September 26, 2006

Just how many minutes?

Jason Darby knows how to make me comfortable in "Make Amazing Games in Minutes". In the wake of an IF project that completely confounded me, I find his words that I can make games a little more than reassuring.

I am, as usual, jaded by the realization that some of the things he glossed over in the book will take more than minutes. Graphics and tables and understanding pseudocode will take a little more than a few minutes. How many minutes are in the day? I recall thinking--and multiply that by a month and in years.

Though Darby is attempting to make gaming simple for wannabe game creators, I am still wary. I want to create a good and creative game, and I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. The step-by-step approach, almost comically so, when he describes maximizing and minimizing windows, will undoubtedly be an attraction when the coding gets tough.

My favorite part of the book so far is, not surprisingly, on story. I want to create a story that will attract readers and maybe teach them something, like the serious games I've been reading about.

In fact, the game ideas that have been jumping around in my head relate to the Catholic Social Teaching platforms of the rights of workers and life and dignity of the human person. I am also thinking about creating a game for young girls. After reading about the demise of the popular young girls' game company, Purple Moon, I am interested in reaching out to an audience that does not have many options in the gaming world.

I don't want to create a game that is like singing "Kumbayah" or one that annihilates entire populations. I want to think, as Darby said, within the realm of possibility, but without the constraints of just mimicking another game. I want my game to resonate with the player.

"Make Amazing Games in Minutes" feels more like a manual, and I like that. Sure it makes pretty boring reading, but I feel like I'm headed in the right direction now with a process-oriented text.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 1:09 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 20, 2006

Enter Entrepreneur: Women in Business Conference reflection

Though it has been a while since the event, it is still very blog worthy. On Thursday, September 14, I attended the Pennsylvania Governor's Conference for Women at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

Before the women came

In the wee morning hours, we loaded onto buses and put on our volunteer shirts. (Some put their shirts on while riding the bus--an interesting co-ed experience I'm sure, but I didn't see anything--I was riding in the front).

Happy volunteers

After a short orientation, we received our volunteer badges and were sent to our duties. I was a human arrow. I really didn't know which way was which, but I had a marvelous time acting like I did.

"I'd be happy to direct you." (laughs maniacally)

The day was not all volunteer direction, however. I attended most of the presentations, and attended two "breakout" sessions with a panel of speakers.

I particularly enjoyed the morning panel with Ann Crittenden, entitled "Striving for a Life of Balance". The insightful responses from women who are obviously successful as mothers, wives and business people (usually in that order), was encouraging for me.

balance panelists.jpg
Balance panel with Ann Crittenden.

As I get closer to graduation, I'm realizing that a life of balance is something to be striven for, not necessarily attained to perfection. Perhaps the most valuable thing I took away from that session is the importance of having a set of standards that cannot change, no matter the position, the place or the time in your life. Some of these standards are, for example, that one will not compromise a pregnancy leave, taking time off once a year for vacation, or Sundays off for church.

This really spoke to me because I sometimes get caught up in work. I enjoy work and I enjoy time with friends at work, but I also enjoy time with family and friends outside of a work setting, and sometimes that gets the backseat, for example, during Setonian productions, when I have a freelance article due or I am working with a client on her logo. Time is fluid when I am working, and I admit I have in the past put work ahead of the priorities like family and friends that should mean more to me.

Keynote speaker-Linda Ellerbee

Amid the mass of over 5,000 women who attended the conference, I didn't feel oddly or beneath them; I saw myself as one of them. E-Magnify was the propelling force behind my prescence at the conference. I was invited to not only volunteer, but to network as an equal.

Five thousand women breaking bread

I appreciated the opportunity, not only to be there, but to pass out my resume at the various booths at center. I was an entrepreneur--of myself. This isn't the first time, however, I've worked experienced entrepreneurial intiative.

Company Set-ups-Time to network!
en‧tre‧pre‧neur  /ˌɑntrəprəˈnɜr, -ˈnʊr; Fr. ɑ̃trəprəˈnúr/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[ahn-truh-pruh-nur, -noor; Fr. ahn-truh-pruh-núr] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation noun, plural -neurs /-ˈnɜrz, -ˈnʊrz; Fr. -ˈnúr/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation[-nurz, -noorz; Fr. -núr] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation, verb Ėnoun 1. a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, esp. a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.

