Video Game Design: Storyboarding the Game

Cell Video Game Storyboard Collage 2014

One of the things I force my students to pay attention to (some resist) is the concept of storyboarding out their science-based video game projects. But I know, from experience, how important it is to have a map forward, even if you abandon the map along the way for more creative terrain.

As a teacher, the storyboard also provides me with a way to see what they are thinking as they begin the design phase, as well as gives us discussion points on which to talk through the game design, science concepts and story ideas in a workshop-style mode.

You can read more about what I wrote about storyboarding, including the sharing of resources, over at the Gamestar Mechanic teacher site, from a few years ago.

Peace (in the boards),
Kevin

Book Review: The Peripheral

This book — The Peripheral — really requires the reader to dig in. You need to wrap your head around some pretty complex ideas about Time and Technology. William Gibson, whose books have supercharged our thinking (or at least, mine but probably yours, too … you just might not know it) around digital media, cyberspace and interactive media, does not write down to the reader.

What I am saying is that I am almost gave up on The Peripheral – and even had a post about reading frustration playing out in my head at one point — but I am now glad that I didn’t. But, yeah, I was angry at Gibson for the first few chapters because the story immerses you into something that you need to sort of figure out for yourself as you go along. Background knowledge? Not really activated. Gibson does not hand the story to you. Your brain will be firing on all cylinders here, trying to find some anchors to the world he has imagined.

I know I needed a quiet space (not easy in my household) for an extended stretch to allow this story to wash over me, to draw me in, and when that happened, I was hooked, line and sinker. Unfortunately, every time I put it down for a spell, I’d be lost for a bit when I got back into the story. Again … brain working.

I won’t give a full synopsis here, but the story centers on two characters — one from the future (or present) and another from the past (or present) whose time trajectory has been altered by the future (or present). Someone sees something they should not have seen while inside a game (or is it a game?), and someone else now wants that person dead. From this plotline, the story unfolds. Peripherals are live avatars of sorts that people use to interact in spaces in other times … oh heck … you’ll have to read it to understand it.

The upshot: Gibson is in fine form here as a writer whose visions of the possibility of technology create a fictional landscape where things are possible that you never thought were possible. It’s a wild ride in The Peripheral. And if you are lost and disoriented at times, blame Gibson, not me. It’s part of the story, I suspect.

Peace (in the peripheral),
Kevin

PS — here is an excerpt from the book.

New Yorker: Hollywood and Vine

Clockwise from top: the digital stars KingBach, Tyler Oakley, Brittany Furlan, Joey Graceffa, and Cam and Nash.

(ILLUSTRATION BY ALEX WILLIAMSON via New Yorker)

Did anyone else read the article in New Yorker called Hollywood and Vine, about the emergence of viral video sharing and how frightened Hollywood is becoming of where young people are watching video? I was intrigued, and wondering how folks are using the 6 second Vine app (and the slightly longer Instagram video sharing) to create small movies with vast and young audiences, and then I realized: it’s becoming all about audience and profit.

It’s not about art.

Duh.

But, darn it, it should be. Our media tools have opened up some amazing possibilities, and yet, as writer/reporter Tad Friend follows some famous “Viners” around, he notices that every shot for the Vine flick (all 6 seconds of it) is done with hopes of garnering a larger audience of followers and likers, and that is done in hopes of getting commercial ventures (like Taco Bell and others) to pay the Viners for using products in their flicks. The Viners do voluntary product placements. They reach out to corporations. They aim for the paycheck.

Ack. Gag. Repeat (or loop, maybe).

Is this what we are moving into now? Hybrid media making as hybrid advertising? I am not naive. I know businesses look to trends and then dig their claws in. They entice media makers. They sometimes “remix” (in a bad way) close enough to resemble the original, and hope no one is noticing. And I know people need to make a living.

But I can’t help but be dismayed and worried that the shift into this powerful movie-making culture is really about an “all eyes on me now” mentality, where the art that is made is not made for art, but for commercial sensibilities. This is not a knock of the selfie-generation. Plenty of people are making interesting movies that focus the lens on the self. This is a knock against using the self to sell stuff to those who are watching your self.

I’ll end this bloggy diatribe of a middle-aged, middle-class white male  (ie, probably out of the loop, so to speak, with the culture featured in the article) with this belief:

I want my students, and my own children, to see the possibilities of creating media the way I see it: an ocean of possibilities that allow you to express yourself in new and interesting ways, with (yes) a potential audience that can connect and further your art. Let art be the center of what you do.

Is that too much to ask?

Peace (in the wonder),
Kevin

 

Video Game Design: Storyframes as Narrative Architecture

Moving into a unit about video game design also means talking about how to tell a story in ways different than a short story or traditional narrative. I talk to my students about how they should see their science-based video game as a story that the reader will play. They should be entertained, and challenged, and also educated about cells (the science topic that is the centerpiece of the video game design project)

I’ve come to call this the “storyframe” of the video game (rhyming is helpful technique). The story is the narrative wrapper in which the game play itself is situated.

Of all the elements of our game design, this is one of the trickiest for my students. First of all, there are the confines of Gamestar Mechanic, which allows text in the title of the start of the game and at every level, but not a whole lot of room. Students can earn message blocks, which are handy, and they can earn some sprites that “talk” (via text messages).

What must occur is the use of metaphor (this represents that), focused narrative text that moves the player/reader along on their journey through the game system, and a sense of flow. That’s a lot to ask for from a sixth grader, but they can do it. It does require me to be conferencing a lot, reminding them of what good games do (and how to make a game better), and feedback from peers during the initial stages of design.

