Friday, June 10, 2005

NMSU Game Lab Coming Together

Our university game lab is really starting to come together. Next week, we begin our first Game Play Think Tank, where we bring in a gaggle of kids from diverse audiences, teach them to look critically at games and elucidate their opinions, and plumb them for insights on game design targeted at their age range.

The result of this first Think Tank will hopefully be a solid process for helping kids help us analyze games, and a way to package that up for clients or for our own internal user testing. Once we get the process down, we'll start doing actual feedback testing with a lot more kids in an after-school program setting. We have two projects in the pipe for the next Think Tank already : our own pirate-themed food safety game, and a careers game for NASA.

Also, a long-term goal will be to help kids produce some games themselves by teaching them how to use programs like Adobe Photoshop and some easy-to-use game development engines. The goal here is to see what they come up with, make them really good at thinking about game design, get kids doing creative work instead of passive play, and to get them thinking about a possible career in game development.

But first, we have to get everything set up. We've got the game lab painted with hip colors, and we've got a lot of our equipment in place, but we still need to purchase some furniture, consoles, and even more games to round out our little game library. The library itself is rather tiny - my personal library eclipses it - but part of the expansion strategy for the library is to let the kids advise us on the games we absolutely have to have, so we purposefully held back some budget to pick up more games later on.

If you have relatively recent games you would like to donate to our library, or if you're a game developer and you'd like to send us a review copy of your game to include in our kids-as-critics program, please contact me - we'd love to have your game(s)!


john said...

i was wondering what was the "easy to use game development engine" you had in mind ?

CC said...

I didn't have a particular one in mind. Most of them are pretty limited in what you can create with them, but what they do, they do well. Power Game Maker is an example of a platform game engine which (I hear) is pretty easy to use. ColdStone, RPGMaker, and some others allow making RPG's. There are some shmup editors I've seen, but don't remember their names offhand - some research could probably produce them. I think "Game Maker" is the name of one of them.

Some development environments provide a basic engine, and then just let you drop in the content. In this case, they're not making the game directly, but providing resources. Unity takes this approach, as does Res3D. I've heard about a similar environment called Croquet that might do the same sort of thing. I've read online about a director developer that made the basic shell of a 3D racing game, and then allows students to customize it by creating the 2D and 3D assets for the game. (Games like Neverwinter Nights also provide this sort of customization, but would probably be beyond the reach of most kids unless we did a semester-long course.)

Some other possibilities are Alice, Jurtle, StageCast, GameBasic, etc. There's also apps like Flash and Director. Some of these may require more instruction than we're willing to provide, but maybe not, if we can find a dedicated core of high schoolers who want some direction and access to the apps and computers.

And since we have a development team in-house, we could also create a shell game engine that is closely tied to whatever the kids wanted to do, if there's nothing out there that would allow them to do what they wanted.