Saturday, October 29, 2005

space invaders

I'm developing a space invaders tutorial in Game Maker.

I've created a separate blog about this which I'm using as an exemplar for my Year 10 students who are also required to blog about their game ideas.

Friday, October 28, 2005

face painting

My daughter, Alannah, came down painted my face and took some pics for an art project she is working on. Here are some thumbnails:


Thursday, October 13, 2005

engagement, hands on, higher order thinking

If you were a high school student and had the following choices for an Information Technology course, which one would you do?

* Design and build a computer game (programming, multimedia)
* Design and build a web application (web apps, programming)
* Design and build a relational data base using the Systems Development Life Cycle (RDB, SDLC, programming)
* Learn how to build a network and obtain an industry qualification (CISCO)

One of the reasons I developed my Year 12 Game Making course was a reaction against the RDB option above, which I did teach in 2001-02. The course was rigorous but dry, a bit too serious and predictable for my taste.

Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is just one way to plan ahead - there are others used by computer professionals, eg. the approach offered by Extreme or Agile programming. From an educational perspective this also reflect different styles of learning (top down, bottom up, middle out).

IT offers us the opportunity to combine hands on doing (eg. programming) with higher order thinking (programming is hard) in a way that can be very engaging for some students (eg. make a game of your design)

Engagement + hands on doing + higher order thinking is a good combination

I'm currently quite reluctant to change my current HESS Restricted Design & Technology Game Making course into the more academic University entrance Design & Technology Studies because that would curtail severely the amount of hands on time that students need to build their games. I think IT is unique or at least a special subject in this regard.

I currently have students who regard Game Making as both harder and more engaging than their HESS General (Uni entrance) physics, maths, chemistry - which they describe as just recipe subjects, look up a book, learn for a test. They will spend 8 hours straight programming their game on the weekend but they are not doing that for their HESS General subjects.

Another thing that strikes me is that School courses are too much bound to one school - that some want to maintain small fortresses in a world that is becoming increasingly like a global village. There is a lot of bureaucracy, red tape and bottom line (money) involved if I was to offer game making to students in other schools, students who want to do game making but don't have a teacher in their school who teaches it.

free / open source CD

The free / open source / legal cd we distribute through the Resource Centre at my school contains the following software:

acrobatReaderv6 (reads pdf files)
audacity (sound editing)
cmap (concept map)
copernic (desktop search)
filzip (unzip files)
firefox (great browser)
GameMaker (Game making)
gimp2 (image manipulation (powerful))
irfanview (image manipulation (simple))
nvu (HTML editor)
openoffice2 (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, database)
QuickTime_iTunes (music, podcasting)
Python (programming language)

You can do a lot with open source without going all the way and changing the OS. I haven't got around to doing Linux due to lack of time but it is on my list of things to do.

It provides the opportunity for students to acquire software without breaking copyright law. Some of our students don't have internet connection at home and I wouldn't like to download some of it by dialup.

It sends a message to students and staff that this free software does exists, that it is good and opens the door for anyone who wants to take it a step further in their classes.

I use a lot of these packages in my classes along with proprietary packages

Arising from a recent discussion initiated by wara I think it's time for me to have another go at open office as well, by all accounts version 2 is better

I can't think of any reason why schools shouldn't make available such a CD to their students. It seems to me to be an important equity issue as well as an opportunity to introduce students to a highly successful and collaborative way of doing things, the open source development model.

Monday, October 10, 2005


Originally uploaded by Tim O'Reilly.
Tim O'Reilly has published this visual explanation of Web2.0 on his flickr photostream.

Web 2.0, according to conference sponsor Tim O'Reilly, is an "architecture of participation" -- a constellation made up of links between web applications that rival desktop applications, the blog publishing revolution and self-service advertising. This architecture is based on social software where users generate content, rather than simply consume it, and on open programming interfaces that let developers add to a web service or get at data. It is an arena where the web rather than the desktop is the dominant platform, and organization appears spontaneously through the actions of the group, for example, in the creation of folksonomies created through tagging.
- Wired article, Are you ready for web 2.0?
Related blog entry: web-20

WebReports / ToonTalk

Weblabs runs a WebReports plone site which has developed some game type programs using ToonTalk for creating new ways of representing and expressing mathematical and scientific knowledge. They have developed reports on representing infinity, sequences, collisions, lunar lander and randomness.

