Ph.D. Adventures!

Waiting on Good News (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 15)

TLDR:

Designed two different potential courses from the spring. (Thanks to Rogelio who co-designed one of them with me… will hopefully be hearing good new soon!). Tons of grading, worked on some, have lots left to do. Helped students feel better about the semester (a couple regrades). Gave a presentation on formal game design to the EAE 6000 Game Engineering III course. Had a great holiday.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

We cooked/baked (and by we I mostly mean my amazing husband) everything from scratch for Thanksgiving. It was so delicious. I have now had Thanksgiving leftovers every day for nearly every meal. We got a little creative and made sandwiches and tacos with leftovers. And most surprisingly, my kiddos have been eating salad without me having to ask them to.

We also got a mini fridge for our bedroom. It currently houses water, and my husbands chocolates. These are not small bags of chocolate. The man has the right priorities I think.

I was asked, 30 minutes prior to class last Tuesday, to present something during an approximately 15 minute downtime. “Sure,” I said… so I threw some slides together with zero time to rehearse on formal game design (specifically the FBS and MDA+GFI frameworks). I think it went well as few students thanked me and the professor, who had been busy setting up the next AI fight round and so missed some of what I was saying, said he was going to go back and watch the recording of my presentation!

I spent quite a bit of my time writing up potential spring course offerings for the undergraduates in the EAE program. Unfortunately my favorite idea was too technical, and more for graduates. So I had to go back to the drawing board. In total I pitched four ideas and I am hoping that the one Rogelio (whose original idea it was) helped me create will be accepted. Should hear back today. We’re thinking good news is coming as yesterday I was asked to send in a draft syllabus under the email subject “Urgent.” So Rogelio rearranged his morning schedule to help me craft the syllabus, he said first-pass it looked great, and then helped me add the necessary missing components. It looks totes legit now fools! Fingers crossed!

Besides the course designs, I feel like all I’ve been doing is grading! And there is still so much more to do! OH. SO. MUCH. GRADING!! Doing my best, but it is definitely a lot of work!

What’s next

  • GRADING
  • Gra…ding
  • GraDInG
  • GRADING 😉
  • Looming deadline: Apply scholarship (Due date Dec 4th!)
  • Research
    • Finish reading through cognitive load theory 20-year review paper.
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Read through a school “research” paper I wrote last semester to glean the theory I want to create from and to also highlight the papers I want to cite in my new paper.
    • Write, write, WRITE! (January deadline!)
  • Continue dailies and personal health goal
  • Continue house projects: Learn to compost! Find furniture for the house (dining room chairs), etc. (I don’t have time for house projects this week)
  • Get some sleep (me tired!)

Roadblocks

Man, I need a nap. I’ve been up two hours and I’m tired already! But really I was up late and I need a nap… sleep, how I’ve missed you…

Other than that I feel okay as long as I don’t think about the scholarship deadline or all the grading that needs doing, or my impending January deadline on the paper. Then I start to feel panic rising.

So, I just focus on one thing at a time and hope I don’t forget anything.

Game Dev Adventures!, Ph.D. Adventures!

It’s been a while! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 10-What week is it again?… 14?… Nope! 13!)

TLDR:

Read through lots of theory papers to support my educational game design theory. Found more appropriate publishing venues for the type of research I am doing. Lots of work grading. Upgraded my game project from Unity 2018 to Unity 2019 (an error was keeping me from doing this earlier). Made some excellent, albeit small in some cases, strides forward in my personal goals.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Dang, so many weeks went by without an update that I forgot which week I’m even on! … Okay, I checked, it is currently week 14, so the update is for weeks 10-13, my longest week span evah. 🙂

