Gaming and Education

2014 was described by GamesTM as a ‘transitional’ year in gaming, there were lots of new things. New platforms, business models, discussions and technologies. On paper it sounds like exciting times and I guess it was, but with most periods of great change comes a little pain.Well-known industry vet Jonathan Burroughs who has seen many years in the industry come and go summed 2014 as such:

2014 has been sullied by the firestorm of bigotry and misinformation raging on social media

He was of course referring to #GamerGate, an ugly affair, the hashtag apparently concerned with ethics in video game journalism yet riddled with sexism and misogyny. While I don’t want to go in to detail of the controversy one thing was very clear. The video games industry moves fast, serious issues and talking points arise but it is moving so fast that onlookers are confused, not sure what the issues are and what is being proposed to tackle them. Following #GamerGate was difficult, the misinformation on the subject and the many layers of inception style ‘misinformation about misinformation’ muddying the water. I think that Brianna Wu in her now infamous interview in Develop was right, that gaming has been a boys’ club for 30 years and I think it is time for a change, and while 2014 might unfortunately be remembered for a bitter culture war we can hope that 2015 is that year of change.

The way in which a movement used misinformation to defend its elite club was not the only talking point in 2014. The backlash of using ‘gamification’ or ‘viral mechanisms’ to prey on the emotion of players or on addictive personalities reached a new high, the term ‘exploitationware’, proposed by Ian Bogost, started to replace gamification, the EU stepped in and made Apple and Google change their description policies, even South Park got in on the act. While these techniques are still raking in big money for publishers it feels like we found a voice and started to tell publishers that ‘paying to win’ just isn’t good enough.

Also there was the hardware! At the start of the year we were all playing with Oculus Rift beta units and waiting in line for a go on Google Glass, at the end of the year VR was summed up by Research Analysist Micheal Pachter as being like HDTV in the late 90s, by which I gather he means its there and we can all be excited, but don’t expect the casual user to get involved for a few years yet. Which while I think was mostly right but didn’t take in to account that new technologies such as the Oculus Rift give us much more opportunities to create stuff, rather than just TV style consume stuff.

I could go on and on about 2014 in gaming, but I guess the common theme I am getting at is that it all moves so fast. The boys club was challenged, the EU stepped in to review business models, the term gamification became the term exploitationware, new virtual reality hardware was released, used and evaluated.

I’m not sure moving so fast is always a good thing, the games industry does move fast because it is a relatively young industry and there is lots of money to be made. I think it also moves fast because it is so many peoples passion, both the people who play games and people who are employed in the industry want to move fast because its what they enjoy doing. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if it just slowed down to think.

These last few weeks I’ve seen a lot of tweets about games in education, questions like ‘should we use gamification techniques in education?’ or ‘how do technologies like the Oculus Rift in education?’.

As somebody who has survived the great gaming transitional year of 2014 it is tempting to claim that you know all the answers. Tell those educational technologists to stop, we’ve already decided that gamification is bad and that you have to call it explotationware now. Or perhaps it is the other way around, maybe as somebody employed in an educational institution I should be heading back to reddit/r/truegaming and telling them to stop relabeling things, we are going to fast and that there are a bunch of clever people in education not rushing ahead, instead they are taking their time to think about how this stuff might be useful in a way we haven’t thought of. I guess I was just glad to see these questions from education being asked on Twitter and a hope for 2015 in gaming is seeing one big conversation become the end of a boys’ club.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Application to Register for a Professional Doctorate Award Form (R1 Form) test

“Alright, listen to me. You go to the office where they are based, right? Before you get enter that office, you pack your Application to Register for a Professional Doctorate Award Form (R1 Form) in your bag, make sure there are no bookmarks. Then, enter the office and walk over to them at their desk. Dig out the Application to Register for a Professional Doctorate Award Form (R1 Form) and put on the desk next to them. Then you remember you should have shut the office door. Walk back towards the door to close it. Then while you walk to door check the Professor. If they don’t turn away from that computer screen, lift up that Application to Register for a Professional Doctorate Award Form (R1 Form) and start to flick through it before you get back from that door, dump them.”

