Themes I’m looking for at FIE2009

Attending a conference can be hard work. There are hundreds of folks presenting about things they are really interested in and the conference organizers do their best to collect those ideas into themes into 1.5 hour sessions. The problem is that every participant is organizing based on their own theme.

If this was simply a wiki, we could just tag-cloud the heck out of it and everyone would have their own custom schedule. In real life however, there are overhead costs of switching rooms and a bunch of work to plan it all out.

That said, here are the themes I am interested in seeing:

informal learning, contextualized learning, project-based pedagogues, new media (social, interactive, mobile)

So here is the plan for today

Monday 10-11

Start in La Princeta Room

Leave Session early, Jump to La Vista Room

Monday 2-4

Start in La Condesa East

Leave Session, jump to El Mirador West

Monday 4:30-6

Start in La Condesa East

Move to La Condesa West

Text in Videogames – Kevin Harris TOT session

Input Systems

No Player Input

  • Writing on the wall in L4D
  • Training in World of Goo
  • Ambiance

Player Selection

Often a player is able to choose an option and the system responds. These choices are prexisting and the player has little creativity involved. There are a few ways for the player to interface:

  • A multiple choice
  • A mini-game like oblivian’s bribe system
  • In game actions with no conversation mode (Adom)

Direct Input

When it works, it gives the player a sense of creativity. The problem is that it often doesn’t parse correctly.


“You hit the X and Y wounded him”

This format of text is created by having the player select the x and y. The obvious advantage it that is gives more control to the player that a multiple choice interaction, but is much easier for the system to parse than direct text input.

Output Systems


Completely predefined text that plays out like a cut-scene.


“You hit the X and Y wounded him”

Gives a fair amount of objects. Not good for multiple language support. Limited use.


Facade and the Postmodern text generator

Puzzles in Games – Jan Cheetham

“Puzzles are fun and have a right answer” Kim

“Puzzles are games that are not fun to replay” – Shell

Like Games:

  • Systems in which players engage in conflict
  • Defined by rules
  • Quantifiable outcome
  • Have a goal of finding the dominant strategy

Unlike Games:

  • Don’t respond?
  • Stop being fun once you know the dominant stratigy

Puzzle games contain puzzles embedded into the environment of the game

Good Examples: Tetris, Zelda, etc.

Bad Example: 7th Guest. No real connection between the puzzle and the environment

Whats good about puzzles in games?

  • They force the player to stop and think
  • They force the player to make conceptual shifts
  • They serve as accessible tools for figuring out strategies

Principles of Designing good Puzzles

  1. Make the goal easily understandible
  2. Make it easy to get started (Kim: Build a new Toy that is fun to play with)
    1. Does it act like something they have seen before?
  3. Give a sense of progress (not like solving a riddle)
    1. What does it mean to make progress?
    2. Is there enough progress? Could you add more progression?
    3. Is all progress visible?
    4. Give a sense of solvability (rubrik’s cube comes solved)
    5. Increase difficulty gradually
  4. Parallelism lets the player rest (Give many challenges in parallel so they can work on something else if they get stuck)
    1. Are there bottlenecks in the design where players could get stuck?
    2. Are the parallel challenges different enough?
    3. Are parallel challenges interrelated?
  5. Pyramid structure extends interest (low level puzzles provide clues to higher level puzzles)
    1. Can all pieces of the puzzle fit together into a single challenge at the end
    2. Do the challenges increase in difficulty
    3. IS the challenge at the top interesting?
  6. Hints extend interest (renew hope and curiosity)
  7. Give the Answer
  8. Perceptual shifts are a double-edged sword

Understanding Comics – Scott McCLoud via Cid Freitag

Why comics in game design?

  • The gutter – an action that happens inbetween the art is a lot like the activities the player does in a game
  • They are both a “low art” form surround by lots of fear. In the 50ies, people were scared of “tales from the Crypt” they eway they are scared of GTA now.

McCloud defines a comic as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or produce an aesthetic response in the viewer”

Is the Bayeux Tapestry a comic by this definition? Myan Murals/Writing and Art? Egyptian Hieroglyphics?


Icons are any images used to represent a person, place or idea.

Abstracting allows us to focus on what we want to draw attention to. Its not a matter of reducing detail as much as picking the details that are important.

Words can also lie within a continuum from received to perceived.


Comics are fractured snapshots of a continuous timeline. From this, we all construct a unified reality. The world on the other side of the comic page is assumed to have a reality and we are trying to make sense of it.

Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Balance in Game design

ballence.001These last few weeks I’ve been doing a series of presentations out of a fantastic book on game design, The Art of Game Design – A Book of Lenses, by Jesse Schell.

In the beginning of chapter 11, Jesse begins the description of two ways that fairness can be created in multiplayer gaming. The first is what is called symmetrical balance and many games such as football, chess, tennis and halo use this to create a fairness in play.

I think the most simple example of symmetrical balance is found in the classic game of tic-tac-toe. In this game, both players have the same actions available to them, namely the ability to fill any of the empty squares with their symbol. They are able to do this once per turn, then they wait for their opponent to make their move. The players also have an identical goal to win the game; they must place their symbols so that three are in a row either horizontally, vertically or diagonally. The first player to do this wins.

Because both players have identical affordances and goals, this game is completely symmetrical. The only imbalance is deciding which player goes first, which gives them a slight advantage. In many games like this, a random draw to decide clears up this final problem.

ballence.004On the other hand, asymmetrical games give players different possible moves or different goals to win. On the simple side of things, the board game risk does this when played by the mission rules. Here players have the same kinds of moves, but they have different goals. A more complicated example is one of my current favorite games, Team Fortress 2.

TF2 has 9 player types, including:

  • The heavy –  has a huge machine gun and a lot of life, but moves very slowly
  • The scout  – has a small shotgun for close range combat, little life and moves very fast
  • The engineer – has a shotgun similar to the scout’s, but can build things such as a robotic sentry gun or a set of portals to warp themselves and other players
  • The spy – Can disguise themselves as opponents and even become invisible for a short time, but has no ranged weapons


So which character is the best? Well, that is where the asymmetrical balance is seen. Each of the characters have strengths and weaknesses. No single character is the best because if we assign values to things such as speed, maneuverability and firepower, we see that they all have the same value overall.

It should be obvious that designing an asymmetrical game is quite a challenge. Despite our mathematical models of predicted value, it is impossible to say how important each category really is for victory. In addition, the use of this characters is impossible to predict, all kinds of emergent and unplanned activity takes place. The bottom line, is that the only real way to find balance is to playtest the heck out it and see what players do. As soon as one character shows a clear domination, we change the attributes.

So there it is: Symmetrical vs. Asymmetrical Balance. Symmetrical games are easier to balance for fairness, but Asymmetrical games allow for a much richer set of player choices at the expense of much harder game design.

ENGAGE Collaboration Data

ENGAGE Collaboration LogoThis week, Lindsey Schmidt worked up the results from the surveys we did concerning our work to integrate collaboration technologies into 34 courses, effecting about 1400 students here at UW Madison.

Here are some of the findings I found interesting:

  • In the pre-test, only about 50% of students said they “enjoy using tools like wikis, blogs, chat, discussion board, etc” with a slight increase in the post test.
  • 89% of the students said their group benefited from using technology tools for collaborative work. 80% of faculty said the same about their students work. About the same amount said that the tools made their work more convenient.
  • Over 80% of the instructors felt that using technology tools enhanced the quality of the final work.
  • Only about 65% of the students said they were “glad” technology was integrated into the course
  • The top tools that were ranked “extremely or quite helpful” were: F2F Meetings (85%), Email (83%), Wikis (58%), Discussion Boards (55%), Content Management Systems (52%), Chat (48%)
  • The top tools for coordinating F2F meetings were Email, Social Networking Sites, and IM Chat
  • Top tools for creati†ng presentations were: Email, Wiki, then Google
  • How did technology tools help? Convenience (39.9%), Reduced F2F time (31.3%), Common Place to Store Work (21.7%), Easy to Communicate (17.4%)
  • Students that understood exactly how the project related to the course objectives were much more likely to say they learn better in groups

More info about the ENGAGE Collaboration Project

GameQuest: Managing Educational Game Design Projects


Les, Cid and I just finished a 3.5 hour worshop presentation at the 2009 Distance Teaching and Learning conference. Like the other presentations we have done in the GameQuest line, it entailed a simple card game with scoring to facilitate some great conversations and stories from our experiance designing video games over the last few years. Here are the handouts from the game if you are interested.