  • Research
    • Read up on VR for vernacular from Munzer’s paper
    • Read three game design theory papers my advisor sent me (Two he co-wrote, and one that he based his other off of and has been a standard in game design theory)
    • Been reading up on Cognitive Load Theory and prepared a presentation for my QED lab on it.
    • I now have a clear idea of where to take my paper
    • Came up with another paper idea
    • Found better publishing venues. We uncovered that the Computers journal we were originally targeting with a February deadline is most likely a publishing venue that will not value the type of research I am doing. So I made a list of three, no four (and counting), publishing venues that value more human-centered and theoretical research:
      • The venues:
        • FDG
        • CHI Play
        • Meaningful Play
          • which publishes their own conference proceedings and submits the top six papers for publishing to the Journal of Serious Games
        • JSG (Journal of Serious Games)
      • So our new target is FDG… with a January deadline (a month earlier)! YIKES!
  • TA/TM
    • Graded lots of assignments
    • Helped my advisor with some instructional design
    • Got to see how to handle a difficult student
  • Game Dev
    • Got my project updated from Unity 2018 to Unity 2019!!
    • I got my little brother to set up a gitlab repository on his server computer for me. 🙂 So I spent some time uploading game projects to the gitlab repo to easily transport my projects between computers as my laptop has been dying.
  • Self Dailies… maybe more like 3-5 times weeklies?
    • Definitely has helped me feel more centered and sane even as the workload continues to increase as we come upon end of semester (which is only three weeks away if we count finals week!)
  • Goal Dailies… maybe more like weeklies?
    • I’ve been making progress on five different goals by working on them at least once a week for a small period of time. This gives me a greater sense of accomplishment
    • I’ve also been refining how I go about my goal dailies and prioritizing, since I have a timer set to five minutes, the tasks that need to be done for each goal.
    • Something else I did was I assigned two-three (of my five) goals to each day of the week. That way if I don’t have time for everything, I know exactly what to focus on first, then second and third.
  • Personal health goal
    • Outside of my self and goal dailies (remember these have 3-5 minute time restrictions), I have a personal goal that I have been working on: completing 100 days of workouts, and getting flat again in my splits within those 100! I am on day 20 and I’ve already lost several inches and am nearly, properly flat in my front left splits. Very exciting!
    • My husband let me get a yoga hammock! So I am also building up my time for inversions. I used to be able to do 15-20 minutes completely inverted, but now I start to get a headache around two minutes. I love my yoga hammock! It makes me so happy. Also my husband makes me happy! When I bought the hammock he told me, “Merry Christmas,” because he was a little hesitant about having it… but once he’d installed it he had fun playing with it too.
  • House projects
    • Have finally started to slow down, though there are still several on our list. We graded our backyard properly and laid down some free sod my little brother got for us (he got it from the neighbors by helping them move their sod), put up a retaining wall, and made a raised garden area in our backyard. We also got a matching living room set with a quartz electric fireplace. It’s beautiful! I’ve never had a matching living room set before! Ha ha. I’m not one to buy something new when the old is sufficient, well the old wasn’t sufficient anymore. And I love sitting by the “fire.” I’m doing that right now!
    • I’ve been learning how to compost for the garden we’ll plant in the spring. Now is a good time to go get a compost bin since I’m sure not all the Thanksgiving leftovers will be gotten to.
  • Funding for the Spring
    • There is a need in an EAE for special topic courses. I proposed one, but it was too technical. So Rogelio said he would help me design a course that I could teach in the spring. If it gets accepted it would be a dream come true. I’ve been wanting to teach my own college-level course since I was an undergrad!
  • Fun
    • I’ve been cross-stitching some frogs. They’re really cute. I’m never doing a cross-stitch again though. Jeez. It takes for freaking ever!
    • I helped my daughter make a stuffed animal cat for her mom.
    • Went bowling with my husband and the kiddos, wherein my son beat me! 😦 … 😉
    • I continue to play Dr. Mario on occasion with my lil’ bro. I went up to level 19, he plays on 10 and I usually play on 18, and he demolished me. Sometimes we’ll do speed rounds on level zero, but they are all anxiety inducing!
    • Been playing Don’t Starve Together with my little brother and sister. I got to kill a tree guard with my catapults, but the best was killing the spider: I let it chase me to my three catapults, dumped some nitre in the generator, and then all three catapults came alive and immediately demolished that spider! Bwa ha ha ha ha! He made some good meatballs too. 😉

What’s next

  • Apply scholarship (Due date Dec 4th!)
  • Design a course to teach in the Spring
  • Research
    • Finish reading through cognitive load theory 20-year review paper.
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Read through a school “research” paper I wrote last semester to glean the theory I want to create from and to also highlight the papers I want to cite in my new paper.
    • Write, write, WRITE! (January deadline!)
  • Do grading for TA and TM
  • Continue dailies and personal health goal
  • Continue house projects
    • Learn to compost!
    • Find furniture for the house (dining room chairs)
    • etc.
  • Continue something else that has slipped my mind…
  • Get some sleep (me tired!)

Roadblocks

I feel I am in a pretty good place right now. I have a lot of things on my to do list, but I’m in a good emotional state, at least today! 😉

I’m tired, just physically though, not mentally or emotionally, which is different for this time of the semester. Those dailies and workouts must be paying their dividends!

Ph.D. Adventures!

Lest I forget again… (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 7-9)

TLDR:

Most importantly I got one step closer for my research paper by writing up an abstract and locating appropriate references to use in the paper. I also read the comments made by Rogelio who reviewed it. The rest of the time was filled with lots of TM/TA responsibilities, dealing with more fun home ownership issues, and an impromptu fall break. And lest I forget again, several weeks back, I made some of my own very simple game art which also resolved a programming issue! Hooray!

