MI 491: Game Writing
Elizabeth LaPensée, Ph.D.
Offered Fully Online
Summer 2017, July 5 – August 18
Are you interested in writing for games? Video games, role playing games, text games, board games, choose-your-own adventure stories, you name it!
Don’t know where to begin or know where to begin but need to develop your skills and portfolio for industry or independent work?
Jump into the online summer course Game Writing, where you’ll:
– Learn about game writing techniques for industry and indie game development
– Explore readily available tools to increase skills in game writing
– Create a portfolio-ready game writing sample
No previous experience required!
Open to all students in Communication Arts & Sciences and Arts & Letters.
For an override, go to: override.cas.msu.edu.
For more information, contact Elizabeth LaPensée at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So you have particle, zooming through a particle accelerator at nearly half the speed of light. Your job: To keep it on track so it collides with a target. The collision provides information about such things as how the elements were formed.
While that sounds like a job for a scientist who has spent a lifetime studying such heady matters, it’s actually the object of a new digital game designed in part by the Department of Media and Information’s Games for Entertainment and Learning (GEL) Lab.
Called Isotopolis, the game is a joint venture of the (GEL) Lab and the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL) at MSU.
The goal: To get the public, including children as young as middle schoolers, interested in science.
“We need to be able to reach out to kids and get them excited about science,” said Zachary Constan, NSCL Outreach Director who helped design the game. “The game is very accessible, something they can do on their own. It’s going to get to them in a way I can’t.”
With Isotopolis, a player guides a particle along a track, representing the accelerator used in real experiments, working to avoid various obstacles that arise. “They keep it on track by touching the left or right side of the screen,” said Andrew Dennis, Instructor in the Department of Media and Information, who helped design the game.
The more obstacles that are avoided, the faster the player’s particle gets, until it slams into the target, creating a new isotope, or an “atomic flavor of an element.”
“It represents, step by step, what we do in the NSCL, and what will eventually be done at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams when it is complete,” Constan said. “First there is an acceleration phase, followed by a phase where you actually hit the target and select the isotope of interest.”
In a real experiment, these collisions create isotopes that can exist on Earth for less than a second, but often can tell many tales, like providing information on how our universe was shaped and how stars generate the elements that we find on Earth.
“Science is something that people are intrinsically motivated to know more about,” Dennis said. “This gives them access to it in a way that they can really grab onto.”
The game can be downloaded on an iPad for free from the App Store.
Isotopolis is funded by a grant from the American Physical Society. Additional support was provided by MSU’s College of Communications Arts and Sciences, NSCL, the Office of the MSU Vice President for Research, MSU Graduate Studies, MSU University Outreach and Engagement, the Office of the MSU Vice President for Information Technology, MSU Department of Physics and Astronomy, the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics, and the National Science Foundation.
The Department of Media and Information recently concluded its study abroad programs in Japan and South Korea, giving students the opportunity to speak with professionals in the game design industry and to experience a different culture.
The two Technology and Culture study abroad programs, led by Associate Professor Constantinos Coursaris and Assistant Professor Wietske Van Osch, offered students the opportunity to travel to Japan or South Korea or to attend both trips, which ran back to back.
Altogether, 24 students participated, and of those, nine students did both trips.
Media and Information junior Alberta Efaw was one of the students traveling to both Japan and South Korea. She said the experience reinvigorated her passion in game design.
“This really solidified my determination to become a game designer,” Efaw said. “I think the most informational company visit was to iNiS. They gave a real look into what life is like for a game designer and really encouraged us to ask any and all questions we had about the field.”
“I got the chance to do a little bit of networking and watched several other students do the same,” Efaw said. “I think that’s something that probably doesn’t get mentioned about this program enough, you meet all of these incredibly interesting people and you get to talk to them and form relationships that could help you when you are looking for jobs.”
In addition to visiting companies, students also visited universities, shrines, castles and museums in several different cities and took in unique cultural experiences, like having a Kobe beef dinner and lunch at a maid café.
“One of the best parts of the trip was Dr. Coursaris and Dr. Van Osch,” Efaw said. “They were both incredibly dedicated to making sure we had a great time and learned as much as we could.”
