2016 Spring Game Jam

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[Youth participants of the Spring 2016 Game Jam]

 

We hosted a Scratch Game Jam on Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12. The weekend Game Jam turned out to be the most exciting and fruitful Game Jam we have ever hosted. With 19 youth in attendance it definitely seems like this event will keep on getting bigger and bigger every time we host it.

 

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[Sample Game Code from Game Jam]

 

For those of you who do not know what Scratch or Game Jam is here is some information on both. Scratch is a web based game development environment developed by the team at the MIT Media Lab. With Scratch you can drag and drop pieces of code in a simple to use interface which provides an easy way for our youth to learn simple and even complex programming principles in no time.

Game Jam is a hackathon style game development event hosted at the Digital Harbor Foundation. The event runs on a Friday evening and all day Saturday. Youth participants come together on Friday and form development teams to create a game together. As a guide for the youth, we provide a schedule sheet of the event along with information on how they can divide their team members and assign roles for everyone. Along with almost everything we do here at the Digital Harbor Foundation we try to keep an open format for the youth to either work on their own or on a team.  

 

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[Fan Favorites]

 

Team Panda were the Spring 2016 Game Jam Fan Favorites! They created a platform game called Panda Portal Jumpers that incorporates easy to use game mechanics in a fun, simple and yet hard to beat game.

 

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[We always need to take a crazy picture]

 

As we move to hosting more and more Game Jams as time passes I start to wonder what this event will look like in the future. With the increase in youth participation I can’t wait until we turn this event into a true game development hackathon! Here at the Digital Harbor Foundation we always strive to provide a safe, comfortable, and yet challenging, environment for our youth to create, explore, and fail. The Spring 2016 Game Jam is just one of the these environments. Here is the link to our 2016 Scratch Game Jam Studio if you’d like to see more of the games our youth created! We are already so excited for our next Game Jam, which will take place in October. 

 

Interactive Game Insight: Football Physics

The best way to answer the question “What is an interactive gaming experience?” is to look at a project! This is a game created by one of our youth in our Interactive Game Design Member course, and his game is a perfect expression of the skills covered in the Interactive Games for Educators workshop.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming through a medium that is fun and accessible for them while creating a product that they’ll have complete ownership over. By integrating game design into the classroom, educators are able to engage youth to learn new skills through an exciting format: the video game. An added bonus is that through the creation process, youth will shift from being consumers of games to producers of exciting content!

The first aspect of the project we’re going to look at are the sprites. All of the characters, backgrounds, and objects were created by the youth for this project.

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He decided to make a sports game that tests his knowledge of physics, as he had to determine how to program the arcs and physics of passing a football from the player character to the non-player characters.

The “brain” of this project was created using Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab. These projects help build planning skills for youth, as they need to determine what behavior and mechanics they have to develop in order to bring their vision to life. Once this crucial phase is complete, youth then use Scratch for their coding. The visual nature of Scratch provides an accessible experience for youth and enables them to develop and explore the fundamentals of programming in a fun, engaging way. Here is a screenshot of some of the code used in this featured project:

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The blocks in Scratch are chunks of code that can be manipulated and combined logically into scripts which form the basis of the game’s function and programming. Scratch blocks are broken into categories that are representative of core programming concepts, such as Events, Control, and Operators. Scratchers can then manipulate these blocks to form chunks of code that build into their game mechanics. Scratch still requires an understanding of programmatic thinking, especially variable use and conditional logic (if->then statements).

The next step is to integrate physical interactivity into the project! Once the core of the game is created in Scratch, the Makey Makey (another invention from the MIT Media Lab) is added to act as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. The integration of these components is typically done as a game controller, but youth have lots of freedom to build this however they envision. This is a step that can be built into the design process and planning phase of the project. For this particular project, the youth designer decided to create a physical controller that matched the theme of his game. As the game is a football game that tests his knowledge of physics, he decided that the controller should also fit this theme and made a throwable football controller!

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The controller’s main structure is crafted from aluminum foil, a conductive material. He also had to make a landing pad for the football so that it would complete the circuit once the “pass” is complete. This physical integration is a perfect opportunity for youth to creatively test their problem solving and design skills, as there are occasionally quirks and challenges that arise when working with physical components. However, since the youth have ownership over their projects there often is a higher degree of perseverance and determination to stick with their interactive game despite any difficulties.

One of the strengths of integrating an interactive gaming experience into the classroom is that it provides youth with a creative platform for designing unique products that combine problem solving, iteration, and critical thinking.

