September 2010 Archives

Creativity is Diversity & vice versa

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Accurately representing one's readership population can be difficult, but throw in the act of perpetually seeking new ideas for said population, and an editor's job is never done. In Robert Haiman's "Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists" section titled "Newspapers are unfair when: The lack diversity" addresses how the public views news organizations policies on forming a diverse staff.

A few of the lines that jumped out at me include: "Acknowledge that there are diverse opinions in minority communities, what some have called the, "diversity of diversity," and embrace this fact in all of your actions on behalf of diversity. Beyond race and gender, keep in mind that economic class diversity also broadens a newsroom's perspective." To me this quote reinforces the fact that you can't please everyone, no matter what you do, who you hire, what you write, etc. However, you can always seek to be the best at what you do. And to do this, creativity is most likely required in some form.

In Shelby Coffey's "Best Practices: The Art of Leadership in News Organizations," there are two sections devoted to the topic of Innovation. Continuously trying to "stay ahead of the curve" and hook reader's interest is not an easy mission. It takes a well spring of creativity, and like I wrote above, not every creative angle that you try will please the masses all at once.

Concerning his organization's creative attempts, Jack Fuller said, "It wasn't like anybody had a grand design. As in most experiences, a lot of [the ideas] didn't work, or they worked briefly and then they flashed out." But that doesn't mean that his organization stopped trying, because then they would be entirely behind in the game. Mark Whitaker said, "At Newsweek, we call it throwing spaghetti against the wall. You throw the spaghetti against the wall and you see whether it sticks. You get reader feedback." Finding out what the majority of the public is interested in shows that something works, although there's no guarantee for how long that interest will last.

Coffey also had another section titled "September 11" that covered leader's quotes regarding the practice of news on September 11, 2001. Out of all of the responses, I am inspired by Steve Isenberg's the most: "Shame on any organization that does not see this as a moment in which its deepest institutional purposes and obligations must be fully honored, and I don't just mean news organizations. This is a moment of honor as well as corporate citizenship, and if you don't rise to it now, then when the hell will you rise to it?"

Most everyone has a deep, personal memory of where they were when the September 11th attacks took place, and through what media they learned of it. My eighth grade gym class had been cancelled as every class was suspended, leaving the entire school absent of sound as our eyes were glued to the small TV screens within each room. I don't think that us kids really understood what was happening, but the news reporters seemed to be on the front lines of whatever strange world we had woken up in that day. I believe that the level of seriousness coupled with the obvious emotion apparent in each journalist and TV news anchor made that day's events real. I wasn't in NY when it happened; the closest thing I'd seen to what was happening were special effects in movies. But the reporter's reactions made them real. I knew that these people weren't acting like they were afraid, they really were, even as they did their best to report on what they were seeing. That day was when many reporters rose to their moment of honor, but leaders realize that such moments can be great or small. And whatever the size of the event, leaders should strive to live up to that honor.

If you'd like to read what my classmates are saying on these subjects, just click.

Hello my story...that's all code

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When I was attempting to plan out my own interactive game, I played a few already published games. If you're interested in checking out my responses to a few of these said games, click on over to my blog entry Tap your fingers for a new game. All of the games that I reviewed on this blog were fascinating and are now personal favorites of mine.

As of now, my game's title is "Awakening" and the setting is vague in that I never tell the player what the family's farm title is or what the town's name is. However, I hope to clarify this a bit by giving the player a more detailed description of the clothing in the game. I hope that this in addition to the hints of witch trials will give the player enough clues to envision an environment based in approximately 1600 - 1800. The tone of my game is somewhat subdued and definitely shrouded in mystery. The player has no memory throughout their exploration of their family's farm, although the player does gradually recover significant memories by examining various objects.

I think the idea that influenced me the most when coding my game was the idea of having to explore everything and then closely examine whatever I find. I think this is a common theme in many games, but I feel that it plays an important role in interactive games because players create the game world in their mind. Another idea that influenced me is my interest in historical witch trials and fantasy elements. Get all of these ideas together in my head, add my limited coding skills, and this game is what you get.