ToonTalk is a programming language which tries to represent abstract concepts visually. I played with it years ago and chatted to Ken Kahn on the logo list about it then. It's very interesting and original. One reason I didn't go ahead and use it at school was because of the difficulty of developing worksheets for such a visual program.

An example of the ToonTalk enhancements they added was a way of displaying repeating decimals such as 1/3. The team needed to find a notation for the repeating portion of the number, and a way of avoiding truncation of the decimal expansion portion. “We invented the idea of shrinking digits,” says Noss. “Digits are displayed in gradually decreasing size until they reach the size of a pixel. In this way, the idea that an infinite number of digits follow the decimal point is conveyed visually.”
- from this report

Related blog: marc-prensky


I'm preparing to upgrade my computer. When I bought it 3 years ago I didn't think I'd be playing games so I just bought a graphics controller that was integrated into the motherboard.

For the first time in my life I walked into a computer games shop and bought a game, The Rise of Nations, which is recommended by James Gee in his Gamasutra article, Learning by Design: Games as Learning Machines [03.24.04] (you have to join to read but it's free) as the best 2003 exemplar for illustrating learning principles.

When I installed it on my computer it wouldn't run because of my poor graphics.

So, I've spent time this week getting my head around hardware - not something that I'm very good at.

PC Worlds "Build Your Own PC" (October 2004) has been very useful for explaining new hardware features. Also this tutorial (January 2005) by Deb Burge of the Macedon Ranges Computer Club is great.

Probably the most important thing I've learnt is that midway through 2004 a new type of bus slot, PCI Express (PCIe) was introduced, designed to replace both the PCI (white) and AGP (graphics, brown) slots. PCIe slots (white) vary in length depending on their speed: 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, 16x, 32x. A graphics card, for instance, might require a 16x slot.

PCIe motherboards have both PCI and PCIe slots.

I'm hoping to buy my new computer in the next day or so.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

teaching game making

I've published my talk to the Game Programming in Schools Conference, Melbourne, Friday September 9th 2005:
Something is making me do it: A reflection on 3.5 years of teaching with Game Maker
I began teaching using Game Maker in 2002. I had a simple plan at the start. Since then things have become more complicated....
Other presentations to the Conference can be found at our new Game Learning site.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Australian edubloggers

I heard from Jo McLeay that a Directory of Australian Edubloggers has been set up at this wiki

The password is edubloggers, if you want to check out some Australian educational blogs.

I registered my own blog there and visited Jo's blog, The Open Classroom, and left a couple of comments there, one to do with Vygotsky and learning theory

From visiting Jo's blog I found out about about the blogger word verification feature which I've now enabled on my own blog to block comment spam.

comment spam

I've been receiving annoying comment spam so I've enable word verification to fix this problem.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

schools are failing
School's out: the end of standardised education

How do we get from the present (anachronistic Schools, the last cottage industry) to the future?

Rather than restricting mobile phones and banning mp3 players at school how can we utilise their potential for education?

I distrust articles which include the phrase, "the end of ..." but nevertheless, pretty much agree with the above analysis of Kevin Carey, Director humanITy

He looks at how School is failing, identifies the central points from the students viewpoint (data and wisdom separated), sketches an outline of the important characteristics of new technology in educational terms and roughs out some sort of solution.

He makes an effort to go beyond the hype and look at the problems that have arisen with e-learning up until now.

It's worth a close read. I'd like to discuss it further.

disability access

In 1999-2000, Bruce Maguire, a blind person, successfully sued the Sydney Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG) because significant parts of the SOCOG Web site,, were inaccessible to him.

