Friday, May 23, 2008

To play for the holiday

Just quickly I added two new sidebars. One is for my presentations given in the last year and a half. You can find the Vermont Business Expo and IBM presentation, last week's IEEE CS Tech Summit talk and others. The Kingbridge GameChange Summit was really the questions for a discussion John and I led. Likewise the GDC Building Partnerships guided a workshop and includes the output of the groups.
But you might find it more fun if you view the other new sidebar. It is for Class Created Games. I separated this from the EMC projects as the purpose of creation is very different. It is the first class in which the students get to create electronic games as a team. They have previously created paper based games. In former blogs you may have read about the process the class and myself went through and what we all discovered. Different from the EMC games, the class created game is purely about the player having fun!

I think the team who's game is posted did very well in that objective and the corresponding goal of learning to work together! The team members were Justin Kimball as producer, Jaime Fraina as lead designer, Scot Gaylord as lead programmer, Matt Gustafson as lead tester and sound, Chris Matuzsek as lead artist, and Dan Hart as secondary artist and programmer. As a warning there is blood and robots but no real violence - very Doctor Who-ish. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Too many cool things to share...

I am REALLY tired. So tired that I had to type my own blog address in three times before I got it right. So tired that when I hit the Google site, the graphic looked beautiful...Spring and sunshine :-) I have been once again flying coast to coast and working at breakneck speed. Too many cool things to share. So please excuse the length and seeming random nature of the delivery. One thing that made me happy upon my return were "miss you Ann" messages from my students Rafi and Jordan on my whiteboard. Good to come home.
Home. Today I keynoted at the Vermont Business Expo Technology Luncheon (I will post that and the IEEE CS presentation after compressing). Man I was nervous playing to the home town crowd. Even my friends commented on the television advertising. "Ann, I've been invited to lunch with you." All things good. When I finished the talk I realized just how much I have discovered this year. Speaking gave me the opportunity to arrange and share much of the content and thoughts I have been writing about here. The talk began with Ray Kurzweil, traveled through to the impacts technology has wrought or brought (dependent on your persuasion), introduced possible business models that make sense of the exponential change, and ended with the remarkable capabilities of this generation to accomplish and create change illustrated by the work our EMC crew has been doing.

Speaking of which, Tuesday and Wednesday America's Army, in the guise of Phillip Bossant, Matt Soares and Kevin Lee came to campus. They began working with the student teams to create level maps. If successful the maps will be distributed through the AA site—full credit given to the students. Their energy and excitement was palatable. Discussion, whiteboards, and impassioned listening were part and parcel. The AA teams were as gods—and rightly so for the knowledge of building complex yet popular levels and art assets based on reality that they shared. All comes back to the power of mentoring.

Likewise the students working on the Info Lit games, the CIMIT project and the Burlington Google Map projects are also working energetically. It is soooo cool! The atmosphere is somehow different this summer. I believe the spring green and the lack of scheduled classes have given the students the opportunity to put their heart and soul into their projects. They are learning all the same but in a concentrated manner much like I experienced as a graduate student.

Students. I just returned from the IEEE Computer Society Board of Governors' (BOG) meeting and our Technology Summit in Las Vegas. There I am on the Education Activities Board and the Awards Committee. This BOG, I hosted the Game Summit. Speakers were CTO of A2M Martin Walker, newly minted COO of EA DICE in Sweden Senta Jacobsen, Davey Jackson from GarageGames and Scot Osterweil from MIT's Media Lab. All gave incredible presentations—each very different topically from the other. I opened up the day. Project management, game engines, AI in games and what that portends and games for learning were the topics. The downside was the size of attendance, the plus it was captured via video for web distribution (visit the IEEE CS site). Biggest plus was the exchange of knowledge and camaraderie of the speakers...very cool group. An aside is how crazy LV is! Talk about addictive behavior and virtual worlds!

