A fascinating story of Curt Shilling’s game company’s demise

This is from the New York Time’s article about Curt Shilling’s ill fated game company “38 Studios”:

“It just felt really good, when this all started, to have the sexy sports celebrity from Boston who seemed to like Rhode Island and showed up in Rhode Island, and who built this exotic new business, even though no one knew what it was,” says the historian Ted Widmer, who grew up in Providence and works at Brown. “It seemed like the digital economy, or biotech, or whatever. But then it turned out that it wasn’t the new digital economy. It was some 13-year-old’s medieval fantasy.” (fromThe New York Times)

Read it, it’s a fascinating story.

Oh and I had some comments about the story way back when: “Can Shilling focus on 38 studios and still be great for the Red Sox?”

[GAMING] Article about game designer Jonathan Blow

A good article in the Atlantic about game designer Jonathan Blow. Interesting quote:

“I continued. “You’ve been chasing some deep form of understanding all your life, and what I think you’ve found is that questing after that knowledge brings alienation with it.

The further you’ve gone down that road, the further it’s taken you from other people. So the knowledge is ultimately destructive to your life, just like the atom bomb was—it’s a kind of truth that has a cataclysmic impact.

You thought chasing that knowledge would make you happy, but like Tim, part of you eventually wished you could turn back time and do things over again.” (from Atlantic Magazine)

And read this thought provoking way to represent a fourth spacial dimension visually. I don’t know whether it works but the description makes it sound quite amazing:

“Well,” ten Bosch countered, “this is what it would be like if there were.” And that was about the last thing he said that I understood for quite a while, as he and Blow chatted avidly about extruding surfaces and imagining flat planes as tubes.

In Miegakure, two spatial dimensions are constant, and the player solves puzzles by swapping between the two others with the press of a button. (fromAtlantic Magazine)

If you read the comment thread on the article you see that this guy (Blow) elicits a lot of negativity because supposedly his games aren’t actually that good, and he’s so full of himself. I haven’t looked at the games so I can just go by what the article says, but I liked what I read!

Nice bibliography for game designers

I got some of this list from Lee Sheldon’s course syllabus. I have not read all these books but I want to:

  • Designing Virtual Worlds. Richard Bartle.
  • Character Development and Storytelling for Games. Lee Sheldon.
  • Developing Online Games. Mulligan and Petrovsky.
  • Massively Multiplayer Game Development. Thor Alexander et al.
  • Synthetic Worlds. Edward Castronova.
  • Community Building on the Web. Amy Jo Kim
  • My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World. Julian Dibbell
  • A Theory of Fun. Raph Koster
  • Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
  • The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. Jesse Schell

Instead of giving out grades in a class, give out experience points

If you watched (or didn’t) the preceding video by Jesse Schell you might have caught one throw away idea mentioned that really intrigued me: Eliminate grades and instead adopt a system modeled more like experience points in a game. The idea he mentions I believe came from a Professor Lee Sheldon. Here’s the link to his course, Gaming the Classroom.

In my teaching at Brandeis, deciding how to handle grading is one of the trickier problems to solve. While my experience teaching so far is quite limited I have come to believe you need to be aware that your students’ expectations about what ‘counts’ towards the grade will heavily influence their behavior.

Whether you like it our not that which they feel will help their grade they will do more of and less of the latter. Yeah I would say that they are sincerely there to learn and do their best given all the circumstances. But it’s human nature: when it’s 2am and they need to decide whether to tackle the final homework, go to sleep or go to a party, you can bet that somewhere in the back of their mind is the impact they believe it will have on the grade.

So, what might this new scheme look like?

  • All activities that occur during the term can potentially gain a student experience points. Start simple:

    • Show up on time: 1 point
    • Show up on time for a week stretch: 5 points
    • Ask a question: 1 point
    • Answer a question: 1 point

  • Homeworks can give you points too:

    • Hand in your homework on time: 3 points. down to 2, 1 and 0 if it’s late by 1, 2 or 3 days
    • Quality of the homework can gain you between 0 and 10 points

  • Let’s say that your course has an element of team work

    • Every week, each member of a team gets 5 points that they can award to one or more teammates for contributing to the project
    • For every team delivery that’s on time, each member of the team gets 2 points

  • Each student’s total points is posted electronically every day on a leader board
  • A student or a team can ‘level up’ by making a certain number of points
  • Each level comes with certain privileges
  • And at the end of the term, your ‘grade’ is a simple, predefined formula based on your points

How is this different from what I did before?

  • It’s more granular. Each small event becomes converted into a standardized fungible unit, a point
  • It’s granular chronologically too. You know day to day how you are scoring
  • It’s more fun and introduces an element of competition, prestige and pride into the experience
  • It’s public yet doesn’t reveal too much.

It does have problems though:

  • The student who is not doing well is publicly exposed. This is probably a bad idea, and, it might even be unethical or illegal.
  • You need to be very careful about how you set up the points because, referring back to my original point, it will modify behavior and you will ‘get exactly what you are paying for’ which might not actually be what you want.

Anyway, it was an inspired idea. Not sure if it’s practical but it does make me think…


Boston Postmortem

We just got back from the monthly meeting of “Boston Postmortem“.

Huh, what is that? Well as a result of my teaching at Brandeis this summer – Mobile and Game Software Development – I have developed a greater appreciation for the gaming world. When we had Ed Baraf of Blue Fang games speak to our class, among the many things he taught us was that there’s this great meetup in Waltham called the Boston Postmortem.

It was very well attended and the crowd sounded and felt like a community that knew each other and was pretty tight which made for a very interesting and enjoyable meeting.

The term postmortem comes from the fact that apparently this is where speakers come to explain how a project or company went off the rails or actually died. We can all learn from each others’ mistakes, right?

Last night it was Scott Macmilan’s turn to tell his story:

Last December, Boston area indie studio Macguffin Games closed its doors. In three years, Scott Macmillan took the studio from a one-man shop to a 4-person startup with paid employees, launched two games (one of them for Facebook), and then finally shut the whole thing down with no regrets. At this talk, he’ll discuss the big lessons he learned, what worked and what didn’t, and take lots of questions from the audience.

Here’s the link to his presentation: Death of an Indie Game Studio

I also learned that there’s a gaming unconference in Boston this august, called the Boston Game Loop. I will be there!

p.s. to my word spelling circle, I learned today that postmortem is one word not two 🙂

p.p.s “indie” seems to mean simply, not corporate, small, often bootstrapped and “game studio” seems to mean simply, company that develops games. For example, are there “indie software development shops” or “indie programmers”?





Cool new game? Giraffe Adventure…

If you’re interested in computer games for Android, see what you think of this one’s potential… Coming soon to an Android near you according to some friends of mine.

I’ve seen a prototype and, it looks promising in an Angry Birds kind of way. Mindless and unique. Let them know what you think!

Giraffe Adventure, Coming to an Android near you!