Fire Sale Class Activity


A great source of exercises to use in the game design unit are those in the book “Game Design Foundations 2nd Edition” by Roger E. Pederson. I like this book, not as a course book for students, but as background reading and ideas for those teaching game design. For me it's real worth are the exercises.

I used one of the exercises from the book for my observation by my mentor. For some reason we ended up scheduling the observation for the last week of term! I wanted a fun lesson that would be fitting for the holiday spirit that all the students seem to get into at this time of year, ie not really wanting to work.
So the exercise I went for is one I had been meaning to try with a class, and had ear marked as possibly a great induction week activity for the unit. Basically the exercise has the students in groups bidding for the IP of a games company that has gone bust (Acclaim in this case from the book, but this could be updated to a more recent company that has gone under like THQ), and then having to come up with game play and USP for a sequel for the IP they had won in the auction. They would then do a brief presentation for each of their won IP, and be scored secretly by their class mates. With the winning group being announced at the end.
Below is my lesson plan for the observation. When I gave a copy to my mentor he said he would like to see a starter activity. I tried to argue my case that there really wasn't enough time as I was pushing the limits of the one hour twenty lesson time as it was. But my mentor insisted he would like to see one.
So before the class took place a little bit of inspiration took place on my part and I came up with a very basic starter activity. That activity was in their groups to come up with a team name, and have one member come to the front and write the team name on the white board.
For the lesson I made up bid folders for each group, that had 7 envelopes in for the group to put their bids in, a sheet briefly giving background on Acclaim, sheets giving a brief outline for each of the IPs that the groups would be bidding on, a copy of the slide with the bidding rules on, and a copy of the slide with what each group had to produce for their IP that they had won.
The lesson itself went well, the students were fully engaged (which my mentor commented on afterwards), and they really got into the whole exercise. The feedback I got was on the whole very positive, I could of explained things to the students a bit better, and swapping between an iPad and PC was also seen as a negative. But I was on the whole very happy with the feedback, and if it had been graded would of got a 2.
I liked the exercise a lot, and definitely will be using it again. For me the lessons I enjoy the most are the ones where I get the students to be creative and come up with ideas. They always amaze me with their creativity, and it fires my imagination also.



Long Over Due Catch Up


I know I don’t update this blog as often as I should. And that is one of the targets I have set myself for the coming year.
So what has been happening?

Well as anyone will in education will tell you it is a very time consuming job. Preparing lessons, marking etc have been taking up a lot of my time (hence the lack of posts).

But it’s not all been all work and no play.

Over the Summer my friend and I started going to a weekly Indie Developer meet up in Cambridge. We have been to about 5 or 6 so far I think, and they have been inspiring, educational, and very productive in making contacts.

If you remember one of the things I moaned about was the lack of support from the industry in coming in to speak to the students. Well one of the great things to come out of meeting indie developers is that I now have two developers prepared to come in and talk to the students, and possibly a third. So I am really happy with that.

We also have a new Curriculum Team Manager, who apart from being really good, has some contacts with Code Masters, which we are hoping to use to inspire our students.

So on the industry link side things are really starting to look up, light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. Heck we are even being encourage to get out with the students, so looking at one or two of the gaming shows next year.

I’ve come across some great books on game design, and I will write about those in future posts.

EDXCEL were advertising for people to update their course units. Which some of them really need doing. One or two of the criteria are pretty pointless. And when it comes to the game design and game production I think they need an overhaul. For me the theory part of the game production on social impact of games, game genres, and the psychological bit needs to me removed from the unit. They strike me as being there because they need a theory bit to the unit. Which I think is pointless, I’d prefer if they had to have a theory bit to this unit that they discuss game engines, or mechanics.
The psychological side which covers how games get players to play their games. This I think would be better to have in the game design unit, it is a more natural fit, if you have to have it at all. The game genres should be, and is covered in game design already. Finally although interesting, and a great source of debate and discussion, just drop the social impact.

Oh we also have two software dev groups on the first year of our BTEC National Extended Diploma this year. The software dev stream has been very popular this year. The software dev stream is where we do the game related stuff, like game design, and game production. I’m hoping we can keep this popularity up with the new applications for the 2013/2014 start (we start interviewing for that in January). I think where I work has a big advantage over other local colleges, and 6th Form schools with the industry experience we have in the department. For example I have 18 years experience as a C programmer behind me in a variety of industrial sectors, and a passion for video games (I’ve grown up with them over 30 years). My colleague who teaches web, has several years in industry as a web developer behind him, and so on. And this expertise and experience gets passed on in the classroom.