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

Dang, three weeks went by quick!

Lest I forget again… again, nearly a month ago I made my own game art, a rounded corners square, to not only make a highly casual game I’ve been making look more polished, but it also had the wonderful side effect (after a few iterations) of solving a programming problem. I have never made my own 2D art to put in a game, so yeah me! Second, I did it using GIMP, so it’s all free to use. Third, I don’t know what I’m doing! Fourth, the first iteration of the rounded square improved the look of not only the gameplay quadrants, but the buttons as well. When I played the game I was thinking I might have to replace rounded squares in the middle of the game with regular squares except on “corners” (of which I would need to each iteration of gameplay discover whether or not a square was a “corner”), but I conjectured that if I made the art just right, when I scaled to just above 1.0, to say 1.1, then I wouldn’t need to swap or turn off any images. It took me a few iterations but it did work. I was not only correct, but I also didn’t have to spend a lot of extra time on programming. (I realize that this description may not make sense, but this is for a game I plan on publishing, my goal is by end of year, so no screenshots… yet!)

Lesson: if you can solve a programming issue with some intelligent art decisions, do it! I’d already learned this lesson at Waterford Institute when the technical artists beautiful artwork caused a load time of mere seconds to expand to 45! By making an intelligent switch, without actually changing the look of the scene, I got it to load faster than the original scene! So, smart art choices => faster load times.

For my research I looked into a potential publishing venue my advisor sent my way, we were originally targeting ACM’s CHI conference, but this new journal, which we hadn’t even been on our radar, is doing a special issue on educational games. It looks very promising but has a much sooner deadline (Feb 2021, instead of Sep 2021 for CHI), so I’m going to need to get writing!

Rogelio directed me to write up an abstract as 1) A guide to where we want to take the paper, and 2), and more importantly, to use as a potential submission to feel out the waters for a journal we are aiming to submit to. It was really useful to think through what it is we are trying to create with this new theory and where we believe it will go.

I did a lot for my TA/TM responsibilities: grading, setting up the lab computer with a new account (for me) and the Oculus for VR grading, more grading, etc. I let the professors guide when I would complete the grading as one professor got ill and fell a little behind, but that led to having to grade five assignments within a week of which I haven’t quite completed yet.

My house heater broke. So I got to deal with the fun-ness of home ownership and meeting with HVAC technicians in the middle of class! LOL!

Finally, let’s talk about fall break: I know, I know, the University of Utah didn’t have an official Fall Break this year, but my advisor gave me a week off and I took full advantage and went to one of my favorite places with my family: California. We visited my in-laws, who are wonderful people, and my brother (whom I lived with when I worked at EA). So lots of good old memories and new memories. My brother and sister-in-law have eight wonderful kids and all the cousins were excited to go swimming together on what my brother said was probably the last feasible day of the year to do so as their pool is not heated. So a years worth of telling my kids to pack their swimsuits “just in case” finally paid off!

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Read game design theory paper my advisor sent me
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Read through a school “research” paper I wrote last semester to gleen the theory I want to create from and to also highlight the papers I want to cite in my new paper.
    • Write, write, WRITE!
  • Do grading for TA
  • Continue dailies

Roadblocks

Make sure I’m honoring the time I’ve set aside for research. I’ve had a lot of “emergencies” happen, that were legit from my or my kids perspective, but hopefully those things have subsided now so I can focus on completing my paper. However, I think if I miss my designated research times that I need to make sure I am pushing them to other days and not just skipping them entirely.

Ph.D. Adventures!

Honoring My Accomplishments (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 6)

TLDR:

Decided to write. Caught up in grading for TA/TM responsibilities. Got very important house issues resolved. Helped kiddos with their schoolwork.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I considered skipping this week’s write-up because even though I did a lot, it wasn’t anything I felt I wanted to report on, and those things I would like to report on I didn’t get to. However, some weeks are just like that and I believe IT’S PERFECTLY OKAY! I want to acknowledge my accomplishments and honor my efforts.

There were several days last week that I woke up and knew I would just be on from morning until bedtime and that I didn’t have time for my self and goal dailies nor my workout. Some weeks and days are just like that! My advisor was clutch in helping me being able to manage my workload by taking on one of my shepherding teams for the VR course.

  • Research: read up on conceptual models and have considered a few for my theory.
  • TA: Completed grading of first large programming assignment — The professor thanked me for my hard work
  • TM: Did a bunch of assignment grading, course organization, project shepherding, and student calming.
  • Got our house warranty people to take us seriously. I requested a new representative who would take care of us and be professional and polite and now we get to work with their sales rep whom we’ve had very good experiences with. He got the important things taken care of for us right away.

