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Game Design On Demand. Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

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Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.

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Dear Barbie, "coding is hard!" or... you CAN be a computer engineer but you don't need to be to finish that game.

Kellian Adams

Barbie cover
Barbie cover

Dear Barbie, I know there’s been a lot of controversy lately about the cute puppy game that you designed and hired Brian and Steven to develop. 

You later claimed that you would learn to code because Barbie, you can do anything! Which is true, you can! But it's going to take some time.  I wanted to address your dev question mano-a-mano, Barbie. Girl game designer to girl game designer.

Barbie, I understand. You’ve got this cute puppy game. Brian and Steve are probably willing to help if you build it if you ask them. You’re not sure of the cost but they know how to build computer-y things… in some language. You’re pretty sure. But Barbie, you don't seem to know a lot about game development and at this point, Brian and Steve could tell you anything at all. (They probably won't because they're nice guys, but this is how misunderstandings happen.)

Barbie 4
Barbie 4

Your other option is that YOU can be a “Computer engineer” (otherwise known as a software engineer or a developer). All it takes is about 150+ hours of focused study, learning basic theories of design and development, coding structures, resources and developing a community and once you’ve done the research on the wide field of languages that you can program, you can choose the one that best fits your needs and master it. You could get it in a 2, 4 or 6 year degree and after that, you can code almost as well as an entry-level developer. Go to it, Barbie! You can do anything!

But… you know, Barbie, sometimes you want to put your time where it will be the most valuable- and maybe learning Unity isn’t the best bang for your time buck so to speak. I know, Unity isn’t the most complicated of languages, you won’t need a 6 year degree to learn it but for someone with zero development background… it could take you a while to get good at it. I may be very controversial here but I’ve seen that the best games are not always designed by people who know how to code them. The skills that it takes to be a creative writer and the skills that it takes to be a great developer do not always overlap. I just want to say that, Barbie- so you don’t feel rotten about yourself.

barbie2
barbie2

So here you are. You have to choose between hiring Steven and Brian or learning to code yourself. Are there any other solutions? Well as a matter of fact, Barbie… there ARE! And if you’d like to know more about this very common middle ground for indie game developers, Barbie, read on! 

First of all, if you want to be a game designer or game producer, we like to say you need to know "just enough to be dangerous". That means you don't need to know every detail of every development language but you have to have a pretty good handle on the landscape of options and how things work so you know what questions to ask to get what you need.

BIG QUESTION, Barbie: did you build a design document for your puppy game? Specs (also known as wireframes or mockups) are an essential first. What *exactly* will your game do? Will there be an entry screen? What kinds of buttons? Will you record people’s data? Will you record their scores? Is it a story-based puppy game or a sprite (moving image) puppy game?

wireframes_revised5
wireframes_revised5

This document lets you and your potential partners know exactly what you want to build. If you hand these wireframe to Brian and Steven, I promise you’ll get a much better response from them. They’ll have an idea of how many hours it’ll take them and can give you a more reasonable quote. But what platforms exist that might be able to help you build at least a beta version or MVP of what you want? (A Beta version is the first, “rough draft” version of your product. An MVP means a minimum viable product. What’s the simplest version of your puppy game that you could actually release and have people play?)

DragoniaTechDesign
DragoniaTechDesign

Now it’s time to look for platforms that might be able to help you build an MVP yourself, Barbie. Here are some questions that I like to ask myself at this stage:

  1. Is this primarily a computer game or a mobile game? (or both?)
  2. Who’s your audience?
  3. What’s your budget?
  4. Will this be largely a text-based game or an image/animation-based game?
  5. What are my resources, and can I be flexible with my game to incorporate them?

Based on your book I think I know a couple of things about your game, Barbie. Looks like a computer-based sprite" game with some really really simple dynamics. Low budget but you have some good art assets (Skipper’s work?) I think you can do this, Barbie! Here are some options:

Low: SCRATCH

scratch
scratch

This is a great, free program made for kids. http://scratch.mit.edu

Though you don’t have to code, you’ll still need to learn how to build with their drag and drop system- maybe it’ll take you an hour or two. You can get some really simple, basic movements and scoring with scratch but if you add your cute art, it may be all you need to get to an MVP or testing stage.

