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!