You know what the best resource is for this discussion around storyframes? The Magic School Bus series. No one did it better, particularly when we talk about science and storytelling. And, what franchise effectively jumped across mediums so well? From picture books to television show to video games, The Magic School Bus showed how transmedia can work.

Building that kind of story? Well, that’s what my students are in the midst in right now.

Peace (in the construction of story),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Learning Minecraft

(This is part of Slice of Life, a weekly writing feature hosted via Two Writing Teachers. Narrow your lens. Write. Share.)

SOL

You’d think with all the video game design work I do with my students that I would have already been kneedeep into Minecraft. My students certainly are. Me? Not much. No real reason except time to dive in always slips away from me, but now that my youngest son is using and loving Minecraft (and even joined a Minecraft club at our public library), I figured it was time to dip my toes into the blocks, so to speak.

So, I asked my son, teach me Minecraft.

Doghouse construction

And we proceeded to spend about 45 minutes with the Minecraft App (we also have the fuller version on the laptop), and together, he helped me build a doghouse for the dog/wolf that we spawned in the world that I began to create when we started to play in Creative — not Survival — mode. (Getting the vocabulary down …) I had to remind him to talk me through the learning, not do it himself. (such a teacher)

OK, so now I get a bit of the appeal of Minecraft. I was never quite oblivious to it but I can see how the building and wandering in the world is a pretty fascinating experience. I spent some time “flying” high above the world, watching the contours being drawn out in each direction. That was pretty nifty, to think we were in the map as it was being made.

And the dogs seemed pretty happy.

Peace (in the craft),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Off-Screen Hacking Uno

hacking uno

We don’t spend every teaching/learning moment doing game design, but I suspect that might be the impression some folks get if they read my blog. We do a lot of other kinds of writing and reading activities. And we are not always on the computer either.

One of the ways I introduce and reinforce game design elements is through hacking of other games. Some years, we hack chess. This year, I pulled out my decks of UNO cards, and over a series of days (which sometimes are far and few between as we do other things), my students have been redesigning the game of UNO.

The supplies are simple: a deck of UNO cards. But I did introduce the game variable of dice one day, which led to interesting discussions in the groups about whether dice would improve their concept or not. Most have not used the dice, even though they were all excited about it.

They have been working on finalizing the Rules of Play for their hacked card games, and one of these days, I will separate each group and reform them in a Jigsaw Activity, so that every new group has three to four new games to play, with an “expert” from the original groups to teach their classmates.

Hacking Uno Wordcloud
(Names of New UNO Games)

We then use the UNO game development as points of discussion when we shift into our Science-based Video Game Project, now underway. Hacking UNO provides for collaborative discussions on game design, and creativity, and collaborative writing, while also connecting nicely to the larger project now underway.

Peace (in the cards),
Kevin

Made with Code: A Holiday Tree

I was so focused on the Hour of Code activities last week with my students that I forgot that Google has put out some nifty coding activities, too. It’s “Projects with Code” seems aimed at girls, but that’s fine.

Yesterday, my son and I worked on the Holiday Tree activity, which allows you to work with the lights on the state trees in Washington DC using Blockly code. When you are done, it gives you a time when your “lights” will flash on the tree of the state you choose. Is that true? Neat.

Peace (in the lights, flickering),
Kevin

#CCourses: Not Quite #Notover

#ccourses is #notover

As the last official phase of the Connected Courses comes to an end, there is ample discussion among participants on the question of: Why does a connected community end just because a course ends? (And why does an online course end when a traditional semester ends?) The #notover hashtag is being used, which I used for the comic above.

I’m reminded a bit of another comic I made for Alan Levine earlier in the Connected Courses, as he mulled over this same topic, and I reflected on an LMS I am in right now that I don’t care more than a whit about.  He put forth the idea of “keeping the lights on” and not using language about anything ending.

Keep the lights on #CCourses

And I agree.

So many folks are plotting ways to keep people connected. There was even talk of a task force. Made a comic. (Surprised? I doubt it). I was thinking of superheroes. Personally, I like the Mad Hacker.
For the Connected Course .... #ccourses

Just like anything of this nature, it will depend on the participants now, not the facilitators (although facilitators should now have permission to become participants) as to whether sharing, connecting and exploring continues under the #ccourses banner.

For my part, I will try to share out on a regular basis ideas from the collaborative Daily Connector site that (digi) Simon, Maha (B.) and Laura and I worked on. I’ve been doing random Daily Connects throughout December (after we originally posted them each day as new ideas back in October), and the ideas there have value beyond Connected Courses, for sure. The random generator is such a cool function of that site. (Thanks, Alan!)

Push for Fun-1

To be honest, the Connected Courses has been intriguing and I have enjoyed the discussions and hangouts and meeting people (I mean, I’ve been “hanging out” in spaces with Howard Rheingold and Mimi Ito and others … how cool is that? It’s a thrill). But as a K-12 teacher, much of the discussion about designing open education courses for the University level has been intriguing on a thinking level, but not all that practical on the day-to-day level.

But you know, I am still in the rather vibrant #rhizo14 network (coming towards #rhizo15), and I connect with DS106 via the Daily Creates (our model for the Daily Connects), and the #clmooc community is still sharing in various spaces. A different, more relaxed energy comes when the planned world falls away, and the unknown maps of what is ahead takes place. Sometimes, it sustains itself. Sometimes, not.

We’ll see where the #ccourses goes and time will tell if it is really #notover … but I do know that the people I have connected with there have greatly expanded my own online networks of friends I can turn to with questions and advice and projects, and ideas. And, of course, comics. I made a ton of comics for Connected Courses, in hopes of infecting a little fun into the conversations.

Check out my Connected Courses Comic Album

Peace (may it continue),
Kevin