December 11, 2006

Final final...maybe.

It's been a long road with this project, but it came together. I still love Flash. I still love journalism. Those are two things I was most worried about despising by the end of this semester, particularly in this class, but I don't. In fact, I love them both, much more than I probably should. So anyway, this is it. Unless, I get a streak of perfectionism sometime today and decide to do something else....

See my final project or download the file.

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December 6, 2006

A Final Blog Portfolio: EL405

I am satisfied to see a happy end to a rocky beginning in New Media Projects. I found what I liked and I stuck with it, and I finally found a gaming product that I could live with while working in Hammer. This is my last collection of blog entries for this class--and forever at Seton Hill University. (sigh) Enjoy~~


  • Another update on the state of my Project 2 of Flash indictes that I finally got the buttons working the way I wanted to, but I shared my dilemma about the score of the game I was creating not working.

  • In this draft of my Project 2, I added the element of the Catholic Social Teaching chart and the functional buttons--the best I could offer at the time--for my portfolio review by the English faculty.

  • For two days we were architectural designers with Hammer. This entry is offers my view of the program's interface in contrast to others we've tried in New Media Projects. I also talk about the fun of zombie passive resistance.

Commenting up a storm

  • I was the first on the scene to talk about Hammer on Karissa's blog. I commented on our disabled player who just stood there while he got his arse kicked by an alien encrusted zombie.

  • On Mike Rubino's entry discussing Hammer, I agreed that the interface was friendlier, and also said an instrumental part of the interface is knowing what should be in a dropdown and what should be a button and what should be a different mode.

  • Stormy's comment about Sims really intrigued me. I've always wanted to try architectural design, and Sims seems very mainstream and inexpensive. I returned to her blog to ask Stormy to bring a copy of Sims so I could try it myself. I think that this is a kind of gaming I could get interested in.


  • "A Soldier's Memory" is a poem I wrote after reading the newspaper's statistics of soldiers who died in Iraq since the start of the war. I just started thinking about the effect on the people next door, down the street...

**May be updated by due date.

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A Hammer a Day

Our "House" wasn't crooked this time.

Hammer is actually fun. Though we saved our file, "The Enlightnment," the last time we worked on it in class, the file went to a little place I like to call computer purgatory--it's there--somewhere--but we don't know when it is going to be released from obscurity.

In any case, we didn't have our origianl file from our last class, so we started from scratch. This time, however, we were not in a house with gaps between the walls.and the lights were fixed on the ceiling, not a la disco, as before.


I must concur with Mike and say that the interface on this program is so much more user-friendly than many of the open source programs we've used in New Media Projects. The buttons' icons actually meant something to me. Though the undo function was not Ctrl+Z in Hammer, many of the keyboard shortcuts I easily picked up.


The zombie becomes interested in us. We later die and the screen goes crazy.

I particularly liked positioning the camera in various parts of the room. I got a better handle on the room's dimensions the second time around than the first.

And when I got to see our player being attacked by zombies, I was very satisfied by a day's work. What? Zombies? Yes, ZOMBIES. Dr. Jerz made zombies and helped us place them in our game. With our player's movement function disabled, the lesson was not in shooting them, as our classmates games portrayed, but rather, in passive resistance, as Evan put it.

I would definitely try Hammer again, and because I own it now, I will get the chance after I graduate...when I'm doing part-time work or grad school applications or...something.

Hammer seems to encourage the user, if backed into a corner, to find a way out. When I'm learning a new program, I've found, I tend to try everything until I find the right button or function or mode. Hammer is functional enough to deal with my eagerness to experiment, and doesn't force a user to read a 500-page manual. I like that in a program.

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December 4, 2006

Another draft of Flash

This is what I want my English portfolio review people to see on Thursday. You can check it out too...
"Catholicism and Seton Hill" (view the file)

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November 24, 2006

Buttons work, scores--not so much.

