CFP: Looking for pioneers!

I'm excited to be announcing an initial CFP for an edited book - a type of teacher's manual, if you will, that helps K16 teachers who are interested in building games in their classroom, but don't know where to start.  So far, it's been an exhilarating and terrifying journey - I know so many folks who do amazing things in their classrooms and just need the chance to share their stories.  And as I've started talking about this book, I keep sharing the same quote over and over:

“Teachers often must play the part of the pioneer if changes are to be made. Pioneers forge ahead in spite of difficulty, learning all they can before striking out for new territory.  They study maps, anecdotal records, and talk to those on the edge of the frontier.  They take old knowledge with them, but expect to develop new strategies, solve novel problems, create new language to describe what they see, and share what they learn with those who have not yet made the journey.  Pioneers learn as they go.” (Armstrong & Bezuk, 1995, p. 87)

This idea of pioneers is a major guiding light to the development of this book, as we gather together the maps, anecdotal records, and accounts from those on the edge of the frontier, and share them with other pioneers who are just wondering, "Where do I start?"  

See more information here, and feel free to comment or contact me with more questions - let's take this trip together!  

Caro

A book called S

My family knows me quite well.  All the parental figures in my life sent me books for my birthday, so I can spend my first day of 32 reading nonstop, while the gloomy weather outside threatens snow.  Perfect.

Viki, my mother-in-law, sent me the book S, which is a an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a story.  Here's the case the book comes in:

S, by JJ Abrams and Doug Bourst

S, by JJ Abrams and Doug Bourst

Once removed from the case, the book looks like any book published mid- to late last century - and smells like an old and battered library book:

Ship of Theseus, by V.M. Straka

Ship of Theseus, by V.M. Straka

The story of S is Straka's story, but annotated by two people who meet through the book, by happenstance, and pass it back and forth.  Opening any page reveals margin scrawls, underlining, and sketches in various colors:

photo 3.JPG

And throughout the book, stuffed between various pages, lie newspaper clippings, postcards, handwritten letters, and the like:  

One of the many inserts in S

One of the many inserts in S

Frankly, I'm not sure how to read this book - part of me wants to try to read Straka's book all the way through, then read it again along with the annotations and inserts.  Another part of me wants to try to read everything in my first go-through, trying to keep track of both narratives and their interleavings - possibly with the help of a notebook!  Or I could just flip through willy-nilly, as if I'd just picked up the book randomly in a library - and mayhap even write my own comments in the margins, joining into the conversation as if I were another character in the world of S.  

Well, I'm going to just pick it up and give it a shot, reading as if it's a normal book, and paying attention to the annotations only when I feel like.  Wish me luck!

A week of games!

As usual, visiting time with my brothers and our significant others involved a lot of games - including a lot of new ones (at least for me).  Also as usual, my strategy was "I don't know how to play this game, so I'm going to take risks nonstop - being careful is silly if you don't know why you're being careful."  So I won all the first rounds, and lost thereafter - likely because my more nuanced strategy, after I've gotten to know the game a bit, is "Running in and busting things up worked last time, so let's do it again!" Unfortunately, while I've been running in and busting things up, my siblings and Jordan have learned how to actually play, so I come into the second round with a disadvantage (and only myself to blame).  But the bonus with my approach is that it's fun, whether you win or lose, because you get to (metaphorically) stomp around in big boots.  (In one of the games, Mario 3D World on the Wii-U, we even got to stomp around in literal big boots!  Errr, well, literal digital big boots, anyway….)

Games we played:

Mario 3D World (Wii-U)

Brief thoughts:  I've always been merely a social Mario player - I'd never boot it up by myself, unless someone paid me.  That said, this was fun - I've been interested in the various let's make the handheld able to interact with the console! attempts, and this is the first one I've been able to to try (although I really wish I had a PS Vita, for the first time ever, because of LBP2).  The special Wii-U controller reacts to breath, so there could be hidden items everywhere that will only be revealed by blowing on the controller.  A totally amusing method of hiding easter eggs that is also good for smokers like myself and Isaiah who need to practice deep breathing on a regular basis.  So yeah, Mario 3D is good for you!  Although, I gotta admit, certain angles are really difficult to judge - and falling off the side of various cliffs repeatedly because the 3D is more like 2.75839D, is annoying.  Plz fix it.