“Just like that?”

“Listen to me, kid. If they don’t reach over and flick through that Application to Register for a Professional Doctorate Award Form( R1 Form), that means they are a selfish tutor and all you’re seeing is the tip of the iceberg. You dump them and you dump them fast.”

Posted in Education

Additional content in games and doubting intentions in education

Survival horror is a genre within computer games that has a horror focus and the aim to simply help the main character stay alive while they are underpowered and vulnerable in scary scenarios. There are a wide range of games with lots of different takes on the of survival horror genre and with bits of kit such as the Oculus Rift round the corner developers are exploring all new ways of trying to emerge the player in scary scenarios. Ever since I first guided Alpha Team to successfully escape the old mansion on the outskirts of Raccoon City back in ’96, survival horror has been my favorite type of computer game.

Nowadays I play games much less than I used to, and as a result I am much more picky about the games I choose to invest my time in. I’ve found that now most of the games I pick up and play until completion belong to the survival genre, the last two games I booted up on my console were Alien Isolation and Dead Space 3, and while they were both good games I was left feeling that I didn’t get the full experience from either of them.

(Spoilers ahead)

Alien Isolation is a great game and a great example of survival horror. You play Amanda Ripley who is investigating the disappearance of her mother, who you will know as Ellen from the Alien film franchise. About an hour in to the game Amanda meets a single Alien much like her mother did aboard the Nistromo. This alien cannot be killed and Amanda must use stealth tactics in order to survive. It is a great game, and the fact you cannot kill the alien makes the feeling of managing to simply stay alive part of the game, that is until the end cut scene at the very end. When Ripley finds herself floating in space not knowing what will happen to he next, roll credits. I was very annoyed at this ending to the game because surly the payoff of playing a survival horror game is that if you complete it your character survives.

(End of spoilers)

Dead Space 3 is anther good example of survival horror, this time it is more action based and unlike Ripley, the main character, Issac Clarke, can fight back against his enemies. To fight back Issac can craft weapons out of bits he finds lay around. Crafting bits and pieces together to survive is a staple of survival horror, it makes you feel underpowered and think hard about which items you craft and when you should use them. I was really glad this feature had made it in to the game, that was until I made my way to a crafting bench only to be met with a message that said something along the lines of “You don’t have enough resources to build this, press X to pay 69p to buy some more”. It was basically giving me the option to skip part of the game where I have to think about resources, scavenging and survival, is it still a survival horror?

The problem I have with both these games is that the developers have both lost my trust in them as game designers. The ending to Alien Isolation was not an ending at all, I know that Amanda Ripley will survive…. as long as I pay for the additional downloadable content packs. In the case of Dead Space how can we trust the developer to make a game with a fair resource system when they are trying to push micro transactions.

I understand why this has happened, the price of a big budget video game is actually less than it ever has been before. While the price of a new game might seem steep at £30-£40, long time players might remember that the most outlets sold survival horror game Resident Evil 2 on the N64 was £70, and that was back in 1999,  the game was also practicality a port! One reason that prices might have come down is that more people buy the product than they did then or that production costs are cheaper (N64 cartridges were much more expensive then DVDs/Blu Ray). But another big reason is that now, when a user buys a game there is a good chance they will purchase extras for the game in the form of in app purchases or other additional content.

I’m not against paying for additional content to add to a product, but it becomes a problem when it makes us doubt the way in which the original product was designed. With games I think it is quite easy to see when the game play is designed in a certain way to make you want to pay more. Not having a real ending or screwing with the resource system I think are very clear messages that the developers expect you to pay more than the initial cost for the base product and that the base product  itself has been designed according to the additional content they plan to push, it will affect you if you want the content or not. I suppose at least it isn’t making me pay just so that I can look better than my friends like many mobile games do.

