My atmosphir blogging seems to be going well – I may even have a new convert in @mwclarkson to show for my work and have also developed an excellent contact in @kristianstill.
In my previous blogpost I looked at the production of a requirements specification. This is vital I believe for ensuring that the design stage is done really well and pupils maintain realistic expectations whilst creating their levels in Atmosphir.
How to approach this with the class?
The beauty of a design stage for a game is that with a creative class you can approach this in multiple ways. From drawing characters and scenery in Art to using post-it notes and a white board (and photographing the result) to plot out how the action goes in on a level you have a huge amount of options for developing a level in Atmosphir.
One idea I had was due to Atmosphir's blocky nature and if you have a supply of Lego how about getting pupils to build aspects of their game in Lego and then photographing it? You may not have enough to approximate whole levels but it could be a good way to do at least part of a level.
How to write this up?
Writing this up is I think very dependant on what design methodology is used. The majority of the evidence for the designs may be photographs so an annotated photo gallery would be a good bet. Some design elements will be written such as rules and guidelines for the level as well as a description of the plot which could be produced as well written documents.
This series of blogs is my attempt at thinking through some of the issues surrounding using Atmosphir as a tool for teaching the ICT systems life cycle. The first blog post contained the different stages and the following blogs are looking at each stage. At this point I am not trying to come up with a definitive guide, merely think through some ideas for its usage in the classroom. At the end of this I may very well have a scheme of work in place.
In my previous post
I briefly looked at analysis and feasibility studies. At the end of that section a pupil should have a redefined problem definition or idea about what they wish to build. This should include some basic investigation into what the end user wants. This is crucial to have prior to moving onto the requirements stage as it will form the basis for developing a good requirements document.
How do you approach this stage with a class?
The intention I would think would be to create a reasonably detailed requirements document which would form the basis of the design stage. As I am still teaching myself the design process within Atmosphir I may miss out a few sections however the following would probably be good categories for stating requirements for the new game
- Plot / Background
- Gametype and rules
- Scenery, setting and World rules
- Character usage
- Enemies, objects and interactives
Writing up the requirements for each category
Instead of being quite strict about how pupils should write up a requirement for a category I think it would be better to accept or encourage pupils to create requirements in any form they wish. This could be mindmaps, drawings, lists of ideas. For older pupils though a structure for the requirement could be useful.
I'm aware that adding drawings could be construed as beginning the design process already. I think this points to some of the issues with the systems life cycle in any case in that it is stagnant and too structured. Under the principles of Rapid Application Development most games ideas would probably morph from idea to design and be created fairly quickly but I do think that it is important for pupils to understand some of the thought processes involved in moving from idea to reality so that they do have some structure when they approach it themselves.
It would essentially lead to a better design process in any case. One thing which pupils could fall victim to in the design process if they don't structure their ideas properly is 'feature creep' and concentrating on putting out achievable requirements is part of that process.
I think its time to resurrect my blogging on using Atmosphir to design games. Even though Atmosphir is not easy to roll out on our school network due to the Unity Web Player being difficult to install with user profiles Atmosphir is still a useful model for getting to understand games based learning. I have yet to use many games in class apart from just touching the surface of Scratch.
In my previous blog post
on Atmosphir I looked at how the problem definition of the systems life cycle could be approached. In this blog I will be looking at how Atmosphir can be used as part of the Analysis and Feasibility study of the games design process. By this stage pupils should have identified at least an idea for a new game such as … “a football game where you have to shoot the ball with lasers”.
How do you approach this stage with the class?
With this idea pupils will now need to analyse whether it is a feasible idea by beginning to do some further investigation. This will probably involve looking at:
- complexity of the idea
- whether Atmosphir has the resources and material to execute the idea
- what further requirements the target market users may have for their game
- drawing up some initial basic designs and ideas
Writing up the analysis and feasibility
What should pupils possible produce as end documentation for this section? I think they could produce a short write up on their analysis of whether their idea is feasible or not based on its complexity. Certainly they could rewrite their problem definition stating whether their original idea for their game is still feasible or not or update it to reflect what their new idea for their game is. Include some of the initial ideas (drawings, designs) and any end user comments at all.
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