Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Game Tunnel has a review of Democracy, a politics simulator which allows you to try your hand at governing a well-developed country like the USA. You make policy decisions for economics, social programs, warfare, etc., and try to get elected the following term.

Apparently, although it doesn't refer to a specific country, the political processes are complex and real enough that it's an educational experience to play this game anyway, which might make it a great tool for constructivist learning in a Civics classroom. If nothing else, it would require students to consider many issues they probably have never thought about, and prompt them to think about where to draw the line between practicality and ideology.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

True Western

Apparently, Bill Kunkel, one of the early videogame journalists, taught a course on advanced game design at the University of Nevada. One of his students, the talented Justin Ficarrotta (who brought us the Freeverse hit Kill Monty), has placed his work for the class up on a web site for all to see. The work is a lot of design work for a theoretical game called True Western, including trailers, explanations of gameplay elements, design bibles, level designs, project requirements, etc. An interesting site to read for would-be game designers.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Parents and games

MSNBC has an article on the role of parents in their kids' gameplay, When Parents Become Gamers. In a very comfortable way, it conveys some important issues like:
  • Brenda Braithewaite on the Hot Coffee modification that introduces sex scenes to Grand Theft Auto: "When Hot Coffee erupted into a big story I was wondering why all the parents were irate," she said. "What are you doing with the game in the first place?"

  • Matthew Ford on how game play with his son can facilitate conversations: “As a result we had several very good conversations about what defines evil, why doing evil things can be attractive, and why it can be fun to act out in a game, even though to do that in real life would be wrong.”

It made me wonder what instructions we need to offer parents. There are things I consider just obvious, like the value of the video game rating system, and the fact that there are some games designed specifically for adults (and not just the sex-related things... but advanced themes and violence.) However, it is clear to me from our interaction with kids who all seem to have seen (or claim to) M games, that parents don't take these seriously. I don't think parents play the games (possibly because they are intimidated by the skill of their children), or know how to have discussions with their kids about them.

As educators, what are our roles to help parents out?

IGDA Casual Games SIG White Paper

The International Game Developer Association Casual Games Special Interest Group released a 2005 Casual Games White Paper back in July. Since educational games are unlikely to compete against top-shelf commercial games, the "casual games" market has a lower barrier to entry, and business models will be closer to that of casual games than commercial games, much of the information out there on casual games can be applied to educational games, so it's worth a read.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Interview with Oregon Trail designer Phillip Bouchard

There's an interesting interview with Phillip Bouchard, creator of Oregon Trail over on Deadly Hippos. It's sort of a humor site, so there are some offbeat questions, but Bouchard does manage to provide some insight into the design of the best-known of all edutainment titles. Worth a read to any would-be educational game designer.
Another complaint – although rare – was that the game was not sufficiently educational. I was once in the audience at an educational technology conference when another audience member stood up to say that you don’t learn anything from The Oregon Trail. Some members of the audience were offended by the comment. I was rather amused by it. In a very limited sense, he was right. In this game I don’t attempt to stuff a lot of factual memorization down the throats of the players. But I do encourage a lot of learning through experience. And I encourage additional learning by piquing the kids’ curiosity to seek information on their own about the history and geography covered in the product. In a well-organized school setting, the teacher will make effective use of the curiosity stirred up by the game.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Sims are huge... duh!

Gamasutra has posted the sales data for PC games. Remember, these are PC game sales which I don't think inlcudes console sales (someone please correct me if I am wrong). Five of the 10 games are sims... because sims are traditionally as popular with girl gamers (if not more so) than for boys, I wonder if this speaks highly of the buying power of girls in games. If so, I am pleased that the gender gap is starting to narrow...

Game Conferences

Ian Bogost over at Water Cooler Games gives a great synopsis of educational game-related conferences coming up.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The 400 Project

There's a great column in Game Developer magazine called "Better by Design," where they try to enumerate the building blocks of good game design. Now, there's a web site that serves as the home for these ideas called the 400 Project. The goal is to get 400 rules of good game design.

This ties in very closely with the idea of "Design Patterns" - conceptual building blocks designed to solve problems that recur in tough design projects. Whether or not you end up using them in your design process, it's a good exercise to go through them and be aware of them, because it makes you think concretely about the effect - positive and negative, obvious and subtle - that the decisions you make during design can have on the gameplay.

Friday, September 02, 2005

New Issue of The Games Journal

Just released: the September issue of The Games Journal. Although it's always a short issue, it's usually fairly well-written articles of interest with little fluff.

One interesting article in this month's issue is one in which the author took a game that had fairly nice components but terrible gameplay and attempted to rework the rules, using the same components, to make it fun. An interesting idea for an exercise for a game design class, don't you think?