I guess the thing about having played games for so long is even as a consumer we know how the model has changed, we know that actually we pay less for the base product than we used to but now we pay more for the bells and whistles additional content. Some games and publishers make a good separation between the extra content and the base product and some do not, publishers such as EA and Ubisoft broke the trust of gamers and got a bad rep because of it. I’ll check the reviews very carefully of anything I buy from the same publishers of Alien Isolation and Dead Space just to see just how much the base product has been tampered with in the hope I’ll put down some extra cash.

As a customer I find it much harder to decipher what is going on in the business models surrounding the education system. I mean, we are paying more, right? At a recent meeting with Talis about Learning Analytis systems a student recently told Talis staff they shouldn’t be doing all this stuff with his data (he called Talis services ‘spyware’) and then turned to University staff in anger and explained that now he is paying all this money we should be more trustworthy than before. In his eyes the reverse has happened than the games industry, the University is getting more money for the product than it was a short time ago, and as a result the University should be cutting back on the addition ‘bells and whistles’ content and improving the core package he is paying so much for. It was hard to argue against his point.

I know that behind the scenes the funding model has changed and that the University is not getting 9 grand extra per student, but of course they do not see it like that. Changes in application rules and numbers some Universities are doing everything they can to create bells and whistle that will bring in extra income. Overseas courses,  ‘sexy’ subject courses, TV personalities driving cars, gamification of content, etc etc. I also think the themes I seem to be working on, Learning Analytics and the such, seem to be most happily pitched to management as ‘additional content that will bring in extra income’. I wonder if these extras affect the base product in a similar way to games, and if we’ll break the trust of our customers in the same way if we are not clear about what is happening. Do students feel like Amanda Ripley after their undergraduate degree, waiting for the Masters degree additional content to finish their story?

 

 

 

Posted in Computer Games, Education

The Alien Isolation motion tracker on Playstation 4

I have to admit I haven’t played on the new generation of consoles much but recently I did get the chance to play on a Playstation 4. I had heard that the PS4 pad had a built in speaker but hadn’t really given it any thought, the Wii remote also had a speaker built in to it and I hadn’t ever really seen it be used for anything useful. The PS4 game I had was fortunate enough to play was the excellent Alien Isolation, it is a great game and really captures the atmosphere of the first Alien film, although it looks and feels very much like an 360/PS3 game and I was struggling to spot anything new and exciting being delivered by the PS4 experience.

I had in fact forgotten that I was playing the game on a PS4 until walking down a spooky corridor I heard a crackle from the controller I was holding. The sound was a crackling, like an ancient piece radio coming to life, within the crackling I could here familiar beeps that I recognised from the alien franchise, I was holding a motion tracker! The PS4 Pad also has a light emitting from it, as the motion tracker appeared on the TV screen the pad light changed to green to match its onscreen colour. It started to beep and vibrate in time with the beeps. While the information from the tracker was on the TV screen I felt it really added to the experience, especially since it is a game filled with suspense and the tracker in your hand makes it feel much more immediate. I think it is the only time I’ve ever seen a speaker on a pad do anything cool!

Some dude made his own physical version of the tracker. Got to love this:

 

 

Posted in Computer Games

Preposts, freemium, addictiveness and education

Sometimes over the course of a few days I read a couple of posts, have a few interesting meetings over a pot of tea ,watch some good television, play some good games and think to myself ‘the messages that all these things are telling me are related! There is a narrative here and I must blog about it. I wait until Friday, which of course, is the best day to write rambly blog posts, in the mean time I play a few video games in the mean time to think things over. Friday comes, boot up Microsoft Word, fingers to keys, mind goes blank. How where all these things linked again? Where do I start? Sometimes I need to write a post just to work out what my post should be about, something of a pre-post:

