course everything seems perfectly obvious to you, but you made it. You have to take a step back and ask yourself why your testers are getting confused. Maybe you need to put in more instructions, or a hint or two. Maybe you need to use different colours and sizes to show stronger and weaker enemies of the same type, or maybe you need other visual or audio cues when the player is getting hurt, or when they're winning.

And don't forget to write down each time the game crashes, or does something it isn't supposed to do. This stage can take a long time. Every time you find a bug, you have to go back and fix it and then get your players to test it again and again. Just remind yourself, this is all making your game better.

Stage 5: Evaluate the Solution
The game is done. It's been tested, all the bugs have been ironed out, and the hard work has paid off. It's time to release your game to its intended audience. It's important to watch them play your game, get feedback from them, see what they like and didn't like. There's a reason that the Design Process cycles round back to stage 1. If your audience doesn't like a part of your game, or doesn't understand it we're back at stage 1 with another problem, and hopefully another solution to design.

Now that you've got an introduction to the design process. It's a powerful tool and it's something that all designers use. If there's any part of this blog you'd like more information on, or you'd like to suggest a topic for a future blog please feel free to drop me an email and I'll be happy to accommodate you.

Next we'll start to look at the types of games out there, and the games you'll commonly be making.

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Join the fun! Designing games can be for everyone!

I thought it was about time that I introduced myself to everyone that may visit this online space. My name is Cathie Howe, and I have taught in NSWDET schools in the Northern Sydney Region for 20 years. I initially taught moderately intellectually disabled students for long time and then moved into mainstream education. Since then, I have taught parallel classes that contained a cluster gifted and talented students. For the past three years, I have taught Stage 3 classes containing the top students in the grade in English. I currently teach Year 6 three days/week at Cromer Public School, and am deployed to MacICT two days/week as the Game Design project leader. Throughout my teaching career, I have being passionate about integrating technology into teaching and learning.

I have always enjoyed playing video games. I have spent hundreds of hours in the past playing Tetris and Lemmings and other computer games. When my children began to play games, either on the computer, Wii or DS I would often join in and we would enjoy some fun family time together. Through playing games with my children and playing the occasional video game late at night, I have rediscovered the engagement and fun one can gain through games.

My interest in game based learning, and then game design, began when my son (at seven years old) told me he wanted to be a 'gamer' when he grew up. I didn't know he even knew what the word was! I observed the engagement and fun my son and daughter gained from playing video games with each other and their friends, and also the amazing problem solving skills they needed, to master the games they played. I had similar concerns as many parents do, over what benefits my children gained from playing video games and so began to read widely on the subject. My journey had begun!

World building in Kodu

Since July 2007, I have been fortunate that my boss at Cromer PS has been exceptionally supportive and allowed me to be deployed to MacICT for one day a week to research and develop projects in game design. I have taught game design using Kahootz to Stage 3 students at my school for the last three years. This year my Year 6 class and I, along with Anthony's assistance, are exploring and playing with Kodu - a visual programming language developed by Microsoft for creating games. I hope to use this software to develop another game design project.

Until this year, developing my project has been a rather solitary venture. I have been sustained by inspiring discussions, professional development and guidance from the Centre Director and my mentor, Debbie Evans, and the amazing, dedicated and diverse staff that we have had over the last 3 years at MacICT. This year, it has been fantastic to have Anthony come on board and make us a Game Design Team! His background as a gamer and experience in design has been invaluable to the continued development of the game design project.

I am excited about the wider recognition from the academic community and from educational organisations world wide of the value of game based learning, including game design, that has occurred in recent times. Game based learning has been identified by the Horizon Report (see my earlier post)as one of the key adoption areas in K-12 Education over the next 2 to 3 years. Our draft National English Curriculum has also identified multimodal text (games are a multimodal text) as a key literacy.

Through this blog, we aim to share this excitement with you, and hope, that you will also share your stories through posts to this blog as you join us on this journey.