I’ve been helping my daughter with her schoolwork, like helping her study for a test late last night. This last week I helped her make a board game and we both independently named it “Kittyland.” She’s a fairly good designer so I mostly helped her organize her ideas and get started. Here is her game design sketch and final product:

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
    • Look into the publishing venue Rogelio mentioned to me last week.
  • Do grading for TM and TA
  • Return to my dailies and working out
  • Honor my accomplishments
  • Put these todos on my TODO board!

Roadblocks

Right now I feel good, but I now motivation is difficult.

Learning how to organize my time so I can do my research, TA/TM responsibilities, goals, help with kiddos’ schoolwork, work on my projects/hobbies, and still have fun. I think I’m starting to hit my stride, and then I have to deal with a house crisis, or a kiddo school task. Being the mama is a lot of work. I’m kinda tired.

Here’s a serious roadblock though that I think is important to discuss: I have been very sad, dare I say depressed, this past week. I broke down and cried multiple times. There are some people in my house that are also very sad, possibly depressed, and as the leader I feel a responsibility to help them as much as I can. They are of course responsible for their own happiness, but I have felt it weigh very heavily on me this last week, and it made me very sad. It’s a roadblock because it’s important to deal with these serious emotions and that takes time too.

Ph.D. Adventures!

Joyful Movement (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 5)

TLDR:

Found a whole bucket load of papers on cognitive load and cognitive load theory. It will take a while to dig through and find some key papers, but I have some ideas. Had a great conversation with Rogelio about how to model and talk about the theory. Started working out! My daughter started M-Th school yesterday and it’s been great so far!

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I had no idea when I went looking for cognitive load papers that I was going to open pandora’s box! My goodness! Loads of research! The hard thing will be just locating the paper(s) that will explain the theory and be a backbone for mine.

Rogelio and I talked a lot about creating models, something visual that explains the theory, and taxonomony, something verbal that we can call these things we know about but don’t know how to discuss. So I’m going to be doing reading in other areas to find vernacular that we can borrow from.

There is a LOT of grading I have to do this week. It is a little overwhelming and… if I’m being honest, grading isn’t my favorite task. It’s why I don’t want to ever teach a writing or reading and essay writing course: it takes so long to grade and you don’t always get a TA.

What’s next

  • Theory paper:
    • Read up in VR for vernacular
    • Read up on types of models
    • Draw up a preliminary model for the current theory I’ve written up
  • Continue with self and goal dailies, as well as working out
  • Do grading for TM and TA

Roadblocks

Motivation and time to grade. :/

Doing the hybrid and homework thing with my kids takes up wa-ay more time than expected. My husband and I discussed homeschooling the kids this year and I told him that if that’s what he really wanted me to do I could do it if I dropped out of my Ph.D. program, because I know from spring semester that I would not be able to keep up. He is supportive of me pursuing my Ph.D. so we put the kids back in school (the best decision for the mental health of our daughter, and myself, I believe). But they are still home, or have been, more than 50% of the time and the teachers haven’t made it easy for us. So I feel I am constantly behind on everything. I’m really stressed, but only about keeping up with grading. Also, we are all struggling, and my professors have been giving me things to grade on days that I don’t have time to grade and asking me to prioritize that grading that day is a little much to handle, so I don’t. Might get me in trouble, but I can’t do everything.

Extras

Adding in the Movement

Been loving my self and goal dailies so much so that I felt I could make the time to workout again, finally. I know, it sounds terrible, but I didn’t have the space in my home, nor the time or care to really make working out a priority last year. It is really nice to be working out again and I have a much healthier attitude about it than ever before I think. It’s okay to not push myself to injury, I can still enjoy myself, and it’s okay to miss a day, or two (or three!), because I’m doing my best and I give God the rest. It’s been really energizing, and reenergizing, to move in a way that makes me happy and honor my body by taking the time for joyful movement again.

Things Keep a Changing!

My daughter started M-Th school and I have to say that it is going great. She liked that her older brother didn’t start that this week because he got to walk her to the bus stop. Thank goodness because she forgot her mask and older brother had to run, neigh, SPRINT home to retrieve her mask before the bus arrived.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of Jr and High School, those schools won’t be starting M-Th school until November. However, I think it works out better that at least it is my son home and not my daughter as she needs more in-person contact for her happiness, and my son will do better at home without his sister constantly distracting him, and visa versa. So it all works out.

Game Dev Adventures!, Ph.D. Adventures!

