July 23, 2012

MrMalm: One major facet of EscapeCraft is the availability of resources on the different continents. We wanted each area to be rich in one of the three key minerals needed to build the spacecraft while limiting access to the other two. Our solution to this was making custom maps in World Painter. As stated on it's website, World Painter "allows you to "paint" landscapes using similar tools as a regular paint program. Sculpt and mould the terrain, paint materials, trees, snow and ice, etc. onto it, and much more". This made it incredibly easy for us to make there distinct islands and directly control which biomes they contained.

This is the world we used for the first game which I created myself. It featured a desert with oasis, a mountainous jungle in the southwest and swampy forest in the North. After playing on the map for the first time many of the students were excited about the tool and wanted to create maps themselves.

The world map for our second game of EscapeCraft was created by one of our students. It features a desert, snow region and an island volcano with lava flow. The extreme differences between biomes present different challenges for each nation. In the desert, trees and animals are in short supply. The tree covered mountains may have plenty of wood, but usable farmland must be cleared and leveled.

World painter also allows for great control below the surface as well. You are able to adjust the amount of underground caverns and specify the exact ratio of minerals scattered below. Since we wanted additional control over where redstone, iron and coal were found, I would set the over all percentage of these extremely low (usually 1-2% each). Then I just created three custom layers to add the resources to specific locations on the map.

This shows the custom resource layers painted on top of the different islands. Each layer is set between 20-40% occurrence, which means that each island's resource is very abundant and players of that nation should be able to collect a surplus of their mineral.

When the maps are exported from World Painter, there is an option to buffer the map edges with ocean and even surround the border with bedrock. Otherwise, when moving outside the map, Minecraft generates new areas as it would normally.

July 18, 2012

Knowclue: We are three days into playing the second iteration of the game. What strikes me most is the happy noise of kids engaged in the classroom. What is most satisfying in listening to the buzz of kids engaged in play & learning is that we have consistently been listening to this productive "buzz" for the couple of years when kids are in the lab working in Minecraft or other virtual world & MMOGs. It's a sweet sound!

As for the game itself, kids have made some significant improvements in their play strategy this week. Two of the nations have been particularly productive and have been much more proactive in securing food earlier in the game. The Iron Nation is struggling with getting organized, sharing, collecting... you name it!. We have had a couple of discussions outside of the game to draw attention to this issue. At the end of yesterday, Iron Nation seemed to be making progress but today they are still far behind where they need to be for the game to be won. We have also talked to the students about why we (the teachers) introduce problems into the game such as falling meteors and natural disasters (a convention suggested by Snowkit to make the RP in the game more interesting). MrMalm and I are experimenting with having these kinds of frank discussions with the students periodically outside the game. We feel if we are asking our students to participate in the actual game design, they need to understand some of the mechanics.

July 16, 2012

Knowclue: We have completed our first week of EscapeCraft. Personally, it has been gratifying to work with the students and observe what happens when they are included in the design process. The concept of the game was generated from the need to create a project that could be done with other schools, but it is quickly growing into so much more. While MrMalm & I may have come up with the concept, it really has been the kids who have taken our simple framework and started to build it into something more sophisticated. Just look at Snowkit's revision to the original story! :-) There are little touches to the narrative that are not as obvious. In our first design meeting, Snowkit & sugar asked us to have meteors falling in world during the game to make the story feel more realistic.

While the first iteration of the game ended in fail, we learned so much along the way. The kids debriefed on the final day and made some tweaks to the game (notes on game page). For me, the most interesting lesson of the week was the dilemma that arose when everyone realized they had enough assets to save a few, but not all of the citizens. The conversation started in a positive direction as Snowkit announced the Prime Ministers would stay behind. However, things degenerated later in the day when students came to find me and complain that one of the Prime Ministers were telling other game players that they were to be "sacrificed". While I'm usually reluctant to interfere (having faith in students' abilities to resolve tough issues), I felt it wasn't fair for this particular issue to be negotiated outside of the game space. Sadly, given the circumstances, I made an executive decision to declare that everyone had to be saved, or the game would be lost. This made me a little frustrated as I think we missed a deep learning opportunity, but it was the only responsible decision to make. We discussed during the debriefing session on Friday. Half of the kids felt the game should always be played as a total save or fail, but half thought that the game should be open to deal with the deep ethical questions raised by only being able to save some. FASCINATING. I've done a lot work with simulations, and know that something this personal can be explosive. While I don't believe that it should be avoided, I do think teachers should tread carefully, know their students well and create a really safe space to explore these kinds of ethical issues with students.

Other interesting observations in the first week of play was standing by as the kids really struggled in getting organized and cooperating. As a teacher, it raised the age old question of how long to let them struggle without offering hints. One of our major objectives in playing this game is to allow students the opportunity to learn how to work together. If the kids can't figure that out on their own by playing the game, than the game is a fail. MrMalm and I continue to discuss this daily, wondering if we are expecting too much too soon. Can they figure it out on their own? Are we being impatient? Is the game design flawed? Stay tuned in for more on this question...