Today I read this blog post: Big Data, Social Ecology and the Surveillance of Management by the people. In which Mark describes one of the most distasteful things about big data, the top-down-ness. The idea of it becoming a ‘science’ of the future based on surveillance with results only available to the elite resulting ‘decisions based on a particular elite interpretation’. It is a great post and reminded me of the latest episode of South Park I watched yesterday, which dealt with the topic of addiction. In particular it focused on gamification and the freemium model. (‘mium’ being Latin for ‘not really’). This gist of the episode was that the model prays on a small number of users, it only needs to pray on a few peoples addictive behaviour make a profit, it is made worse by the fact these games have access to all this data about the user. I worry that these elite decisions that Mark talks about are not just particular elite interpretations but are made in a similar fashion to the designer of a slot machine. I did enjoy the fake advert for beer that aired after the ad break:

The show was showing that other industries sucker people in with their vices, know damn well what they are doing but justify it with a ‘well we told them to do it responsibly’. I also had some thoughts that perhaps the elites making their interpretations have their own addictions to feed.. but perhaps that is for another post. Before the episode of South Park I had seen an infomercial for a for-profit University:

The infomercial introduces gamification, micro-payments, data-harvesting bots and many of the same techniques South Park was knocking freemium for. What really struck me was that these techniques weren’t even the butt of the joke, instead the clip went all sci-fi and focused around a data-harvesting bot becoming sentient. The themes that education is starting to prey on addictive behaviour using a mixture of social pressure and the data it knows about us isn’t even the joke anymore.

I’m still not sure where I am going with this, but since I started writing this post I have received the following information in 3 emails. I think the theme for my post should be addiction, data, education and dangerous personalization

laceproject tweets

boss

Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 11.02.11

 

 

 

Posted in Education, General Chatter

Finding symbols when you don’t know the name

findingcharacternames

You know, that fish thing.

Everyone hates it when you want to put a character in to a Word document but you don’t know the name of the character, just what it looks like. “how do you do one of those things that look like a cross between a ‘a’ and a fish” you ask your college. He has no idea what you are on about and you end up trying to draw it in the air with your finger.

I bet there are loads of technological solutions to this that I haven’t come across yet, but a college, fed up of my finger wagging did point out how to do it in a Google Doc.

 

1. Open Google Doc

2. Go to Insert->Special Character

3. Draw the symbol in the ‘draw symbol here’ box

4. IT TELLS YOU WHAT YOU WANT. MIND BLOWN

Video of the steps

 

Posted in General Chatter

Starting to explore Wikipedia: Part 1. Query woes.

I’ve started to wonder, just how much can we find out about a subject from Wikipedia? I’ve been wondering if I can ask serious questions and big questions to the data set to get serious and big answers out. I thought I’d start by exploring an area of Wikipedia that was reasonably well maintained, I had a hunch that the video game community would keep their hobby and interest up to date and started there. While I keep saying Wikipedia, this data is from actually taken from the Dbpedia endpoint , which is a mirror of Wikipedia that structures its data in a way that I can query. There are some things I have noticed, the data is not mirrored exactly, for example the Wikipedia page for the game Hawken  clearly states that the game engine is Unreal Engine 3, DBpedia says it uses the Unreal Engine but does not tell me which one. I don’t know  why yet. Also the data set is frozen in time, this data set is frozen mid 2014. There is a live version of DBpedia at but it seems to break for me, or at least for my SPARQL R package.