I don’t wanna! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Week 4)

TLDR:

PICKED A DIRECTION FOR MY RESEARCH THIS SEMESTER!!!!! I am going to work on writing a theory paper. I’m really excited. I also started doing 5 (instead of 15) minute goal dailies and continued my 3 minute self dailies which have really helped me manage my mood and stay a lot happier. I joined the GradSWE committee.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

I realized late in the week that I didn’t want to do an assignment from my advisor, Dr. Rogelio, so it stopped me in my tracks on all things research. Finally, I decided to just start working on my research by doing what I want to do, doing something is better than nothing, and I got myself organized and started to get to work on my theory paper! It’s been so much FUN! I feel that my math degree was a long time ago, so I don’t remember a lot of details about how to solve specific problems. However, I am very good at how to solve problems and write proofs. It feels like I get to write one long proof which sounds very fun to me.

I had a math professor tell us that mathematicians spend months, even years or decades and a whole lot of paper trying to solve a problem, and then when they do they come out of their closets, he mimed a mathematician pointing to a paper, and they say, “See, it’s easy! It’s only six lines!” I’m in the closet phase of the research paper. That’s the fun part.

I also started programming again on a game which my Dad commissioned me to make back in 2014 (I made five whole dollars!). I made it in Unity 5, so I wanted to bring it up to date. I haven’t been able to get it updated to Unity 2019 LTS (Long Term Support), however after a week’s worth of work I was able to bring it up to 2018 LTS, though I am getting two errors in that version the game still works. It was quite the process. I tried porting it directly from 5 to 2019 but it was packed with errors. So then I ported it to 2017, made some updates, then 2018, made some updates, and finally last night I ported it to 2018 LTS, and made some updates!

My next step is to download an older version of 2019 and see if I can get the game working in that version of Unity. If I can do that it should be a much simpler task to update it to 2019 LTS. If that doesn’t work quickly I will be moving on to programming some new features for the fun casual game. I just heard about a competition that Unity is running and I might need to update it to 2020 even. It is unclear right now what I need to do for it, but I’ll make the changes as necessary.

I also took some time and drew out several design pages for the game. There is a lot I could add. So my next step on that one is to pick the most important features I want/need to add to the game, an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) if you will and implement them so I have something to submit to the competition.

I didn’t have a strong desire to participate in SWE, but when I heard about GradSWE, and after talking with the president, I decided to join the committee. I’m excited to see where it takes me.

What’s next

  • Do the programming assignment from my advisor
  • Theory paper:
    • Find papers for background information
    • Continue building my list of mapping items
  • Continue with 3 min self dailies
  • Complete all items on my 5 min goal dailies

Roadblocks

I just need to do something I don’t want to do. I am kind of tired of writing algorithms that already exist in every game engine I will ever use, when what I really want to be doing is programming gameplay. I’m not saying it isn’t valuable to program these things, I’m just saying, I don’t wanna! Ha ha!

Extras

5 minute goal dailies

I just couldn’t get myself to even start on 15 minutes. It just felt so daunting. With six items on my list (research/writing, game development, learn interesting topic, challenge programming problems, a fun crafting project (I have a whole bin of started and want to start projects!), and then do ANYTHING F-U-N), doing 15 minutes each is 1.5 hours.

After not even doing a single thing on my list I finally decided to just start with five minutes, which would mean I would complete them all in 30 minutes, and voilà! I started on them! The idea is to spend at least five minutes and then up to 15 minutes on each item. However, I ended up spending 15, 30, even 60 minutes or more on the first two items and so found myself only getting to one or two of the other items on my list. But as the other items on my list were less urgent for me to get to, it was a good start!

The BEST news!

My daughter and son have been going to school on Mondays and Wednesdays and have been remote the other days. Well, next week my daughter starts M-Th in-person school, and the following week my son will be doing M-Th in-person school as well. I’m super excited! My daughter said she was more excited than me, but I’m not so sure… 😉

Ph.D. Adventures!

The Craziness Continues! (Ph.D. Year 2, Fall Weeks 1-3)

TLDR:

Moved into a new home (Week one)! Unpacked (Week two-three) and got sick but then got better. 🙂 Did TA/TM stuff. Need to pick a direction for my research.

For the Interested Reader:

Accomplishments

My accomplishments for school are strictly for my TA/TM positions where I’ve done miscellaneous tasks for my professors and completed some grading.

I moved into a new house (happened at end of week one), have completed 10/15 tasks on my goal sheet for the house (including hung pictures/artwork!), and I am all unpacked, my kids are nearly unpacked also.

I am also finally feeling better!

What’s next

  • Pick a direction for research and start moving in that direction.
  • Start doing a minimum of 15 minutes of writing on school days (M-F)

Roadblocks

I’m still unsure whether choosing to TA was a wise choice and if I should have chosen an hourly research position instead. However, I think I should just be glad that I have a good Professor who supports my academic, professional, and personal goals and stop second-guessing myself. So far I’ve enjoyed TAing and learned a little bit too. So… I guess I just worked through that roadblock.

I am unsure what direction I should be going for my research, though I have several ideas. I need to pick one and start with it.

When I talked to Munzer he told me that we all feel unsure of our next steps in research, so that made me feel better. 🙂

Extra: Self-Care

Something that my first year as a Ph.D. student taught me is that I need to make time for self-care. During Spring 2020 semester that meant waking up and playing games for an hour before classes and work. This semester it means something a little different. This last week I created a 30 minute morning self improvement schedule. It includes three minutes of meditation, working out, reading a self-help book, affirmations, gratitude, scripture study, journal writing, prayer, etc. I get quite a few things done in those 30 minutes and it improves my mood so much. Even after an argument with my daughter this morning, which would usually keep me reeling for hours afterwards, I quickly brushed it off and was able to work on other things. I’ve made several tweaks to this regimen, but just doing it is what is important! It’s so nice to start my day off with meditation and end it with gratitude and some fun reading!

I also created an hour routine for doing self-care and goal projects which includes: research/writing, game development, a fun creative project, and learning a fun topic (something I just want to learn that may or may not have anything to do with school or research). I want to start implementing that starting today. Will need to report on that next week.

Cool Stuff!

Summer Camps — Continue Learning Resources

Hey, kiddos!

I loved having you in my camps. Below you’ll find the resources I mentioned for continuing to learn. Keep creating!

Beginning Programmers

More Advanced Game Making and Game Design

Youtube Channels on Game Development

Unity Game Engine

  • Unity Learning (projects and tutorials from Unity)
  • You can also access Unity Learning from the Unity Hub > Learn tab
  • Unity on youtube

Blogs

  • Gamasutra (advanced, blog for game developers)
  • NancyGames! (You’re already here! Game design, developement, and meaningful play)

 

Experimental Games, Game Dev Adventures!

Making “To Save or NOT to Save…”

Play this game! Instructions on the portfolio page.

GameCapture_Achievement

To Save or NOT to Save is an ethical dilemma game where player decisions create game-world consequences which the avatar is forced to experience. Careful your decisions! They are not free!

Inspiration

This was an experimental game made in a week based on a theme from the board game mechanic of push-your-luck. 

I’m not a fan of push-your-luck games (though admittedly there are a few I enjoy). I came up with a few ideas, but they were even duller than the versions of push-your-luck games I didn’t like. None of the ideas excited me or seemed thrilling. As the game was for an assignment, and I could “free pass” once in the class I thought about using that up for this one where I felt so dispassionate about the theme. But I wanted to challenge myself. I thought about an experimental game made by a previous experimenter, Sydney, in which she combined two genres she didn’t like either (idle clicker and match three) which turned out fairly interesting. I thought then, “What would a cross between push-your-luck and a runner look like?”

What I Did: Lucky Running

My first thought was, “What if you were a runner and had to pick up a bunch of somethings as you ran, but as you picked them up they obscured your screen? How about that something was bunnies (because they’re cute!) you need to save, and if you don’t pick them up it kills them?” When I pitched the idea to a friend she said she’d just kill the bunnies. So I thought, “Fine. Kill the bunnies, but blood splatter is going to obscure your screen anyway!”

Either way, you end up with a covered screen the longer you play. The only difference is that the bunnies don’t go away after you’ve picked them up, but the blood splatter does go away slowly over time. If you want your screen to be full of blood you have to keep killing. So evil!

To add depth to the ethical choice presented to players to save or kill the bunnies: I added judgments based on their behavior.

 

As far as camera and perspective went: I found the 3D avatar in the standard assets of Unity and was a bit enamored by him. I liked moving side to side and even backward with the basic camera I made for him and knew that a basic runner wouldn’t fit this movement. So to give the sense of urgency (which also plays into the narrative of impending danger) that comes with a true runner, I added a timer. If you fall off the edge or when your timer runs out, you get passed judgment. Then the game restarts.

I spent more time on this 7-day game than previous 7-day development games because I stepped out of my comfort zone to try something different and experiment with styles of games I haven’t really made before. I’m happy with the end result, though it’s not my personal favorite of the games I’ve created. But it does get immediate laughs, which at the end of the day was what I was going for, and I enjoyed working on the project.

What I Learned

Something unexpected was just how fun it was to play with an obscured screen that doesn’t clear up but only gets messier the longer you play. I think the bloodiest juiciest part of the game was the obstruction to the screen.

However, the re-playability increased when I added the judgments based on the player’s behavior. In playtesting: the obstruction of the screen and killing of bunnies got quick laughs, but people kept re-playing to see what judgments befell them based on their choices.