My project is coming together nicely. The interactivity of the pages is coming together, and I think I am going to stump a few readers/players with where I've hidden buttons throughout my presentation.

However, there are a few flies in my nice gooey vat of Flash molasses.

The scoring is kind of screwed up. Though Stephan was nice enough to show me a few things in code (and came up with his own code on the spot), the score will not add up from frame to frame. Instead, the frames add one, but cannot "think" like a game by not adding another point when someone goes to another frame again or go in a different order than the way the elements of CST are listed in my buttons column.


My goal, now that I have everything looking all right, is to work on the coding issues I'm having with the scoring. One thing that I haven't spent much time on this semester is coding things. I've gotten a lot of help from other people (which is great), but I want to dig in and find out for myself what coding craziness is all about--again. Oh, the days of learning HTML...

I'm also thinking about how I can make the chart below act a little more like an interactive document than a chart. I may have, over the pope's names, their photo come up or something.


It all sounds like fun, but I want to make sure that I have enough time to do the really important things, such as the scoring element, that will really drive my finished presentation.

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November 18, 2006

Piecing together the projects

It's time to bring everything together once again, to reflect, to ruminate, to revel--to enjoy alliteration in excess. Or rather, to talk about progress...The long road has not ended yet, but here's another leg of the New Media Projects journey.

Project 1: Catholic Social Teaching Envisioned

  • This was my first proposal for taking on the concept of Catholic Social Teaching. Though I'd originally envisioned a game, Flash eventually took me down the journalism route instead.

  • This entry discusses my new direction for my presentation in its infancy. It eventally became a larger project than I'd initially planned, but that is the beauty of Flash.

  • In this exploratory entry, I discuss the limitations of interactivity that I'd faced in creating my first project in the class. I'd discovered that it the nature of my project did not lend itself to a movie-like experience or strictly a game, but rather, as I later found, a game and informative experience.

  • After dealing with the form of my Flash presentation, I dealt with the question of sound in my Flash document. I did not want to increase file size incredibly, but I wanted to have some sound. I eventually made the buttons make a clicking noise and I am looking for a choral sound for the first scene, but all is remedied here.

Project 2: CST making an impression

  • For the second half of the semester, I decided to expand upon my first project on Catholic Social Teaching. In addition to learning Flash, I also was learning about the concept of my project. I just let the content do the talking. What was goig to be just "part" of my presentation: interactivity, turned out to be one of the driving factors behind it. I decided to make a game element to the general informational aspect of the game. Essentially my presentation has two threads: the informative and the game.

  • This was my call for help. I figured out the problem by creating two buttons: one for the movie clip for it to blink, and one for the invisibility. The invisible aspect was essential, so I wasn't wasting my time. However, I did learn from that experience not to get caught up on one thing, but to look for assistance online, rather than spend hours trying to do it by searching in the program.

  • My project 1 is now online. Part of the reason for the glitches I experience is because of the switch between Flash MX and the version we have in our class. The files can convert to the newer version, but the newer version cannot go back into the older version I have at home. The older version has been more user-friendly to me, particularly with the normal and expert mode options that are not avaible in the newer Flash. However, when I was ready to upload the file onto Moveable Type, the html file didn't show until I tried to upload it in the Moveable Type interface. Heartstopping, yes, insurmountable, no.

  • In addition to creating an interactive presentation aspect to my scenes, I also wanted to create an interactive chart about Catholic Social Teaching. Though I am still developing the ideas, the chart looks fabulous in the same brown, buttercream and white colors that appear in the final scene of my presentation. It is, as of now, the final link in the "discerning reader's" search in the game.

Making the connection: Blogging for the Common Good a.k.a Xenoblogging

  • Comment Primo: In this blog, I questioned Mike Rubino on the target audience of his game.

  • Comment grande: In this blog by Mike Rubino, I commented about my experience of playing his game.

