I quite like Tagxedo – definitely got more tagging options then wordle. I like how it can pull a twitter stream or a blog post with ease and then create tag clouds in shapes – absolutely wicked and full on win!
I will definitely be showing my English colleagues this at school next year.
Oh and the foot is my twitter stream @sharland and the ball is my blog briansharland.com
So a few days ago I began blogging on Atmosphir – a new browser based games design system. I wrote two lengthyish blog posts about my initial impressions of Atmosphir and how it could be used to teach the ICT systems life cycle, something which I feel is one of the major theoretical underpinnings of ICT. In that I listed the stages of the system life cycle which I teach and which my students in A-level use as part of their major project. The first stage I want to talk about is therefore what is traditionally called the problem definition stage or what some sources call initiation.
A brief summary of the problem definition stage is that it is when a specific problem is identified in a system (or a lack of a system which could meet current needs is identified) either by management or users.
So how does this translate to games development? Although I have been a reasonably serious (if slightly rubbish) gamer for a number of years I only have a rudimentary understanding of the games design process. I don’t think this should get in the way of understanding how to use Atmosphir as part of teaching games design as a designing a game I think can be seen in a similar light to designing a database or website. It is about meeting user needs through a properly designed system. In order to meet those needs you need to know how to start the systems life cycle and this is where the problem definition comes in.
So how do you approach it with a class?
I think firstly at the start of any games design workshop the most important thing for students to do is spend some time playing games – but with a critical element. Talk to students about how you can critique a game and its content including its audience, appropriateness, usability, features and other issues.
Next I would think should be a discussion about identifying ideas for new games. Do you look at target markets or genres? For the sake of a school design situation I would probably go for a target market approach. Perhaps if your school has links with a primary (or is a primary and you are using Atmosphir in a year 6 class) ask a younger year such as a year 4 group what they enjoy in games and try and identify a possible game idea from that discussion. Remember these investigations are very much preliminary as the next section after problem definition is a fully fledged investigation.
Writing the problem definition
If you choose to go for a target market approach for creating a game identifying your target market should be the first part of your problem definition. Identifying what they want in terms of a game should also form a part of this section. These user needs should be broad and are there to provide an overview of the new game’s objectives. More indepth investigation will identify clearer systems requirements later on.
I blogged recently about Atmosphir and my first impressions of it as a potential system for use in the ICT classroom. I found a couple of concerns including the slight lack of intuitive features as well as the necessity to download the unity player for the game to work (browser 3d support standards are a ways off).
This blog is a follow up to the original blog – I hope to expand on the educational usage of Atmosphir in a classroom if its issues are sorted out.
At a Futurelabs workshop on Digital Literacy I attended on Wednesday someone mentioned how ICT lacks theoretical underpinnings. I didn’t respond immediately as this unfortunately only came to me a bit later but I do disagree. I think one of the major theoretical underpinnings of ICT is the systems life cycle which I have been teaching for years at A level but not as part of the GCSE spec I have been doing (OCR spec B).
The systems life cycle is something I have referred to occasionally when teaching GCSE and key stage 3 so therefore it is something which I feel should be made more official at those levels. I think the best way forward is to map out the systems life cycle and attempt to link it to an aspect of development in the Atmosphir world. Hopefully if done correctly this mapping could be used with other programs like gamemaker or Alice.
The stages which I generally teach are:
1. Problem definition2. Analysis and feasibility 3. Requirements documentation (investigation)
4. System Design
The above list is by no means exhaustive and probably differs quite a bit from other system life cycles but I don’t think there is any definitive list. Looking at the above list perhaps what I need to do is break this up into a couple of blogs to focus on each stage of the systems life cycle and how it maps to games development. This may be a decent blogging project for mentor the holidays. So next blog from me will be focussing on problem definition. Any comments always welcome below. Till next time
I have never really taught game design in class apart from a few attempts at using scratch at developing systems with students. I was therefore quite pleased to find out about Atmosphir.com which is a Microsoft Project designed to allow game players to create their own worlds quickly and easily. As a means of teaching systems design this seemed perfect. So after initially signing up last week I decided to give it a bit more of a bash last night and this morning. This blog is a synopsis of my first impressions. (Note: must be familiar with basic games design terms like sprites and skyboxes)
What is it?
Atmosphir plays like an old school platformer with a few extra game styles thrown in (collection, CTF etc). Graphics are blocky (very much so) and fairly basic in one sense but for a game running in a browser it is really high quality. By the way its based on the Unity engine which Nasa uses to power some of their their game environments.
I’m running a 2007 built PC with a 2.2ghz Intel Core2 duo with a decent MB, half gig ram video card and 4GB of fairly high speed RAM. I’ve briefly tested atmosphir on Chrome, Firefox and IE8 and I’ve hit occasional stability issues on Chrome and Firefox but not on IE8. I have yet to try it on my school computers – something which I think could be a deal breaker as only one room at our school could be up to snuff and even that room struggles with basic sketchup models. This is a beta product at the moment so patience is required although what they have produced is pretty darn good.
