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Gaming Around in Edutainment, er um... Edugamement?

Studio time for me is always limited for a stay at home dad who home schools, so I always have to pick my battles. For the last couple years some of that battle has been chosen for me by nature, due to Colorado Floods and lately the threat of more floods. Right now I am just finishing up my barn designs (in Sketchup, actually my blueprints should be ready to pick up today), that means part of my brain and time are freeing up to return to other personal projects like my video games.

A view from my currently untitled edutainment adventure.

A view from my currently untitled edutainment adventure.

Untitled Edutainment game by Daev.  In progress using Unreal 4.

Untitled Edutainment game by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4.

I hit a technical wall with Unreal 4 previously, having decided to use this instead of UDK which was littered with unresolvable issues related to save game, shadowing large scenes that included landscapes and foliage and other problems related to streaming levels (and shadows). When I took up Unreal 4, the word was that it was far easier to make games than UDK, but the problem is the learning curve is much higher to digest much of the new ways to do this, and I just didn’t have the time to devote to it.

It was really my visit to Los Angeles that gave me the inspiration to dive back in again, having spent time with friend Michael Conelly at Black Thorn Media. http://blackthorn-media.com

I found keen minds to discuss video games, game engines and new tech like the Oculus. The enthusiasm of Michael in particular left me with that desire to dust off my games.

Some of the reasons I wanted to dive back in surround the interest I have always had in using games in education, or maybe closer to Edutainment, ( boy I hate that term, can we think of something better?). This desire came about in the wake of leaving the VFX industry and Hollywood, to spend more of my time as a dad instead of someone doing overtime crunching on films, or time on L.A. freeways commuting ( a part time job in itself).

Splitting work time/family time with my wife, I tend to visit a lot of museums with my sons on my days out with them. I can’t help but look at museums and my visual thinking mind kicks in and wants to come up with improvements in giving information to the people visiting. My visual effects mind kicks in and starts dissecting what would be a better way to produce the graphics, and my latent scientist kicks in and wants to simply make this stuff more interesting to kids rather than reading a dry placard packed with facts. I want to see their imagination kick in, and get them to use their hands to interact.

denverScience

Part of the ongoing issue I have with the museums we love so much, is that so little of the tech changes. Aside from being expensive investments, the main reason for this is that museum displays are often built by people who build entire displays that are resilient to lots of abuse, but the software to me is not overly impressive, it is typically far less interesting than anything you could possibly do in video games, and this is important considering most children play sophisticated video games, that often look far more engaging than museum work. (Excluding Planetarium work here which is another subject entirely). Here’s an example; to give my sons an idea of what ancient Italy looked like I took them into Assassin’s Creed just to climb around the city and explore. To them it’s like going back in time. Aside from all the killing involved in titles like these (which I do none of with my sons), they have the potential to be great edutainment portals instead of games of mayhem and death.

assassCREED_2

My sons asked me recently what happens to the environments for games like Assassin’s Creed and I told them that they all go into a digital land fill, like Atari’s ET went into a real landfill. Sensitive souls, they mourn this loss like me, because to me these would just be great places to explore minus the killing and adventure. This is not a commentary on the video games themselves, or their value, but that there is another intrinsic value beneath this, that I don’t think is getting tapped. That sounds lofty I know, but consider how Google uses satellite imagery and models from Sketchup to make a very full experience in Google Earth. The possibility expanded when they allowed us to view cities back in time, albeit in a limited blurry Sketchup quality way.

googleCREED

Part of the problem with software at museums is that I don’t feel that it gives a real sense of grandeur and inspiration that can come from visuals, so in effect it feels like so much of this software is being developed by people who are technical, but not necessarily visual. Children are very visual, and since I have child like brain dammit, I think I can take some of that child-like expertise into this realm.

Progress is picking up for me in my studio again, but I’m still digesting some of the new ways that Unreal is using blueprints in their engine to create things. It is NOT entirely logical to a visual thinker. The engine is more impressive than ever, the visuals are stunning and I see the potential speedup after I get through some technical hurdles. There are freebies such as calculating large areas for A.I. to navigate about which was a huge time strain in UDK. Reflections and other subtle effects are improved and not for the first time Unreal’s Render reminds me of my Alma mater in visual effects, Rhythm & Hues who had a stunning renderer that I often miss.

Untitled Edutainment or um, Edugament.. by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4

Untitled Edutainment or um, Edugamement.. by Daev. In progress using Unreal 4

I’m hoping to have my test game level dummied up in the next few weeks. Dummied for me of course means that I try to get pretty far with the models, textures and lighting. I’m not trying to take this to Assassin’s Creed levels visually, but there definitely is that possibility, although it’s a lot to put on a sole Indie developer and I have other edugamement game to work on, okay, I can’t think of a better word, edutainment ideas in my notebooks that I’d like to get to as well, sorting through NASA imagery right now for some of those.