Medium: GAMESALAD or CONSTRUCT 2

Construct_2_Scirra_01
Construct_2_Scirra_01

There are a couple of game building platforms that might be able to do what you need. http://gamesalad.com is free and will let you build a more involved game than with Scratch. Construct 2 https://www.scirra.com/construct2 has a basic license for $130 but will let you build cooler stuff. Scratch might take you 4 or 5 hours to learn. Construct might be a little sharper of a learning curve but some actual indie game companies build their stuff with Construct 2 and it looks pretty pro: https://www.scirra.com/store/games

High: PLAYMAKER for UNITY

playmaker
playmaker

Playmaker is a visual scripting language for Unity. Unity- if you haven’t heard yet- is the defacto game design language for indie games. It’s fast, inexpensive, relatively easy to use and produces really good games. Unity itself needs some programming but if you take some time, you can learn to program something like Playmaker, which uses programming logic but is a visual approach: http://www.hutonggames.com.

You can do things like drag and drop your images and use buttons to determine the logic of where they’ll move. You have to install Unity first and then install the scripting language but it is infinitely easier than learning to program Unity from scratch. This will take more time and effort than the other options, but you could even have a finished product, market-ready puppy game with Playmaker, without ever having to learn to code completely or hire developers.

The images might still look complicated to you, Barbie but remember that actual coding looks like this:

c-code-export-7
c-code-export-7
Barbie end
Barbie end

These platforms are a way to get to your Beta or MVP without having to commit to hiring a developer OR learning to code right out of the gate. And these are just solutions for your puppy game- there would be other solutions for different kinds of games.

So you CAN be a ‘computer engineer’, Barbie! But frankly you really don’t need to be in order to complete your puppy game. That’s sort of killing a fly with a bazooka.

I will say that your book probably wasn’t written by a game designer or she could have told you all this and solved you the trouble. In fact there were a lot of odd technical points in this tale of yours, Barbie. What exactly is a “computer engineer?” And was your computer teacher wearing a lab coat? Women in tech is a controversial topic, Barbie, and I’m sure you know that you’re a lightning rod character that people pay attention to. If you’re going to promote girls’ empowerment in tech, science- or anything really, you should have your biographers know a little bit about the topic at hand to save you a little trouble, both with your game design and with your PR. But controversy aside, Barbie, I applaud you on your efforts at educational game design! Your next book will need to be something like "I can promote my game"!

Location Based Games to play in LONDON!

Kellian Adams

meme

Cheerio!! I am BACK, blog! I was on a fabulous trip to London and Paris. While I was there I was on a hunt for games and activities that connected people with spaces and I have some great stuff to report! So read on to hear location-based, immersive experiences that you can play in Jolly Old London!  

#1: ROOM ESCAPE GAMES

I can't tell you how excited I am that room escape games are all the rage in Europe right now. In the UK, there seems to be an endless list of them to play: http://exitgames.co.uk. A search on Trip Advisor has room escape games as the top attractions of both London and Paris and for our London game we chose Hit Hunt: http://hinthunt.co.uk, a fast-growing company with room escape games in London, Paris, Dubai and Capetown (and apparently other places?) The company itself is a total mystery- each website is a mini-site for that location only with no information about the company or who's building these games. Is tracking them down a game in itself?

escape
escape

If you haven't tried a room escape games, the idea is that you're locked in a room with anywhere between 3 and 10 people and you have 60 minutes to solve puzzles and get out. When we played this in Boston, you could be thrown into the room with random players. We chose to fill it with 10 friends and it was pretty chaotic to say the least. (We were also being chased by a zombie.) In the London version, we played with 5 people and it worked really well with that size. The room was an "Asian room" and the storyline was pretty vague, in fact I didn't entirely follow it- essentially it was a puzzle hunt rather than an interactive story or investigation. We were monitored by our host from the next room, who communicated with us via a monitor on the wall that displayed our time as well as messages and photo hints when we got stuck.

