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!