  • Comment informative: In response to Evan's frustration with Moveable Type, I offered my two cents which will hopefully help him in dealing with Flash documents online. I referenced the Flash Journalism book and tried to offer some guidance on the two versions of Flash.

  • Link gracious: In addition to my own take on Evan's problem concerning uploading a Flash document to Moveable Type, I also suggested that he take Stephan's advice and just search for a tutorial on the subject. Stephan seems to believe in the tutorials, so maybe it is a better route, that even I will take when I hit a brick wall o' Flash.


November 13, 2006

Interactivity stinking up the Flash

I am ready to give up on buttons with movie clip/button qualities. I don't think I am doing it right at all. My Flash presentation 2 is going to be interesting and uninteractive if I don't get it together soon...

I want a button to glow, and it has, but I also want it to, when clicked, to show a message. I've tried...but it will do one or the other, not both. I've tried, I really I much interactivity to do, so little time...

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November 10, 2006

Interactivity: Mission 2

My mission is to make a website-looking Flash document into an interactive piece of sweetness.

I have decided to try a few things with the expansion of this project. I am going to make a Catholic Social Teaching treasure hunt through my presentation. The premise of my presentation is to be both an informed reader of the articles and the Catholic Social Teaching quotes throughout the presentation. However, being an informed reader through the presentation is not easy. I plan to hide the quotes and additional information in the photos that fill the background of each scene. The start of the presentation will have a glowing area, as suggested by Dr. Jerz and Stephan, that the reader can chose to click or not.

After clicking the button, a message will appear to start the hunt. If the reader does not click on this, on the conclusion scene, a message will appear saying that the reader is not informed and cannot make a sound judgment. However, I am not sure how I am going to link them all together so that a "score" of sorts will remember how many of the quotes/facts were found.

My guess is I'm going to really delve into Action script. Joy. I have a feeling some of this will help.

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November 6, 2006

A sound debate

This weekend I worked like mad on my Flash project for New Media Projects. I have a total of ten scenes with background photos, articles, buttons and title banners. Okay, so you're probably thinking my presentation looks busy. I'm working on that. I'm also working on sound.

The issue with my project is that it is going to actually be used for the Setonian post-New Media Projects. That means, for the sake of copyright laws, I have to get permission to use any sound. Because I have been working hard on this, I haven't looked around for free sound websites (if they exist), and I was wondering if anyone knew a place where I could get some (preferably Catholic) choral music. I'm open to a lot of other sound, too, but I want it to work with what I've got.


If I'm being realistic about this, I have two options if sound doesn't pan out. I could post it online without the sound, which is very nice and it decreases the file size; or, I could put sound in it and not post it online. That would really suck, though, because I've used Setonian resources and articles for it--and the newspaper should benefit from that work.

Everything is going well, though. I have scroll bars working, enough layers to make an onion proud and I finally discovered how to make the looping stop in the first scene. I've also devised a plan for interactivity of sorts. I'm going to hide the quotes from CST documents in the frames, and they have to find the button. When the button is found, a screen will pop up, saying something (additional information, feeback form ?).

I'll put it this way: I'm on better footing. I'm not afraid of losing everything. I'm hopeful. Almost happy...

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November 1, 2006

Moving along

I'm not Catholic, but the universals of Catholic Social Teaching (CST) sit well with me, and I'm sure they sit well with lots of other people personally, but what about acting those principles in a real world setting--a university setting--where many faith stances and ideas merge?

Well, that is what I am talking about in my Flash project for New Media Projects. The idea is that I am compiling a bunch of Setonian stories that address Catholic Social Teaching, and post beside them exerpts from the original Church documents, which profess CST.

I am currently working on the introduction screen, its links, and getting started on the next scenes of the individual stories. I took a journalistic stance in this project, which means I'll be working hard on not only getting the information together, but also getting it into a package that is attractive for users.


