Wednesday, December 13, 2006

XNA Available Next Week

Microsoft announced that the XNA Game Development Studio will be available for download starting next Monday (Dec. 18th). From an ARS artcile by Jeremy Reimer:

The XNA Game Development Studio for Xbox 360 and PC
"Of course, the sheer sophistication of modern games makes it difficult to imagine a return to the days when an individual could compete on his own with the big boys. However, the popularity of simpler games such as Lumines on modern platforms has shown that you don't necessarily have to make a sprawling epic adventure in order to be a success. With the XNA Game Studio lowering the bar for developers to create content, we can expect more unique and interesting titles to come out of the woodwork. Not all of them will be gems, of course, but the next killer game may well come from someone the world has never heard of."
So another challange to the Tech Club here at Rivers is possible: make a 3-D model of the campus, and let's race around -- according to the article, the XNA Racer Starter Kit will be available, too!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Mindstorms NXT Test Run

After the AISNE Tech Directors' meeting, the folks at Belmont Hill threw down a challenge to see if we would like to "lego-a-lego" with a little friendly competition. Not one to back down, or miss a chance to expense some new Lego products, I got the new NXT kit. First, the retail package *finally* has Mac-compatible software; and it appears to be the same software sold in the educational markets. In any case -- what you're seeing here is the retail version:

The software is very different, but the concept of object oriented programming with tiles is the same. The crazy wires and threads from the old Mindstorms are pretty much gone, replaced by something called a "sequence beam". Big sigh of relief, tho you still need wires for more advanced functions; was so frustrating to see the old wires folded behind tiles and never know where the command strings were broken. The icons are not as strait-forward, however (or maybe I'm just used to the old ones), and you have to pay attention to the tiny-tiny radio buttons and sliders in the control pane. I also wish you could zoom in and out of the program view; big programs become very hard to see. There is a "Map" tab, which makes navigation easier, but it provides a limited view.

You can also import the old Mindstorms tiles (IMHO, still confusingly referred to as "blocks") from the web site's update page:

NXT Software Updates

The assembly tutorials, however, are a big step forward -- you can see those famous Lego "graphic instructions" in a viewer pane called "Robo Center". I used to do this with MacBrick CAD, and there was really no way to dimensionally imagine or walk the kids thru custom assemblies. Boy, I wish there was a way to add my own assemblies into the Robo Center (it's written in Flash, so it might be possible to import .swf files). There's also a little "Portal" tab where you can link and get more resource files and projects.

Inside the box, the whole package is separated into those little perforated baggies, as you would expect -- but there is a special box that says "Start Here!". It contains the first set of instructions and all the parts to make the basic "tribot" used in the tutorials. It's so easy to get started -- that plus the programming tutorial is so basic, it's easy to see that kids can get going real fast.

The NXT has Bluetooth -- if you ever used the old IR comm-tower you'll know how amazing this improvement is! The old IR signal was so weak, that you often has to cover the tower and the RCX brick with a shoe box in order to get a good download.

However, the basic tribot does virtually nothing, so you want to get right to the big claw pieces. This is not a challenging build as far as Lego construction goes. I don't like the big crazy fat cables. You have to keep the cables from interfering with the wheels and sensors, etc. The new cables are not easy to keep "tucked". Wire management was always an issue with the old system, too, tho at least Lego provided bricks cut with slots to snap-in the old, thinner cables. But the new motor units are tremendous; they are much easier to package around the NXT brick. Using the Technic beams and pins as opposed to regular Lego bricks makes the mechanical engineering much more strait forward.

Here is the completed "tribot" with claw arms. The basic instruction here is: go to ball, stop, when user claps hands, arms grasp ball, robot turns, and brings ball back to "Start" point:

I do miss the regular bricks, however -- there is not one regular Lego brick in the kit! Not even a minifig. So ...

Ah. That's better.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Rivers School on Google Earth

Some of the kids at school asked about Google Sketchup -- so I finally made the time to build a quickie model and export it to Google Earth to see what it's look like.

First, I took a site plan and scanned it into a JPEG file. It's clean enough to see the building footprints. I had to guestimate the scale by drawing a line and scaling the line to a known measurement -- but not too tough:

Next, I found the Rivers School on Google Earth and exported a snapshot of that to Sketchup -- this is just a simple button click in Sketchup. It pulls in both a snapshot and the "terrain" (topography). It's kinda cool the way the shadows line up on the Google Earth image:

I could then match up the scanned site plan to the Google Earth snapshot quite easily -- boy things look so good when they're in Google Earth:

The model is very "blocky"; I guessed on all the vertical dimensions. This is more of a proof of concept. The Sketchup .kmz file for the Rivers Site is here.

Scientists say video games can reshape education

Oh, it's from "scientists", so this must be true! Great discussion points and examples in the report (linked blow) ...

FAS Summit on Educational Games

[ link to the full report, PDF ]

"The Federation of American Scientists -- which typically weighs in on matters of nuclear weaponry and government secrecy -- declared Tuesday that video games can redefine education.

Capping a year of study, the group called for federal research into how the addictive pizazz of video games can be converted into serious learning tools for schools.

The theory is that games teach skills that employers want: analytical thinking, team building, multitasking and problem-solving under duress.

Unlike humans, the games never lose patience. And they are second nature to many kids."

AP article on

Friday, September 01, 2006

Mindstorms NXT Reviewed on Ars Technica

Boy, this sounds like fun:

Lego Mindstorms NXT

Great little movie clips on some of the pages -- but no death ray attachment. Rats.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Everyone an XBox Developer

Incredibly welcome news:

Play your own Xbox game (via CNet)

Reminds me of the way Sony used to accelerate interest and game development with Yaroze -- what ever happened to that program? Why isn't there a Yaroze for the PSP? Maybe this will push Sony to look back and remember when they used to do fun and innovative work.

Also -- the new Lego NXT is due out very very soon. It's like waiting for Xmas morning!

Also, from Ode magazine, and interesting article in their September issue -- "The Future of Homework". Unfortunately, the web site thinks the latest issue is July right now. I'll link the article when (if?) it gets posted.

UPDATE (8/22/06): It got posted:

Also, there's an interesting "Forum" conversation in September's Harper's Magazine -- no link.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Mac Google SketchUp Free Download

You know, I just re-read the title for this article and I'm not convinced that it's English.

Anyway, Google has finally released a Mac version of Google SketchUp:

MacCentral article
Download page

It's downloading now! Oooo. Exciting.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Google SkethUp Is Free

No Mac version yet -- but "soon"!

Google SketchUp

More importantly, there's a community site to share SketchUp models called Google 3D Warehouse:

Google 3D Warehouse

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

SketchUp Has Been Googled

You might recall my enthusiasm for combining Google Earth and SketchUp:

SketchUp and Google Earth!

And now we find out: Google was equally as enthsiastic. The difference is, of course, I am not in a position to actually buy a software company:

Well, about the biggest thing ever: we’ve been Googled. That’s right, Google Inc. has acquired @Last Software… so you might have just spit your coffee all over your keyboard, or you’re rolling your eyes thinking this is another one of my April Fool’s jokes. Believe me, we’re still having a hard time believing it ourselves, but it’s real — we are now Google!"

SketchUpdate 03.14.06
A new home for @Last Software

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Spore - Like TimePhiz for Science

OMG! Got this link from today's Rocketboom video blog. This game takes ideas from evolutionary biology and makes them into a totally compelling game. It's mind-blowingly cool:

Spore Web Site at EA Games

It's part Sim-Ant, part Civilization, part Legos, part interactive cartoon. It works on so many scales it's just amazing: from celluar to planetary -- and you really go from microscopic viewing to telescopic viewing.

On Google Video they have six videos which explain and illustrate the thing completely: "Will Wright talking at the 2005 Game Developer's Conference about 'Spore', which looks like it could possibly be the best video game ever."

Spore Gameplay Video

Was so engaging I had to download the Google Video to my PSP. Now how fun is that? There's a little interview with Wright in Wired -- love ths quote: "I don't want players to feel like Luke Skywalker. I want them to feel like George Lucas."

Wright Hopes to Spore Another Hit

Here's a better article from GameSpot about Will Wright's game design theories and his introduction of Spore at the 2005 Game Developers Conference in SF (evidently where the Google video comes from):

Will Wright Presents Spore... and a New Way to Think About Games

But this parady article of him is much better:

Building Games With the Wright Stuff

Friday, February 24, 2006

Multiverse MMO "Kit"

Boy -- people have been waiting for this one for a while now, but it looks like a company named Multiverse is going to soon offer an MMO development environment. I can see MMOs iterating the way "multi-media" titles did in the early 90s. Remember all those Director titles, and mTropolis? They eventually got killed by dedicated 3D platforms and game machines, but before they did, they were *everywhere* -- there was a Director title for *everything*. What if there was an MMO for every story franchise out there? What would the internet feel like? How would you build communities around a franchise? Could be way cool:

Massively multiplayer on-line games on the cheap

Kothuria: The World's Edge

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Ed Tech Life Has Moved

Mark Wagner moved his blog:

Educational Technology and Life

His blog connects in lots of ways: gaming, gadgets, education. A few good recent posts on "risk taking" as well as "fear" -- a couple of topics that certainly hit home for me:

Risk Taking and Educational Technology
What Teachers are Afraid Of

Top of mind since we recently had to block facebook and myspace URLs at my school. Some naughty naughty posts from some of our students. Very disappointing, but it's hard to argue with the other administrators when fac-brats, in particular, were trashed in the posts.

Anyway, Mark's blog is always a good read.

Also from the PSP rumor blogs, there are tons of reports (or maybe tons of links to a single report?) that Sony will release a PSP with 8GB of NAND flash memory, built-in:

Sony to adopt NAND flash in PSP

Also, Memory Stick Duo Pro prices are still falling (I got a 1GB stick for less than $70 a few weeks back; guess I coulda waited!):

2GB Memory Stick Pro Duo for $85 at Amazon

2GB sticks had been going for about $180. But this is coincident with reports that black-market Memory Sticks are also flooding the market:

$49.99 Memory Stick PRO Duo 1GB? Better Be Careful

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Stuff is Going On!

First, a bunch of freshmen boys at the school are playing around with Unity and are having a total blast. Right now they have a game where you can drive a car of an island in the sky -- not great game-play, but they love doing it. It also involves an enemy car and a dragon and fireballs. All from the minds of freshmen boys, of course.

Next, the "top dog" at OTEE (who publishes Unity) has stepped up and said they would love to help seed a pilot project. So maybe we can buy (cheap?) a few copies of the software. It runs on Mac OS X -- so if you wanna try, drop me a note.

Last, I heard from Chris (Gail's husband) about maybe making some architectural models in SketchUp. It appears you can transfer them to Unity via a .3ds format. I think the thing will be to just take a simple model he already has and see if we can jam it into Unity and run around in it!

Chris may also have a lead on some beta testers. So stuff is happening!

Friday, January 20, 2006

Unity 3D Engine

Found another great tool -- this one looks like a true production tool (but not for PSP).


If I can get the School to agree to a pilot, this might be worth pursuing -- see if they'll give us some seed copies cheap or something. Could also use this to model something and block it out with the other "Adventure Maker" tool. Downloadable demo on the web site.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Video Game Revolution

Big thanks to reader saten for the tip on this PBS series:

The Video Game Revolution

Slightly unfortunate name given Nintendo's upcoming gaming deck (codenamed "Revolution"). Looks like it'll air in about two weekends on WGBH-HD (what is that, cable?) -- but not broadcast in the Boston area. Maybe I'll get the DVD. Others: LMK what you think of the show! Is it worth checking out?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

SketchUp and Google Earth!

Holy schnikees!

A big blast of amazing tools announced at MacWorld San Francisco this week. Intel Macs and iPod radio -- but I found out about this on the MAKE Expo blog:

The Acropolis as a SketchUp 3D model laid on and into Google Earth

MAKE's "Best of Macworld SF 2006"
Google Earth for Mac OS X
SketchUp Google Earth Plugin

3D worlds! Yay!

Friday, January 06, 2006

Media and Consumption

David's feedback got me thinking about consumption and production. It's actually a big part of my game idea.

First, I guess I didn't make it clear, but I really think that as the nature of the medium changes, the nature of consumption changes. In fact, more and more of our media consumption is going to get more and more "active" (or at least less passive). Blogs, podcasts, reality shows, etc, all offer the opportunity for feedback and participation. Watch TV and vote on your cellphone. Send and e-mail and have it read on the podcast. The lines between the stage and the audience are gone.

I recall going to Moses Brown School in RI some years ago and listening to Douglas Rushkoff talk about this as it applies to video games. He talked about the importance of encouraging kids (and teachers!) to cross the same line -- to "look behind the curtain":

Think of it from a video game player's perspective. It's as if the first renaissance gave the gamer access to the cheat codes, so she can move about as she wants. The next renaissance gave her access to the programming language of the game, so that she can create her own levels and then share them with other gamers. It's like moving from player, to cheater (or meta-game player), to programmer. -- [full text here]

Second, I want to be platform agnostic, but I chose the PSP as the target platform just to give us the hardest target; the biggest challenge with respect to teacher acceptance. However, I also agree that as more classwork is done with technology, there is going to have to be some kind of 1-to-1, student-to-device relationship. But why does it have to be a traditional computer? Wouldn't it be more cost effective to have many more of a consumption platform that costs $200, and therefore require fewer of a production platform that costs $2000? And keep in mind that this consumption platform will allow feedback, interaction, and, in the case of the PSP, cooperative work (play?). Going forward, by breaking down the psychic barriers to iPods, cellphones, and PSPs, teachers will be free to leverage devices that the kids already have in their backpacks for all kinds of learning experiences.

At Rivers, we already have a less than 2-to-1 student to computer ratio. The thing that kind of skews the cost-math for me, is that we retire our computers in three to five years. If I can reduce the cost of that turn-over, all the better. So, with regard to equality, I was hoping that the PSP would be a more positive force than you (David) suggest.

Finally, let me say that I did not intend this game to "make learning fun". When learning is actually happening, it already is fun -- I could not possibly add anything to it. But I did intend to add some "value" to the "video-game fun", a meme that simply does not exist as far as I can see. Kids are out there buying these devices, playing these games -- let's consider the generic gaming experience: blowing stuff up, shooting demons, winning money. Kids learn they need to be a second-class wizard, with combat clusters, to beat the swap troll at Texas Hold 'em, collect the reward, and score with the newly liberated sex-bot. Sounds like a fun game to me, but I'd love it if there was a point to it all.

I certainly agree that we cannot cast the personal computer aside, but I do want to re-cast it as far as the classroom goes -- because it is often too complicated to be a productive ally for teachers in that setting. Scenario: assuming that a computer is configured, with the latest patches and all the necessary plugins, in order to participate in a Flash-based web project, each student must:
retrieve the computer from storage
boot the computer
login to the network
find and launch the browser
type the appropriate URL
wait for the Flash file to load
Man, that's like five to ten minutes wasted just getting to the learning. With a PSP or other consumption-oriented device, you turn it on, load the game, and go. It might take less than a minute.

We recently finished a round of training with the teachers on a new e-mail system. During our planning for the training, my Network Manager sent me an ambitious proposal for the class, showing-off fancy new capabilities and features. I asked him stick to the basics and make sure to do that well, and I predicted that it would take fifteen minutes just to get them all configured and logged-in. Guess who was right? That's right, the smug jerk with the PSP.

As information and knowledge are commoditized, creativity and imagination will become the only differentiators. I believe that the future of education lies in finding a way to accelerate the creative process by making it a communal process. Cooperative gaming provides a terrific model for that kind of learning. The technology already exists, and the kids are already playing.

David -- thanks for the feedback. Consider the rant "enjoyed". :c)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

More on Serious Games

I asked David about Serious Games since he works for the UN; his response below. I did *not* notice the sponsors for Serious Games was America's Army -- LOL!!

Do you know about this Serious Games dealie?

No, but I'm going to check through the posted materials. Could be interesting - especially the corporate solutions. Free market says the guys who can pay 6-figures for a system will get the coolest stuff. I think the trick is seeing how to import the colllaboration environment and ease of use (execs and especially middle management are often techno-handicapped like teachers). Did you notice who the founding sponsor was (AA).

I checked out the game environment you sent around. Simple but cool. We might be getting some extra computers in the office, in which case I may be snagging one to play around with Adventure Maker.

Quick thought on the aside in your latest post. I worry about promoting consumption devices as an educational medium for a couple of reasons. First is the cost of universal access. If the idea is just to create fun but educational content then it's no big deal, in that the kids with PSP's and iPod Video's will be your consumer audience. But if the intention is to integrate the technology into the formal educational realm (i.e. classroom), you need to ensure universal access. That means buying one for every kid (or at least having classroom sets - though this limits their availability and thus hinders more complete integration with lesson plans), which costs money many schools don't have. This feeds the larger have/have not situation which increasingly imperils notions of equality and opportunity in America. I'm not so radical as to suggest forced redistribution, but I think technology developers (as this is probably where the disparity is most marked) need to be especially sensitive to this.

One other thing I worry about is the efficacy of developing for consumption platforms. Inherently these are all passive mediums (except for the PSP, see below) offering homogenous content, and so except in so far as they may help kids absorb their text book - making "math fun" or "bringing history to life" - they are redundant. But, they also have the effect of further undermining literacy and pushing it towards obsolescence. As far as the PSP (and this assumes no one develops a keyboard for it - in which case it just becomes a low end computer whose small screen destroys more young eyes) while it does offer some level of interaction, it is particularly limited in an interpersonal setting and precludes innovative thinking.

So, do they offer something: certainly. But I think it is wrong to cast aside the computer (and other innovative production devices) as complicated overkill. Moreover, having just spent the last decade investing in computers and acclimating teachers to their encroachment on the textbook, I don't know that school districts are going to be receptive to introducing a new expensive appliance that they will spend another decade fighting teachers to grudgingly accept (especially since in 10 years there will be another "must have" technology).

Enjoy the rant.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Gaming Blogoshpere

I've been pounding the video game blogosphere for educational topics and found some interesting stuff. First, there is this blog called Kotaku that has a section for education and gaming:

Kotaku - Gaming/Education

It really provides an great list articles and links to provide some perspective of what the gaming insdutry itself is doing about education. An article by Jason Ocampo, provides a good summary (from GameSpot):

Fraction Fever Forever!

More importantly, I've been getting myself up to speed on some academic work being done on game, game theory, pedagogy, and application. The latest theory or investigatory thread is called"Ludology" -- which (as far as I can tell) has nothing to do with Luddites:

Ludology - Videogame Theory
Wikipedia - Ludology

There is also a big conference called the Serious Games Initiative which, I believe, intends to put some "importance" back into the game industry by creating application that work "on the other side" of games like SOCOM or American Army -- but for NGO's and such. It would be interesting to know if they are building a simulation type thing. I found this terrific essay by Adam Singer in the archives:

Games for Change Annual Conference

Some blogs that might be good to keep an eye on:

pasta and vinegar
Mr. MacKenty
Educational Technology and Life
Games! Games! Games!
The Ludologist
Education/Technology - Tim Lauer

Just as an aside to this, I think a lot of educators are stuck on the personal computer as a consumption device. But most kids (and people!) that I know really don't use the computer for consumption. They consume media with TVs, car radios, iPods, and (maybe) now PSPs. As a production device, the personal computer is practically unparallelled, you can write articles, send e-mails, even make movies -- but as a consumption device it's just a compromise. It's so complicated to setup (both hardware- and software-wise), maintain, and use just to watch a show or listen to a talk. I remember a teacher who was trying to show a DVD on a projector in class from her computer, having all sorts of trouble getting the computer to sync with the projector, then getting the DVD image to show on the big screen, etc-etc. I pointed to the DVD player hooked up to the projector and walked out of the room.

Finally, for yucks, here's a game article from The Onion with the headline "New Video Game Designed To Have No Influence On Kids' Behavior":

New Video Game

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Adventure Maker Software

Found some great prototyping software, unfortunately, it's Windows only just now:

Adventure Maker

I'll have to see what we can do with this. I've added a link to it at the left "Links" column. I did download the two available games on the web site, and they look and run well, tho, no audio.

Also, Ron sent this link from a Slashdot article on the PSP Homebrew community:

PSP Tutorials

Thanks Ron!