When I sit in a meeting with the Setonian staff of over 50 people and they are all looking at me for direction; I am an entrepreneur. When discussing website design with a board of directors and create signage, brochures and present to small children at the Mount Pleasant Library; I am an entrepreneur. When I put my heart on paper and solicit my work to Eye Contact; I am an entrepreneur. When I write on my blog in what spare time I have, risking my reputation; I am an entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur in my book isn't someone who goes with the flow. This person has an attitude that reaches out and demands change, pushing the boundaries of the norm. I think I am an entrepreneur. I think being a student at Seton Hill demands this, and the profession(s) I have selected also require the same spirit.

Though risks of corrections in the newspaper, rounds with a board that pays my way through school and possibly screwing up children, criticism, and the possibility of even losing my job because of my blog, are all real, I am not dwelling on the risks--only the possibility that I can make a difference in my school, my hometown, my church, my loved ones, and the world through my actions for Good.

Someone once told me that anything worth doing has risks and a price. That is the heart of the entrepreneurial spirit. And as I step out into the world, I see that I have already risked much, begun paying my dues, and gained so much more than I deserve. I am an equal of those women at the conference. We are all just trying to make our way.

Oh, and a little p.s., not many men were there, and the ones who were, were either looking for a restroom (because most men's rooms had been turned into female restrooms), or putting up arrangements for the conference. Alternative universe, no?

Flower men
Posted by Amanda Cochran at 11:41 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 18, 2006

Top ten ways you know it's Setonian production week

I am the editor in chief of the Setonian. During production week, I live, breathe and worship all that is QuarkXpress, Adobe Photoshop, copyeditor's marks and the Associated Press Style manual. People don't really see me that much, that is, if you don't count the back of my head, which is turned in the direction of the glowing Mac in front of me. The same is true of the entire staff, as well. We immerse ourselves in interviews and photo ops.

I would like to offer a glimpse into our wonderful world at the lower level of Sullivan Hall. These are the top ten ways you know it's Setonian production week.

10. Someone will hit their head on a pipe, and hopefully live to hear the laughter of those who have done the same thing.
9. New (rather interesting) vocabularies will be discovered.
8. Something will come up missing--and be found. A template. A photo. A file. An article. You name it, we've lost --and found it--usually in the trash (both literal and Macish).
7. Valerie will crawl on the floor and/or gyrate in some fashion.
6. The entire staff will gasp at seeing Mike Rubino's cartoons for the first time, and elbow one another, as if to say, "Yeah, we're going to get in trouble for that, but it will be worth it."
5. At least one person will crawl through our lounge window and open the lower office door, violating every safety rule we supposedly should have in the space.
4.The Macs will speak. "It's not my fault," is my favorite phrase.
3. Another quote will be added to our list of best quotes ever. My favorite is by Chris Ulicne: "Make me look younger."--a faculty member of SHU "We can't work miracles."--Chris And yes, the Mac phrase has made the quote board.
2. Staff members--usually Lorin Schumacher and I--will have full conversations one-on-one with...ourselves. We usually think, when this is happening, that the other is talking to us. Laughter again ensues.
1. Staff members will burst out into song. Imagine this to the tune of "London Bridges Falling Down": "This is how we link the text, link the text, link the text. This is how we link the text, on QuarkX--pre--ess."

Though work on the newspaper is both fun and frustrating, I love it. I really do. I am amazed every time I see the paper come together piece by blessed piece. And when I look at it all, in its "almost finished" state, I see a miracle. I see student work and devotion right there in front of me--a product. The victory over time, technology and especially communication mishaps is tangible in the layout sheets I can hold and hope to see in newsprint in just three short days.

Great work, staff!

If you are interested in hitting your head on a pipe, adding a quote to our list, or actually doing work like taking photographs, writing an article, or working on the layout, e-mail us at

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 8:30 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 11, 2006

The chill of winter, interactive fictionally speaking

Last night I was almost enjoying myself while I played an Interactive Fiction game called Winter Wonderland. The cover image almost reminded me of a book, so I was eager to see what this game could offer that the tedious games I'd previously played could not.