Another thing is still bothering me, though. I'm not sure how I want to make the project interactive. Some of my classmates have things blowing up and people dying, but my project is a serious look at Catholicism, and I don't think I want someone killing the Pope and nuns or something. I thought about doing a "hot corners" thing, like on a Mac, where additional information would pop up about the photos that are in the background and possibly statistics about Catholicism at SHU. I also thought about putting hot spots throughout the background images that people could find if they moused over the entire shot. Incentives of some kind could pop up and the user could become a player who attempts to find the "truth" about Catholicism at SHU.

I think the most difficult thing right now is finding the time to really lay aside for this project. My other classes are filled with crazy papers and projects, and in the back of my mind is a graduation portfolio and my GRE test. Maybe I just won't sleep...

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October 24, 2006

Flashy passion

When I look back on the first half of the semester in New Media Projects, I cringe. I didn't know what was going on, but I'm finally making progress--in Flash. Today, I made a photo fly across a screen, blink, disappear and increase and decrease in size. It was fabulous. There's hope.

And there's help. There are tutorials all over the internet.

I've also changed my plan for my first project in the class, as well. I'm thinking of revamping a story I wrote last year for the Setonian and placing artwork and photos that I've taken from Seton Hill's various service activities and make it run with the story components.

I want to make the presentation interactive, so I may bring together other stories I've written and those photos and put them together in a package under the umbrella of Catholic Social Teaching. I am also planning to link to the documents which formed the ideologies of CST. I really want to take a journalistic stance on this project, so I can not only add it to my skills list, but to my portfolio, as well.

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October 18, 2006

Catalog of creation

When I began this semester, I wasn't enthused about the idea of learning about games. However, as time goes on, and I look over all the things we have covered in "New Media Projects," I see where I have softened my views on some of the material I was so prejudiced against. I don't think I will ever be a gamer, but I think I have the introductory skills to keep learning it. I think I show potential for the projects we are about to begin now that we have laid the groundwork.

I am not necessarily overjoyed at the work I have been doing in this class, particularly in the projects, but I am doing my best with what I have in the new media field. Just as web design came together, I have faith that these programs will click together in time. I hope I look back on what is below and realize that the trials are a great part of the process that is worth just as much as the end result.

Covering my bases:

    Koster 1: In this entry, I discuss the methods of gaming and its particular influence on women. I was surprised to learn that gaming's purpose, in Koster's view is to become boring, rather than fun.

    Koster 2: This entry tackles the topic of videogames and violence. It also assesses the videogaming as a legitimate genre to study and master.

    Strongbad E-mail: I respond to the general -and entertaining- history of gaming provided by Strongbad, but also attempt to discover more.

    IF, Jerz Exposition & Adventure Dwarf: Gaming becomes difficult again. I do not get along with IF, particularly due to the vocabulary, which accompanies the territory. In this entry, I discuss that frustration and the various levels of imagination one has to call up in order to remain interested in play.

    In this entry, I also analyze the style of the game Stephan and I created "Kicking Back at Recess" in comparison to some of the standards set by Dr. Jerz's study.

    Game Choice: "Winter Wonderland":In this entry, I discuss playing "Winter Wonderland." Though the game was not created to be played in the time allotted (much more is needed), the play was fun for me because it acted like a book, and I actually felt as if I was getting somewhere.

    Amazing Games in Minutes 1: I responded favorably to this book because it outlined how the game was going to be put together. I was enchanted.

    Amazing Games in Minutes 5, 6 & 11: The book eventually took me for a loop, and I grew disenchanted with its process orientation toward its games, and not my own. Answers to my questions are embedded deep into other projects that I must seek out in order to create an original work.

    Flash Journalism Intro and Part 1: In this entry, I discuss the importance of a comprehensive manual, and how I look forward to working with McAdams' book. I liked the book so much that I wrote a favorable review on Epinions for it.

    Big Picture Case Study: This densely-linked blog is in reaction to one of the forerunners in Flash implementation on the web.