600_314436132
600_314436132

The game itself has a 50% chance of success, which I found surprising because it was pretty hard! (Maybe they give some teams more hints.) There are locks, tables, pictures, toys, magazines, bric-a-brac and you put things together to find combinations, open locks and solve puzzles. This room itself had a good number of locks and "find the combinations" challenges but there were some fun things like a sudoku and jigsaw puzzles that held clues. The office was a little haphazard and there wasn't really a central waiting room to start your game. The game room itself was pretty well-done and the room was nicely put-together but there was this sense that it was shoved into spare rooms and closets. The Boston escape room game was in a random warehouse. I've heard that these games often have a thrown-together feel. The Paris game with Escape Hunt was the exception, but I'll write more about that later.

#2: TATE TRUMPS!!

This is the ideal way to go through a museum of modern art- I'm telling you, I can't think of any way that I could have had a better experience there. Well- other than fixing some technical glitches in the game... but the game itself is fabulous. So I'll set the scene a little bit: the Tate Museum of Modern Art is in an old factory with lots of modern and contemporary art.

screen2
screen2
screen3
screen3

The game is an app (iPhone only: http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/apps/tate-trumps) that asks you to search the collection in one of three ways: Battle mode, Mood or Collector. We chose battle mode of course and it asks the question: if these pieces came to life, which would win in a battle? You get to collect 7 and you run around finding and adding in the accession #'s. It logs the piece in your app, which then tells you how that piece ranks for "size, strength and agility" and you can decide to take the card or leave it. There's a "more" button that explains why it scored the way it did with great comments like "The machine behind looks threatening enough but the headless woman could be a liability."

You can choose to play in 30 mins, an hour or untimed. We chose 30 minutes and the three of us with two phones were tearing around the collection looking for aggressive pieces of art. Once we got back together with our hand, you get to play. The computer says "trump is size", play a card. We chose our card with the best size score and played it against our friend's card and the winner takes all the points. Just like a game of trumps-- super easy to get into, amazing low-barrier to entry game. 1: Set my mission 2: collect 3: do something I recognize with my collection. The game has a beginning, middle and an end- there's a clear winner and ways to play more. It was built by the amazing, sadly now defunct Hide and Seek, a company that has created some of the best games of all time for interacting with spaces. (http://hideandseek.net)

Tate
Tate

My friends said "but I don't know if I'm learning anything about the art!" She had played by herself against my husband for the Battle mode so we switched the teams and played "mood", looking for pieces that were exhilarating, menacing or absurd. We tore through the galleries again but this time remembered some pieces from the last round and had to talk about our plan of attack: Which gallery had pieces that were absurd? We thought that the massive, heavy pieces would be considered menacing but found that they were listed as "exhilarating" and then had to talk about why.

Ten minutes into it, we were in a portrait gallery talking about which of the portraits could be considered menacing- we decided that direct stares were the most menacing. Lines that moved UP were the most exhilarating and pieces that showed things in places where they didn't belong could be considered absurd. So we actually defined categories and then found art that we thought matched them. Then we found similarities in the different pieces- "hey if this one is absurd, I bet that one is, too". This is REAL interpretive, actual thinking about art- without even trying. Not only that, we found that by the second game, we had canvassed all three floors of the gallery and had pretty much mapped out where different things were. When it was over after only 60 minuted of play, I found that I could name at least a half a dozen paintings in the gallery, where they were, picture them in my head and talk about what I thought they were trying to express. Seriously. wow.

 
                       EXHILARATING

                       EXHILARATING

                 MENACING

                 MENACING

                      ABSURD

                      ABSURD

I am not really a modern art person and I often find modern art galleries a little overwhelming. I couldn't believe how much I got out of the gallery from playing that game. Not only that, I want to go back and play again. There's a non-location-based version where you can just choose art and play against a friend or the computer but the actual finding of the art was really the best part so if you're ever in London, I highly recommend it.