Back to learning. Three weeks ago, incredibly influential to me was the Digital Now summit hosted by Fusion Productions. I can not recommend it enough for those in associations. If they opened it more broadly, many corporations would benefit as well. I am very grateful to Hugh Lee and Don Dea for inviting us to participate. There the focus was social networking, Web 2.0 for connecting to community. Both a sky eye view and the in the trenches approach helped me to focus on what we should be doing for the Center and what we are integrating into projects for our partners. If invited back I would love to find sponsorship for our students to create games on site. I think that would really touch this impressive group. Check out the link in the sidebar. They have posted all of the proceedings in forms of video, slides AND notes.

Luckily students Lauren Nishikawa and Wes Knee along with our new but invaluable operations manager Sarah Jerger were able to attend. Sarah will be in-charge of applying much of that knowledge into the Center's outreach. We took Saturday and went to Epcot at Disney to celebrate Lauren's 21st birthday!!!! What a marvelous day. I am still amazed at the genius of Walt Disney, the man behind the corporation. He was virtual environments before we computerized them! Did you know that when Disney World first opened it flopped? Artist, businessman, technologist, futurist.

Lastly touching on the Games for Health conference from two weeks ago ( I have been traveling ALOT). My biggest understanding there was that the field is just opening up. Exergaming seems to be a given, as is patient motivation. What is now needed is research and for that funding. I was very lucky to get to know Leighton Read. It is a very small world. He knows Tom Malone and Tony O'Driscoll. I was hooked on his presentation to our small group of RWJF grantees. It is not surprising. He is behind seriosity, created one of the very earliest games for health and he was a doctor in Boston.

Another fun thing for me was to reconnect or meet for the first time some very interesting people. It was like old friends' week if that is possible at an event I've never attended. I was able to introduce Peter, the chief PI on the grant to Ryan - our SME on the CIMIT project! Both I could introduce to Mike Zyda (coincidently he is the first person I knew behind AA though he is not with them anymore). I was lucky to meet Jeanne and Anne, two RWJF grantees from Indiana that I hope to keep intouch with. In the small world category we would run into each other at the gym pre-start of day and they both are connected to the Lake Champlain region!

OK That is it for the evening. I will part with the quote from student Ben Gerowe's signature:
"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to be visible."
—Vladimir Nabako

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fiero, Curiosity, Serious and People Fun

Spring is finally happening in Vermont. For me it is a time of paying attention to the light of the day, whether it shall rain or not, how the ground feels—is it a planting day?
However this Spring I am not getting much soil turning done. Instead seeds planted years or semesters ago are fruiting and I am busy—and not in Vermont.

Tonight I am learning from one of those seeds planted years ago! As I write I am at the preliminary session to the Games for Health conference sponsored by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. With UVM researcher Peter Bingham we are receiving a grant to collaboratively produce a rehabilitation game. Peter and I began discussing some sort of collaboration when I started the game degree program at Champlain four years ago! 

The opening dinner keynote, Nicole Lazzaro, squarely approached the question I've been examining - what are the game mechanics that support social impact games or games for learning!! I've read her work before but in-person she presents in an approachable manner. Her research defined the "four fun keys" or patterns of player's emotional response to game mechanics. Mechanics drive player choice eliciting an emotional response. Her categories are: "hard fun or fiero"- produced at its most basic by mastering a difficult challenge; "easy fun or curiosity" such that it produces imagination; "serious fun or relaxation" such as rhythm, practice, learning; and finally "people fun or amusement" that she defined as having the most complex drivers. 

Listening to her I was tying it all into how to use social networks to expand the outreach. In that case a social game strategy might have the most relevance to a project we have on the board. However fiero and serious fun might also be more appropriate to the intended audience. Nicole also stated that fun games often elicit 3 or more of these. A mix in the more detailed components are what she has seen lead to the most highly successfully games. She believes that the key component is matching the emotion to the mechanics. An example she gave was that if a game put one in a "fight or flight" state then attack makes sense. For instance if you are playing Halo and being shot at best strategy is to shoot back. However if it is critical thinking that you want to build then you must encourage the state of mind best suited for that. The example she gave here was of Katamari Damancy. The game mood seems are collecting amusing items. In reality much complex puzzle solving is taking place to enable the player to collect the objects. Now I know why I like Katamari so much—it is an example of a "serious fun or relaxing" game—much like gardening is for me!