A deeper study:

    Koster 2: This entry tackles the topic of videogames and violence. It also assesses the videogaming as a legitimate genre to study and master. I quoted from various passages in the book, and called upon my previous knowledge of the genre to form my opinons.

    Big Picture Case Study: This entry searches through the archiving mess of the internet and assesses the uses of various Flash presentations/games to improve upon "traditional" journalism on the internet.

Case Study:

    Big Picture Case Study: This blog discusses the various methods of MSNBC in using Flash as a tool for news coverage.

Interaction: Discussions, Xenoblogging and Timeliness:
Since the descriptions of all of these areas sound very familiar, I am bringing them together under one umbrella in this portfolio. The labels and blurbs about each topic will guide the reader through which element of interaction I address.

Discussion & Xenoblogging:

    Trying to keep the discussion going here about the feminine aesthetics in gaming.

    Comment Primo: I discussed level enhancement with Mike Rubino on this blog. I asked him various questions about his game and asked him questions about the game Karissa and I are currently putting together.

    Comment Informative: Cindy Boland, director of campus ministry at Seton Hill spoke to our "Senior Seminar" course about Catholic Social Teaching. We deconstructed the mission statement of the organization backing Greensburg's Unity Rally, and found that several of the phrases in the statement directly address one, or in many cases, more of the elements of CST. In Stormy's entry, I wanted to clarify this point--that if one takes on one element of life in their game, several aspects of CST may be addressed.


    In this blog entry on Flash, Chris and I discussed various ideas on creating a project based on Catholic Social Teaching for the upcoming project.


Development on Project 1:
In this entry, I discuss what I would like to do in the first project of the course. It is a game, based on a person who must survive, a la Oregon Trail, on minimum wage.

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Darby's Derby: Running me in circles

I will be the one to say I was wrong. Darby's book really scares me now. The chapters 5, 6 and 11 really focus on the specific problems that need addressing within the structure of the games Darby creates, and not necessarily the ones that I need for my game.

I just want a handbook--pure and simple.

When Karissa and I were looking for a solution to our graphics issue (we didn't know what to do because the Paint-like program kept stripping out our Photoshop progress) we searched high and low, but all Darby could say was that the tool is a powerful one. Yippee.

I find myself reading over huge chunks of the book, looking for an answer that somehow turns up in an earlier section of the text.

However, when we do find that answer it is sweet. I just wish the game would be laid out in a more comprehensive way. It is hard enough to work with a new piece of software and create something that looks good, serves a purpose and is interesting to play without a game of hide-and-seek through the text. Perhaps if a book exists by then, Dr. Jerz, you could use a book like Photoshop's Classroom in a Book.

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Taking a stab

It's great thinking of ideas for games, but executing them is another story. I have this idea about taking on Catholic Social Teaching in a game, but I'm not sure how far I can go with it, particularly with the time constraints of this semester. However, I am ready to try it. I just want to make sure I am being realistic in my goals.

The game I have in mind to tackle one (and more) of the Catholic Social Teaching topics is based on surviving on minimum wage. Inspiration for this game comes from The Oregon Trail that I enjoyed playing as a grade-school student. This game, however, takes a current, edgy spin on that same concept. Oregon Trail was set in the 1800’s and was based on America’s greatness through expansion; however, my game will be based on America’s shortcomings in permitting people to provide the basics of life on a limited income.

The game screen will look like a trail, which the person—the game can choose a woman or a man—will travel from their parents’ home across the screen to get to the goal of financial security, perhaps labeled “the American Dream.” The person will travel along and eventually reach various milestones along the way that they must gather in order to advance. A key element of this game will be the score screen and the speed of the earner. If one survives the heaping monthly bills, steep childcare costs, personal sickness and/or death of a family member, and mental health concerns along the path, the minimum wage earner will earn more points—perhaps in dollars—and the earner will advance more quickly. However, if one does not manage their earnings well, which will often be the case, due to the limited income, the family’s health will decline, the budget will look lower, and the player will slow one’s pace. I’ve been tinkering with the idea of a goal, and I’m not quite sure what exactly I want it to be, but it may include owning a small home with healthy children and a car. However, if one reaches the goal, ironically, the outcome will be empty, due to how much one will have to give up in achieving that status. In the final score screen, I hope to include a general or individual reminder, which states what the participant gave up along the way.