The only complaint was that a lot of the pieces were not in the game- so you'd have a big discussion about whether a piece was menacing or not, plug it in and it would say "piece cannot be found", which actually discouraged you from spending time discussing the piece before you added it to your hand. The "computer" player was a little wonky and would come up with scores that didn't actually exist- one of its paintings had a score of 20 out of 10. Also, we lost one of our games after we collected and then couldn't find a wifi hotspot to tally our scores. These are some quick fixes- keep the collection/game updated, add in signs of where you can get wifi hotspots and test for bugginess. But all in all, this was a completely engaging, unique, educational and overall fun game.

#3: BARBICAN DIGITAL REVOLUTION

17-Barbican-Digital-Revolution
17-Barbican-Digital-Revolution

This exhibit only runs until September in London but maybe we'll be lucky and it with travel to the US: http://www.barbican.org.uk/digital-revolution It was a celebration of all things digital from Pong and Pac Man consoles to interactive digital art to indie games and lasers- and it was great!!

birds
birds

The start of the exhibit had a lot of screen time, which- though always engaging- was maybe a little TOO engaging for me. More than once, I lost my husband because we were both in our own screen worlds. Not exactly the kind of interaction with culture that I'm trying to get more of in the world. But there were a few pieces of note that really made this exhibit more than just a "stare at some screens" exhibit. The first was this series of digital, interactions with birds. You stood in front of a massive screen that showed your shadow with shadow birds flying above you. When you put up your hands, the birds responded. On the first screen, your shadow dissolved into birds. On the second, the birds swooped down and ate you and on the third, you sprouted gigantic wings. I got the feeling that people just withstood the first two to get to the wings part but one thing that I really liked was that people watched the others interact with the screens. At one point, a little girl got her bird to fly and people cheered her on and gave her suggestions of how hard or easy to flap her arms to make it happen.

MANA_install_ipad2
MANA_install_ipad2

The next one that I really enjoyed was something of a mystery piece. It was a tall cardboard shape by an artist named Gibson Martelli with black and white designs on it. Not in a crowded place, easy to walk by but my husband and I were tired and there was a bench nearby so we happened to read the description card and it said there was an app to interact with this thing. Great. We'll sit right here and download the app. (More of an excuse to sit... but still something to do.) http://www.gibsonmartelli.com/MANA/ We downloaded the app, held it up to the structure and I yelped a little when I saw it!! There were dancers!! Gorgeous dancers that interacted with my phone and the piece! They responded to how we moved around, they changed according to how long you were there- it was pure magic!! Not only that, we felt like we had found a secret. We stood their with our phones and people thought we must be taking pictures- so a bunch of young Chinese kids came up behind us to take pictures, too. I speak enough Chinese to be able to hear the fabulous conversation. "This is cool... is it famous? Why are they taking pictures? Wait that's an app!! See on their phone there are dancers!!" and then they approached us and asked us about it- then THEY downloaded the app- and soon a bunch of people had gathered around us, downloading the app and interacting with the piece. It was secret augmented reality!!! You can see the video of it here: http://vimeo.com/88732510

laser1
laser1

Last but not least was an incredible room of LAAAASSSEEERS!!! You went into a dark room filled with smoke and there were lasers that projected on the floor. Cool, right? But it gets better: the lasers responded to touch. So if you tapped a laser, it would move. If you pointed at the ceiling, another laser would appear. If you dragged your finger across the laser, it would draw. If you held both hands with another person, a laser would sprout between you. And there were bubbles. It was pretty spectacular. There were maybe 20 people in this dark room interacting with you and the lasers so naturally play happened. I found myself playing laser ball with another person where we just threw a laser back and forth. Another couple from Spain was pretty competitive and kept trying to "steal" lasers from my hubby and I and we would "steal" them back. And then there were bubbles. Did I mention there were laser bubbles? Overall, a great experience.

Did I miss any fantastic games in London? Does anyone know if the Barbican exhibit is traveling and does anyone know anything about the mysterious Hit Hunt company? Ping me or post, I wanna hear about it.

Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre
Digital Revolution Installation At The Barbican Centre