Articles Tagged with: Game Design
“The Vikings Aren’t Coming:” A Recap from a Summer School Game Design Workshop

By Kenny Reddington , Guest Blogger and Teacher at Robert Frost Middle School 

Last summer, a mutual friend, Dr. Alana Murray, offered to introduce me to some guy named Chris Magnuson who worked with an educational video game company called “Dig-It! Games.”  I cannot lie; with a name like “Magnuson,” I pictured him being a Viking—and who could pass up the chance to meet a real-life Viking who designs educational video games?

 

Chris offered to come to Robert Frost Middle School’s extended year program (EYP) and let our students test pilot a few new games that Dig-It! Games was working on at the time, and this seemed like a great way to get my kids to stop playing Pokemon Go (remember that?) for a few minutes and possibly even learn something in the process.  We agreed to two meetings where the students would beta test the games and provide feedback on their experience.  Dig-It! Games would then consider the feedback they received and refine their games based on the students’ input.

 

I got to meet Chris (who is, of course, not a Viking) and his colleagues, and I got to see firsthand how much my students enjoyed piloting the games, providing feedback, and retesting the games after Dig-It! Games made updates from their input.  We had the beginnings of something here.

 

Flash forward.  This year, my school decided to re-structure our summer literacy class and partner with Dig-It! Games to provide a curriculum that was fun, interactive, and educational.  In addition to purchasing and playing their learning games, we wanted the three-week class to center around peer-to-peer discourse and critical thinking skills.  Our goal was for students to generate game ideas (original or existing), design paper prototypes, and create narratives to serve as their games’ storylines.  Once done, the students would present their finished products to an audience.

 

In addition to working with Chris, Dig-It! Games’ Jessica Mlyniec and Elisa Bartolomeo-Damon designed and implemented instructional sessions for our students, one to be delivered each week of the course.  The first session revolved around piloting and evaluating video games, the second focused on creating narrative driven, goals-based video games, and the third session focused on student presentations and eventually became “Frost Game Con 2017”-an event for summer students to showcase their work to our administration, students, and Dig-It! Games.

 

The kids really enjoyed the program, and the framework allowed them opportunities to be creative, solve complex problems, and design a product that they were proud to display.  The students’ games at Frost Game Con 2017 varied from adventure games to maze-themed games to strategy-based games focused on world domination.  Not only was it a great experience to see the kids’ faces as they showcased their games and served as experts, it was a blast seeing the faces of our convention goers as they learned the rules and played the games.  Everyone had a terrific time and the kids learned a lot in the process.  We even had one group of students who went beyond paper prototypes and created their game so it was computer ready.

 

Working with Chris, Jes, and Elisa has been a great experience for the RFMS extended year program.  We created a high interest, interactive program that allows us to move towards our school improvement plan goals.  And the best part?  The kids had fun.  And the other best part?  We still have room to enhance the program even more!  (Based on our students’ feedback, of course.)  I am already looking forward to collaborating with Dig-It! Games again in the future to refine the summer EYP literacy program.

 

Now, if only I could get Chris to create a Viking game.

 


Getting to Know You: Tim Mrozek, Artist

Tim Mrozek is an artist at Dig-It! Games, bringing environments and characters alive through modeling and animation. Tim grew up in Catonsville, which is just outside of Baltimore, and of course, is a huge Orioles fan. He moved to Silver Spring, MD about right years ago to take a job as a 3D artist and animator at the National Institutes of Health. After that, he worked for four years at Pixeldust Studios as Lead 3D Modeler and 3D animator and worked on around 20-25 projects, including Fabric of the Cosmos, Alien Deep, NOVA: Cracking Your Genetic Code, The Smithsonian’s X3D project. Tim was fortunate enough to be nominated for an Emmy for his work as character artist on a Smithsonian Channel show called Mass Extinction: Life on the Brink. Tim studied Animation Major at UMBC. In the spring, He’ll be back at UMBC to teach ART 484 (advanced animation) in the evenings.

Tim sat down to answer some questions about his average day in the studio , what attracted him to educational games and his go-to karaoke songs.

Tim

 

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?

The flow of my day changes pretty frequently, but there are a few things that remain pretty constant. Every day starts with my bike ride from Silver Spring to Bethesda. This, of course, is immediately followed by obtaining coffee. Then I’ll settle down at my desk where I’ll do a quick visual review of any works in progress posted by the other artists. After that it really varies on a daily basis. Sometimes I get right into zbrush and start sculpting a 3D model for one of our games, or I’ll open Photoshop and get to work designing the UI for one of our games, or menus. Sometimes it’s a team meeting to critique each others work and discuss how we want to move forward on a particular design or game. Each day is exciting when you have a team of artists you really enjoy working with, and the dev team isn’t too bad either.

What got you interested in game design?

I’ve always been incredibly intrigued by video games since the first time I played an NES. As a 32 year old, video games as a whole are only a few years older than me, so I’ve always been incredibly excited to age along with games. The moment that I really knew I wanted to pursue making games was when I first played Riven: The Sequel to Myst. I had never seen CG look so incredible. The mindblowing still renders in that game, combined with the really challenging, naturally integrated puzzles and story took me completely off-guard. I knew that I wanted to learn how to do this, and if I got lucky, make a living making games for the rest of my life. I’ve even joined a team of volunteers, called The Starry Expanse, that are rebuilding this inspirational game for the new generation using the Unreal Engine.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?