So after that little sales pitch I’ll end this catch up post, and also promise to post on a more regular basis.

Games Programming Taster Session Tomorrow


Tomorrow at work (Peterborough Regional College) starting at 10am until 11:30am I am running a Games Programming Taster session as part of the taster session week the college is running over half term.

There are 11 places taken already, I think that the limit is 20 or possibly 24.

It’s very basic, and it will have those that come along changing an existing simple game. They will be tweaking the difficulty of the game (making it easier or harder), and changing the graphics so that it is more personal to them, and enabling scrolling.

There is a limit to what I can cover in that short a time period. But will hopefully give prospective students a “taster” that will give them an idea if this is something they wish to go on and study.

A One Pager Game Design Document


Here is a “sample” one pager I did based on the document presented in the book Level Up! the Guide To Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers.

The one pager is for a fictional game called Amy Pond: The Girl That Waited based on an episode of Doctor Who.

I’ve even started using a font (Deviant Strain) for the game title that is used by the publishers of the Doctor Who books.

I’d love some feedback on this. Suggestions on how this could be improved, constructive feedback. At the end of this I want to have an exemplar one pager that I can show to the students.

What was your first game design book?


Mine was The Art of Computer Game Design by Chris Crawford back in the mid to late 80’s. I remember getting it from Wisbech Library, and reading it from cover to cover.

One of the things that stands out from my long and distant memory of the book is that there was an emphasis on researching the subject area of the game being designed. So if the game was say on the American Civil War, then you would read up on that.

I haven’t written any games (soon to be rectified) but that has always stuck with me over the years, and been applied in other non gaming areas of programming. But now that I am writing example stuff for the students this still holds true today.

At the moment I am in the process of writing an example 1 pager and 10 pager design documents for the students for an Amy Pond game based on an episode of Doctor Who.

Now having got a copy of the episode to watch again, that was going to be my main research for the game design. Then last Friday I called into the local WH Smiths I came across a magazine that had in-depth behind the scenes look at some of the episodes of the last season of Doctor Who. Luckily for me this covered the episode I was using for inspiration for the game design.

So I read the pages on the episode I was interested in making notes, getting correct spellings of planet names etc. And I am so glad I did because as I read the article it started to fire off ideas for game play/mechanics to use in the game design. My initial idea had been for a 2D single screen plat former along the lines of Manic Miner. But this changed while reading the article to an isometric plat former/puzzler more along the lines of those classic Rare/Ocean isometric games like Batman and Head Over Heels. It also inspired the idea of having two Amy’s a young and old one, that the player can flip between.

I also thought wouldn’t it be cool if there was an Amy’s theme, and guess what there is!

So as you can see doing the research so far on that episode has paid off big time.

Since then it has gone out of print and become rather hard to get hold of. Well this is where the modern age and ebooks come in handy.

For £2.14 from Amazon you can get a Kindle version of this book. This has the original books text plus some notes from Chris Crawford on how things have changed in the preceding years.

I need to find time to re-read this classic, and that will be sooner than later.

And for those interested I will put up the design docs once done.

Long over due


Much to my shame this blog hasn’t been updated much. But then that’s the draw back of the job it tends to eat up a hell of a lot of your free time.

Since my rants about lack of support from the gaming industry, a whole rebellion about how computing is being taught in schools seems to be taking place. The main point is folks want programming back on the curriculum.

I have some pretty strong thoughts on this, and may express them at some time in the future. All I will say is that the college where I work, teaches coding on their BTEC National ICT Diploma. Specifically we teach Event Driven Programming (using C#), Object Orientated Programming (using C#), Video Game Production (using C# and XNA). So you can see our students do a bit of programming over the two years of the course.

But what has this all got to do with a gaming blog? Not much I’m just catching up with life the universe etc etc.

However I will bring this back to games etc. The second years got their first Video Game Production assignment this week. The assignment is to design a 2D game, that after Christmas they will start coding.

The scenario for the assignment(s) is that of a Game Jam, which the students are entering. The theme for the fictional Game Jam has been chosen as “Hit the switch”.

I went with the Game Jam idea and theme, to try and give students inspiration and ideas for their game. Oh and to hopefully cut down on the number of zombie games (which the previous years students had a a tendency towards). So often you hear students moan they can’t think of anything. Well I’m hoping that by giving them a theme it will inspire them creatively.

For this assignment the students have to produce the following documentation:

  • one pager
  • ten-pager
  • beat chart
  • class diagram

For examples of the three game design documents and a description of the documents look at the book Level Up! the Guide To Great Video Game Design by Scott Rogers (which is an amazing book on game design).

