Wednesday, 21 August 2013


The hype and excitement around MOOCs in education is fascinating to watch (esp from the inside). The disruption that this type of education is set to bring to tertiary level education is very marked. With analogies being bandied around like Wikipedia and Encyclopedias, Amazon and Books, iTunes and Music stores. All significant transformations in those industries with winners and losers and generally a 'better' experience for the consumers/customers.

UNSW has signed on with Coursera as their partner for entering the MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) game and will launch courses on the platform in 2014. The idea that MOOCs might be a silly fad or just all hot-air looks pretty silly when you see the calibre of the institutions kicking off this movement. When you have course offerings from MIT, Princeton, Stanford followed by a host more you know this isnt just playing.

This also isn't something that will come sometime in the future, when Georgia Tech announced its $7K Masters program last week the changes are already here. I really enjoyed the MOOC forum at the Park Hyatt where Sean Gallagher and Geoff Garret hosted a panel with Daphne Koller, Fred Hilmer and Andrew Stevens titled "What MOOCs mean for universities - revolution or evolution?". Andrew Stevens (Managing Director of IBM Australia and New Zealand) was certainly saying this change will be so fast that evolution by individual universities isn't going to be fast enough. The forum covered quality, business models, value propositions and much more.

Without going into a long post on my thoughts regarding MOOCs (even though I see the disruption for tertiary education being massive) - I and several collegues here have enrolled in the Videogames and Learning MOOC that is starting in early October and will be a nice way to see a modern MOOC in action as well as get a feel for the Coursera platform.

Here is a rough list of some of the larger or more interesting MOOC aggregators/services:

One think I liked most from the forum was hearing Coursera founder Daphne Koller say things like "we have uncovered a deep hunger for education". Newslink for the UNSW and Coursera signing.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Maiden Simplicity

After the long post looking at theme in gaming one of the realisations I have had is around game complexity. One of the benefits that a strong theme can bring to a game (along with other benefits of course) is that it allows us to craft, learn and play a more complex game. Having a game with multiple mechanics all running concurrently is challenging to learn with an abstract design, bring in a strong theme that works coherently with those mechanics and our human brains latch onto patterns and narrative to help us play and enjoy the game.

What does that mean for the Loch Maiden game, well with an already strong theme this means I should be tying the complexity where it exists to the theme as tightly as possible. There are still good reasons to simplify and hone the actual mechanics, but sometimes leaving in a piece of thematic complexity can help and embellish the gameplay.

Perhaps a good example of this is the trait deck. The game as it is sitting now would run happily enough without traits (positive and negative cards that apply things like razor claws or boils to your monster). One of the narrative elements of the game is seeing your monster grow longer and having traits brings extra roleplay opportunities to your character and offer other attributes to that growth that differentiate the monsters. This definitely adds complexity, but it is logical thematic complexity and thus sits very well.

The mood mechanics also add complexity but with their strong tie-in to how the game flows and the theme with the maiden being the focus they should feel logical and approachable.

Monster sketch direct from the Galaxy Note 8 Sketchbook Pro app (via dropbox)

Monday, 19 August 2013

Peripheral Gadgetry

With Kickstarter doing a great job of bringing groovy technologies to life I thought I might mention a few pieces of cool tech that has piqued interest for me or those around me.

Oculus Rift

With just the developer available the experience is already stunning. If we do get the higher res version along with all the other tweaks soon then we will be looking at a full realised VR solution. With such good early support from things like Unity it will be exciting to develop for the headset. RiftEnabled is showing just how many games are bringing out support and which features they make use of.

Virtuix Omni

Armed with the Rift and a MS Kinect you can add the Omni and really get VR motion going. This wonderfully low-tech version uses a clever solution to make a relatively portable and robust solution for us to get on and locomote through virtual worlds.

Leap Motion

Peripherals for our computing devices are going through an explosion of choice at the moment. Once we began to use screens with our fingers, use the Wii-mote and have our body as input with the Kinect we just keep wanting more. So the Leap Motion brings some of these ideas to our laptops and PCs through a nice small device that we can gesture away in mid air to control things.

Thalmic Labs MYO

Why stop there with input devices, the MYO reads the muscles in your arm as the controller.


I am still loving my Galaxy Note 8 for its portability and the stylus/pen input that means I am sketching more than ever now while still having a portable ebook and comic reader plus all the usual communication tools. The Surface Pro has the nice stylus that brings Photoshop and other desktop apps into the equation. Alternatives like the Sony Duo look very nice as well I have to say.
The Jot Touch brings a fair degree of this experience to the iPad in supported applications - lovely stuff.

Emotiv Epoc

Hearing of the cool research done with the EEG headset for such little outlay and portability is very exciting.


Let's finish up with a new Kickstarter for a mini and approachable 3D scanner!

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Continuous Worker Placement

First up a few more concept sketches of monsters and maidens for the Loch Maiden game direct from my Galaxy Note 8.

Now, lets see if I can explain quickly the concept of Continuous Worker Placement. Maybe a quick summary of Worker Placement as it currently works in many superb board games like Stone Age, Dominant Species, Pillars of the Earth and Agricola. The game progresses in rounds where players take turns placing 'workers' onto locations on a board to claim for themselves resources, points or other game elements and thus deprive the other players of those very same things. This creates a nice tension where as a player you can see many options that you want to take but can only take one and thus the others might deprive you of things in their turn.

This is a mechanic that I really like as it offers choices for players as well as a tricky set of player interactions. So the goal I set out with was to alter this mechanic in such a way that it didn't progress in the purely turn based way but flowed piece by piece.

Lets assume there are 6 locations with players having their monster humps spread around much like other WP games. Then we need to choose a location that resolves next by rolling a die. Thus players wont know in advance which of the locations will resolve next but they have chosen where to place their precious humps. They may have placed their 'workers' spread out or concentrated their efforts on the locations they really need.

Once we know which location is rolled then it starts resolving, the details of which depend on the card sitting in that location. A resource collection card will see humps competing for the resources there like food or scars. If there is a charm card then resources and humps are used to gain hearts and so forth.

As the location resolves the humps return to neutral 'deep water'. After resolution a new card is drawn to this location and unless it is a card that resolves immediately (events) then this becomes the new spot that all players can send their 'workers' to. Players (in 'mood' order) can then place their deep_water humps on any location including the new card just drawn or keep some in reserve for later.

In this way the locations resolve one by one and not in larger rounds creating a slightly different pacing and tactical tension. Next step is to detail this logic up so it can be tested as I don't know of any precedents for this - it should be lots of fun!