Articles Tagged with: Video Games

Were the Greeks the First Gamers?

Interactive Narrative as Game

The Iliad and the Odyssey are part of the Western Literature canon but primarily written down in book form. This belies their original format which was recited, edited, embellished and improvised epic poems performed in front of a rapt audience. They were a seamless combination of entertainment and education much like today’s educational video game! Add the fact that a driving narrative delivered the lessons and knowledge and now you can really see how ancient epics have similarities to learning games.

Exploding the Castle This comparison is brilliantly made by Roger Travis of University of Connecticut in his article (“What Homeric Epic Can Teach Us About Educational Affordances of Interactive Narrative” pgs. 19-37) published recently in Exploding the Castle: Rethinking How Video Games and Game Mechanics Can Shape the Future of Education. Travis’ article not only explores the interactive nature of sharing epic poems but also highlights how their use in Greek theater expands the nature of their interactive power. The messages, lessons and epic journeys get reframed and improvised to keep audiences engaged through surprising twists and turns and reframing of comfortable tropes much like how a video game progresses through various levels.

My favorite assertion is that Socrates was indeed a gamer!

Socrates was a gamer. My research suggests that he and his fellow Athenians played the stories of Achilles and Odysseus every time they heard them because we always play adventure stories, whether we hear them or read them or watch them and whether we have explicit, if fake, control over some portion of the story or not. Remember that every choice you can make in a digital game is programmed into that game’s software, and remember that every choice you can make even in a tabletop role-playing game must fall within the rules. If it works better for you, though simply imagine Socrates and is friends playing Achilles or playing Odysseys at the end of his life those games became even more interactive as Socrates chose to become a new Achilles. (Travis Page 22)

We read and perform these epic poems for their powerful stories of the human condition, insight into historical events and because they have powerful narrative structures. We are constrained in how far off piste we can go with content as we rework them but they are inherently engaging and we read them over and over again. Much like a good game compels the player to replay, rework and master a technique or level. When we play today’s video games, we may be taking part of a tradition that started a lot earlier than we had imagined!

Lasting Influence…Even in Game Play

The Greeks have had a significant influence in our culture and it is evident in our architecture, live theater, form of government and now even our video games. Why not learn more about these cultural influencers by playing a video game about them?

Socrates the Gamer

Dig-iT! Games has recently released our Ancient Greece title in the Excavate! video game series. Students excavate real artifacts that are primary sources that students analyze in order to draw conclusions about the daily life of ancient Greece. Excavate! Greece challenges students to compare and contrast the lifestyles of Athens and Sparta, dig deep into Greek religious practices while exploring Apollo’s Temple at Delphi and explore the life of world class athletes while excavating Olympus. It is an engaging and fun way to learn about and build on the ancient tradition that Socrates also enjoyed: the interactive narrative!

Try Excavate! Greece today and give it to your loved one who has to find an engaging way to get his or her students interested in ancient Greece after the holidays!


Summer Gaming List

Could you save the world this summer?  Discover a new civilization? Or even explore the universe first hand?

We know you can!

Summer is here and it is time to keep the learning going! Summer reading lists are being circulated now with carefully chosen books to support reading gains over the concluding school year and a stepping stone for opening discussions at the beginning of school in the fall.  There can be a significant amount of down time in the summer for children which is the main reason why summer reading lists have become a part of our summers today.  We encourage students to read all summer long but also, don’t neglect to curate your own summer gaming list too!

Picture this: A child seated by himself reading a book under a tree’s shade on a hot summer day.  A hundred feet away, under the shade of another tree, is another child seated by herself playing a video game on a tablet.  In Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven Johnson argues that there is an inherent bias in promoting the reader’s activity as enrichment while deriding the gamer’s activity as wasting time.

They are both seated by themselves engrossed in other worlds.  But one is more acceptable than the other.  Johnson argues that we need to be open to changing the bias against video games.

A good reader will be actively reading by predicting what comes next, recognizing foreshadowing, but they will always be responding to a fixed narrative.  Whereas the video game player is making decisions that impact the outcome of the game, accomplishing short term and long term goals, and depending on the game, may very well be interacting with other players in creating and reimagining the world in which they inhabit.  Johnson argues that this may potentially be more intellectually rigorous…but it all depends on the content and the structure of the game.

This summer, read through that reading list, enjoy those summer evenings of staying up late and reading by flashlight and exploring new worlds.  We also encourage you to grab a video game that is educational and enriching and one that will engage your mind on multiple levels.  Who knows you very well may discover a new home for humanity, discover a new civilization or explore planets you never knew existed!

We here at Dig it™ are proud of our library of educational games that we encourage you to add some or our games to your summer gaming list! Looking for more games?  Check out the library of games hosted by Games for Change.

Finally, if you are looking for another book to add to your reading this summer, why not pick up Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us SmarterWe bet it will start some interesting conversations as well!


Unity3D – Dinosaurs and a Word Game

Our studio has been working hard through the summer on a number of projects soon to be released.  The summer came and went in a blast until we realized Labor Day weekend had arrived.  Did we have enough summer fun?  Of course we did because we build games for a living; what could be more fun than that.  But, how about taking a moment and do a hackathon for a game that came from the many game ideas floating around in the studio?  This week we decided to jump in and build a crazy game involving space, farts, spelling and of course a dinosaur.

tyronne in space

Today is day 3 of our three-day marathon hackathon to build a prototype of the game in Unity3D.  The studio has been abuzz stroking pens on tablets and creating space stations, dinosaurs, and retro 80s game backgrounds.  Think Atari console games and an image of the behind the scenes work might appear for some.  However, for those too young to remember Atari games here is a splash of some of the art.

Game development is a team effort and everyone is participating and some acting in different roles adding to the fun.  Now you will recall we did say farts.  While we won’t give away the whole game mechanic yet words like toot, gas, poof have been bringing some laughs, tears and groans in the studio.  Then there are the sounds of groaning dinosaurs as the team brings the sound effects into play.

This has been a fun exercise for the team and the end of the hackathon is drawing near.  How close will we get?  We hope to have a playable game that we might share with our customers and friends.  Getting a sneak peak is easy by registering on our game portal. Once a version is available for initial feedback it will appear in your game library.

Say hello to an early base mesh version of the dino!

rex_wip_01


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.