Monday, September 27, 2010

Emergence and the student learning process and impala rape

The topic of this week's practical is emergent game design or gameplay. Before I continue, it's pertinent that I provide a small insight into the carefully constructed guidelines students follow when immersed in a learning environment. A typical course of action is as follows:

1. Enter room.

2. Select terminal. This selection may be based on having previously used a particular terminal and is therefore habitual, or it may be that students have marked that terminal with a pheromonal discharge, thus alerting other students that this terminal is claimed; approach it your peril.

3. Engage in discussion with nearby students or withdraw all contact. Either is acceptable and in some cases preferable depending on hygiene levels.

4. Log into Facebook. This will occupy anywhere from 10 to 100% of a student's allocated prac time and is a vital component of the learning experience. If they have missed an important event, such as a friend of relative expressing their boredom or the commemoration of a particularly satisfying shit, the student will express hostility, so it's best to allow them adequate face(book) time.

5. Maybe open the practical content, then ignore it, then maybe play a game. This last step is composed of several sub steps that are interchangeable and may or may not occur over the course of a single class (though the ignoring step is considered mandatory).

Right, so there's a short overview of the process. This article will focus on the final step (or substep... dubstep?), 'maybe play a game' and the subsequent and unexpected adherence to the practical content.

Someone mentioned Minecraft. Someone else opened the browser version of Minecraft and the emergent possibilities, er, emerged. Minecraft is effectively a sandbox, sometimes literally, as you destroy then shape the landscape as you see fit. Within the constraints imposed upon the player (the base unit is a block of a fixed size and each structure can be built from these fixed size blocks only), the range of possible outcomes (architecturally at least) is vast.

Within 15 or 20 minutes, houses had been built, caves excavated, mines plundered and impalas raped. Despite that bit about the impalas, it was clear that an opportunity to point out the key role emergence played in an immersive player experience had arrived. Sadly, when the choice to focus attention on either Minecraft or myself had to be made, I didn't stand a chance. Still, I think my point, ignored though it may have been, rang true. Emergence is key to a cult following; provide players with the tools and they will provide the masterworks, ensuring the game you create will live on past relegation to the bargain bin.

That was terribly disjointed but that's what you get (thanks Paramore) when you write an article over a month stretch.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's go time! Mandelbaum, Mandelbaum!

Boy have I been slack. Yes! Slack in many ways, have I been. I have forgotten how to type (this is a laborious exercise just now) and I have welcomed any and all distractions from my research. This presentation next week could be a catalyst, a mini deadline, something to fear. Fear is a powerful motivator and I have very little of it. It's not fear of presentation (that's more apprehension as anyone should feel when making an allegedly significant presentation to peers), nor fear of feedback; no, this fear is borne of inactivity. I fear not having done enough, so I can harness this perhaps baseless (though I know I have done, academically speaking, fuck all of late) fear and actually get organized.

First: nail that fucking ethics amendment and get it submitted; if I get it back with changes required then so be it, better to find out than not.

Second: get the student survey finished and use Google's survey tool to implement it.

Third: finalize that research design; even it it proves to be inadequate or in need of revision, at least press on in a direction. Hopefully, any mistakes in the design will be revealed early on and even if they aren't, I should be able to adjust given the imprecise nature of the data I plan to collect.

Fourth: create a presentation. It will include:

Intro - quick revision of the topic and research questions, plus what will be covered in the presentation. Mention honours and what led me to this topic. New question: can the industry in its current state sustain the number of games course students that will graduate this year, next year and beyond

Exploratory study - Queensland trip: education, industry, government (find out what Mark Fludder does again) - ice breaker, getting an impression of the state of education in Queensland as it is now arguably he epicentre of Australian games developement. Research topic was validated by all three participants which was in itself a satisfying outcome.

Literature - Quickly revise literature, emphasis on sparse game dev education specific literature. Briefly touch on topics yet to be explored (note they are non-essential for the data collection phase).

Research design - overview of discussed approaches (qual and quant, type of questions, case studies, 3 case studies, one case study plus interview and surveys, fallback position should case study prove difficult to pursue), current approach, methods to be used (interviews, surveys). Touch on analysis techniques perhaps. Plan to pursue the majority of data collection in January.

Participants - Staff from universities and colleges that offer game development specific courses, be they programming, art or design based (or all 3). Students of said courses. Game developers from both larger companies that produce software for mainstream platforms (console, PC) and smaller, independent developers.

Problems - reiterate lack of game dev ed lit. Issues with case study (accessibility to both students and staff, ensuring I ask the right questions, how to analyse the data once it is acquired, transcribing the audio).

Ethics - submitted a revision of earlier submission.

Current focus - finalizing research design and identifying and contacting prospective participants. How to enhance the collaborative nature of game dev courses (art and programming - comes up in literature frequently). Exploring whether business and marketing subjects should be added to a curriculum, thus equipping students with the skills to start their own small-scale commercial game development ventures. iPhone, digital delivery in general is such that it is now possible for small teams to operate with low overheads and self publish. Mention own indie development project.

Next phase/conclusion - broadly speaking: collect data, revise questions and direction, analyze and interpret findings and hopefully begin writeup of results. Then, return to literature review and explore any new topics or issue to come to light and continue writeup.

Revision of topics discussed


Motivate me fear, you malefic fiend (P.S. I like the word malefic and have used it three times this past year).