Here's a preview that will hopefully either draw you in to play my game or inspire you to some creative end:

"This is a dream that is more than a dream.

It may be a you that is more than the you that you're playing now.

But whatever you do, it's of your own choice and a creation of your own ends."

The three lines above are the opening lines of text that they player will see when he/she begins my game. My goal for these lines are to intrigue the player and to make them question the reality of my game. I don't know that I specifically used any creative factors other than listening to my brain's inner ramblings. And I think the only technical issue that I used was inputing paragraph breaks to make the lines break apart.

Anyway, I've pasted below a portion of my game code that I am particularly proud of. This section displays my first ever attempt at creating a flashback, in addition to awarding a point to the player.

Instead of examining the wooden horse for the first time:
say "It looks like a child's toy. The rough pine edges have been carefully worn down. As if mesmerized, your fingers slowly trace the wooden horse's body...[Paragraph break]";
wait for any key;
say "...You're standing in the stable and small clusters of snowflakes are beginning to drift in through the cracks in the wood behind you. A young boy, no more than five years old is sitting in front of you on the stable's floor, playing with the wooden horse. He has the same dark brown hair as you do and you're sure that if you could see his eyes that they'd be matching twins to your own gray pupils. You hear your mother's laughter ring out behind you and you turn...[Paragraph break]";
wait for any key;
say "A slight shiver runs through your body as you once more feel the summer's heat drifting in at your back.[Paragraph break]";
award 1 point;
say "Startled, you take a step backward. Was that my little brother, Sam?"

It took me a bit of time to figure out how to do this, but it was most assuredly worth it. If you're interested in making a similar portion of code, I recommend looking up section 4.5 "Flashbacks" in Inform's Recipe book.

The main body of my game involves the player exploring the family farm setting and recovering the player-character's memory. I employed two main tactics in my attempt to encourage the player's efforts: descriptions that have semi-obvous hints as to what the player should do next, as well as awarding points for the player's diligence in taking and examining key objects.

I've told you some key components of my game already, but I'm going to give away a bit of my ending as well. There are two endings to my game: a bad end and a wise end. The ending was one of the harder coding areas of my game, but I'm not sorry for taking spending a lot of time on it. Without giving too much away, my endings rely upon the beginning and ending of scenes, and all of them are near the final room of the game.

As far as credits go, I hope that you check out the games that I reviewed in my earlier blog because they each inspired me in some way. I wrote this code all by myself, so I've only myself to blame if players find it boring or whatnot. And if the documentation within the Inform 7 program had a name for itself, I would certainly give a big shout out to it for all of its help.

For the most part, my usability tests gave me good feedback. The key areas that they addressed were having more details in my descriptions or in my "room" descriptions, and having more synonyms when talking to three other characters in the game that I had created myself. There were a few glitches that I had failed to catch before, like when I had forgotten to erase a bit of code that allowed a key in the game to unlock a door that I didn't want the player to be able to open. All in all though, I think that I would love to improve upon this game for my term project.

Care to read and see what my classmates have done with their creativity?

Crisis situations need a different type of personality

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Reading Robert J. Haiman's section on "Newspapers are unfair when they prey on the weak" in his Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists as well as Shelby Coffey's "People" section in Best Practices: The art of leadership in news organizations addressed the public's concern over not abusing a possible source who has suffered a trauma of some sort and how to manage one's people to prevent such abuse.

The best line from Haiman's section that I loved the most went something like this: It's not so much what you say as how you say it. Any talented shrink or negotiator would probably tell you the same thing. In the first example you can be so focused on getting the information you need, on getting the story in under your deadline that you might not realize how you phrase a question to a mother who's child was just found murdered. But if you ask the mother about her child's interests, gain a "human" side to your reporter occupation, then you're much more likely to gain some of the main details that you were seeking, along with a few that you may not have been thinking of.

However, if you just rampage your way through questions that threaten to break an already fragile psyche, then you're going to become the equivalent to the monster that brought your interviewee to the breaking point to begin with.