On 24 August 2000, the HREOC released its decision and supported Maguire's complaint, ordering certain access provisions to be in place on the site by 15 September 2000. SOCOG ignored the ruling and was subsequently fined A$20,000.
In the US disability access to web sites is law
section 508
see the icon at the bottom of some web sites,
eg. scroll to the bottom of

Also in the UK it is law or about to become so

I try to pursue this as a theme by teaching how to construct web pages with alternate style sheets - that is to say the media attribute of the link tag can be set to all, screen, print, projection, aural, braille, embossed, handheld, tty and tv. The link tag is used to link to the various external style sheets.

This my year 11s have developed alternate style sheets so the same web page looks different when viewed on the screen, on a mobile phone (using an emulator) and print preview. I can't show you the mobile phone because you need the emulator software but here's an example of a different appearance for print preview:

There are complications about implementing all of this in practice, for example, mobile phones vary in their capacity to follow W3C standards - and by no means have I fully explored the potential of it all either. My impression is that much of the technology is still playing catchup to the standards but also that much catchup has occurred in recent years

I think what's important is to realise that W3C standards do mean something real and that separation of structure (HTML), style (CSS), behaviour (JavaScript) is required to achieve this. Not only does this achieve the potential for better accessibility for disabled people but also allows more flexibility for all users, as the print and mobile phone examples illustrate.

If anyone wants to pursue it further I'd recommend Jeffrey Zeldman's book, Designing with Web Standards - it was an amazon best seller a couple of years ago

third world computers

Nicholas Negroponte has designed a sub $100 laptop for use in the Third World.

The proposed $100 machine will be a Linux-based, full-color, full-screen laptop that will use innovative power (including wind-up) and will be able to do most everything except store huge amounts of data. These rugged laptops will be WiFi- and cell phone-enabled, and have USB ports galore. Its current specifications are: 500MHz, 1GB, 1 Megapixel.

Interview with Negroponte here

Saturday, October 01, 2005

death to the games industry

Greg Costikyan has written an insiders critique of the games industry: Death to the Games Industry: Long Live Games

Main points (part 1)
  • Development costs have risen from $200,000 in 1992 to $5 million minimum today
  • 3D art effects have become more important (and more expensive) than good game play
  • Successful games today require the expensive 3D effects
  • Games stores have fewer titles than record or book stores, there is little scope in games production to cater for niche markets
  • Game sales are up because those who played games as teenagers and still like them are getting older - 35 yo is current demarcation point and rising
  • But the cost to produce more successful games (driven exponentially by Moores law, doubles every 18 months) is rising much faster than the expanding market (7 - 10% increase per year)
  • There are only four stable publishers in the field - EA, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo - the big guys are squeezing out the small guys
  • The big guys are conservative, reluctant to spend millions on a new innovative game
  • The Sims, an innovative game, was only published because it had Will Wright's name associated with it
  • "An industry that was once the most innovative and exciting artistic field on the planet has become a morass of drudgery and imitation" (Scratchware Manifesto)
Part 2 is here where he explains his alternative business model - Blow up the Retailer, Marketing is the Problem, Re-Engineering the Customer, The Old Farts and the Young Turks.
In comics, film, and music, there is an audience that has what you might call "the indie aesthetic." They prize individual vision over production values. They believe they are hip and cool because they like indie stuff. They like quirkiness and niche appeal. And they are passionate about the things they like.

We need to establish the same aesthetic in gaming. And while that's hard, it's also pushing at an open door - the meme exists in other media, so why not in games? In other words, some of the marketing you need to do is the conventional stuff - advertising and promotion. But the more important task is getting the meme out there.

Greg has resigned his position at Nokia, he blogged about that here

He has set up a new company, Manifesto Games, with the slogan:
"PC Gamers of the World Unite! You have nothing to lose but your retail chains!"

katrina photo essay

Stunning photos and commentary - you do need to scroll all the way through it
by clayton cubitt

A personal chronicle of what hurricane Katrina
has done to my poor proud people.

Scroll all the way to the bottom, and travel with me through this.