This game spans across the board of Catholic Social Teaching, from the dignity of the human person, the option for the poor, solidarity of the human family, the common good, the dignity of work, participation, the universal purpose of material things and the social nature of the human person. What the person on minimum wage in my game hopes to create is a life of value and meaning in a world that has structures in place which may not permit it—one of which is minimum wage.

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Ready to FLASH!

Through the difficult learning moments of Interactive Fiction and The Games Factory II, I looked forward to Macromedia Flash; it is the "it" program for news organizations who want to really take hold of the online genre and showcase something. That is exactly the kind of journalism I want to do, and if I have the capability to do that, I will be pushed ahead of perhaps other applicants in the job market. So, when we finally got there I was let's say, more than a little excited.

I was even happier when I got what I wanted in the selected book "Flash Journalism: How to Create Multimedia News Packages" by Mindy McAdams. I even wrote an Epinions review on the book. Check it out.

The introduction is great. It even separates what one should do for the purposes of professionals, beginners and business people. I loved it. Though I am on the same track as outlined in the class. I am definitely going to find the introduction helpful as a reference when I am stuck on a particular subject in Flash. That is, if I can't find something. The book is very user-friendly. Written as a How-To, it places everything in lessons, yes, but in a step-by-step manner that is not necessarily specific to the project in which one is working.

In class, I created my first Flash scene: a mouth devouring a dark chocolate candy bar. Hey, I wasn't thinking MSNBC yet. I want to really do some good work in this program, and with this how-to text, which really seems like it will walk me through the process a bit better than the other programs I've encountered, I'm ready to really dig in.

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History, Strongbad style

When Dr. Jerz said he felt oddly about assigning a cartoon for an upper-level course, I agreed silently, but I was surprised to discover how much I really learned from the oversized head telling the story of the development of videogames.

From the rudimentary games like Frogger to the complex constructions of current popular game play, I was charmed by the delivery of the material. However, as a lover of history, I decided to delve a little deeper and I found this succinct version of gaming into years at GameSpot. It's a little more my speed.

Not an avid gamer, I never knew the chronology of the gaming industry. Perhaps the most interesting element is the complex graphics of the games. That is something Karissa and I are struggling with currently in The Games Factory 2. The graphics somehow go haywire when they are transferred into the Paint-like program in the application.

However, one element of gaming stays the same, whether two or three dimensional--the trials and tribulations of survival. That is what keeps players playing, and I hope I can inspire the same need to survive in the games I create.

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October 6, 2006

Looking at the (MSNBC) Big Picture

As an Internet user, I don't usually open anything that takes up my entire screen, or has any kind of content that requires a player. I don't really have time to look at them. I like my news, when I can read/watch/listen to it, fast and efficient.

Before Anne Stadler and I traveled to New York last year, we were asked to read and watch this content-filled flash presentation(?) on class in America. I loved that the reader could pick what elements of the story one could choose, but I didn't like that for each topic, a new window opened. The story seemed to be what Ashley Wells, creator of MSNBC's Big Picture, dislikes: "a rehash of what print is." The rehash is the content, and the added elements of interactive charts and graphics seems to load down the already heavily advertised webpage with even more hard-to-load content.

On MSNBC's Big Picture, however, I found the one screen, though a pop-up, to be a smoother representation. The content of a story, integrated through graphics, sound and video, was a package. Though perhaps not as well-written as the New York Times content, the flawless structure of the story invites the visitor to click the screen elements and take an active role in discovering the story.