I decide to start on one very easy question, what are the different game engines that games use. I started with a very simple query:

Basically this pulls out all video games  that have a game engine, it made me think. The way data is structured in Wikipedia is not always consistent, making it hard to write the perfect query. For example, User A creates a page for their new game studio and uses a certain vocabulary to describe the city that their game studio is based in. User B creates a similar page for a different game studio but uses different vocab. When I write a query to grab all the cities that have game studios based in them I have to know what vocab they both used. As articles get more popular these sort of problems get ironed out as people standardise the vocab used. The other problem is that people can have different ideas of what things are; its no good telling me off because XNA is a language and not a game engine, because Wikipedia is reporting it as a game engine. In this reguard the process might be a good way of examining and reflecting on how your hobby is represented in Wikipedia than an actual answer to the question. The other thing this doesn’t do is pull out the names of the games or the engines, I could pull them out using something like this:

But I started to notice all sorts of funny business in my results. If a game was described as using the Unreal Engine it would putt back the names for all of engines, that is Unreal Engine 1, 2, 2.5, and 4 but for other engines, such as Id Tech, it would just pull back the one correct name.

If you are interested, I went with the first query and a bit of regex to get the results, I counted them using plyrr in R, here are the top engines with more than 20 Games built on them.

Game Engine Games Built On
Unreal Engine 313
Havok 132
Unity 114
RenderWare 84
Source 67
Gamebryo 60
Z-machine 49
LithTech 43
CryEngine 33
Adobe Flash 31
Id Tech 3 29
Torque 28
Sierra’s Creative Interpreter 27
Ren’Py 26
Adventure Game Studio 24
PhysX 24
PopCap Games 24
Telltale Tool 24
GoldSrc 23
SCUMM 22

There is another thing fishy about this data. It is hard to believe that Id Tech is not in the list. It turns out that Id Tech IS on the list, but when a game lists Id Tech as it’s Engine it has the correct Id Tech version as the attribute, where as Unreal has a more general Unreal Engine attribute.

I revisited my original SPARQL query and added the collection of dates to the query. This time I get less results, this is because I have asked the database to only return answers when it knows a year that the game was published, if there is no year there is no result. Some games have different release dates, I told the database to give me a random year. Looking back this was a bad idea because now it looks like remakes use the original engine (or originals use the remake engine) I don’t think I can find a method that will pull back the correct year with every release date when it comes to titles that were remade with different engines. Another thing to remember when writing my queries. This is what I went with:

I’m finding it hard to do what I want with the results when they come back as a dataframe in R. This could be because I find tools like ggplot2 hard as nails or because I’m not familar with how I should be structuring my results. Perhaps a problem for part 2. Anyway, I counted the results per year and saved as CSV, which for future reference that I’m sure I’m sure I will need:

And just to see if it looked right, checked the popularity of the Unreal Engine per year:

Unreal Engine Popularity per year according to wikipedia

Unreal Engine Popularity per year according to wikipedia

Those that know your games might think that the numbers look low for such an engine. I think it does look low, and it is more to think about when trying to ask Wikipedia for answers. These are only articles with games that state they use Unreal and have a release date in my dataset. Because of this I thought I should look at trends rather than actual numbers. The trend shows a growth in the popularity of the Unreal engine up until 2014, most of this makes sense to me:

  • Unreal Engine usage growth has seen growth year on year
  • The dataset was frozen in the middle of 2014, I guess many entry’s for 2014 games aren’t as mature as older games, or the entry doesn’t exist yet
  • Games in the future are pages created about a game that hasn’t been released yet.

Still, I was curious as to why we saw some games in 2018, that seems a long way off for a developer to be releasing information about a game engine they intend to use for a future game. Intrigued I looked up the 2018 game only to find out that it was an old game, released a few years ago that Wikipedia has an incorrect release data for (at the time the data set was frozen). So.. Wikipedia can be wrong.

Time to carry on playing…

Posted in Data Analytics

The Forest

Early access games can go be a hit-or-miss affair; you can sometimes get a great game early in it’s life and sometimes you can get a game that looks like it’s going to be great, but for some reason it just doesn’t . I enjoy it when these early access games have a vibrant community based around consistent game updates that keep giving the game new life, developers listen to feedback from the audience to feed new developments and features and everybody wins; Minecraft, Project Zomboid and Prison Architect spring to mind. On the other hand the game might hit snags during its development, the team might quit or the game might not turn out like you had hoped, fans of the games Town were upset when lack of sales forced the developer to quit, you can read the forum post here. An even worse scenario, they implement a pay-to-win scheme, ugh. Because of this I am cautious when it comes to early access games. Still, a while ago I took a punt on one called ‘The Forest’ and I’m really glad I did.

