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Alice good for game design class?
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Godo
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Default Alice good for game design class? - 11-20-2007, 10:07 PM

Hi all!

I will be teaching a game design class for middle schoolers at an arts center this summer. I am wondering if Alice is a good choice for game design?

I really like the 3D object browser and the fact that the world is 3D which I think will really appeal to them, I also like the context sensitive drop & drag coding.
I'm looking at a few packages right now, deciding what to use for the class. I'm really hoping Alice is it, but I'll put it to the experts... what do you think?

Remember, the games would be really simple - ie, moving a character around, collecting some items, avoiding obstacles, etc.
   
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DickBaldwin
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Default 11-21-2007, 06:37 AM

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Originally Posted by Godo View Post
Hi all!

...

Remember, the games would be really simple - ie, moving a character around, collecting some items, avoiding obstacles, etc.
Among the students who contribute to this forum, one of the biggest complaints is the lack of collision detection in Alice 2.0. As near as I have been able to determine, in order to determine the proximity of one object to another and stop the movement when they collide, they must approach one another in short steps instead of executing a move method and stopping in the middle of the move. However, I may be wrong on this because I haven't given it a lot of thought. If this will be an issue, I recommend that you search the forum for the keyword collision.

Dick Baldwin
Free Alice tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/tocalice.htm
Free programming tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/toc.htm
   
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One drawback
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DrJim
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Default One drawback - 11-25-2007, 10:43 AM

I would think the biggest drawback for the class you describe would be that there is no easy way for the students to show off the games they have made. The export to web page option in Alice 2.0 is so buggy that it is essentially useless (I never have gotten a game to work at all that way) and the screen capture options (using another program) don't support game play.

The local art school uses Flash (Flash 8 a year ago, but they may have upgraded) which does allow you run your games on other machines - although the software itself is quite expensive.

Another free option would be Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/) which is pretty limited but does have an excellent web posting option. Despite it's limitations, I've seen some really nice games using that program - if your emphasis is on art instead of programming it should work fine.
   
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A Pedagogical Perspective (from a non-teacher)
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Tom West
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Default A Pedagogical Perspective (from a non-teacher) - 01-06-2008, 08:46 PM

I've just finished helping my son with a video game project he's done for a grade 9 class using Alice and I'm both awed and horrified in equal measure.

Alice is a terrific tool for allowing students to produce a lot of really impressive looking programs. I'm looking at my son who's writing his first major program and thinking - that's 50,000 lines of Java, minimum. Alice's strong point is certainly that it allows students to produce impressive pieces of work without a huge amount of knowledge, and thus it is going to help motivate the students by allowing an immense amount of gratification for not an insane amount of learning. That was the awe.

The horror was looking at his code. His entire code is hugely concurrent sections of code in methods that are vaguely connected to the objects they are found in. I started to chastise his program structure, but I began to realize that there is no way an average grade 9 student could possibly produce clean logic for a game that multiple levels of different types of flying monsters, an assortment of weapons, etc. Instead, he built an edifice that worked based on sand. It was semi-object oriented spaghetti - and it worked. What could I say? Don't try something this fun?

To answer your question about applicability to a Game Design Class: From my perspective, it really depends upon what the course objectives are. If the real objective is to get students interested in programming and build confidence in using computers, Alice is a very good tool. If the objective is to teach good design principles, or even the beginning principles of programming, I think it's in great danger of allowing the elements that lead to student gratification to swamp the elements that lead to good programming practices.

There is one other problem with Alice. By doing such a great job in hiding complexity and making certain difficult things incredibly easy, student's are often confused as to why *everything* isn't that easy. My answer to one of my son's questions was that his simple request would probably require another 2,000 lines of Java code. He couldn't really understand why and simply assumed that other programming languages are defective. If he pursues programming, I fear he's in for some big disappointments when he learns what programming is really like...

(It's not unlike the arguments with Visual Basic 10 years earlier. Students liked the idea of producing professional looking programs, but such gratification often came at the cost of significant pedagogical achievement.)
   
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marriott
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Default 01-06-2008, 09:41 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Godo View Post
Remember, the games would be really simple - ie, moving a character around, collecting some items, avoiding obstacles, etc.
Alice can be a great tool for throwing together a game. Alice can be extremely frustrating when writing a game, as well. There are no convenience methods for game creation, so you run into the problems described earlier in this thread.

With that in mind, I would recommend, especially given your time frame and audience, to give them an idea of what Alice is good and bad at as far as game creation. You can make a whole game without running into any of the frustrating parts of game creation in Alice, if you know what to look out for. It seems like you already had this in mind, but I would definitely give a "project list" for your audience. Think of games that can be built up from the things that are straightforward enough to do in Alice (all of the ones you mentioned above would fall into this category-- the toughest one there is collision detection when avoiding obstacles. A great solution to this is to just send the player back to the start if they hit one. You have the gameplay element of avoiding obstacles without dealing with the complications of preventing the player from colliding with the object), and offer these as baselines.

It does suck that it's hard to share their creations, but you could at least do something like have a presentation day on the last day of camp, where the students mill about and play each others' games. Being an art camp, you probably already have a day where mom and pop come in to see what they've done.
   
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DickBaldwin
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Default 01-06-2008, 09:44 PM

At the college where I teach, we will be offering a two-year degree in game development beginning in the fall of 2008. Within that curriculum, there will be several tracks, including:

Game design
Game programming

Students in the game programming track will be required to successfully complete several very serious courses in software design and programming (plus a good deal of math). After learning about OOP using Java, they will mainly concentrate on C++, which seems to be the norm in the game programming side of the industry (except for cell phone games where Java seems to be king).

Students in the game design track will only be required to complete one programming course, and it will be a course in programming fundamentals with an orientation toward gaming. Although the programming environment that will be used for that course is still up in the air, my vote will be to teach this course using Alice.

Therefore, as far as the committee that designed this degree plan is concerned, there is a vast difference between the software design skills required by game programmers and game designers. (There are many game development companies in Austin where we are located, and a number of representatives from those companies are on the industry advisory committee for this curriculum.)

Basically, the game designers need to be able to specify what will happen in the game, but not necessarily how to implement that behavior. On the other hand, they need to know enough about programming to be able to converse in a reasonable way with programmers.

The game programmers, on the other hand, will be required to implement the required behavior of the game, hopefully using good software design principles in the process.

So, I'm unsure as to whether the original question that started this thread refers to game programmers or game designers. If it applies to game designers, Alice should be a reasonably good environment to use. If it applies to game programmers, Alice may be okay for starters, but the students should quickly outgrow Alice 2.0 and move on to either Java or C++.

Alice 3.0, (if it ever really becomes available), might be a good choice for game programming at the middle school level, but eventually (and unfortunately in my opinion) a successful game programmer must be proficient in OOP using C++ to earn a living. (They also must be prepared to work 12 to 15 hours per day as a contract programmer for many years, but that is a topic for another thread on another day.)

Dick Baldwin
Free Alice tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/tocalice.htm
Free programming tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/toc.htm
   
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Game Design Program
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Tom West
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Default Game Design Program - 01-07-2008, 09:02 PM

This is completely off topic, but how does one implement a game design program?

It would seem to me that the ratio of game programmers/art creators/whatevers to game designers would be about 100:1 and that you'd need years working in the trenches slowly upward before anyone is going to trust you with a few million dollars to design a game. (Sort of like wanting to be a film director.)

Am I completely wrong about this? Is there actually unfulfilled demand for the creative aspects of game design? (It's been a few years since I kept tabs on the game industry - back when I was paying attention, pretty much 100% of the designers were previously programmers...)
   
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DickBaldwin
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Default 01-08-2008, 09:37 AM

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Originally Posted by Tom West View Post
This is completely off topic, but how does one implement a game design program?

It would seem to me that the ratio of game programmers/art creators/whatevers to game designers would be about 100:1 and that you'd need years working in the trenches slowly upward before anyone is going to trust you with a few million dollars to design a game. (Sort of like wanting to be a film director.)

Am I completely wrong about this? Is there actually unfulfilled demand for the creative aspects of game design? (It's been a few years since I kept tabs on the game industry - back when I was paying attention, pretty much 100% of the designers were previously programmers...)
That is a very good question, which I don't have the answer to. The game design part of our curriculum is coming out of a different department than the one that I teach in. I have been told that large-scale game development these days involves large teams of people with only a small percentage of them being programmers. My only involvement in the game design part of the curriculum is to possibly teach a programming fundamentals course to the game-design students. I do recognize, however, that a different set of skills is required to develop the design of an engaging game than the skills required to implement that design in code.

Ask me in a couple of years if the program was successful and I hope to be able to say yes.

Dick Baldwin
Free Alice tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/tocalice.htm
Free programming tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/toc.htm
   
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DrJim
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Default 01-19-2008, 05:44 PM

A good recent summary of the work a game design "concept artist" is expected to do is at http://www.imaginefx.com/02287754332...es-artist.html . A search of the same magazine's (ImagineFX) database also gives several other interesting articles on game design .

For a feel of typical work on core game engine software, take a look at the Irrlicht Engine site (http://irrlicht.sourceforge.net/ ). It is probably one of the most capable 3D graphics/gaming engines around - and the current release apparently works both on Macs and PCs (C++ and .NET, but not Linux).

I'm only guessing at the ratio of "hard core" programmers to artists and animators for established gaming companies, but I suspect that it is at least 1:1, if not even more heavily weighted towards the artists, just because of the raw quantity of the graphic material that needs to be developed for a modern game. (How many of the "artistic" contributors started out as programmers, however, is a very interesting question.)
   
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DickBaldwin
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Default 01-27-2008, 05:57 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom West View Post
This is completely off topic, but how does one implement a game design program?

It would seem to me that the ratio of game programmers/art creators/whatevers to game designers would be about 100:1 and that you'd need years working in the trenches slowly upward before anyone is going to trust you with a few million dollars to design a game. (Sort of like wanting to be a film director.)

Am I completely wrong about this? Is there actually unfulfilled demand for the creative aspects of game design? (It's been a few years since I kept tabs on the game industry - back when I was paying attention, pretty much 100% of the designers were previously programmers...)
There is a very interesting article on this topic at http://www.gamecareerguide.com/featu...ers.php?page=1

Dick Baldwin
Free Alice tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/tocalice.htm
Free programming tutorials: http://www.dickbaldwin.com/toc.htm
   
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