Jerz: New Media Projects (EL405)

29 October 2006

1. Where and When

Tu, Th 2:00 - 3:45 M334

See daily course outline.

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2. Instructor

Dennis G. Jerz (
403 St. Joseph, Box 461
jerz @ you-know-where . edu
Phone: 724-830-1909 (but I'd prefer that you e-mail)

Office Visits: I usually leave my door open. If you should happen to drop by when my door is closed, please come back later or send me an e-mail.

Office Hours: Tue at 1pm, Wed at 1pm, Thu at 10am, and by appointment. St. Joseph 403.

Occasionally I step out of my office briefly to run errands during my scheduled office hours. When I do, I usually leave a note on my door. If my light is still on, then I'm probably not far away.

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3. Course Description

From the Catalog:

Direction and support for the development of independent new media projects. Projects might include an online work of journalism such as a photo-documentary with voice-over narrative, a virtual reality illustration or simulation, or a traditional academic research paper examining an issue relevant to new media journalism and published in final form as hypertext.
While I didn't say so in the official course description, I'd like to think of the traditional research paper as a last-ditch backup, in case things don't work out between you and any of the software packages we'll be using. You've all done research papers before, so let's instead try to focus on the media production tools. I'm very eager to see what you'll be able to do with them.

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4. Course Objectives

You will develop your ability to think critically about the new media artifacts you are likely to encounter online.

At the end of this course, you should be able to work in teams to

  • design and write a simple text-based computer game (interactive fiction)
  • design and create a simple 2D arcade game
  • design and create an informative Flash site
  • design and animate a 3D virtual scene
  • create a custom level (a "mod") for Half-Life 2

In addition, you will work on your own to create two projects on a slightly larger scale. Project 1 will address some issue pertinent to Catholic Social Teaching. Project 2 may be on any theme, serious or otherwise.

No prior knowlege of computer programming is required.

I haven't been working with any of these tools for longer than six months. Inform 7 came out in April, The Games Factory 2 came out in July, and I only got an office computer with Flash 8 on it this past Friday (August 25). You will certainly run into problems that I won't be able to solve right away, or perhaps even at all.

While the class meets from 2-3:15, I will be happy to continue working with you after class if I don't have another commitment (and if nobody else has booked the room).

If you make a technical error on a literary close reading -- perhaps you omit a quotation mark, or you misspell an author's first name -- the result will still be an essay that your instructor can read and evaluate.

If you make a technical error on a computer program -- perhaps you omit a quotation mark, or you push the wrong key, or the development tool is in the wrong mode when you push the key that would otherwise be the right key -- the consequences will likey be far more severe. You won't fry your computer or unleash a virus that will take over the world, but you might end up losing hours or even days worth of work.

  • Get in the habit of saving your work whenever you're about to try something new, so that if you don't like the results you can go back to the previous version.
  • Rather than save over the previous version of your file, save your work under a new name each time.
  • Keep a project log, so that if you return to your project after spending a few days away from it, you remember what you were working on. Make a prioritized list of high priority tasks, middle priority tasks, and things that would be nice if you had the time. I once spent an entire day looking for 3D models of trees that are prettier than the ones that came with Half-Life 2. I mentioned my desire for better trees on my weblog, and from out of the blue a student I had taught four years ago at my previous job left a comment telling me where I could download prettier trees. But before long, I realized I didn't want to work on an outdoor scene anymore, and I scrapped my project to start on a windowless indoor scene. I'm happy to have the trees for when I might need them in the future, but truth be told I wasted a lot of time on what turned out to be a very minor detail.
  • Learn to make one change at a time, and after each change, check to see whether your project still works. If you are working on three different areas at once, and you do something that breaks your project, you'll have a lot of detective work to do. (Sometimes when I run into an error I can't understand, I make another version of the project, and slice and hack away. If I cut a section and the error disappears, then I know that something in the section I just cut was causing the error.)

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    5. Course Requirements

    The class format is a studio -- a very short studio. While I will devote as much class time as possible to open workshops, you will still have to meet outside of class time in order to complete the assignments. You may wish to invest in a portable USB drive, as the course will ask you to deal with files and programs that consume a lot of storage space.

    The course requires regular attendance, participation via in-class and online discussions, and timely completion of group and individual project work. The course is designed so that you will first complete simple assignments in a group setting, then progress to more elaborate individual assignments.

    While the first three packages we will use are well-documented and very stable (Inform 7, The Games Factory 2, and Flash 8), the two 3D design tools -- Blender 3D and the Half-Life 2 mod creator -- are more powerful tools that are constantly being updated by a lively community. As such, the documentation for these last tools is not very complete or user friendly. For this reason, the course will also require patience, good communication with the instructor, a willingness to help your peers, and trust in your own ability to work in a challenging but rewarding area.

    I will often send out bulk e-mails to the address on file for you in the J-Web system. If you check a different address more regularly, please use SHU's e-mail forwarding service so that you don't miss important updates.

    Unless the homework assignment specifically mentions a printout, you should assume that I don't want a hard copy.

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    5.1 Attendance

    Students are expected to attend every class. (See Seton Hill University Catalog, p. 28-29, “Class Attendance” and “Excused Absences”.)

    A student’s final grade is lowered by the proportion of unexcused absences. Thus, a student with a final grade of B (75) with a record of 10% unexcused absences would get a C+ (90% of 70 = 67.5).

    I am happy to excuse students who have legitimate reasons, but students who miss a class period for any reason are still responsible for the material covered during the absence. An excused absence does not automatically grant an extension for any work collected or assigned that day.

    Because a large percentage of your course grade depends on keeping up with the in-class workshops, falling behind can lead to big trouble.

    If you are absent from class without a legitimate excuse, on a day when a major assignment is due -- perhaps because you stayed up all night working on a project and are too tired to attend class -- the assignment will be counted an extra day late. (You might as well go to bed without finishing the project, come to class so you don't fall farther behind, and then turn in the assignment the next morning.)

    5.1.1. Emergency Absences

    Those who miss class due to an unplanned emergency should submit an “Absence Form,” with proper documentation, as soon as possible.
    For each class that you miss, download the word processor version of my “Absence Form” (available at After you initiate this contact, we will start working out whether or what kind of assignments would be appropriate. (I ask that you resist the impulse to ask me to e-mail you a summary of what you missed. I welcome the chance to help you get caught up, but please consult the syllabus and a classmate's notes first, and then bring any specific questions to me.) For some classroom activities, such as listening to peer oral presentations, there may be no appropriate make-up assignment. (See 5.2 Participation.)

    5.1.2. Scheduled Absences
    Those who miss class due to a scheduled activity must plan to complete all make-up assignments before the missed class. This means that you must submit an acceptable “Absence Form” (see above) at least 3 class periods before the missed class.

    If there is insufficient time for us to agree upon an acceptable suggestion for making up missed work, or if an approved make-up assignment is late or unsatisfactory, then I may record the absence as unexcused.

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    5.2 Participation

    Students are expected to contribute actively to a positive classroom environment, both in person and online.

    Common sense and common courtesy dictates that absences, late arrivals and early departures, use of telephones or headphones, lack of preparation, inattentiveness or disruptive behavior will impact your participation grade.

    Those who participate above and beyond the call of duty will receive a bonus.

    If a student's final grade falls near a borderline, I will consider classroom participation in order to decide whether to bump a grade up, leave it where it is, or bump it down.

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    5.3 Late Penalties

    Just as students in generations past learned to carry spare quills, a pen knife, an extra inkhorn, and spare lamp wicks, using computers requires certain common-sense strategies that are an inseparable part of the course material.

    Remember to save often and leave backups on more than one machine (use a USB drive or your student network space); plan your time so you can get your online work done when you can get to the lab where our software is installed, OR choose projects that will permit you do most of your work according to the timeframe and computing resources that fit your schedule.

    Getting Credit for Late Work
    Most assignments will be submitted in class. During the workshop time, I'll just walk around the room and talk with each of you about the day's work. I'll be happy to help you with last-minute minor troubleshooting, but you shouldn't expect to be able to work on an assignment in class on the day it's due.

    All Late Work

    Unless I grant you an extension in advance, all other assignments are penalized one letter grade for each day they are late (including Saturdays, but not counting Sundays or holidays when the university does not offer classes).

    Special Cases

    If your work is completed before midnight on the day it was due, it will only lose a third of a letter grade.

    Agenda Items: While this is not a heavy reading class, when I do ask you to read a text, please post on your blog -- at least 24 hours before the class meets -- a brief quotation from the assigned reading. (That post is the "agenda item". You should come to class prepared to talk about your quotation.) By the time class meets, comment on two to four peer agenda items. (In other classes, I have also asked students to bring a 200-word response paper, but I'm not asking for that in this class. You are of course welcome to blog about the readings in more detail, but I am actually more interested in reading your response to the various projects and in-class workshops you'll be doing. These are time-sensitive assignments, so they earn no credit if they are late. (You should still complete any items you missed in order to get full credit for your class portfolio.)

    Class Participation: The way to get credit for a missed in-class activity is to contribute substantially to the online discussion. Towards the end of the semester, when there will be fewer readings and more workshops, it will be harder for me to come up with alternate assignments. Still, you may demonstrate your desire to re-engage by posting thoughtful comments on the course website, your peers' websites, and/or your own blog. (To make sure that I see and record credit for this alternative work, please call it to my attention by collecting all the relevant URLs and sending me an e-mail asking me to consider them as part of your class participation grade.)

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    5.4 Texts

    In addition to the required texts listed below, readings also include online articles.


    There will be other readings, including a PDF document with lessons for Blender. I've been waiting since July for a book on making Half-Life 2 mods. If it's published soon, I may add it to the list of required texts.

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    6. Assignments

    The whole course is based on 1000 points.

    If a particular exercise is worth 40 points, and you get 30 on it, you got 75%, or a B.

    • 200 Group Exercises
    • 200 Blog Portfolio
    • 200 Project 1 (CST)
    • 400 Project 2

    There is no final exam; however, the final version of Project 3 is to be presented via an informal oral report, during the final exam time slot.

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