Which brings me to Coffey's collection of quotes on managing people. Karen Jurgensen said "(On managing characters) I think the worst mistake you can make is to be cowed by them. You have to just stand your ground." So when you discover that a reporter on your staff bullied or harried a source in order to gain information out of them, especially if said source was the victim of a crime or a child, don't let them slide simply because they got the story. There's more than one way to skin a cat (pardon the bad picture), so there was at least one other method for that reporter to find his or her information other than emotionally bullying their source.

Dick Wald said, "The power-mad person winds up with a staff that isn't worth playing with." So even though you need to hold your ground, don't collect people who only bring you power or consistent success without the talent of knowing how to address different subjects. Different people have different talents. Just make sure that you send the person talented in adapting the way they conduct interviews to a traumatized victim or grieving family, and send the gung-ho reporter to cover a story minus said traumatized people.

Care to read what my classmates are writing on these subjects? Then you need look no further.

Being accountable and sticking to it

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I recently read through a few sections of Shelby Coffey III's Best Practices: The Art of Leadership in News Organizations. As with the time before that I read a portion of this manuscript, there were several lessons that I felt I could benefit from, because the advice from those who have lived through or lived doing something, is the best advice you can get. But what I think is really amazing is that no matter what section I read from Coffey, there is always a point that I can compare to Robert Haiman's Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists.

There were three sections from Coffey that struck me during this reading: Discipline, Management & Management 2.0, and Values. In the Discipline section, William Hearst III, said, "General MacArthur listed his important daily routines. Number one was to pray to God. And number two was to have the courage to root out the people in the organization who don't measure up." Yes, this may sound a little harsh, but pinpointing one's weaker areas and then attempting to help said weakest link can greatly benefit an organization. No one said it will be an easy thing to do (then again, maybe it will), but it's what you do afterwards that counts.

And that's where Management & Management 2.0 come in. A strong point in this section is to get the right people doing the right job. Everyone has an area that they are more successful in, so play to your people's strengths and you will see your organization grow stronger under your guiding leadership. Tim McGuire said, "There's always tomorrow." So no matter what happens today, you will have the chance to either fix it or prevent it from happening again when tomorrow rolls around.

Thus we come to the Values section. Once you've found your values, stick to your guns and keep those values in your sights. Ben Bradlee said, "I think history is a great teacher of values; there's a wonderful textbook every day in your newspaper in how not to behave."

But what do all of these have to do with Haiman's section titled "Newspapers are unfair when: they won't name names"? Well, most everything has to do with this section, because it covers the public's response to anonymous sources being used in newspapers and other publications. Primarily, the public sees these hidden sources as standing on shaky ground to begin with, and poor journalism on the part of the paper. So the rules on using anonymous sources came into being. Most editors of today's publications will only use an anonymous source if the story is pivotal, if the source is certifiably reliable, and with the recognition that the reporter takes full responsibility for what is printed.

So it is that editors need to be disciplined in what standards they are setting and for the possibility of having to bring about consequences upon a reporter. They need management skills to put the right people where those people are needed, and they need to stick to their values.

If you're interested in what some of my fellow classmates had to write on these life-lessons, check out our blog.

Tap your fingers for a new game

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My class is beginning to learn how to create interactive fiction games by using the program Inform 7. So I took a look at three games to see if I could gain some inspiration.

In order to better prepare myself for creating an interactive fiction game, I chose to play a few interactive fictions games made by experienced coders. The first game that I played was Ka by Dan Efran. In this game you are a newly awoken Egyptian mummy beginning your journey in the underworld. The spells in this game really intrigued me, because I would like to code something similar in my game so that it really seems like my PC is casting spells. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my mummy out of the coffin. Sad and lame yes, but it's a puzzle that I haven't found the key to yet.

The next game that I tried was Moon-Shaped by Jason Ermer. Moon-Shaped is the re-telling of "Little Red Riding Hood" with a twist of horror and mystery thrown in. I really enjoyed playing this game, and I would like to incorporate how this game's PC was able to experience flashbacks or "visions" into my own game.