The Forest is a survival game where the player finds themselves waking up in the wreck of a plane crash in the middle of an island. You have to survive by building shelter, making fires, cooking, eating animals, crafting weapons etc etc. As you change the landscape in the forest by cutting down trees and the such, the local inhabitants take interest in what you are up to. These inhabitants, called Mutants by the online community, react differently to you depending on how you interact with them and how you go about living on the island. Building big bases will cause them to send large numbers out to your base at night, perhaps even send the dreaded tank ‘spider mutant’ to knock your walls down. Personally, I like to build lots of small bases and switch between them in an effort stay undetected, building the odd trap on their patrol routes to spice things up.

The menu screen has a big timer counting down to the next release of the game – always a good sign that there are constant updates. There is also a community of people playing and discussing the game at http://www.reddit.com/r/TheForest/

I’m really enjoying it, but as always with alpha games, you should check what the general census is before dropping your hard earned cash. Some interesting things about the game I’ve found on the web for anybody thinking of getting it:

The natives on this island are not your friends! (Source: Physical Cores)

 

 

Posted in Computer Games Tagged with: , , ,

The birth place of every pro wrestler (according to wikipedia)

A few days ago I mapped out the death places of Monarchs of England. I wanted to try the same technique on a bigger dataset and keeping on trend with some other stuff I’ve done with Reddit I decided to map the birthplace of every wrestler in Wikipedia.

This is a *rough* guide. It maps wrestlers birthplace to a random place somewhere in the city that Wikipedia says is their birthplace. If Wikpedia doesn’t think that the data is a city then the data is missing. This data is from a snapshot taken a few months ago. Also, Wikipedia has been known to be wrong,

Click a dot to see who was born there and you can drag the map and such. There are some other bits of info I should add and some bits I should remove, but for now this is it.

 

There were a few problems/differences

1)Google Fusion Tables doesn’t like it if you give it two lat+long values that are the same, I used this idea to get around that problem.

2)I changed my SPARQL query to only include citys

code:

 

 

Posted in Data Analytics

Zombie Neighbours

I feel torn when it comes to production companies working with up and coming talent making a splash on social media sites such as YouTube. It feels to me like there are all these really intelligent talented people doing interesting things, then these big YouTube networks come along, sign them up and suck out all their creativity. You are never quite sure what is going on behind the scenes, but it doesn’t feel right that most of the most viewed ‘YouTubers’ are signed with social media agencies such as Maker Studios, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. Once signed the social media agency gives them cookie cutter templates for both videos and promotional material, helps them with production, gives them a few deadlines, promotes their work and then takes a cut of the profits. While I do think that production companies should be working with up and coming talent, I guess I’d just like to see them help the talent grow rather than try to own it.

An interesting collaboration that popped up in my feed today is between one of the ‘signed to a social media agency’ YouTubers Louna Maroun (Looplady11) and FremantleMedia Australia the producers of Neighbours. The pitch is this, Louna has created a few 5 minute neighbours shorts where Ramsey Street is taken over by zombies, current cast members of the show battle it out with past members who have risen from their graves. She has access to the sets and a few of the stars both past and present.

I think the whole idea of giving up and coming talent access to the same sets, actors and audiences that the big boys like FremantleMedia have is a great idea, and is exactly what distributors should be doing! I don’t know where Lourna’s social media agency ‘Boom Video’ sits in this arrangement but it would be interesting to find out. It’s a win-win situation, with Fremantle getting access to Lournas fanbase, getting media coverage and most importantly helping homegrown talent.

If you are interested here is episode 1:

Posted in Television Tagged with: , , ,