I particularly enjoyed searching through the airport baggage for terrorist weapons. I'm proven wrong. Games can be fun.

The next site I found in Big Pictures through Google was the Enron scandal. One of the first Big Pictures, it is a little more rudimentary, but still engaging for the visitor.

I am currently working in a library, I should note, which doesn't have sound. However, all of the Big Picture content I could understand because the visual elements tell the story, just as much as (I can imagine) the narrations. I especially found this true in the September 11 Big Picture: The Darkest Day. In fact, not having the sweeping narrations and tear-jerker background music made the story powerful.

If I were creating one of these presentations (which I probably will for my final project), I would not use very many narrations over everything; instead I would, place them in individual sections, which the user could select, and turn off at will.

Up-to-the-minute news in a Big Picture presentation isn't very practical, however, for time and functional purposes. The creators work, according to Wells, up to 16 hours a day on one presentation, and impatient users, like me, would bypass this resource and probably find news elsewhere on a "traditional" online webpage.

I think the MSNBC Big Picture designers found their ideal audience when they began creating presentations for the Oscars. I actually remember some of the ones featured in the book, with Peter Jackson's round head juxtaposed above Clint Eastwood's angular face. Stunning. Not only is the design well done, but the visitors, interested in Arts and Entertainment, and hence predisposed to make time for enjoyment will also take the time to open up and spend time in The Big Picture interface.

Reading this case study really has me thinking about the Setonian's online content. We often do rehash the articles that have appeared in print, but we are offering more online content. We have added links to certain stories in the past, but I am thinking about implementing the first Flash presentation to the Setonian for my project. The Setonian deals with issues of Catholic Social Teaching (our focus for the course theme), so implementing a story into a Flash package sounds like an ambitious, yet fun, undertaking. This is the exactly kind of journalism I've wanted to do for a very long time.

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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.

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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 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

August 30, 2006

First impressions of an old foe: Videogaming Fun 101

The layout is fun. Fun. Fun. But I'm left wondering if the book would've cost half the price if the cartoons were left out. Oh never mind. I got it on sale on

I guess my first, first impression of A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster was that of disgust. I don't like games post-Mario. I think I got extremely dizzy once when a 3-D game got stuck in "View the Room" mode, swinging me round and round. I don't like game shows, and simulation situations freak me out. Needless to say, I wasn't thrilled about purchasing books about games or their design.

However, I'm warming up to it all. Koster's book is fun to look at, even if I do not find playing games, especially Interactive Fiction with its specific syntax, a pleasureable experience. The cartoons on the right-hand side of each page are enough to keep me reading, and the text of the book is making the foreign a bit more local.

I took a jaunt down memory lane while I was reading up about videogaming. I thought about my experiences with the illusive princess in Mario, and how I pretended like I was playing arcade games, watching the demo, when I'd already spent my allowance on notebook paper and stickers.

Koster left me wondering, however, would saving my money to play the videogame have been a better investment? In fact, in one section of the book, he relates that women may develop spatial relationship skills that become permanent after playing games, thus, perhaps putting women on par with men in that area. I don't know how that could affect me, per se, but it's interesting that a) women do not possess that skill to the extent men do and b) we can learn it--FROM A VIDEOGAME.


Koster's ongoing dialogue with violence and innate processes is perhaps the most interesting part, though. Cheating and stockpiling are to prepare the player for the uncertain journeys ahead. Life, I guess, but with more ka-booms.

"This is what games are for. They teach us things so that we can minimize risk and know what choices to make. Phrased another way, the destiny of games is to become boring, not to be fun. Those of us who want games to be fun are fighting a losing battle against the human brain because fun is a process and routine is its destination."

So now I know why some of my friends come to class looking ragged: not from staying up working on that paper, but for the indefatiguable search for fun, when it was there all along in each ka-boom and bullet wound.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at 2:07 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack