Apr 072011

[Note: For those of you getting this link because of your “(baby)alexis” notifications, I couldn’t help not including you. :)] Osy (“Osy Osmosis”), a game cooperatively developed by myself and members of a research team at the University of Georgia hit the App Store late last night. Osy’s development has spanned just about two years now, though actual development time was about three months to vertical slice, which was the deployed widely for preliminary testing throughout schools in Georgia. It is this version of the game featured in the documentary piece found on the Osy website. Little happened with the game after that point until April of 2010, when the UGA OVPR provided a VentureLab seed grant for our freshly created company IS3D, LLC. A portion of this money was used to port Osy to iOS and move the game into full production. It paid for bringing in wonderful folks like Ben Throop in to tell us what we’re doing right and wrong.

What makes Osy special, for me, is that it is my stab at thinking about making games… that just happen to contain concepts that educators are interested in teaching to students. I often say very deliberately that Osy is not “edutainment.” Put more academically, the procedural rhetoric of Osy is the story of osmosis. Too often, educational games ignore the procedural rhetoric and only thinly layer educational images/concepts on top of game mechanics that have nothing to do with the message they hope to deliver. In far too many cases it is actually worse, “gamelike” visuals are layered on top of quiz/test systems and it is referred to as a “game.” In part, this is because testing/quizzing is the primary procedural rhetoric (or game mechanic) of schools. I recall one day during the design of Osy where I said something to the effect, “If you put a quiz in my game, I’m done with it.” This is an approach, that I think is conscientious of the kinds of critiques that some are leveling at the Game-ification of Education.

I’ve also been somewhat worried about many people researching games and education becoming too focused on only the importation of off-the-shelf standard game industry games into the classroom. Isn’t that the equivalent of giving up the ghost? Why not create high quality games with education sitting in the back of your head? Clearly, game developers draw on scientific concepts for the systems within games (physics, evolution, …) though it comes secondary to the overall game. Why not have it as an equal on the field of idea-battles that occur during the development of a game? That I want a player to understand/feel/know X where X includes some scientific knowledge becomes part of the design process.

Go Osy go!

Feb 172010

I’ve been screaming about it for a while now, 2007 to be precise. But the proof is in the numbers. More game developers are working on the iPhone and soon the iPad. The DSi’s lack of support for an open SDK is particularly nonsensical, given its reliance on less expensive games for download. But, the same can really be said for any of the new platforms offering digitally downloadable games. These games, to be profitable, must be cheaper to develop than their disk based counterparts. Developers know this and yet manufacturers continue to lock their hardware away, afraid it will go to prom with the bad boy.

Even developers seem to support (and prop-up) the idea that unrestricted this creates a deluge of crap. This does make some sense, but not if you recognize the fact that in the case of Xbox Live Aracade, MS still maintains a great deal of control over what makes it into the official stream. The same could be done for the DSi, PSP and Playstation Network. They still control the means of distribution. They would simply have more people working on games for them. At the same time, the commercial companies also marketing dollars that the amateurs simply don’t. Promote your game on the iTunes App Store. This will inevitably cause it to rise above those other applications.

Closed hardware also prevents the development of open source solutions to common difficulties in the game development process. Again, further reducing the cost of making games for these platforms and increasing the likelihood that developers will embrace them. Especially in the case of the DS, which has a significant engineering learning curve, open source tools would be hugely beneficial to those developers eying the “i” part of the DS.