We wanted to develop a workshop for educators to build their capacity in the skills utilized in creating interactive gaming experiences with youth.

Educators that attend the Interactive Games for Educators workshop will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a industry that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.

Learn more or register for this workshop today!

 

 

New Workshop: Interactive Games for Educators

Digital Harbor Foundation is offering an exciting new workshop, Interactive Games for Educators. Interactive Game Design is a rapidly developing field that exists in the intersection of physical components and computer programming, where designers shape and construct new methods of gaming. In this workshop, educators will learn how to program basic game mechanics that integrate physical components.

We are offering this workshop because of the powerful impact that teaching game design can have in the classroom. Game design is an engaging multidisciplinary platform for youth and is a field with several possible career pathways. Youth will develop the foundations of computer programming in a medium that is fun and accessible for them.

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Educators attending the workshop will learn how to use Scratch, a free web-based visual game engine developed by the MIT Media Lab as well as the Makey Makey, another invention from the MIT Media Lab. The Makey Makey enables youth to bring physical interactivity to their games by acting as a gateway between conductive objects and the computer. Attending educators will develop the confidence to be able to help youth unleash their creative potential in a medium that actively incorporates problem solving, critical thinking, iteration, and the design process.

Learn more or register for this workshop

One of the strengths of Scratch is that it is a highly accessible platform for teaching youth the core concepts necessary to embark on a computer programming pathway. Additionally, since Game Design is a field that incorporates several skill sets such as business, art, programming, and storytelling, incorporating Game Design into the classroom exposes youth to fields that they may not even have considered exploring. For example, a youth who may not demonstrate interest in Language Arts may excel at storytelling in a game narrative.

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One of the ultimate reasons for integrating these elements into the classroom is to create more future coders. The programming principles and mechanics that this workshop covers can be the first step for educators interested in setting their youth for a future programming pathway.

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Educators will leave with an Interactive Games Starter Kit as well as access to additional “Going Further” lessons and resources that build on the base skills covered in the workshop. Now is a fantastic time to integrate Game Design into the classroom as it is a medium that is rising in popularity with several possible career paths and deep educational potential.

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Learn more or register for this workshop today!

Scratch Game Jam Recap

Digital Harbor Foundation hosted a Scratch Game Jam on Friday October 30 and Saturday October 31. The event was open to all current Maker Foundations youth and Members, and I’m excited to announce that we had 17 youth attend!

One of the best parts about the Game Jam was the combination of youth, as we had quite a range of game development skills. The focus was primarily on using Scratch, a free web-based introductory game engine/platform that is excellent for learning programming fundamentals as well as game mechanics. Scratch is the platform that we use in Maker Foundations, and I’m pleased to write that several of our Maker Foundations youth were confident enough to participate in the Game Jam with just one week of Scratch instruction and practice!

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The Game Jam was modeled as a hackathon with youth working on a new project during the event. When everyone arrived on Friday, Jean Carlos and I provided a brief overview of the schedule of events and handed out some suggested roles for a collaborative game studio as well as a guideline of some things to consider including in each project. We made sure to keep the actual event open ended with lots of room for creativity and exploration while also encouraging the youth to form development studios with shared roles and responsibilities.

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One of my favorite parts about the whole event was that Maker Foundations youth and Members formed teams together!  The blending of Scratch and game development skill levels resulted in a richer and more creative experience for all involved. Throughout the event we constantly heard youth encouraging each other and offering tips and tricks to solve problems. Since the event was hosted in the MegaLab with the tables set up similarly to the arrangement during the Baltimore Hackathon, open collaboration and sharing was encouraged throughout. Youth often took breaks to walk around and play each other’s games, offering positive feedback and sharing insights.

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Two of our attending Members have done significant game development work in Scratch and decided to use the focused time of the Game Jam to level up their Unity development skills. Unity is a free professional grade game engine that is quickly becoming the industry standard platform, and it was great to see two of our youth working through a game together with the aim of creating a playable demo while focusing on solidifying their knowledge of game mechanics and development. Having these two working on a game in Unity was a fantastic motivator for the youth developing in Scratch, as that is one of the possible game development pathways that we encourage youth to take.

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We finished the event with a youth showcase where all the participants shared their projects, reflected on their development process, and demonstrated the game with a quick play-through. Many of the youth were sad to go when the event concluded, and we heard several participants mention that the one thing they would change about the Game Jam is that it should run longer next time!

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Here is a link to the Scratch Game Jam 2015 Studio so that you can play all the projects from the weekend: Game Jam Fall 2015.