“I love designing games that are ‘Pick up and play!'”

I originally planned on making the game a 1st person game, but after seeing this cool looking dude I was intrigued and made it a 3rd person game. Other playtesters were also intrigued by this character who clearly doesn’t fit in this world. He’s gray and colorless, while the world around him is full of color, including the effects of “his” decisions.

With concern to the perspective, I don’t believe 1st/3rd really made a difference in gameplay, but I do believe the simple camera I made did. Though the camera moved in all directions, unlike a typical 1st/3rd person camera, it didn’t follow the player in the rotation. This added to the obscurity of the world as you couldn’t rotate the camera around to achieve different viewpoints from different angles, but could only move side-to-side to possibly see between the cracks. Moving backward is particularly difficult, and it adds to the fun. Camera controls are also one of, if not the hardest mechanic for new, and even more experienced players, to master even in well-designed games. Thus a natural consequence to the player not being able to control camera angles is that it actually makes the game easier to pick up and play, which is my thing: I love designing games that are “Pick up and play!” But that doesn’t make the game any easier to master, nor does it detract from the experience. In my opinion, simple cameras add to the experience by removing a layer of complexity in controls from the player. It’s why I think side scrollers, 2.5D, and other fixed rotation cameras are so popular: it’s not about the camera! It’s about game experience.

Ideas for further development

“The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice.”

Game Level Design: Adding Life

Though I think this game works as an endless “runner,” I think it would work best as a procedural level based game. With a few crafted game level pieces (and by a few I mean probably 20), and a creative procedural level creation algorithm, I think interesting levels could be made at every reload thus increasing the re-playability of the game.

Adding to the depth of the world by creating an environment for bunnies to live and hide in (more on that below) by creating a space for the bunnies to be unaware of the danger that the player is trying to save from, or add to, would immerse the player more in the world.

And of course, adding to the life of the bunnies by making them move, breathe, eat, (poop?), and react to the player based on the player’s decision. Giving them a voice through audio and reaction would make them so much more real and make the decision the player makes have that much more weight. In games like Skyrim — which presents you with ethical decisions — when you see the consequences of your decisions you feel more connected to those things: it becomes an ethical consequence and although in a virtual world, it still shapes the way you feel about the decision and even yourself.

I could add other animals or environmental threats, but I think keeping it simple would play on the thing I want to push on the most better.

Pushing on Obstruction and Ethical Choice

The level I created was very basic and meant to merely communicate a basic idea: obstruction and an ethical choice. I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas combined more.

“To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.”

I think the combination of choice and obstruction played well together. It would be interesting to push on those ideas together more.

To push the on-screen obstruction

I had wanted to make the placement of the obstruction random but ran out of time, but that would be the first thing I’d add. Also, on the technical side, the size of the obstruction would need to be scaled properly with the screen resolution.

An interesting idea that was pitched was actually having the bunnies take up space around the character instead of on the screen. It would still obstruct the player’s view, but I think a more interesting and immersive way.

To add interesting gameplay ethical decisions…

To play on ethical decisions in games it’s not enough to merely present the player with a decision. You must also provide a consequence to that decision. Their choice must not be without consequence.

Good

I could add making it more difficult to pick up bunnies the more bunnies you’ve picked up (even adding the chance of accidentally dropping them and killing them that way), could even make player slower the more bunnies that are collected. But on the flip side I (with the basic game addition of slow-moving pace for the bunnies), to make it easier to save them the bunnies to come to the player. Screen obstruction could increase by making the screen could become lighter and brighter the more bunnies are saved. If you manage to save all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) it could be a fun bright-out moment! The player could further witness what they’ve saved the bunnies from: or what they’ve left the bunnies they were unable, or unwilling, to save, were left to.

Evil

On the reverse, after adding a base slow-moving pace for the bunnies, I could make the bunnies faster and even attempt to avoid the player the more bunnies the player killed, especially when the player is clearly intentionally killing bunnies. As an additional threat, the murdered bunnies could come back to haunt the player. Player’s insanity could increase shown by a blurred screen, tinted red of course. The more insane, the blurrier the screen. If you manage to kill all the bunnies (Is that a challenge?) there could be a red-out moment with the player witnessing what they’ve done.

Conflicted

A lot of the game results are based on the difference of choice: a scale if you will, between these ethical choices. But what if the scale was basically equal? The bunnies become unsure to trust you or hide from you. Maybe some of the bunnies you managed to already save try to get away, maybe some you haven’t come to you. And your insanity is the highest because of the conflict. The screen could glitch with black and white and red. I mean, you got problems, so it could also become increasingly more difficult to control your avatar and his decisions as your insanity takes over!

