So, in my Other Life, I am a second grade teacher. Lately there’s been a lot of Talk about STEM in schools, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, which has grown out of the relatively terrible job we (teachers) do of making these fields seem interesting to all but a very narrow set of children. So, considering Talk, and The Direction We Are All Going, and my own Interests, and code.org’s Hour of Code initiative, I thought it was a good year to try to teach my children to make games.
It went well. We used trial versions of Game Maker 8, installed onto district laptops, and we met once a week for about an hour before school. We totally overreached in all possible ways. We didn’t finish anything. Students planned grandiose cosmos-spanning games, and then smashed against syntax errors and limited student file permissions and evidence-that-these-computers-have-been-frequently-used-by-over-700-students and they made flashing squares move across their screens. They drew hundreds of beautiful frames on sticky notes that turned into hundreds of pictures of sticky notes on my phone and then tens of .pngs that were occasionally used to replace the flashing squares. It was a mess; it was wonderful.
Something I frequently promised toward the end of the school year was that I would distribute a list of programs we used and friendly instructions for how to use them. I am putting some links here as the very first step to doing this, eventually, because I am usually a horrid liar and a forgetfulness and I want to be able to hand someone a “don’t worry if you know nothing about computers, here is how to get in there and make something” guide. With pictures! Of me. And my giant triangle nose, so I need to start making a small part of it real, otherwise all my spare moments will go to tweaking the rotation rate on a flying banana and the school year will arrive and Nothing Will Ever Be Made.
:: HENCEFORTH A LIST OF HELPFUL THINGS ::
TWINE TWINE. TWINE. A wonderful way to make a Choose Your Own Adventure sort of game very quickly. Absolutely lovely. Even if you don’t think you want to make a text-based game, just try it, it is so fun.
DEREK YU’S GAME MAKER FOR BEGINNERS SERIES : this was incredibly helpful for me as I started to use Game Maker. It’s written for Game Maker 7, but most of the things (all of the things?) will still work in 8. HERE ARE OLD VERSIONS OF GAME MAKER. They make them kind of hard to find from the main page, because they want you to use STUDIO which I don’t particularly enjoy. Game Maker allows you to Drag and Drop different things onto different objects and those objects will then Do Stuff. It also allows you to write weird code in its weird code language.
USING FLASHPUNK WITH FLASHDEVELOP : I’ve made a few games with FlashPunk and I like it. I’ve gone back to using Game Maker for now just because it allows me to do more with sound and file systems (that was important for FJORDS) and because I am more comfortable in it, but there is an immediacy to a Game In A Browser that is super nice.
MAKE WEIRD STUFF IN UNITY : 3D was super scary to me for a long time, but this is a great tutorial. I’ve only made a few half-finished things in Unity but there’s nothing quite like Plonking A Bunch Of Cubes Into A Scene and then being able to WALK AROUND THEM. You can even make them SPIN without too much effort. SPINNING CUBES. Just try this one.
SCRATCH : I haven’t messed around much with Scratch but I have a few students who have gone on to learn a lot about it and it’s cool how it’s all Right There In Your Browser, and much friendlier to just Dragging Things Around and also Dropping Them than Game Maker. Try this and STENCYL if you want to drag and drop and don’t want to spend a lot of time wondering why the code you wrote is Making Errors (because something somewhere isn’t capitalized consistently??? PROGRAMMING : ((( ).
That’s it for now; I also have a long list of Auxillary Programs that I use to make music, sound, pictures, etc., but I will make another post for those.
Hey! FJORDS won the WTF award at A MAZE! It was up against some incredible games and I am very surprised and happy about this. The very next day, the last undiscovered ending to the game was witnessed by Ian Snyder, Alex May, and Cam Lewis. Congratulations to them, delightful confluence of triumph.
I’ve started working on VERSNOOF again, and I’m happy to find that I don’t hate it. The time away has been good; I can see what needs to be done and I have the energy to do it. Before, I kept getting stuck on vestigial ideas from the First Idea, the Grand Vision I had for the game before I actually started making it; as one of my oldest Dream Projects, there were two paths I was trying to make it walk down at once:
1. A glowy mashup of SINISTAR and HUNT THE WUMPUS,
2. Diablo in the Pacific Northwest, Heavy-Handed Narrative Version
As of right now, I don’t intend to put any talking in VERSNOOF whatsoever. There is a story to it, but I think I’m going to let it burble up through the cracks of the game and I won’t consciously try to let the player know about it.
It is interesting making two Very Arcadey games after making FJORDS; both FJOREVER and VERSNOOF are all bout that action. I find myself worrying more about Controls and Balance and all that, and it’s a little bit scary! Because I’m trying harder, and trying harder is always scary because then you don’t get to just walk away with a w/e and a That’s Just The Way That I Am Baby. And then there is the sound:
The sound for FJOREVER has been really fun, because it’s more of the same Pretending To Make A Videogame On A Casio SK-1 stuff I did for FJORDS. I’m really happy with the sounds the blocks make as they pop in and out of phase, a nice combination of musical notes and lip-smacking sounds. Fun stuff! VERSNOOF is so so so so much harder. I’ve decided to keep using the DS (mainly because I don’t have another condenser mic and I do really like the fidelity I get out of the DS mic most of the time), but I’m trying to get some less human sounds and preventing every recording from dissolving into bitcrushed CHAOS is very difficult. I’m embracing it a little bit – there is a nice SINISTAR quality to overdriven samples – but it’s taking me much longer to find a good audio footprint for each of the cave’s entities.
That’s another thing: I’m trying to make VERSNOOF a game that will reward caution, and also make SEEING very dangerous, which means LISTENING has to carry a lot of information to the player. So everything needs to feel distinct, but I still want some panic and claustrophobia, so yeah. It’s been a challenge. I’m excited about it, though, and eager to post some more progress soon.
(slime death sound)