It was text. Playing the game felt almost like reading a book. Most of the rooms can be discovered by saying "look" or "go". I like that. Whenever I got stuck, also, I could recall the room description's huge chunk of text to get an idea of what I could be looking at, instead of focusing on my ineptitudes as a gamer.

I didn't get far in my hour of play. I'm guessing because the hint sheet popped up and several worlds were listed that I didn't even consider. I actually liked that idea, though. The trip through this world was actually fun.

Playing as a child does have its benefits, as well. I didn't feel like an idiot when the computer couldn't recognize what I was saying, and even when I didn't phrase everything correctly, the game actually appeared to try to understand me. I know its a computer and it really can't do that, but I felt like I was on friendly terms with the narrative guide this time around. The game also seemed to be written for a child's perspective. Adults are towering creatures in my head, and my needs and wants are secondary, which makes them even more desirous to achieve.

Later that evening, I talked to my partner in Interactive Fiction construction, Stephan, and he said that our game isn't anything like that. I have to agree. Our game isn't about getting things and then putting it all together in a legitimate puzzle. Our game is a puzzle, but putting everything together is deductive--not like gathering coins.

I can't make up my mind which puzzle design I like better, but I like reading in the games. I don't think it even matters the caliber of writing, either. When I put in the right command, I salivate over that huge block of text. Maybe IF games are just showing us what the world might be like if books are burned and we have to search hidden troves for literature...

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 8:26 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 7, 2006

Facebook News Feed

So it's like Google News for Facebook. At log in, you find out everything about everyone. Who is now dating who. Who is becoming a friend of some other person you haven't talked to in three years. Who is sleeping and who is not. Who is out partying to take drunk pictures of themselves on Facebook so they'll eventually get fired and die from starvation.

Do I really care? No. But somehow, when I log in I feel like I haven't risen the bar on my Facebook use. I am behind in the Facebook times!

Maybe I'll delete that profile like my grandma suggested.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 4:57 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Another round of IF pain

Every time I play Interactive Fiction (IF) games I feel like I am an American conversing with a fully-fluent, snobby French teacher. The teacher knows exactly what I mean, but says that they can't understand because if it isn't in proper French, then they discount what has been said. Okay, so a computer game may not know exactly what I mean, but it isn't my fault that they didn't include everyday verbs like "pick" and "walk" into their game's code.

As time ticks by and possible command ideas are extinguished by "I only understand you so far as you" in rapid succession, I am crazed, on the brink of obsessing over how far I should let this madness go. My A-mongering mind tells me to be persistent and my rational mind says "STOP!" I listened to the latter in most cases of playing "Pick Up Phone Booth and Die," "9:05," "Zork I," "Leather Goddesses of the Phobos," "Deadline," and "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

I have played IF before in Writing for the Internet, and even created a website dedicated to the pain I endured the first time tapping out responses.

I remembered the solution to "Pick Up the Phone Booth and Die," so that one wasn't that much of a stretch. It took about five minutes to get through it.

Also "9:05" was easy because I'd covered it before. The corpse is under the bed. However, I couldn't take a shower or get dressed, mostly because I didn't know the vocabulary to do those things, that is, if I should have even been doing them.

In "Zork I", however, I took a mountain trail and went through several paths, only to come back to the boarded up house, and try throwing myself against it. No cigar. I forgot the command to check the materials on your person, and often tried "look at self". That caused a plethora of sarcastic remarks in many of the games: "Looking as good as ever" was the response in "The Leather Goddesses of the Phobos" (LGOTP).

LGOTP was especially fun because you start in a bar, and are suddenly transported to this holding area of sorts where the Phobos are going to attack Earth. A lot of odors in this game, which I didn't get. I caught myself wondering if I were carrying a bottle of perfume or Febreze which would help me vanquish the Phobos.

I would say, though, that "Deadline" was my favorite game I played. I enjoyed the normal scene of the house, and the supposed implications of murder in the house. I did not solve this one becaus I got lost in some of the rooms upstairs, but I enjoyed searching for clues to a murder. It was more realistic than LGOTP or the final game I played, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."

I didn't like "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" partially because I have seen the movie, and I sort of knew where the plot line was going to go. I died in mass world genocide, restarted and died again. That was enough of that.

I don't really like playing with puzzles where all the pieces are right in front of me and I have to put them together. I like searching when the task is doable. As Koster intimated in the book I recently discussed, the vocabulary of the game created the most problems in all of the games. A foreseeable victory over the opponents of time, direction, space and imagination were insurmountable in many of the games. That is not to say I don't like a good challenge, but I do not like driving myself nuts over a game where I am not tested on my ability to persevere, but rather my ability to speak a certain language is tested that I do not know fluently, I judge the situation as futile, and more learning is needed for me to proceed.

I admired the narrative voice behind all of the stories, particularly the ones where the narrative guide of sorts, did get sarcastic. After a while, however, that grated on my nerves. At certain times, the guide acted like a sixth-grade bully taunting the kindergarten kid. The virtual IF playground can be a mean place. I guess that tactic is to spur on the gamer, but for me, it was a detractor. I didn't care if I won or lost. I just wanted to get a taste of the writing style and world I was immersed in.

These games are difficult and I can understand the small online population that enjoys them. They are a challenge, but I don't have the time or the intense motivation to overcome these situations. Choosing the most realistic situation game: "Dealine" really says something about the kind of problems I like--the ones where something is tangible, that I can see in my head. Phobos, on the other hand, seem like a concept I cannot grasp. The green alien a la X-Men's Mystique in my head belies the vision of the game, perhaps, but I don't know. I didn't get to see one Phobo in the entire game. Aw shucks.

I guess sarcasm is infectious.

The idea of creating one of these games seemed insurmountable to me at the start of this class, but I'm learning that it is basically standing on the shoulders of others with a hefty dash of perseverance.

When I looked at Dr. Jerz's "Ask the Adventure Dwarf about Inform 7" code, I was awestruck at the complexity behind the vocabulary involved in this program. To say what is needed but in the exact specifications of a computer is, let's say, a little mind-numbing. I like the range of the English language and I felt as if I were being caged into Orwellian 1984 hell. Though Stephan Puff did the majority of the coding for our game, "Kicking Back at Recess," I wrote sections of the story in regular English.


One thing Stephan and I tried to keep in mind was a principle outlined by Dr. Jerz in his work, "Exposition in Interactive Fiction" is the attempt to limit huge blocks of text. We began the story with as little information as possible to interest the reader to keep trying to learn more. Though Stephan and I debated over whether or not to tell the player a lot of information, we eventually kept it as minimalistic as possible. I think where I was going wrong was that I loved the book aspect of the IF games I sampled, rather than the gaming aspect. The final product is better than telling the gamer everything and letting them decide on their own which way to go. However, I did like to draw a line between what we had to tell them and what could be ambiguous for the player to figure out on their own. It is, as Dr. Jerz intimates in his work, a tenuous balancing act of voice and narrative.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 10:22 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 6, 2006

Changes a'comin

When I think that I am (as of yesterday) poised to leave behind Seton Hill, I quake at the realization that my little life filled with libraries and classrooms and professors and family and friends and a home with a huge closet may be coming to a close. What I've waited my entire life to be and do is almost here. Who would've thought I'd feel fear rather than anticipation for the life I may lead?

I guess there's a lot on the table right now. And the gambling isn't for A's anymore. It's my Life, in the most startling technicolor I've ever seen.

I filled out my application for graduation yesterday. When I signed that form, stating December 2006 as a graduation date, I thought about all the things that could affect in my life very soon.

I can travel. I can work. I can go to graduate school. I can wait. I can. I can. I could screw up royally, and end up saying "Do you want fries with that?" or even worse, "Paper or plastic?" full-time. That is not saying that those jobs are "bad" or anything. I like a good Wendy's burger every now and then, but I know that wouldn't be right for me. :-)

Ah, much to contemplate. But I should be happy, right? This is the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one, or some such cliche.

I hope that in a year or so, I'll look back at this entry and grin. "I didn't need to worry," I may say, "I just wish that I'd spent more energy on faith than fear."

They say hindsight is 20/20, but I see clearly right now that I need to believe in everything worth believing that sustains, and not the what ifs that tear down my resolve to succeed.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 1:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 4, 2006

With(in) reason: Videogaming for Fun

I am a "grandfather." At least, if not in gender or age, then in the traditionalist view I currently hold toward videogames. I felt as if the author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design was speaking directly to me as I read the final chapters of his book. I felt as if I were a close-minded wretch, bent on discrediting a budding artform at its inception.

It's true, though. I was offering the antithesis to all of his arguments. I had the Columbine shooting scenario behind me (or at least I thought I did). I had the media behind me. I had the parents behind me. I had psychology behind me (again, wrong).

And then Koster started talking about giving gaming a chance amid the human context.

"Games deserve respect. We as creators must respect them, and do right by their potential. And the rest of the world must respect them and grant them the scope to become what they can and must" (216).

And then he found my really weak spot: reason. I was holding unreasonable standards and vendettas against videogames. For shame.

Though Koster's speech all sounds a little Spidermanesque, it is true. As in any artform, there are certain lines that may be drawn, but only through stepping beyond can we know where they exist and if they should exist.

Bad things do happen; they come with the territory. I guess even crossing the prarie included losing an oxen or two. As grievous as the events of Columbine were, the human context unfortunately isn't a perfect backdrop for any artform to develop.

I don't believe in making videogames into the black cat of every tragedy, but I will remain wary. Since gaming is in its relative infancy in contrast to, say, portraiture, study of the supposed tie to the common theme of violence in videogames should continue.

However, it was refreshing to read Koster's resolve to turn from the Dark Side: "I am willing to choose which side of human nature I want to foster (presumeably the 'good side')" (206). Impressions often perpetuated about videogame developers include anything from horny teenagers to pervy middle-aged pocket-protector carriers. My view of the avid gamer is even worse (i.e. classmates showing up to class late and/or bleary-eyed from staying up until 4 a.m. to finish a game--I admire perseverance, but not stupidity).

Koster, though, sounds like he is trying to make a difference in the world. Heck, he even sounds human:

"In the end, if I can say...that one person out there learned to be a better leader, a better parent, a better co-worker; learned a new skill that kept them their job, a new skill that helped them advance the state of the art in their chosen field, a new skill that made their world grow a little...Then I will know that my work is valuable." (198).

He wants the world to advance, rather than rip it to shreds and then rape it. In my book, that's better than my previous view of video game developers.

I guess this brings me to one aspect of gaming that stumps me: ratings. It's all well and good that videogames develop; but how are they developing? Who are the gatekeepers to stop (if they exist) horny teenagers and pervy middle-age crackpots from screwing up the youth of the world? Where are the lines being drawn for the gaming public?

The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) cites "many content areas, including but not limited to violence, sex, language, and substance abuse" as criteria for their rating games. Bravo public relations team at the ESRB--just enough vagueness to keep the public "informed" and the ESRB out of the courtroom.

I guess, if I were to debate or write a research paper, I'd like to know a little more about that.

However, Koster, in his upbeat opus, seems to want to educate more than entertain. I'm guessing, though, that the education he describes includes a little more than Barney and Baby Bop dynamics.

Perhaps Koster is speaking concerning education in simulation situations, such as for the military. I was surprised to see how game situations fared when pitted against a traditional exam.

But what about other elements of an effective education experience in a game? It can't just be based on how well soldiers fought in contrast to how well they performed in a simulated game experience. What about plot--How important is it? Graphics? Weapons? What are the criterion for gaming excellence? Does anyone really know? What is the lexicon for assessing a game (There really isn't one)?

And then I think back to Seton Hill's literary magazine's scoring sheet. Subjective and quantitative methods are used to challenge a piece's claim of worth. These standards have been achieved by years and years of study and are continually refined and sometimes revolutionized.

Though I have not played many games, I find taste, as Koster also says an important aspect of worth. But am I being too naive in that area, as well? I don't know. Perhaps tastelessness does have its place.

Case in point: Doesn't Titus Andronicus or The Color Purple have as much to say about human frailty and injustice as The Godfather for Xbox? Maybe. Probably.

There's much to learn. Especially for one who was just weaned off of GameBoy.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 9:04 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack