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Working with the Class (5)

It's been a couple of weeks since I've updated this blog, largely as I've been making sure I was ready for showing off the Toolset to the Games Design class. Since the last entry I've been in twice to this class which is a collection of 15/16 year olds interested in Games Design but coming to the end of a course and heading into the examination diet after Easter so I wasn't sure how responsive they would be. 

To recap, my friend , the Principal Teacher of Computing is very interested in the Toolset and what it can offer in terms of Games Design and we have agreed that in the next session ( beginning in August )  we will be using it in a couple of classes. In the two or three weeks we have left with this year's Games Design class we wanted to try out as much as possible to influence our choice of materials and methodolgy for then. 

The class had Games Design for three periods in a row on a Friday morning so I would have a couple of sessions before Easter and maybe one after. We decided that, although it would be nice to get some feedback on the materials we'd discussed using time was pressing so we made the decision to leave out my shortened tutorial, I would take the class through building a module  and keep it simple to get through as much as possible with the aim of seeing  whether we could enthuse them about the Toolset. We had to overcome various technical problems including the download of the game from GOG itself as IT had closed all the ports and it took time and various emails to even get it downloaded ( a flying start!)


First Time with the Class

The first view of the class wasn't quite as I expected. Instead of the whole class raring for a look a this new game, almost half were behind on their coursework so couldn't partake and had to get on with that.  Of the rest, at least a couple were totally engrossed with playing Minecraft while they waited for us to start and a couple more were playing some very basic internet platform game. 

I began with a short intro to the game, mentioning its D+D origins and turn based system plus its longevity with EE coming out in the last year.  I was encouraged by the number who recognised the reference to D+D and at least they were listening !  I then played through a very short module I'd created trying to show off some of the more impressive features as well as the basics of game play and the lifesaving feature of "Summon Creature" to hide behind , died a few times ( to encourage the lads to to do better than me !) and finished up by telling them that they would be building this module. This provoked some interest as I think they had assumed it was a part of the actual game. 

After I finished we allowed them 30 minutes of free play using my module, as we felt that all the main modules took too long to get going for our exercise. They enjoyed this and I was reminded of how kids aren't frightened to try anything out. By the end of their half hour, most had discarded my effort and were on to "HOTU".  They were, almost all, better than me at the combat despite minimal instructions. 

We then opened up the toolset and I took them lockstep through building the short module I'd shown them. As I said before, we'd rather have let them work through a tutorial but Fern was way too long and even my much shortened one called "Returning the Book" would have taken more time than we had. So , for the rest of the time we managed to look at the Toolset screen, play with rotating and controls, build two areas plus transitions and add a few landscaping features. I was completely surprised how well this went, both in terms of their interest and their ability to pick things up quickly. In fact, by the end one guy had added a small town of his own to my rural tileset, putting mine to shame ! 

When we called it a day we tried to elicit some feedback. After we got past the inevitable "OK" response most said they had enjoyed it and were keen to finish it the following week . A few even admitted to a buzz when their transitions worked !  A few but by no means all.    We really have an issue with kids being desensitised to admitting to enjoyment of something to adults. Anyway, . . .



Second Time with Class

The following Friday we picked up where we had left off. I introduced them to the Plot Wizard and we started to develop a "Fetch and Retrieve" quest, one of the plots provided by the Wizard. I have to say that using the Plot Wizard was maybe the best decision we made. It was quick, even editing the Plot Nodes to improve the conversation, and I was surprised at the speed with which they carried out each instruction. In fact, it was me who slowed it down by trying to explain why the Wizard was asking what type of conversation it would be and what prerequisites there should be etc.  In very little time we had our plot and had placed our cast.  The subsequent tryout of their module proved very satifying  - for both me and them, I think. There was an undeniable sense of achievement as one by one they announced that it had worked. 

We then spent a little time on the eye candy of improving their areas and adding hostiles. They made the usual mistake of placing overpowered enemies ( one put a dragon to block a footbridge! ) and creating hordes of hostiles for their encounter. They agreed their modules needed tinkering and we went over how to weaken the hostiles, change spawn points etc. At this point I found myself smiling inwardly as the questions were turning more to the viewpoint of a builder than a player. They were starting to realise their landscape was bulging with features which didn't improve game play, they were working on balancing the combats with some adding a chest of gear so they could survive the testing and one even asked me how he could make the dragon friendly towards him. Very satisfying. The only downer came when we said they could create their own module after Easter and they announced that since the first Friday back was a holiday ( good Friday) they wouldn't be in again as exam leave started the next week. Oh well . . .


When Matthew the PT and I discussed it briefly afterwards we were quite pleased with how the two weeks had gone. There had undoubtedly been some issues:

1. It wasn't the best time of year to approach this. We had to ask those finished their coursework if they wanted to be involved rather than running it as coursework.

2. The class following lockstep wouldn't be my ideal way of approaching the Toolset but time was short. 

3. Although they had picked up the gameplay quicker than I had, allowing them to choose their hostiles meant that they were still spending too much time dying !

4. We hadn't achieved our objectives of getting proper feedback on the materials we had created. Just not enough time. 


However, we felt that the plus points clearly outweighed these:

1. By the end of the second day the class were clearly pleased with the quality of what they had created. They had also stopped wanting to just continually play the game !

2. There was a lot of good communication and natural sharing going on between them. 

3. There was a lot of humour flying about. 

4. The decision to use Plot Wizard, one I was initially worried about, was completely vindicated. I would recommend this to anyone trying to introduce the Toolset to a class. I can't even begin to imagine how long it would have taken me to talk them through the Conversation editor or the scripts attached to it and the Journal. Although we used to the predefined plot I've had a go at constructing my own using "New" plot and its great for clarifying your thinking about the "stages in your story/quest. I reckon you could string things togethe rin quite a sophisticated way using this. 

5. We felt we had introduced just enough opportunities to be creative despite our lockstep approach. Probably saved our bacon, actually. 

we had let them choose names, race and appearance for Plot Giver and  Villain,

choose the tileset for the second area,

embellish the conversation nodes to their own liking,

write the backstory for the book to be retrieved in the unidentified description box.

landscape their areas to their own liking.

We've seen enough to believe that this can be a worthwhile addition to not just the Games Design class but also to some of the younger classes. We're looking at Custom objects and how we can get them into the game ( simple,and not so simple - thanks to Tarot and TheBarbarian !), tutorials on specific aspects and we'd like to set up multiplayer so the kids can play and review their own modules. A shout out to Niv at Beamdog here for offering to talk us through that.  We tossed about ideas of everyone in the class learning how to build but some taking on specific interests ( lighting, sound, conversations, scripting, henchmen, more difficult aspects of tilesets such as cliffs, drawbridges, waterfalls so they could offer expertise to other groups. However, the one thing that has become obvious is that we need to plan carefully and not allow the net to be cast too wide. 


Summing Up so far

You could lose yourself ( and a class),  in this tileset very easily.  We've agreed to take the holiday off  ( Barbarian, I'm on my way back to Blender !indecision) and have a proper planning meeting when exam leave starts in May, so there may be another entry once we have some firm decisions regarding what we're doing and with whom.  We're clear that the biggest danger for us will be in trying to cover too much so we'll probably have to shut down some avenues.

In case anyone is wondering about my sanity in twittering on about this, I'll repeat what I said at the start was my incentive for approaching the school with this idea. This Toolset is exactly what I feel kids should be doing in school, never mind just Computing, although for the Games Design qualification the kids have to create a game, import an asset of some sort, review their creation,  etc. etc.   

It offers the English Dept. a chance for storytelling through dialogue, character, the content of books and scrolls, opportunities for artwork (Tarot showed me how to do simple floor decals for younger kids while Barbarian is attempting to instruct Matthew and myself on the finer - well, maybe elementary -  points of Blender), you can "internationalise"  modules into other languages.. . I could go on.  It's a shame more of you talented folks here don't feel you can offer your local school a look at what's possible. Half an hour with the Principal Computing teacher and I reckon they'd bite your hand off. 

There's a discipline about building, a fostering of an inquisitive nature, a real spirit of sharing ( as I've discovered here) and a genuine sense of achievement when something works.  Despite the pitfalls, for me it's an ultimately positive and rewarding experience. Leaving that aside, for anyone interested in Game Design as a career you have a pathway to a good CV by moving on from the school course to taking up building here and amassing a body of work for folks to look at. 





First Release: 
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Tarot Redhand

One question, just to make sure I understood correctly. Is this teaching project finished for now until later in the year?


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My original intention was to approach the school Jan/Feb to see if they were interested in doing something next session and things just snowballed a bit from there, Tarot. Matthew was more interested than I thought he might be and saw more opportunities, especially with regard to custom objects and, strangely, lighting and sound which he was finding difficult to find good material for. We agreed to work towards next session ( August '19) and make sure that the materials were good enough and that we knew enough to lead it.  

Then he mentioned to me that there was a chance the Games Design class of this year would be finished their coursework before exam leave ( that course doesn't have an exam ) so we could try out whatever was ready on them in the next few weeks. It worked quite well but we didn't get a chance to try out the materials for them working through themselves. In Scottish schools many change onto the next year's timetable after most of the exams in May are over so our current plan is to decide what we will use with the Games Design class and start that before the summer holidays. The Toolset fits like a glove with the requirements of their course so making a start on that before the holidays appeals to Matthew. 

At our planning meeting in May we will finalise exactly what we will do with each class. Games Design is obvious so we will have a good think about what will work with younger classes. We also agreed that it'd be good to give the younger classes a little simple exposure to it and guage their reaction. It might also be the case that we will give the Computing classes in the year before a taster of the game in the hope that more will decide to take the option of Games Design in their fifth Year which in turn will mean we can delve into more aspects if they already have the basics but these decisions will be his to make.  

So, no, I'll probably be back in end of May with these 15 yr olds in the new Games Design class but the rest will wait until next session. In the background we have also had a lot of technical support from Niv at Beamdog and have promised to have a look at multiplayer later on. 

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