The Technology and Culture study abroad programs are the only faculty led programs from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences that travel to Asia.
“There are tremendous intrinsic experiences that the Technology and Culture programs afforded our students,” Coursaris said. “There has consequently been personal growth for both faculty and students and we are overwhelmed by the student’s appreciation.”
Written By Eric Westervelt
If you had to pick the most promising — and possibly most overhyped — education trends of the last few years, right up there with the online college courses known as MOOCs would almost certainly rank this one: Game-based learning shall deliver us to the Promised Land!
But between hype and hating lies the nuanced discoveries of veteran education reporter — and former teacher — Greg Toppo. “What looks like a 21st-century, flashy, high-tech way to keep kids entertained is in fact a tool that taps into an ancient way to process, explore and understand the world,” he writes in his new book The Game Believes In You. Some of his findings might surprise you.
You argue in your book that what can look like escapist fun in fact offers opportunities for deep concentration and learning. Explain.
I think the thing we need to understand first is a basic idea: What makes a game fun is not that it’s easy but that it’s hard. Gamers love a challenge.
And that challenge, you think, is linked to learning how?
The game can give the kid access to the material in a way they haven’t had before, it offers direct access in a personalized way they really can’t get any other way. I see a good game as a way to make the experience of school more rigorous. One of the big challenges school has always had is the tension: We want kids to learn a lot, and we want them to like school. Those have always been in conflict with one another. What got me really interested in this world — and I’ve been reporting on education for more than a decade — is that it speaks the language of both sides, it scratches everyone’s itch.
How did you get interested in the topic in an in-depth way? It was a bit of an accident, right?
I came to it as an exploration of media in kids’ lives. I was interested in what was happening to reading in America. I had had this conversation with one of my daughters about her relationship to books, and I discovered that she really didn’t have one. And I wondered why — because in every other way this was an ideal student, the kid we want to produce. I ended up looking at what is their media diet, their media ecology, and what part that plays in their attitudes. And I remember saying, “I don’t know why, but I can’t ignore video games.”
What, if anything, are researchers saying about gaming and how it can reward the brain exactly?
I’m not a neuroscientist, but I’ll give you the idiot’s version: The basic idea is that if you’re close to succeeding at something, you’ll try until you succeed. That is, if a system — a game or anything else — gives you sense of even partial accomplishment, you will do almost anything to get to that goal. A Japanese neuroscientist once said something along the lines of, “If you think you’ll be able to catch the bus, you’ll run for it.” Translating that to classwork, if you give someone enough success with something and a sense they can go all the way, that is incredibly attractive, and they’ll do almost anything to get all the way.
There’s a central idea, now something of a cliché, in the startup culture of Silicon Valley: Fail early, fail often, iterate. You write that there is, in fact, real value in that concept when it comes to kids and learning — that some game researchers believe games can help children think like scientists.
I guess I look at myself as a learner and see value not much in the ability to fail but what happens next. That is, you do something, you fail at it and you are able to try again with essentially no comment on it. A good game doesn’t say, “That’s the 34th time you’re trying. You really sure about this?” Nothing transpires except your next chance. For me the most vivid experience of this is playing a motorcycle racing game once. I was so bad at it. I kept hitting the reset button again and again and again. And at one point I went back and looked how many times I’d restarted this level and it was something like 1,800 times! So it’s not so much failure but the lack of comment around the failure and what you do afterwards. I think teachers would like to be able to do that but there’s a lot of pressure and they’re on time constraints: “Gotta get this train going.”
And those time constraints hold teachers back, perhaps, from trying new, different approaches sometimes?
I think so. As much as anything I wanted to introduce these ideas that maybe there is a different way to think about how we present material to kids on a daily basis. If you could give that kid the chance to fail 1,800 times at something, how would school look different to them? The case that I make is that kids would have a healthier sense of what they can do and have a more robust desire to keep going.
You taught in public and private schools before becoming an education journalist. What, if anything, did your experience in the classroom tell you or inform about your reporting for this book?
I guess like most teachers, I never felt like I was ever really a great teacher. But the moments when things really worked were those moments when I could really get my kids fired up about something — [to] forget everything else that’s happening and really focus on something we really enjoyed and loved to think and talk about. For most teachers, those are the moments that they live for. But they become so few and far between it becomes really frustrating. I always had this desire to be that excellent teacher and never really could get there except for a few moments. It’s frustrating to be in that position. But if we want to have millions of great teachers, we’ve got to figure out a way to give them better experiences, to give them success more often.
Why do you think a lot educators and teachers are still split about game-based learning?
I’d make the case that adults often misinterpret their own play. When they’re playing games, they’re really working hard, but they just don’t see it. If people could understand one very basic thing, it’s that this is a tool that has the potential to make school a more rigorous place. Then I think they’d sign on the dotted line.
Let’s talk testing. It’s fair to say that standardized tests don’t get very many kids excited about learning nor do they deepen engagement with course material. You argue that video games can do that and offer some of the same or even better measurements.
We are in a place — and have been for a long time — where games have become really, really good at assessing just what you’ve learned and how far you’ve come. Online, that tool can now not only assess you, but compare you to everyone who’s ever played the thing. That’s kind of what we’ve been after all these years. So the potential is there in a really big way. Whether we can figure out ways to apply it to something outside of the game is a heavier lift.
As we’ve reported, there is this growing backlash against standardized testing with the “opt-out movement” as well as the “test optional’ movement at some colleges and universities. There is a hope among a growing number of Americans that standardized testing as we know it is becoming an endangered species. But you don’t think we’re there yet?
I don’t think so. I think the day when simulation or games replaces the standardized test is still far off. I want to make that clear. I don’t think we’re there yet. But there’s a lot of energy being put into this issue. I think it’s early in this field. The nervousness is: What do you replace it with? If you’re saying we don’t want this kind of data coming from our kids, that’s fine. I can believe that’s not a true reflection of what they’re learning or supposed to be learning. But then what? To me the answer isn’t nothing; the answer is something better. And a lot of people would say that the result you get from an engaging game is better because it’s more authentic and closer to what a person working at the top of their capacity can do.
I want to get to the issue of fun and learning. Kids love video games, in part, because they’re fun. As I’ve talked about in other posts, learning is not always fun. Whether it’s math or music. John Coltrane allegedly spent months woodshedding on every scale, practicing from the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. I doubt that was big fun. I don’t enjoy practicing scales on the guitar. Learning is hard work.
I think that’s right. It’s not all fun and games. And the idea at the end of the day I’m really still interested in, and still hoping people will talk a little more about, is this idea of “hard fun.” That’s an actual idea game designers use. It’s not fun because it’s easy; it’s fun because it’s hard. Any gamer asked to pick their favorite game of all time, they’d say there was a grind involved to get there. It took a lot of work; it took practice and persistence. But within that I always had a sense of where I was coming from and where I was going. I think that is the key here.
Guess it does depend on the type of game and what it offers. I like to kick it old-school at times with Addams Family or Black Knight pinball. It’s not mentally challenging, but it is really fun.
Pinball is one of the things that’s to blame for our attitudes toward video games and why some see them as unsavory.
Yeah, people saw pinball as promoting gambling and vice. And they were actually outlawed in some cities.
Absolutely. Pinball spent 30 or 40 years banned in many American cities. And when they came back it happened to be right before the video game revolution. So they appeared at the same time side by side. Even though even the most primitive, early video games were these incredible skill machines, they were right next to the pinball machines. And everybody had these old visions of “sin” and gaming. They were tainted by association.
Pinball. Is there hope for me?
There is hope for you. There is the idea of easy fun that’s just as important a concept as hard fun in the game design world. It says, after you’ve worked hard, ease off a bit.
On Friday April 4th, CEO of game development studio Scientifically Proven, Nathaniel ‘Than’ McClure, teamed up with Spartasoft and MSU’s Media Sandbox to deliver a fantastic studio talk to MSU’s game development students. With experience at both AAA studios and his own independent studio, Than gave students insight into the game industry and helped prepare them for future careers.
To kick the talk off, Than discussed his transition from working as an actor to jumping head first into the video games industry as a Quality Assurance (QA) specialist for Activision. He gave many young students hope, highlighting in his career path the importance and hidden excitement a job in QA can offer. Later, while discussing his role as Producer on many games, including the first 4 Call of Duty titles, he gave a realistic perspective on how to survive in a highly competitive industry like video games. This included a deep analysis of the relationships between publishers and developers. This analysis included a plethora of useful diagrams illustrating the ebb and flow of industry and an in depth discussion on the many differences between two types of development studios, independents and AAA. He later gave advice on how to adapt and work in, and with, each one. Some of the differences discussed include the work environment, the development process and path to publishing.
After, Than continued his discussion, covering his views on the main disciplines in game development: programming, art, audio, design, and production. When covering a discipline, Than gave advice on not only what is expected for an individual applying for each today, but also his valuable insights on what may be expected in the future when current industry trends he brought to light continue. For the remainder of the talk, Than gladly answered any questions the students had which ranged from his design influences for Scientifically Proven’s most recent game, “Blood of the Werewolf“, to resume tips for getting a job in QA.
Than’s advice, and exposure to game development industry companies and culture is invaluable to students, and greatly appreciated. Spartasoft and Media Sandbox thank Than for taking time to speak to future game designers and developers at MSU. We hope to see him soon and wish him and the entire team at Scientifically Proven the best in the future and to keep making great games!
Spartasoft, MSU’s game development student group, recruited Than McClure to present this industry job talk. Media Sandbox and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences sponsored the event. Play Spartasoft’s games and get involved!
The camp, led by Brian Winn, associate professor of game design and development, teaches middle and high school students the basics of game design and development.
Throughout the week, students are engaged in the game design process, from the initial game idea, storyboarding and pitching to the iterative development process of prototyping, play testing and balancing.
Campers learn the process, tasks and roles involved in game development, including programmer, artist, designer and producer, while building their own 3D video game.
A team of students at Michigan State University worked this past semester with Greater Play, LLC, a Lansing-area startup, to develop a Kickstarter campaign for a mobile game. Kickstarter takes advantage of the emerging “crowdfunding” model to democractize entrepeneurship and gets potential consumers to back the funding of the project so it can be produced. The one month Kickstarter campaign launched on Friday, June 14th and runs through July 14th.
The team of eight students worked on the project as part of the Spring 2013 capstone course in the Game Design and Development specialization. The students helped in the conceptualization of the team-based action game, built a working prototype of the game for the iPad, and helped Greater Play in developing the actual Kickstarter campaign materials. “This was a challenging project. We not only had to apply the knowledge we had gained in the specialization, but we had to learn a great deal of new things to meet the goals of the project,” stated Bryan Novak, the student team manager.
Casey O’Donnell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies, and Media, was the instructor of the capstone course. “The real-world experience students gained in this project is one of the unique aspects of our program at Michigan State University. It helps students be prepared for a job in the industry.”
The GEL Lab just pushed Spartan Villa and Grumpy Snowmen to the Google Play store! While these games have been out for some time on Apple iOS, this is the first Android release. They also released the Mac, Windows, and Web build of Spartan Villa today (these were already available for Grumpy Snowmen.) Check them out:
In conjunction with the Made In Michigan film, “Freaky Deaky”, a companion mobile app called “Freaky Deaky Flashback” is now available on the Apple App Store and Google Play store. The app was developed through a unique collaborative effort between students in the Michigan State University Game Design and Development Specialization, Eyde Studios located in East Lansing, MI, and Pixo Entertainment located in Southfield, MI.
Brian Winn, Director of the Games for Entertainment and Learning Lab at MSU, was the lead designer on the project. Winn worked closely with a team of eight students in the MSU Game Design and Development Specialization and a team of professionals at Pixo Entertainment to develop the app. Winn stated, “this project gave the students very real-world experience working on a professional-level project, complete with the deadlines and production schedules they can expect in the industry.”
In Freaky Deaky Flashback, the player assumes the role of an undercover FBI Agent, Daniel Jacobs, immersed in the rebellious counter-culture of the late-1960s. The player must infiltrate a group of deviant college students whose peaceful demonstrations have turned explosive. The goal of the player is to figure out who set off a bomb during a student demonstration and apprehend the suspects before they do any more damage.