Several Interesting Projects

The Silver Tree is a new, Kickstarted project by the Failbetter people: it’s to be short and self-contained, and explore what happened to the 13th century Mongol city of Karakorum in the universe of Fallen London. Since I remain hugely fond of the Fallen London/Echo Bazaar universe and lore, I’m excited about getting a peek in at another piece of it, this time in a slightly more focused gameplay form. The project site has some preview art and an interview with Yazmeen Khan, who is doing the writing.

I not-very-secretly hope this represents a successful approach for Failbetter, as I am not crazy about the way Fallen London generates revenue (make gameplay grindy, then charge players micro-amounts to make it go faster). I would much rather see stories funded through direct purchase and/or prefunding. It’s been a very successful campaign, which is encouraging. Also, they’re offering one of my all time favorite types of backer reward, a deck of custom cards. I am a total sucker for those for some reason.

Dominique Pamplemousse in “It’s All Over Once the Fat Lady Sings!” is a stop-motion musical adventure by Deirdra Kiai (The Play, Life Flashes By, assorted other projects). The whole concept is pleasingly off the beaten path.

Finally, if you’re interested in what Chris Crawford is doing these days, he also has a project on Kickstarter, a Balance of the Planet simulator that asks you to set tax prices for various types of pollution and then calculates a final score based on 58 years of result. It’s a curiously uninteractive experience, in that you set some sliders and then wait to see what happens (or, alternatively, read through the many pages of explanatory articles on different environmental factors).

Chris’ own description suggests that this is meant to be a forensic experience: run the simulator, then stare at the graphs to work out what went wrong, then try again. And you can, indeed, backtrack a bit through the graphs, breaking them down into components and checking out the things that contributed to those components and so on, in a way that is much more in-your-face about numbers than, say, Electrocity or some of the other educational or persuasive energy-policy games I’ve looked at in the past: it’s trying to make the argument quantitatively and crunchily.

And it’s quite hard to get things to balance, so I come away thinking, “hrm, we’re all dooooomed,” not “here’s how to save the planet.” (Except that I also don’t buy some of the game’s premises, such as the baked-in assumption that whatever taxes we set in year 1 we then cannot change at all for the next decades, other than to phase them in gradually.)

All that said, I like the concept of mathematically rigorous simulations to teach these problems; I also like the implication that the player will be able to experiment with different assumptions about the world model. I do wish that there were a more appealing front end and that the challenges were taught gradually, however.

Hap Aziz and Colonial Williamsburg

Hap Aziz, a doctoral researcher in the use of interactive fiction for education, is creating an educational game about Colonial Williamsburg. The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative is currently gathering funding through Kickstarter.

Hap was good enough to talk to me about his approach to the educational aspects of the project: why he chose this particular period, the teaching aims of the game, how it relates to other IF he’s encountered, and his wishlist of IF tools for educational gaming.

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Kill Screen #2 is coming out!

The Back to School issue, extensively discussing the ground between education and games, is now available to order. It includes an article by me, on teaching and designing; the discussion covers the IF game Voices of Spoon River among its examples. I’m also looking forward to the articles on Oregon Trail and Assassin’s Creed II, among others.

For those not already familiar with it, Kill Screen is an on-paper in-print magazine with high production values that looks great on the shelf. It talks about games in depth beyond the numerical scores, and is edited with dedication, insight, and tremendous raw persistence by Chris Dahlen. Seriously. Guy is not kidding around.

Educational challenge-based interactive fiction. Of a sort.

Back in 1993 I was tutoring my sister in algebra. Her quizzes and tests were always made of word problems with a running storyline involving many recurring places and characters. I tied the fate of the main characters to how well she did on the previous quiz, so a good performance brought them good fortune.

Unfortunately, one test she completely bombed, and, well, this is a transcription of the quiz she got next. (On behalf of my younger self, I apologize to the people of Argentina, the spirit of Goethe, and hypnotists. [Hi, Conrad.])

ETA: Didn’t anticipate this getting Metafiltered, so I put it someplace with a low bandwidth allowance, and that’s now used up. You can also see it cached and in non-PDF form here.blah

More Flash Progress

Some more images from the game in progress, showing gameplay power-ups. The winged sandal speeds up play, but gives a score bonus; the staff of Hermes arranges the letters in a sorted pattern, making them easier to use; the Gorgon’s head just freezes them all in place, which is also useful, though less good than the sorting.

(Some game design notes from mid-project, in case anyone is interested, and for my own future reference.)

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Learning and Games and Learning Games

Did a bunch more work on my Greek teaching game the last couple of days. (No new screenshots, though — most of the changes have been improvements to the complexity of gameplay, but not visible in a shot.)

I’m sure my ActionScript is annoyingly naive and that I will hate it once I’ve done a few more projects. I’m so used to Inform, and being able to envision exactly what I need to write before I start typing anything, that it’s novel to go back to a context where I have to laboriously piece out how to do something, figuring out each step in turn. (Well, it could be worse. There are a lot of basic universal programming concepts that don’t have to be figured out from scratch.)

At the same time, it’s awesome finally to be able to construct my own Flash game. I’ve played so many of these things over the years that it’s like I’ve been mutely listening to a language and am now finally able to try speaking it back.

I’m still futzing with the gameplay.

Continue reading “Learning and Games and Learning Games”