Playing is the obvious way to get to grips with Atmosphir and its world and it should be the first step when teaching the students. As I said before there is a old school platform feel to this and it certainly plays that way with a lot of jumping and collecting in the first tutorial levels. I haven’t yet got onto playing against AI enemies and being able to use some of the weapons.
Designing your first level
So onto designing. I’ve stuck with Chrome as the browser to work with as i’m pretty sure it’s been built fairly well by MS to work within IE and I want to see if i can get it to fail again. The design window loads within the browser tab and there is a handy full screen option as well. Down the left hand side is the sprites selection toolbar and a standard command toolbar across the top. The window shows a grid floating in the middle of the skybox set at level 10. The grid is 100 by 100 squares and there are a 100 levels to use giving a million grid spaces to use. However using every single one would be downright difficult (and pointless). You do get a % figure in the bottom left hand corner which when you hover over shows three separate percentage figures with CPU usage, bandwidth usage and physics usage. Its not hard to guess that every single pc will be able to handle different CPU loads so obviously what one school can create may not work on another school’s PCs. Establishing what would be a reasonable CPU load to top out at when creating a game does bear investigation (see issues below).
I decided to approach the game design window from the point of view of not RTFM before starting to try and replicate what I think students will do both in class and at home when using this. As a result I have struggled to get to grips with some aspects of the design system which I thought could be a bit more intuitive. For instance although the design window seems to support shortcut keys (eg H I think brings up the orbit tool) there is no indication of what those are in the tooltips for each button. If there aren’t any at the moment I hope the designers add them. I also discovered the delete option only be accident when I right clicked on a block using the selection tool.
I’ve also noticed that if I have Atmosphir running in a tab and I go to another tab or program and use the mouse to either click or scroll (as you do) that these clicks and scrolls are still used within the design window and strange extra blocks appear in your design. This is a bit odd and although there is a recommendation message to users to not run any other programs whilst in the game I still think this should be fixed.
Using this in the classroom
Initially thought I might write a bit about this now but I think I will delay this to a separate blog post otherwise this post may never be finished. The only thing I will say now is that if Atmosphir does work in class I think it may be a brilliant way of introducing students to the systems life cycle. I think the systems life cycle is one of the key theoretical underpinnings of ICT and systems design and anything which can get students into it is a good thing.
- stability: yes it is beta but i think it is just a shade away from real full time class usage
- managing students accounts
- LEA filtering the site out of school connections
- nice interface but which still misses a couple of intuitive tweaks which may help its target market
- game and design state still runs when swapping to another window
- need to download unity player on individual systems
That’s it for now
Is not possible. I have really forgotten how absolutely horrid the early morning commute in London really is. I suppose when I was living here I became immune to the dull drudgery of it all. I suppose I should stop my usual ranting and concentrate on what I hope is the point of this short blog and that is to set out my blogging strategy for my pupils next year. My key aim is to start the year with a push to use blogging not as a one off activity which they learn about in a module (although it will he introduced in one) but as something which will form a part of their learning not just in ICT but in other subject areas as well. To make it easy posterous is definitely my preferred blogging platform for students. I looked at edublogs.org and although it was very powerful it was almost too powerful. Posterous is a lot simpler both for myself and for the students. The only thing which does concern me is the lack of central moderation and control. It will be something I will keep my eye on very carefully. Ultimately what do I wish to achieve from this push towards blogging? I think I want to see students move towards collaboration, reflection and personal and peer reflection on what they are learning. Blogging will almost certainly help achieve this. Sent from my iPhone
I was hoping to pick up the blogging habit after a bit of a break in the leadup to a workshop I am attending tomorrow on digital literacy. Unfortunately daily life got a bit in the way so here at least is a few short reflections on what I hope to gain from the workshop.
I’m always wary of modern educational lingo such as ‘digital citizen’ and ‘digital literacy’ been thrown around with a bit too much ease without any attempt to show deeper understanding of what those terms mean. However these terms have gained a lot of currency in educational management and practice. I have been recently working on my schools log term ict strategy and the terms digital literacy and citizenship have come up quite a bit. I have been using ‘digital citizen’ as a way of framing a target for our ict strategy. In other words it is something which I feel should be at the core of not just our ict strategy but also our general educational strategy. I think therefore in order for me to sell this vision and strategy to my colleagues and SLT going on a workshop such as this one will be an excellent step forward. I annulling therefore that the discussion tomorrow will help me sharpen my arguments for what I need (infrastructure, budget, personnel) in order to support turning our students into digitally literate citizens. Just an aside note – I’m currently typing this on a Victoria line train to stockwell (my balance and co-ordination ain’t so bad) and will be posting once I get out. Into reception again. I think if I had still been living in London I would have been spending a lot of my time on the underground blogging. Perhaps that’s a good way of reflecting on the possibilities of a decently structured digital literacy project. The ability to content create (as well as share and interact) in a seamless manner in almost any environment is a mark of a digital citizen. Perhaps that should be one of my central aims of my digital citizen strategy for school. I hadn’t considered that when starting this blog post which therefore proves again the power of blogging.
Till next time
Sent from my iPhone