Category Archives: Paizogogy

Here I expound on my theory that the best way to learn systemic thinking is not by playing games, but by making them; especially with others, and preferably in large groups.

School sessions!

We’ve just started the first participatory part of our project, which is really exciting. Once the first iteration of the game was ready, we booked in sessions at five local schools to go along and get the input of our “end users” (children aged 7-9) on the game so far. We’ve run sessions at three schools so far, and the feedback has been very interesting and useful.

The sessions have been facilitated by Dr Catherine Purcell, the Principal Investigator, who is a psychologist with lots of experience of running participatory research projects like this one. That’s particularly important, because it’s quite a skill to draw out relevant and constructive information from a group and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

A screenshot of the current game – the school is the end point that the children have to navigate to.

The children (whose parents had already signed consent forms to let them take part) were divided into groups of 5-10, and able to play the game on our tablets. This iteration of the game is not fully developed, but it gives a good representation of what the final gameplay will be like: the children use the tablet like a magic portal and have to navigate to a school in the virtual city by crossing roads as safely as possible. After the children played the game, Catherine asked for their feedback on various elements of the game. Where possible, one of the members of our team who is involved in game development went along too, to help make sure that the technological aspects of the discussion were covered and to answer techy questions.

The children have been very eager to help, and have given us some excellent feedback to work with. Some of the things they’ve asked for were already in development for the second iteration of the game, such as harder levels and a points system, but it’s good to know more specifically what the children want. Some of their suggestions are things we hadn’t yet considered, like having a pause button and adding an underpass/subway, which are becoming more common and are of course a safe road crossing place.

One thing we were particularly pleased about was that the children had absolutely no difficulty in understanding how to play the game. This level of intuitiveness is a good sign for us, as we want this game to be play-able and enjoyable for children, as well as teaching them safe road crossing behaviour.

Programming the game: Part 2

Showing the Map of the Level

To avoid a player feeling lost and not knowing where to go, the game will feature a level map. The map is displayed once the player points the device towards the floor. The exact details of the map’s interactivity abilities are not available at this point, however, while at the map screen, the player might be able to change some settings on-the-fly.

Main Menu

The Main Menu that is currently implemented into the game is mostly a placeholder and it will be replaced/improved with the functionality for logging into a user’s account.

Artificial Intelligence for Traffic

AI required a lot of planning and is still a work in progress, however, it is nearly finished. The traffic system is supposed to control all the vehicles in the game as well as traffic lights. Vehicles are intended to react to each other as well as to traffic lights and traffic signs. Naturally, a single vehicle has to be able to detect when the player is in front of it. At the moment, most of these requirements are implemented, with the exception of the traffic lights/signs. This means that a vehicle can accelerate, drive or slow down (when there is another vehicle in front or if it is about to come into a sharp corner). The vehicle can also follow the road as intended by the design of the world.

Programming the Game: Part 1

Introduction

Initially, we needed to decide which game engine to use for development. The decision had to be made between Unreal Engine 4 and Unity 3D. Unreal Engine 4 was chosen for the project mainly due to its ability to develop very specific parts of the game. For example custom camera control using mobile device sensors and later custom data tracking for analytics purposes. This doesn’t mean that the Unity engine would not enable us to do the same thing, but the game programmer has more experience with Unreal Engine 4 and C++.

Controlling the Camera

We wanted to have as much control over the camera orientation as possible in order to store the orientation information for later analysis. Originally, the camera was controlled using the raw sensor data from the mobile device. However, the noise of the data that was generated was very high and it caused a jittery effect in orientating the camera. Additionally, there were inflection points in the data that would cause impulses in the camera’s orientation values. At the moment, reducing the noise and removing the inflection points are still under development and a temporary approach of using the GoogleVR plugin has been put in place which solves both of these issues at the cost of not having full control over the camera.

Player Character Movement

With the camera control in place and attached to a player’s character, the movement through the world needed to be implemented. Input for movement control has to be done through touch gestures (e.g. swipe, tap, double tap, etc.). At the moment there are two different approaches for movement locomotion:

  • Walk and run ability by using the user interface buttons (implemented)
  • Teleport to the targeted location using the safe-point system (in development)

In our next post we’ll cover other aspects of the early development of the game, including the artificial intelligence implemented for traffic.