Elements of Role Playing: Part 2 – David Simkins

GNS Triangle

The GNS Triangle is a way to describe what role players want in a game. The edges of the triangle are Gamist, Narrativist and Simulationist.

  • Narrative – Most of the narrative events in many games are pre-chosen. In a successful design, the narrative fragments will have an impact because of the choices that the player performed beforehand.
  • Simulation – Thought the simulation is set, it allows people to navigate though them in many different ways. This is the sandbox side of a game.
  • Games – The game system, the other side of the sandbox. Things to do, ways to do them and challenges to get in the way.

Example: Hearts of Iron – a WWII game. WWII has a set narrative. The designers are interested in the design of the game set in historical events. Triggers happen no matter what, for example, the break up of the western european nations, but many things are flexible.

Bartle’s Player Types

There are 4 main types (Barte had 8 actually): Explorers, Socializers, Achievers and Killers.

Take the test yourself:

RPG Triangle

Actors, Gamers and Role Players

  • For example, in a mock trial, the person that stands up and wants to bring the confounding piece of evidence, they are likely an actor.
  • The person that wants to win is more in the gamer camp.
  • The person who wants to be an accurate lawyer is more of a role player.

Between these two player taxonomies, we need to understand what our players are expecting. We can also design around the majorities. People self report these preferences inaccurately, but it sure would be nice to know.

Creating Role

  • Whatever the game is about, make them at the middle of the action. This could include subgames that highlight their specific roles.
  • Create an environment where something is really at stake and the players can understand it.
  • Consequences, Mirroring, Social Context and Freedom all lead to the investment in a role.

Role Playing Games in Higher Ed: David W. Simkins

World of Warcraft is one of the largest role playing game that exists right now. It is a role playing game because players take a role. Another example is Dungenouns and Dragons. These are influences, but let’s start with a higher ed curriculum.

Some Role Playing Games already in Higher Ed Curriculum

  • In “Model UN” to take a role of a dipomat in a model government. Mock Trials, Government role playing happen a good bit in the curriculum
  • Another type, the negotiation game, is used quite a bit in law courses. The goal is to take a role and negotiate.
  • The third form is the psyodrama. The goal is to create an emotional situation. Often this looks liek a simple reenactment.

RP Concepts

  • Participants take on a role (Status and Responsibility)
  • Roles are played consistent in a shared context
  • Guided by rules. These are defined by the domain being explored.
  • In-game and out-of-game boundaries are protected. (Huizinga’s magic circle)

RP Design

  • Consequence: Action P leads to Result Q. One of the errors is not allowing the players to actually change the system.
  • Mirroring: If Person P does something to person Q, person Q responds and that effects person P. The main mistake is not having it. Instead of waiting for the debrief, give an in-game reasonable response.
  • Social Context: Every person exists within a social context. These are all the details that have “grown up out of practice” within the context. Biggest problem is not having one that is shared and amply defined.
  • Freedom. For example, they can climb on a table and screem and suffer the consequences. They cannot however change the facts.

Elements that benefit from the application of these four lenses

  • PC’s: For example, when looking at consequence, if the players role does not logically have the power to create changes, they should be done by the facilitator.
  • PC Relationships
  • Critical Path

Embodied Cognition – Matt Gaydos

There are two terms that are interchangeability used often, though they are different:

  • Grounded Cognition – Grounded in many forms
  • Embodied Cognition – Grounded in context, physical cognition, perception of sences

It is popular to think of the mind as a wax tablet, a computer. It is a move from symbols to something else that is in the context of sensory input.

What does embodied cognition say about cognition?

  • Cognition is situated
  • Cognition is offloaded (tools for thoughts)
  • Cognition is for Action

Experiential learning therefore is an instructional design method based on the education psychology of EC.

Some readings on embodied cognition

  • Wilson, M (2202). SixViews of Embodied Cognition
  • Barsalou, L (2008) Grounded Cognition
  • Glenberg, A (1997) What Memory is For