Welcome to Good Game Design

Hi guys,

Let me introduce myself. My name's Anthony Fennell, I'm a research assistant working with Cathie on Game Design and I love that this basically means getting paid to play games. As my first blog post I thought I'd start by chatting about our motivation at the Game Design Project and maybe give you a quick introduction to Good Game Design, the secret tool to make good games.

So, about me. I'll be here blogging about a range of topics relating to game design. I'll be talking about the design process that takes place for some of the current big-name games and looking at what makes a good game.

I'll also be your face-to-face contact at MacICT, covering most if not all of the Game Design presentations at schools. I've studied Game Design at school and uni, and I've been making games for six or seven years in a bunch of different coding languages . I'm a strong believer in the benefits of gaming and game design as a learning tool, a community-builder and a great outlet for skilled competition.

Kids nowadays are playing games in much greater numbers, across more platforms and in new ways. With iPhones, consoles and especially facebook, games have exploded out into mainstream society. It's become a lot more cool to be a gamer. Of course, us old-school gamers already knew that. Games are fun, competitive and challenging. They're a great outlet for stress and a great way to waste some time if you're bored.

But games are much, much more than time-wasters. At MacICT, we're trying to harness the popularity of gaming and introduce it into the classroom in a way that emphasises fun, problem solving and collaborative thinking. Designing a game can be more fun than playing one. You're in charge of building the world, writing the rules, challenging your players. It's a rich, creative, rewarding task if it's done well and a downright pain if not.

Designing a game is like writing a book or painting a picture. There's no one right way to make a game, just as there's not one type of game you can make. It can be a very personal, subjective process but you can still make the right game in the wrong way. Good Game Design provides a clear foundation for game design that ensures your game (whatever that game may be) will always be fun and challenging. Over the next couple of weeks I'll be introducing you to the elements of Good Game Design that will make sure your game is fun, challenging and working all the time - no matter what game you make.

Stay tuned!


Monday, April 19, 2010

Games in Education - YES! Horizon Report 2010. K-12 Edition.

The Horizon Report series is the most visible outcome of the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Project, an ongoing research effort established in 2002 that identifies and describes emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe.

Game Based Learning (including game design) has been included as one of the three key adoption horizons in the next 2 to 3 years. The Report describes, "the greatest potential of games for learning lies in their ability to foster collaboration and engage students deeply in the process of learning."

The entire report is a great read and I have summarised below, the key aspects of the report relating to game based learning.

Research into why people find games so engaging has identified some key aspects including, "the feeling of working toward a goal; the possibility of attaining spectacular successes; the ability to problem-solve, collaborate with others, and socialize and, an interesting story line. . . Games can engage learners in ways other tools and approaches cannot, and their value for learning has been established through research."

"Designing and developing games is another way to bring games into the curriculum. Good game design involves research, creative thinking, the ability to envision both problems and solutions, and many other learning skills."

More food for thought!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Food for Thought! Jane McGonigal on Ted - 'Gamers can make a better world'

I recently viewed Jane McGonigal's video on Ted. It is well worth watching.

I have summarised the main points from her presentation below:

Gamers are a platform for change. There are four things that gamers are really good at:
  1. Urgent optimism. This is the desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief we have a reasonable chance of success. Gamers always believe the epic win is possible.
  2. Gamers are virtuosos at weaving a tight social fabric. It takes a lot of trust to play a game with someone.
  3. Blissful productivity. Gamers are willing to work hard all the time if given the right work.
  4. Epic meaning. Gamers are often involved in all inspiring missions.
All four skills add up to one thing. Gamers are super empowered, hopeful individuals.
Jane says, "instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality."
- Jane McGonigal
The discussion after the video is very interesting to read. As teachers though, wouldn't it be fantastic to tap into these skills to engage our students in the learning process at our schools.

Game Design Project Video Overview

Check out this short video made by the Game Design team. It's a mash up that gives you a bit of an overview of the Game Design project.

MacICT Game Design project Overview from Cathie Howe on Vimeo.