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Teaching Kids to Make Video Games

February 5, 2013 Leave a comment
Video Games

Video Games

While the never ending debate on the impact of playing video games continues to capture the interest of the mainstream media, I choose to examine a different and perhaps more constructive question. What if we teach kids to make video games.

Why teach kids to make video games you ask?

We’ll there are many reasons but let’s start with some of the most important ones.

If you’ve been following global trends, pretty much every country on earth has realized that the future prosperity of their country will depend on their ability to harness and innovate with science and technology. Despite a stream of media stories about companies like Facebook, Twitter and countless other high tech success stories, the enrolment in programs related to science and technology, especially information technologies has actually been stalling out and in some countries it’s actually declining including the US. So with our future prosperity so heavily dependent on people with skills in science and technology, we have an increasing number of people turning away from this type of training and these types of careers. In order to cope, many countries have resorted to importing skilled workers from other counties, not because they want to, but because they have no other choice.

So why aren’t more young people pursuing careers in science and technology? We’ll once again, there are many reasons, but perhaps one the most relevant is that they don’t see the relevance of these topics to their life and the real world. Many students go through school learning to hate science, math and computers and so by the time they hit college, if they even get the far, the last thing that want to do is pursue studies in these areas. We don’t like to do things we aren’t good at, or that we constantly seem to fail at, so eventually we just give up.

While there is not silver bullet that will fix this problem, I am willing to offer up some things I think are worth considering and worth trying.

We need to find ways to heavily engage and captivate students with just how cool and relevant science, technology and math can really be. I think the biggest thing that gets missed in traditional education is real world context. Without pinning information and ideas to real world examples and making it relevant to our students real lives, it just doesn’t stick.

Also, todays students don’t want to be a passive participants, they want to actively participate and  have more control over their learning.

So, now let’s take these ideas and run with them. Why teach kids to make video games?

First off, show me something other that video games that has the power to capture and hold the attention of young people. No coercion needed, they are drawn to games like a moth to a flame. Remember, we are not arguing this is good or bad, just that a very strong pull naturally exists around games.

Playing games can focus and hold attention, but guess what, so can making them.  And remember, kids want to participate.

So enabling them to participate in the design and creation of  their own video games could be the beginning of a perfect storm.

But what else can students get out of creating a video game? How about this…

-Music design and appreciation

-Graphics design and layout abilities

-3D modelling knowledge and skills

-Programming knowledge and skills

-Exposure to topics in psychology

-Team work

-Written and aural communication skills

-Business and marketing concepts

-Exposure to concepts in physics and mathematics

-Critical thinking

-Innovation and entrepreneurship skills

-Exposure to social media and networking sites

-Research skills

And I’m not even warmed up yet!

Sounds to me like this could be a great thing to expose a  new generation to,  that has been disenfranchised to science and technology.

But what about the costs?

We’ll there are a ton of free or very low cost resources available now online.

Real industry calibre game development software like Unity 3D  and the Unreal Development kit can be downloaded and used for free in the classroom. What’s even better is that tools like these are not dumbed down, yet remain highly approachable and easy to learn by educators willing to put in a little time and effort (with policy makers giving them the support, time and permission to do it). Students can take these skills immediately into the real world and start creating real video games for fun, profit or even make it into a career! What’s even better is that the skills and approaches the students have learned in the process of creating games can carry over into all the other realms of science, technology and mathematics making these areas much more interesting and relevant to them.

Conclusion

I’m am both a parent and an  educator and while my children are still quite young, I can not accept a future for them in which science and technology have been written off.

While the debate on the effect of playing games remains unresolved, I hope this post has given you something to think about and that more educators and people in charge of educational policy will see video games for what they really are, a tool and and opportunity to assist in the creation of a bright and prosperous future.

Unity For Blender Artists

February 4, 2013 Leave a comment

unityblender

Are you a Blender artist with an interest in making your own games? If so, you may have overlooked a huge opportunity.

Let me introduce you to Unity 3D, a revolutionary game engine and toolset that is redefining the game industry. In days of old there were 3D artists and there were game programmers and the line separating two camps was pretty entrenched. Programmers worked on code and shied away from art and artists stayed clear of anything to do with code. What has happened over the past half decade however is that this clear devision of labor has become blurred by tools like Unity 3D.

Artists interested in crossing the boundary and learning to code and construct an entire game are now better of then ever before.

Unity 3D has always supported the use of Blender for it’s models and assets which is a welcome choice to the thousand of indie game developers out there on a budget who may not welcome the added expense of a 3D package like Maya.

3D artists are far more technically inclined than they think and can often learn the basics of creating games in Unity in a matter of a few days or weeks on their own, or even a matter of hours by taking an online course.

Having been a developer and instructor for most of my adult life, I believe it’s far easier to take a 3D artist and teach them to code than it is to take a programmer and teach them to become a good artist.

So where does a Blender artist looking to sink their teeth into Unity 3D get started?

To start with you can consult the Unity documentation for things like how to import your models into Unity.

http://docs.unity3d.com/Documentation/Manual/HOWTO-ImportObjectBlender.html

If you’d want to speed up your production pipeline and skip rigging your models why not check out Mixamo.

http://www.mixamo.com/c/automatic-rigging-for-blender-unity3d

If you’re looking for a good book to help get you started have a look at  Game Character Creation with Blender and Unity

You may also want to watch this video put up by Unity called Artist as Programmers 

Check out Making a Mechanim compatible Rig in Blender

As far as training goes, there are a lot of free tutorials online to help get you started, but from experience I can tell you the quality of these videos can very greatly and may or may not be up to date. Unity has change quite a bit over the years and is now on version 4.

This is one of the main reasons I put together a new online course called Anyone Can Learn to Make a Game. As a college instructor with over 10 years of experience teaching programming to people of all ages I’ve found simple and effective ways to help people learn even the most complicated technical concepts and skills. I’ve baked this experience into my new course and priced at 1/10 of the cost of my normal college courses to make an easy choice for anyone looking to get up to speed on learning to make games with Unity 4.  If you are interested, you can find the new course here http://www.udemy.com/unity-tutorial . I’ve designed this course to get you up to speed in the shortest time possible which means you’ll be making your first game sooner than you think.

Another few things you may benefit from knowing is that many game coders lack the ability to create great 3D content, so learning more about Unity 3D can open up a lot of new business opportunities. Another business opportunity for Blender artists is developing paid content for the Unity asset store. There are tens of thousands of Unity developers out there looking to buy great content. Maybe some of this great content can be yours. For more information on this visits: http://unity3d.com/asset-store/submit-content

Game on Blender Artists. Look forward seeing more of you around in the Unity community!