Platform Porting

“I think… the biggest issue with mobile games [is] when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting.”

I think this would play well on mobile devices, perhaps better than on the PC where players are looking for more immersive, longer gameplay. This game is more about a quick experience which most mobile players look for. But to play well on mobile the controls would need to be modified. I think that’s the biggest issue with mobile games: when the game designer/developer doesn’t design gameplay mechanic input specifically for the device they are targeting. But with a few purposefully designed tweaks to gameplay mechanic input, I think this game would work beautifully on a tablet or phone.

Possible mobile gameplay mechanics

  • Maybe a single tap rotates through the speed of the player (stop, walk, run), OR add a single speed uncontrolled by the player in the forward vector (for the direction the avatar is facing)
  • Drag to change the direction of avatar movement
  • Make the quick time event a quick double-tap (if using a single speed), or a swirl.
  • Jump (unnecessary in this very basic, experiment of concept level, but would work well in a platformer with either crafted or procedural levels) could be a quick swipe.

 

Experimental Games, Game Dev Adventures!

Making “Tech Escape: If You Can!”

Play this game! Instructions in the portfolio.

DankRoom

Inspiration

Theme: Feature a Keyboard

I was tasked with making a game featuring a keyboard. After several failed experiments I realized the game I wanted to make wasn’t so much about showing a keyboard in the game but having the avatar use a keyboard in the game. A gamebook was the perfect solution!

A few weeks back my boss suggested I make a game about trying to exit from Vim properly. The idea intrigued me so I filed it away. When I was tasked to make a game featuring a keyboard this idea came back to me.

Development Journey

I struggled a bit with making this game. I kept playing with 3D objects in Unity, but never really made a game. I thought about making different games, but I knew that I really wanted to make a game based on the Vim idea. It wasn’t until I realized that I didn’t need the player a keyboard in order to feature it that I finally came across the right game engine: Quest. Even then I ended up choosing the wrong game type (text adventure), but it was because I felt that a gamebook was too simple.

I had envisioned a game with open-ended input. But when I realized that that was really just making an infinite multiple choice, I realized that simplifying the choices didn’t break the idea of the game: to tell a story. And that was best suited in the gamebook type.

After that, the game came together rather quickly. I have always enjoyed writing (if you couldn’t tell by my blog), and was even a professional writer and editor for a while. It was nice to get back to something I enjoy in a creative way and be making a game at the same time.

As far as narrative goes I was really aiming for the player to step into the shoes of a dumb character.

Cool Things I Learned

“…It’s important to use a game engine that is designed to support the type of game you are aiming to make.”

I think the biggest thing I learned is, don’t shove a game idea into a specific game engine/platform. That was what was holding me up the most. My game simply didn’t fit into Unity nor a text adventure. Which the first felt strange to me as I’ve never made a game before that I felt wouldn’t work in Unity. Now that’s not to say that I couldn’t have made the game in Unity, but I think it’s important to use a game engine that is designed to support the type of game you are aiming to make. Once I found the correct engine the game came together quickly and I got to play with what I really wanted to make!

“To feature something in a game you don’t have to actually see it!”

To feature something in a game you don’t have to actually see it! This stretched my mind! I got stuck on the idea of showing a keyboard in my game, but when I finally stepped back and let the avatar be the one to see and use the keyboard that’s when I hit gold.

“There’s a difference between a bad player and a dumb character.”

There’s a difference between a bad player and a dumb character. I think the hardest part of designing and writing this game was the balance between the player playing a dumb character (what I was aiming for) and the player feeling dumb (not what I wanted). I think in a couple spots this could have been improved. For instance, I could have allowed the player to select the correct choice, but the avatar still messes it up. Or instead of giving correct answers each time, I could have given just part of the answer, letting the player pick the part that is right, and allowing the character to mess it up. This was a fun challenge, and since the game is entirely text-based the game design had to come out in the narrative after the choices were made. That’s also where the narrator comes in.

I wanted the narrator to break the fourth wall, so to speak, to add humor, but also to show the player that they are different from the character they are controlling. I felt very quickly into making this gamebook that I was writing a story similar to the game The Stanley Parable. That was the feel I was going for in this experiment.

Ideas for Future Development

I like keeping this game in the text version. So I would fill it up with more narrative. The quest engine also allows for adding audio and images, even videos. I think it would be neat to add those in as well. I think the biggest design detail though would be to keep that distance between the player and the avatar while still allowing the player inside the character’s shoes.

If I made it graphical (which I would do after filling in more of the narrative to test out more ideas in an easier to develop and iterate environment), I would have physical things that the player could do (like pound on the keyboard), visual payoffs (like cool effects when answering correctly), and adding some eerie music, and of course some creepy critters…