Although, frankly, the cat form pretty much makes up for it.

I just barely won with my Caro-saur during the first game...

I just barely won with my Caro-saur during the first game...

King of Tokyo (board game)

Brief thoughts:  I got to be Giga-Saur, so yeah, it was awesome!  I barely won the first game, even with my tried-and-true stompy strategy, with a single heart left when I crossed the 20 Victory Points winning line.  KoT is one of those surprisingly simple games that can be picked up quickly, with more complex strategies worth learning - it kinda reminds me of We didn't playtest this at all, in terms of the unexpected and amusing cards that keep popping up.  Although let me be clear, KoT was obviously playtested, and well balanced - the parallel I'm drawing is the playfulness the two games share.  (Also, maybe We didn't playtest this at all WAS playtested, like a lot, so yeah, I don't know what I'm talking about.  Anyway.)  KoT's a good game, with a pretty short run time, so it's the perfect "dinner's cooking in the oven and we have 20-30 minutes to waste" game.  I recommend keeping a decent informative website up, because apparently the rules were written by Garfield, translated into French, and then translated back into English.  Soooo, yeah, not always crystal clear...

Isaiah had the expansion, but we didn't play it - too bad, 'cause it introduces pandas and evolution o_O  

MtG - Commander: which I won.

MtG - Commander: which I won.

Magic the Gathering - Commander (card game, natch)

Brief thoughts:  since I've barely played any MtG since about the Ice Age expansion pack (cue sounds of disbelief from people who know what that means), the Commander style was a lot of fun but still pretty bewildering.  I remembered a lot of the basic rules, but wtf happened to all the normal lands?!  Granted, with a 3-color deck, those crazy complicated lands and mana-producing artifacts are important, but boy, I remember the days when you just plopped down a forest and were all like, "Now I've got a forest!"  Now it's all, "This land comes into play tapped, and only works when [x constraint] is met.  Pay one colorless to tap this land, and get two mana of [chosen color]."  Aaaaaah, basic lands, how I miss thee…  Also, what is horsemanship?!  Seriously? Not that I'm complaining - horsemanship worked out for me just fine, but if I'd lost the game due to horsemanship, wouldn't I be cranky!)  Last but not least, despite my permanent-tapping/untapping Commander, I cannot for the life of me attack without tapping the characters with Vigilance.  Look, I'm sorry, but tapping to attack is so deeply ingrained that I CAN'T HELP IT.  I've resigned myself to being reminded about Vigilance during every attack phase, and my bro Isaiah - who provided the decks - has likely resigned himself to having to remind me.

Plants versus Zombies 2 (Moto X)

Brief thoughts:  I adored the original PvZ, and the World of Warcraft in-game version (despite the repeated PvP snipes), so I was very excited when PvZ2 dropped. One major difference, from my end, is that I'm using the Moto X to play instead of the iPad - and wow, do I miss the iPad acreage!  But PvZ2 is playable on the Moto X, unlike the iPhone - errr, again, in terms of acreage.  The more space the better for PvZ, IMO.  I'm also enjoying the back-in-time flight of fancy that the design team took - I mean, seriously, how else would our plants get the chance to fight Egyptian zombie mummies?  Time travel is the only explanation.  

However, the game's been adapted to be really-seriously-pay-to-play, which pisses me off.   I'd be totally willing to drop $10 on PvZ2, with the well-designed unlocking of additional features as I progressed.  Instead, it's $3.99 for an additional seed slot, and another $3.99 to set peas on fire, and another $3.99 for the frozen pea shooters.  I fondly remember all those from PvZ, so yeah, I'd like them - especially the additional seed slot!  But pay-to-play games bother me, because when the game's designed with "making money" as the primary mechanism, weird shit can happen.  For example, I might make it through all ONE BILLION PvZ2 levels without that extra seed slot, when frankly, the game would be that much better if I received it as a super-special reward mid-game, and consequently (from a game design perspective) that extra slot could become a pre-requisite for the end-game.  Now, the game has to either be designed such that it's playable all the way through without that extra seed slot (in which case, what good is it?), or by level 100 or so the seed slot becomes mandatory, in which case, I gotta shell out the $4 to keep the game going.  In other words:  if I was designing a pay-to-play game, I'll build a kick-ass game, and then take the best rewards, motivators, exciting bits, and make them cost money.  But I'd like the game to be playable by everyone, even if it sucks - so I'm designing a crappy game for people who don't want to buy all my stuff, and layering a good-but-constantly-begging-for-money game on top of it.  Consequently, design choices have to be made for the cheapskates, like me, and the folks who just have too much money and want to buy digital plants with it, and the folks in the middle, who only want to drop $10 max.  What good is a game that's designed for such a wide variety of player types?  (See a bit further down for my ode to Hearthstone, which is the one pay-to-play game that is actually worth playing.)

Now, I am not opposed to paying for my games - but I am opposed to being nickel-and-dimed to death by a game I've already put time into (for example, the three "quests" with a time delay after each completion to progress to the next level in Candy Crush, that is obviously just there to get you to shell out some cash already!).  And I am opposed to paying $4 for something that is, in fact, of dubious value and use.  As I noted above, maybe that seed slot isn't actually necessary - so I'm just dropping $4 because I remember finding it useful in the original PvZ.  Or maybe later on, I can unlock an additional seed slot, so buying one now means I'll end up with two later - so it's actually less valuable than I think.  Or maybe later on, I'll unlock the store so my gold coins can actually be used in it - so I could just buy it then with my game currency.  Or maybe I'll finish writing this post, publish it, and go research PvZ2 only to find that there's are two versions:  the "free" one I've got, plus the "All bells and whistles included for only $10!" one that I actually want.  Or maybe the $10 version will come out as people keep complaining.  Or whatever.  

The truth is that pay-to-play games tend to suck.* Most pay-to-play games suck because the _game_ isn't the point of the design - making money is.  (And I don't mean "making money is the focus" in the generic capitalist sense of the phrase, where making a good product and spending a lot on advertising can result in comically large profits - I mean that the game doesn't win any battles against mo' money.  As the game's being designed, the question "And how will this get our customers to micro-transact?" is asked at every point - along with, "Uh-oh, this game's too good - let's take out the automatic award of getting an additional seed slot at level X and disrupt the game flow, so we can encourage a micro-transaction.") Unfortunately, designing a game that prioritizes making money over playability, flow, and fun often results in a bad game for someone - usually me, I'm afraid, because part of my pay-to-play-game mentality is a baseline refusal to pay anything.  If they want my money, they should ask for it up front, as part of our contract:  they build a good game, I buy it.  But given that the best way to design a successful pay-to-play game is to build a kick-ass game, then take out crucial pieces that teach, and reward, and flow, and replace them with $0.99 brief panaceas, I'm just not interested in the pay-to-play contract, which is:  we built a broken game, and you pay to fix it.  

*Single caveat: the only exception I've found so far:  Hearthstone.  Blizzard did it right - but they didn't invent how to do it right, they just looked around the current card game world and built their game around that.  Magic the Gathering players pay for decks, like Hearthstone players, and MtG players pay to enter tournaments, like Hearthstone players.  It's also absolutely possible to play Hearthstone without ever paying real money for anything - frankly, it's so easy and relaxing to play and use only gold as currency, that I'm going to break my "I don't spend money in pay-to-play games" just for Hearthstone.  I feel a bit guilty, playing this kickass and well-designed game, without being visually attacked by ads or confronted with broken bits that I need to pay to fix - or even just bugging my friends to play it.  So yeah, cash dropping on Blizzard:  commence!

 

We also played some random fun game at Guardian Games, an analog game store plus bar plus MtG tournament place.  I don't remember the name of the game, but Jordan somehow managed to put a warlock-esque deck together, and Abraham and I tied somehow.  A delicious chili lunch cart was there, and I had the vegetarian option, Elvish Chili, which apparently isn't made of elves, and apparently does add +5 dexterity.  The only sad part of Guardian Games, where everyone was friendly and fun, was the damn bathroom doors.  And if you're not like me and you walk into GG, then you'll have no idea what I'm talking about - but if you are like me, or Jordan, you'll notice that the dude's bathroom gets a silhouette with a sword, while the ladies has a silhouette with heels.  Wtf.  Those make shitty weapons - hasn't anyone realized that yet?  So yeah, I'd like a damn sword, plz.  

And, last but not least, Words with Friends with Rebekah.  'Cause a craniotomy means EVERYONE should play Words with Friends with her.