The third game that I played was Dreamhold by Andrew Plotkin. Dreamhold gave me several ideas that would be a good thing to incorporate into my game. Dreamhold's PC can increase their "score" for finding various masks throughout the game. But perhaps the most helpful feature within this game was the "Help" feature that can give players hints when they are stuck in the game. Also, Plotkin included a "Tutorial Voice" that is extremely helpful to gamers new to interactive fiction games.

My game will be set in the small village of Arlo, Maine in the 1600s. As of now, I think that my story will reside in the mixed genre of Horror and Adventure. I haven't come up with a name for my character, but I do have a few details. The Player Character (PC) is a young girl. When you examine the PC, you will receive a short description of the girl as being clothed in a dirty, tattered dress and severely disoriented. Throughout the course of the game the PC will discover who she is, what happened to her family, and what she can do to bring peace to her deceased family members (but she doesn't find out that they are dead until later on in the game play.

I have also already planned some actions or puzzles that my PC will have to accomplish in order to advance the game's storyline. Near the beginning of the game, the PC will have to search for a key in order to unlock the gate as well as a separate key to unlock an old trunk in a cottage that holds more clues as to what happened to her family.

Some other tasks that I plan to have the PC do include finding a wooden flute and at least two different series of notes. These notes may then be played to unlock a mausoleum. The PC might have to collect the notes from several different locations, but I'm not sure yet. In addition to these, the PC will need to find incantations throughout the world in order to trigger hidden events.

Here are a few opening lines of code that I have written thus far:

When play begins, say "This is a game that is more than a game, a dream that is more than a dream, a you that is more than you."

The Field is a room. "You awake in a field of wildflowers. A small breeze drifts through the field, transforming the field into a riot of natural colors. To the south you can see the ground begins to slope toward the top of a dark brown building."

The Stable is a room. The Stable is southwest from the Field.

As I am coding the game, I plan to leave hints within the text concerning what the PC should be doing next so as to progress through the game. I would also like to figure out how to leave hints within the game's responses to the PC's actions. For example, after trying to enter the mausoleum without all of the notes at least three times, the game will prompt the PC with a more obvious hint as to where to get the notes.

I'm still debating about what I can do to make the game more challenging as the PC travels through the game. I may try something along the lines of making the objects more hidden the farther through the game the PC goes, rather than obviously telling the PC where an item is in a room. However, I hope that my gradual escalation of things to find will be enough of a reward to continue a player's participation, because I plan for both an intricate story and several items to be found and/or puzzles to be solved.

When it comes to the end of my game, I hope to have two different endings, though this will depend entirely upon my time and coding ability. My original plan for the game's ending includes the PC having a choice to make. She can either summon the Fey (Faerie folk) and leave with them forever, or she can cast a spell that leaves the entire town suspended in time until the townspeople turn on each other.

However, if I run short on time coding the game, I will only go with one ending. Although, I can't accurately write which one I prefer because I like them both. And both a much more haunting in my mind than they seem on this blog. Another area that I can cut in order to meet my deadline is to condense the map.Then again, if I find myself with extra time, then I would like to expand the map, spells, and general puzzles that the PC can find and use.

If you'd like to see what coding recipes some of my classmates are cooking up, then check them out.

Wrapping up with Scratch

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With the close of my class's unit on the program Scratch, I can safely write that I've enhanced my abilities to develop a code from nothing (and actually having it work) as well as my own limitations when attempting to make a home-grown code.

It would be incorrect to say that I learned my slight ability to code using Scratch from any one source because I learned the basics of Pong from several projects. The first and least complicated game that I learned was Pong by SampleProjectsTeam. Another project that provided me a basis for my code was Pong 4.0 by jamie. These two games gave me the most instruction for beginning my code.

As of right now, my attempt at making a Batman Pong game does have an opening screen that features instructions. However, the code that drives this screen is currently not working in sync with the rest of the game.

The first level of my game is pretty simple. The Batman logo is proportionate to the manhole cover that acts as the bar for the Batman logo to bounce off of. There are 6 icons featuring the pictures of either Batman's enemies or allies. When the player knocks the Batman logo into one of these pictures, they become hidden.

After all of the icons are hidden, the player advances to the next level. The second level features a significantly smaller Batman logo that also moves faster than it did on level 1. Level 3 challenges the player to finally win the game by keeping track of the Batman logo that now only shows itself intermittently because of the ghost effect. At the moment I am having trouble linking level 3 to level 2, but I figure I just need to calmly sit down and look at the code. Nevertheless, each successive level increases in difficulty by adding a time limit for the icons to be hit in order to progress to the next level.

However, as an added incentive to play my game, I have included a Win screen for players once they follow through the game. And I have also included a Lose screen that displays the Joker standing over a defeated Batman, thus enticing the player to play again in order to re-capture all of Batman's enemies and return them to Arkham Asylum. As of yet, I still need to figure out the correct coding for making a credits screen so as to give credit for the Gotham City-scapes that are the stage backgrounds for my game levels.

Even though I have not completely finished my pong game, I was able to conduct a usability report. Three individuals tested my game and provided significant feedback. The first problem that my testers encountered was that I needed an opening screen with instructions. Another facet of the game that my testers pointed out was that the game was not challenging enough, other than the game being entirely based on chance. This prompted me to then to increase the speed at which the Batman logo hurtled across the screen and in level 3, when the logo became semi-transparent. Although these were the two main points to improve (and I am currently in the process of doing that), there were some small glitches that appeared in my game while my testers played it. These were annoying to be sure, but easily fixed when I restarted the game or exited the program.

I've included below some screen captions of each level and background change of my game. But you should zip over to my classmates' blogs to read about what cool games they designed and how their usability reports gave them ideas on how to improve their games.

Level 1:

Level 1.tif

Level 2:

Level 2.tif

Level 3:

Level 3.tif

Win screen:


Lose screen:


Gliches are Fun-suckers

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I am in the process of creating a Batman-based pong game using the program Scratch. Approximately 80% of the game has been coded and works, so I had my roommate test it out.

The first thing I learned is that I need to create a screen that displays the directions of the game. In the future, potential gamers who are looking for my game might search for "Batman" and "pong" to find my specific game. People such as that most likely don't need instructions if they are familiar with the basic concepts of pong, but it's another story for people who don't play games on a regular basis, or at least have never played pong before. (I realize I may have heard a few shocked gasps at my last sentence, but there really are people who have never played roommate being one of those unfortunates.)

Sadly, my roommate played the game a few times through but experienced glitches in the game. Most of these revolved around the Bat-signal (ball) sticking to the manhole cover (paddle) rather than bouncing off of it. Also, the game will progress players to the next level of the game, but only for about 5 seconds before showing the Game Over screen. And when the Game Over screen is displayed, the game doesn't "stop all" like I have it coded. Once these glitches are resolved I believe that my usability testing will be more informative. But even as it is, I did learn that I need to provide some sort of instruction for players at the beginning of the game.

My classmates are testing out their Scratch games too, so zip on over to one of their blogs to see what they're working on.

Scratching away at coding

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If you've ever wanted to learn how to make a computer program by code alone, then Scratch is the program for you. I just began using this program after having very little coding experience, and I managed to make a Batman themed pong game.

Several days of discovering what Scratch can do has really opened my eyes to the possibilities of coding. Scratch's colorful blocks of code make it easy to understand which blocks can work together and which ones can't. I think this alone can save beginning coders immense time and rounds of frustration with your computer. However, that doesn't go to say that I haven't had a few tough spots building my code.

Throughout the course of creating my game I've learned who to create my own "Counter" variable that enables me to manipulate the timer in my game. This means that I can make my game "stop all" when the timer reaches 10 seconds if any of my icon pictures are still on the screen, because the player needs to hit the icons with the pong "ball" to both hide them and reduce the "counter" by 1 (-1). Then, if the "counter" equals 0 and the timer is less than 10 seconds, the player wins the game.

I do hope to add on more levels in the future, but I'm still working on creating them and working through a few last problems. I still need to learn how to correctly code my game so that the player will immediately see the "Win" screen when all of the icons are hidden. This is a perfect example of how Scratch is great for learning, but doesn't always give the perfect answer right off the bat.

Click on over to some of my classmates' blogs and read what they've learned about Scratch.