An (indeterminate number) of reasons NOT to go into teaching Game Development

In response to 7 Reasons You Don’t Want To Work in the Video Game Industry and Ten Reasons *Not* to Become an Indie Game Developer, here are selected reasons why you should never jump ship and become a game dev lecturer, or have the audacity to think you could ever teach it, having never been “in” the Industry.
NOTE: Satire mode is definitely turned on, even though many sentiments expressed here have been observed if not endorsed by the author. I’ll write a companion piece on why you SHOULD be a game dev lecturer when I…er…can think of arguments in favour. 🙂

  1. It’s a Sisyphean Task
  2. In that it’s an “endless and unavailing” labour, primarily because of the moving goal posts of technology. Industry legends, like David Braben, report universities “five years out of date” with old technology and too slow changes in curricula. Not true, of course, but if expectations are set ridiculously high, you’ll never meet them. Hardware is often not cutting-edge, but even developers have budgets. Access to Industry relevant hardware and software is often restricted by the manufacturer anyway: don’t even think about Nintendo hardware; the 360 is 6+ years old and we’re still restricted to cut down software; only Sony offers proper hardcore access to Industry-level PS3/PSP SDKs if you can afford them. So, universities can hardly be criticised for not having the latest kit.

  3. If you left you failed
  4. It still comes something of a shock to many academics when made aware that the life-expectancy of a career in games is 5-6 years – two triple A titles if you’re lucky – with a majority high burn out rate balancing a few people who’s careers span decades. So, if you left the Industry to teach, seen as possibly the best preparation for game dev lecturers by the Industry, you MUST have left because you couldn’t cut it, wanted more (or some?) time with your family, weren’t able to produce 29 hours of work a day; basically you’re a wuss! As soon as you leave active development your skills will quickly date, your Industry contacts will dry up – quit themselves, get promoted and be too busy, or emigrate to Canada – leaving you wondering where they all went. Oh, and new colleagues, fellow lecturers, will eye you suspiciously from their ivory towers, condemning you for dirtying your hands and consorting with Mammon.

  5. Who the Hell do you think you are?
  6. Lecturers who are not Industry washouts are either game dev wannabes, who never made it, but would clearly have been Will Wrights if they’d just gotten that break, or didn’t risk their illusions by actually trying to make games for public scrutiny. Failing this, you’re a cynical “bums on seats” sell out, just trying to save your own job by mis-selling courses to gullible school leavers. Hell, games are just programs with sound, art and shit anyway, so any competent IT professional can teach it, right? And the department/school/faculty is at risk, with applications for Computer Science and even the watered down IT and Computing degrees massively down, despite a huge and increasing gap in recruitment for IT professionals. For 80% of graduates, who don’t get kicked out or leave due to poverty or disgust, or their own unrealistic expectations of you or their own ability, there will be loads of IT jobs as they will never get a career in game development anyway, while the Industry fights off better paid, family friendly, if less glamorous alternatives, to cream off the best graduates.

  7. So, you play games all day…?
  8. Even more misunderstood than QA testers, lecturers don’t get much time to play, let alone make games themselves. Teaching takes a lot of time, energy and personal resources. Contrary to the time-worn adage “if you can’t do, teach”, competence in educating even enthusiastic students is not implied by knowledge of the field. However,

  9. Slow but Sure
  10. Although David Braben’s criticism of slownessis an exaggeration HE is cautious by nature.

  11. Punished by Success
  12. Class sizes and lack of resources

  13. The Baby who cries loudest gets the Milk
  14. Resources

  15. It’s a Secure Job with a Pension
  16. Given layoffs, course cuts, and a cynical attack on pensions and working conditions in the UK’s Education sector, that crunch-laden dev job doesn’t look so bad now.

  17. Shit from all sides
  18. Industry will hate you for not preparing students for realistic working conditions, students will hate you if you try.

Plagiarism is just what we do!

Subscribers to this blog may know that while I teach Computer Game Programming, I’ve had a long involvement in plagiarism in Academia, mostly through sitting on various national committees as well as actively campaigning for understanding why it occurs, rather than just blindly penalising it. Plagiarism is more of a hobby* than an actual research area for me, but through accident as much as design I have been in a position to influence the attitude of fellow teachers throughout the World. So, this article by @dantheduck, “Plagiarism as a moral choice”, which looks at the real world pressure to “clone” the work of others, is the collision of two normally separate worlds:

http://www.lostgarden.com/2011/11/plagiarism-as-moral-choice.html?m=1
A Servant of Two Masters
The allusion to copying prior to it being considered a “crime” was/is refreshing. It brings home to me the value of working with creative “clay” rather than descriptive “pen” for assessment:

A) it’s hard to plagiarise an assignment when you are building rather than writing, and easy to spot copying when under the process of creation is missing.
B) it’s impossible in the medium to not encode traditional interactions, so novelty stands out, but competent copying is itself an achievement.**
C) on a vocational course – increasingly en vogue with this Government – competence is preferable to creativity for employers at least.

In the game industry, copying is difficult and is financially, if not morally, superior. There have been few legal battles over stolen content, ideas, techniques, compared to Art, Film and Literature. Creativity seems to be when copying produces better results than the original. The question is not whether but how much to copy.

It’s not theft it’s reuse

There is far more “recycling” in this industry than many others. Partly this is perceived as market-driven – as The Jam lyrics claim, “The Public wants what the Public gets!” – and in part is technical; film companies don’t tend to need to re-implement cinemas each time they make a movie. However, code reuse, if not level design, should be encouraged. And predictable user expectations for interaction – WASD anyone? – make game play straight-forward; there isn’t a BookFAQs web site explaining how to proceed with Lord of the Rings P1 by “turning the page and starting at the top of page 2” as far as I know.

Or is there?

Is the 90/10 copied to new ratio an extreme example of “standing on the shoulders of giants” ?

* I’ve tried to keep away from becoming a mainstream plagiarism researcher because I didn’t want to sink into depression.

** I tell my students each year that copying – i.e. reproducing in their own code – Miamoto’s 6502 assembler implementation of Mario’s jump in Super Mario Brothers is the ultimate challenge.
https://i2.wp.com/imgs.xkcd.com/comics/the_general_problem.png?w=474

“Above the Salt!” – a prototype card game of Social Mobility

DRAFT – made public to shame me into finishing…

This is a prototype game concept using a standard pack of 52 cards plus 2 jokers, for 5 to 13 players, which can be played during a formal meal.

Introduction

The title is inspired by the tradition of denoting the importance of guests at medieval/tudor dinner tables by the location of the salt cellar. If you were “above the salt” you were important to the host, nobility in favour with the King, etc, while those below the salt were those that had to be invited, poor relations, and so on.

Set up
Saltfoot – one of the jokers is placed on the table to denote the difference between nobility and peasant. For now, place it in the middle.

Cards are shuffled, then turned over until a series of Ace to King (of any suit) are retrieved, which represent the starting origin and current status of the players; known as the status pack. Cards that are not taken out are placed at the bottom of the pack. These are then filtered, depending on the number of players: There is always a King and Queen (representing the Court) and an Ace, Two and Three (representing the People). For more than 5 players, the remaining cards are chosen from outside in (Jack, Four, Ten, Five, etc) and unused cards are removed from play. These cards then become the Status Pack by shuffling and adding the Saltfoot (one of the jokers), which is then shuffled and dealt one to each player, who then shows it to all straight away. If this card is the Saltfoot the player taked another card and keeps the Saltfoot to place in front of them when they sit at table. This will determine, which players start as nobility and which start as peasants; if you are below the salt, then you are a peasant. The extreme cases are when face cards, (King, Queen or Jack) get the Saltfoot, in which case all number cards are peasants, or when the Ace or Two get it, in which case all players start off as nobles. Players then sit in the order of rank:

King at head of table, then in decending number order alternating right, left, e.g

Jack Nine Seven Five Three Ace
King  Court       TABLE  Noble     TABLE  Noble      TABLE SALTFOOT TABLE  Peasant TABLE Peasant  TABLE
Queen Ten Eight Six Four Two
Jack Six Three Ace
King Court        TABLE SALTFOOT TABLE Peasant    TABLE Peasant TABLE
Queen Nine Four Two
Jack Ace
King Court   TABLE SALTFOOT TABLE
Queen Two

References

“In French decks, the suits represent the four classes: Spades represent nobility, hearts stand for the clergy, diamonds represent merchants, and clubs are peasants.” —http://poker.about.com/od/pollsquizzesandfun/f/4suitsorigins.htm

“That leaves now the eight and nine to account for and define before we bring this card game to a halt. “Eight” is visitors we fete for the courses which they “ate” when they sat down with us all above the salt!” —http://www.brighthelmstone.net/ken_brown/deck_cards.php

Lesson 11 – Game Design Brainstorm

Lesson 11 of the Game Design Concepts on-line course has asked for three game ideas. The constraints are as follows:

1) Create a board game, card game, or tile-laying game  (that is, it must either have a board, cards, or tiles as physical components).
2) You may choose any theme you want, as long as it is original – do not use an existing IP (intellectual property).
3) You may not make a trivia game, or any other game that relies on large amounts of content
4) You may not use “roll-and-move” mechanics in any form.

In addition, add one of the following constraints. This is your choice, based entirely on your area of interest within game design:
* Design your game such that it has a strong embedded narrative that is interactive in some way. You will have to think of ways to tell a story through the player actions of a board game, and how to integrate narrative and game mechanics. If you are interested primarily in RPGs or other forms of storytelling, do this.
* Create a purely cooperative board game for two or more players, so that everyone wins or loses as a team. This is challenging for several reasons. The game must provide systems that are the opposition, since the players do not provide opposition to each other. Cooperative games generally have a problem where a single skilled player can direct all of the other players (since everyone is cooperating, after all), leading to an MDA Aesthetic where most of the players are bored because they are just being told what to do by another player. If you are interested in the social dynamics of games, choose this.
* Make a two-player head-to-head game with asymmetry: the players start with unequal resources, positions, capabilities, and so on… and yet they are balanced even though they are quite different. These games are not so hard to design the core rules for, but they are very difficult to balance. If you are interested in the technical and mathematical side of game design and game balance, try this.
* Create a game to teach any topic that is normally taught at the high school (pre-college) level. It is up to you whether to teach a narrow, specific fact or a broad concept. The challenge here, of course, is to start with a fun game and not have the focus on education get in the way of that. If you’re interested in “serious games” (games that have a purpose other than pure entertainment), then do this project.

So, as we all have to propose three ideas for feedback from other participants, I have decided to pitch ideas for the last three of the above optional constraints. Here they are:

A) cooperative game for two or more players.

SlumCity
Think Simcity meets the Slums. Players have to cooperate to create a viable city block with access to all the required facilities and resources for all. There is no enemy other than bad decisions. Game uses coloured and shape marked blocks to create a Scrabble like flat structure according to rules of play. Each round, one player takes the role of Mayor, to embed the game’s ability to oppose the other players.

B) Asymmetrical game for two.

Cease and Desist
Players each build up products and profits on the basis of hidden or patented IP (coloured shape tiles that are turned over and hidden, or revealed). These products are laid out in connected lines from the start tile. The nasty part is the process of patenting/IP licencing that may suddenly reveal another player as breaking the law. Negotiation/legal phases enable high stakes deals to be done to preserve your own profits.

C) Game to teach a topic

Credit Crunchies
Selling of bad loans on to other banks. How the stupidity all started and how not to do it again in Game form.

Lesson 9 – Put a story on a pre-existing game

Lesson 9 attempted to get the idea of narrative and story into games. Ian Schreiber posed the challenge of making the game Pente into a story mode. For reference, from his blog post, here are the original rules:

Players: 2

Objective:
Place your stones to either create five-in-a-row, or to capture five pairs of your opponent’s pieces.

Setup:
Place a grid-shaped board (you can use a Pente board or a Go board, or make one of your own – try making it 19×19) on a table between the players. Choose a player to go first.

Progression of play:
On your turn, choose a blank square and place your marker in that square. (You can use colored glass stones, or you can just write “X” and “O” on a piece of paper as with Tic-Tac-Toe.) If there are exactly two opposing markers in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally) adjacent to where you just placed, and on the other side of the two opposing markers in the same line there is one piece of your own, then the two enemy markers are captured. Remove them from the board (erase the symbols if playing with pencil and paper), and put them off to the side to denote that you have made a capture. It is possible to make several captures on a single turn if there are several sequences of two-enemy-one-friendly radiating out from your placement in multiple directions.

Limitations to capturing:
Captures only take place when a piece is placed. It is legal to move into a place that causes an “X-O-O-X” or “O-X-X-O” line on the board, by placing in the middle. In such a case, the inner pieces are not captured.

Resolution:
If a player ever gets five of their own pieces adjacent in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally), they win. If a player makes a total of five captures, they also win.

The Homeplay was to embed this story into the game without any rule changes.

Backstory: Alien Seed

What is the setting?
Anyone who has read Scott Sigler’s Infected and Contagious novels (or listened to the free Podcasts) will know that this SF Horror universe revolves about a subtle alien invasion through parasites controlling hosts. The game is an attempt to prevent the Triangles from forming in the body of infected victims. One player represents the infection, which from the novel IS sentient, and the other represents the FBI surgeon attempting to stop the alien parasites.

What do the pieces represent?
The player with the Black pieces is attempting to construct a viable alien parasite, which needs 5 connected DNA fragments in a line to signify an entity that is so fully embedded in the host that removal will kill the Human. The player with the White pieces is attempting to construct an effective anti-viral through highly illegal and experimental medical intervention by introducing nanites (tiny biological robots) in the bodies of hosts.

Why are you placing them?
Both the alien and the artificial FBI created DNA segments are being directed intelligently, and see the other as the most major immediate threat. Both nanites and alien Triangles are more powerful when networked. Both can, for a short time, stop the progression of the other. Placement is to stop the opposition or to work on constructing a viable entity to either take over (Black) or defend (White) the host body.

Experience:

Did your story make a difference?
Very little playtesting was possible. However, the players who were familiar with Scott Sigler’s works commented mostly on the abstract nature of the 19×19 board, which did not in any way represent the various body organs or the host at all well.

Did it affect the play experience?
I think that, from limited evidence, the story element did change the strategy of the game, with several players reporting that they spread further, or clustered more, given the idea of infection and response from the story.

Or was it exactly the same as if there were no story at all?
For some players, given the lack of a representation of the human host, the game was indestinguishable.

Analysis:

Why do you think you got the reaction you did?
Sigler fan boys (myself included) liked the idea of this fairly incidious side to the novels, which was only covered in a few small elements of the books.

Do you think it would have been different if you had chosen a different story?
Yes. I think that the idea of nanites and intelligent virii fitted the abstraction well, and could not see how more symbolic story elements could be pulled off.

Lesson 8 – A game for Griefers

Lesson 8 of the Games Design Concepts on-line course was intended to investigate types of fun, with the homeplay challenging participants to create a game with the main mechanic being “griefing” (that is, deriving enjoyment from the act of ruining other people’s enjoyment). We had to create just the concept (no rules, etc) for a game built to appeal specifically to griefers (i.e. Bartle’s “Killer” player type).

The Uneasy Edge of Edgy Uneasiness: A Tim Langdell Simulator

Target medium or platform.
Card game.

Number of players: 2+

One player plays the (in)famous Liam Tangdell, who “owns” the word ‘LINE’ and even ‘LINY’. That player’s job is to reap rewards from the sweat and tears of the other player(s). Liam selects a few cards, denoting his dubiously acquired IP. All others play developers trying to make profits from their own work, and attempting to offload legal attacks from Liam and each other. They will play cards to represent new inventions and the economic exploitation of these. The strategy is to keep your head down, while Liam attacks other players, then get so large as to be immune to further attacks, or to licence your own invention from Mr. Tangden, losing a percentage of profits, but surviving as he sets his sights on others.

The target market is game developers of all kinds and ages… Satire is an effective way to deal with dangerous and contentious issues.

Lesson 7 Homeplay – “War? Huh! What is it Good for? Absolutely Nothing!”

Big Push: For each complete layer of a Tower of Cards, the following number of cards needs to be dealt: 3N-1. So, for the first layer, it is 2, adding another layer needs 5, adding another layer requires 8 and so on. Towers are constructed in the usual way: two cards placed / in rows with top cards _ to allow a new layer to be added. The maximum size for a tower is four rows high (2+5+8+11=26 cards or half a pack). Once that is achieved, a new tower will be started with 2 cards, and so on.e

Resolution: The game ends when one player runs out of cards, or when one player must play cards for a “war” but they do not have enough cards remaining in their deck and discard pile. That player loses the game, and their opponent wins.