The basic rules given to the students are as follows:

  • Must not break college rules
  • must be 2D
  • must be written using C#,XNA and Visual Studio 2010
  • must run on windows 7
  • no matter how loosely the game must be based on the theme
  • the beat chart must contain at least 3 levels

I’ve tied the Video Game Production unit with the OOP. If planned right, bar an assignment on theory the video game can be used for both units. hence why there is a requirement for a class diagram in this assignment.

The students if they want to attempt it have to produce an infographic that explains how the design and structure can aid in the maintenance and capacity for extension of their game. This is a distinction criteria, and I wanted the students to produce something different from an essay or leaflet.

So there you have it some info on the first assignment for the Video Game Production and OOP units.

Finally I am going to do the game design bit as well, and will produce my documents here, and present them to the students as further examples.

RIP Steve Jobs


October Game Mags


I got the October batch of gaming mags (Edge and Games) earlier in the week. And as usual they end up being my reading material as I have a leisurely soak at the weekend.
But I have to say apart from being excellent reads they have given me a lot to think about this month.
One of the main questions being asked by both magazines is whether the recent 3DS price drop has been enough to save Nintendo.
Let’s face it no one will disagree with the fact that the launch of the 3DS has been less than stellar, with sales not meeting expectations.
And to some degree the magazines look into the causes of this. While I agree with the points that they raise, ie the rise of mobile gaming on smartphones (iOS & Android), the expectations of cost, poor launch line up of titles etc. I do think they miss one of the major reasons, the current economic climate. I think they miss timed the launch. At the moment the majority of house holds do not have the budget to spend money on a new handheld console, especially at around the £200 mark no matter how good it is. Even now I don’t think that Nintendo have dropped the price of the 3DS enough. I think that they should of hit the magical £99.99, not £150.
I also think that Nintendo also hit the same issue that Apple fans have when a new iPhone comes out. Is there really enough in the new model to justify shelling out for it. The usual answer in the Apple fanboy world is usually no, and they end up waiting for the next model which will have more of a compelling reason to upgrade. The 3DS is too much of an incremental upgrade to the DS, the 3D is still a gimmick to most, and not enough reason to fork out that extra cash.
I have to admit if I had one I wouldn’t be playing in the 3D mode, and it would just be like a better DS to me. Mind you when the two new Mario games come out (Kart and Mario Land 3D iirc) maybe I’ll be singing a different tune.

Some Light Reading For Video Game Students


I think I promised this post when I suggested sites etc that students interested in video games should be following/reading.
Now I’m going to list some books related to video game development and design that are suggestions for students to read.
One or two I think students should have and others they should get from the library. A couple of them are very heavy going and well above the level required for the units I teach, very specific and would most likely be of more use on a degree course. But they are there for the keen student who wants to delve deeper into those areas.
Let’s face it not every student is going to be interested in programming games, and not going to want to read further on the subject. However I am assuming that the students will want to go on and develop software for a living. For those students the Code Complete and the C# books should be of more interest to them.

Learning C#

C# For Students

The library definitely has this book in, not sure how many copies though. Definitely worth getting, and for students on the course there will be a code on the vle that they can use to get a 20% discount if ordered from the publisher.

Computing with C# and the .Net Framework


Learning XNA 4.0

Game Design

Casual Game Design

Level Up!

Game Design Workshop

Video Game History And Post Mortems

Making Great Games

This is a collection of video game post mortems by the developers of some of the top video games in recent times.
Vintage Games

There is a great site from the authors with bonus chapters not in the book here.

The Ultimate History of Video Games

Indepth and Heavy Going

Artificial Intelligence For Games

Essential Mathematics for Games & Interactive Applications: A Programmer’s Guide

Code Complete

Humble Indie Bundle 3


Saw on Reddit this morning that there was a rather cool charity indie game bundle going on at the moment.

The games in the bundle are:

Crayon Physics Deluxe





And Yet It Moves


You get to name your price, decide how the money you pay gets split between the charities EFF and Child’s Play, the indie developers involved and the folks organising this. Plus the games are DRM free and available on Windows/Mac/Linux, and a Steam key as well!, this adds up to a great deal, and a chance to do good as well.

I already had And Yet It Moves on the Mac, and love the game. VVVVVV I had seen on the PC, and know Jamie is a big fan of this game. So two great games there already, and the others in the pack look good to.

Here is the video from Humble Bundle promoting the deal and showing off the games involved.


Just go buy them, you won’t regret it.