Since I already mentioned Riven, I’ll go with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. This wasn’t the first 3D game I had played, but it was the first 3D game in my favorite series of games (Legend of Zelda). This game gave me a whole new perspective of what was possible in a video game. I have probably replayed this game about 10 times in my life. While small by today’s standards, the open world felt endless to me at the time. The first time I stepped onto Hyrule Field I felt like I was given complete freedom to explore anywhere I wanted, and I had never experienced this in a video game before.

What drew you to Dig-It! Games?
I’ve always been interested in using animation and CG for education. Before Dig-It! Games I was working at Pixeldust Studios where I was creating animation for Smithsonian Channel, National Geographic, and Discovery. I have always gravitated to games and TV that explore science, archaeology, and education as a whole. This, combined with my interest in making video games made Dig-It! a pretty natural choice. I love the idea of creating games that will inspire creativity and exploration in a new generation of kids.

What song would you sing at karaoke and why?
Funny you should ask, I was just at a karaoke party a week or two ago, and I sang three songs. Bad Romance, by Lady Gaga, Heaven on Their Minds from Jesus Christ, Superstar and In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins.


Getting to Know You: Steve Hunnicutt, Head Developer

Steve Hunnicutt is Dig-It! Games’ Head Developer responsible for bringing the coding to life. Steve’s father was in the Navy, so he grew up in lots of different places, including Honolulu, Hawaii for three years. After his father retired from the Navy, we moved to Jacksonville, Florida. He spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else, so he considers it his hometown. Steve moved to Baltimore in 1990 and has been living there ever since.

Steve sat down for a Q&A to give us more insight into his role at Dig-It! Games, what sparked his love of programming and how aspiring programmers can get started.

steve

What’s an average day at Dig-It! Games look like for you?
I don’t really have an “average” day. One day, we’re working out the design for a new game and doing prototypes. The next day, we may start working on the code architecture. Sometimes, I do concept sketches to communicate ideas to the rest of the team. It’s always something different.

What got you interested in game design?
I love playing games. Board games are favorites, but I’m always playing some sort of video game. Also, I’ve been coding in one language or another for almost thirty years. So when I had the opportunity to work at a game studio, I grabbed it.

Any advice for kids who want to become programmers?
It’s easier than ever to dip your toe into programming. There are lots of different ways to get started. One of the easiest is to start building web pages; all you need is a text editor and a web browser. There are innumerable tutorials to get you started. Once you have a simple page, you can add interactivity with JavaScript. You can make a lot of simple games very easily, but the platform has the potential for very complex games. The only limit is your imagination and your skill.

What is your favorite video or digital game from childhood?
My family purchased an Apple //e computer about the time I was starting the eighth grade. I took to it immediately, playing games, connecting to bulletin board systems (BBS) and writing my own programs. My favorite game was one that I played with my mother. It was called Starlanes.

The goal of Starlanes was to build the most profitable interstellar company. Each player would place a star base each turn. Adjacent star bases connected into a single company. Companies that were adjacent to a star were more profitable. In addition, each turn the player could buy stock in any of the companies, even your opponent’s. If two companies touched, they merged and you could get a big stock payoff.

Once upon a time, I had the source code to Starlanes. I still hope that someday I’ll find it again and I could bring it back to life on modern computers.

If you were ruler of your own country what would be the first law you would introduce?
This is a tough question. I think I would institute a social welfare system that guaranteed basic income, healthcare, and nutrition to my citizens. Read Ernest Callenbach’s “Ecotopia” for a much more detailed vision of a society that I find compelling.


Getting to Know You: Natasha Martinez, Developer

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Natasha Martinez is the newest member of the development team at Dig-It! Games. After graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology with a degree in game design and development, Martinez jumped into the studio to begin working on a brand-new vocabulary game (I Have A Word™ is coming soon!). She is very much credited with the game’s development from start to finish.

Get to know Natasha with a short Q&A below:

What’s your day look like in the studio?

An average day at Dig-It! Games is very relaxed. I come in each morning and check for any new bugs found the day before. After fixing those, I launch right in to a new feature or two and keep progressing on the game. Each day, the game comes closer to a releasable version until it’s ready to go!

How did you first become interested in games—and what’s your favorite game that you’ve ever played (video, board game, app, etc.) and why?

Growing up, I always had a game to play, whether it was for Windows ’98 or the Dreamcast. I really enjoyed playing the games with my little brother. When we finally got Game Boys we were ecstatic! Our first game for it was Pokémon. I spent countless hours playing my first Pokémon game. We always got the newest one as soon as it came out.

Natasha

Why did you want to work at Dig-It! Games?

I’m very interested in educational games. I grew up playing great titles. I’m not sure how much content I remember now, but I do remember enjoying the math and reading. I want to continue making even more fun educational games. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! I want to mix the fun of video games with education.

I’m sure you’ve had a chance to play all of Dig-It! Games’ products. Which one is your favorite and why?

I enjoy 3 Digits the most. In elementary school, we had a unit to learn Mayan culture and their counting system. I was happy to refresh my memory on how to do it!

What’s your favorite snack food?
I love Scooby Doo fruit snacks!

Tell me about a favorite memory you’ve had so far in working with the team.

The other day we had a great time welcoming our newest team member, Tim Nicklas. We played Pictionary and had a great bonding experience.

Can you give me a sneak peek on something you’re working on right now?

We’re currently working on a new title for middle schoolers. I can’t tell you much, but it’s looking great so far!


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