Category: Simulations

RobotBASIC: A STEM-focused Progamming Language

I’ve been talking with John Blankenship on LinkedIn about RobotBASIC, which allows students to control robots as well as create simulations and video games. Below is a write-up about the language and site, as well as links for more information.

RobotBASIC was developed by two retired college professors to motivate students to learn science, engineering, math, etc. It is the language we wish we had when we were teaching.

RobotBASIC is FREE for schools, teachers, AND students, and it is one of the most powerful educational programming languages available – it has nearly 900 commands and functions and it can control REAL robots in addition to the integrated robot simulator so it can easily be used by HS or college students.

This is NOT a demo or crippled version. RobotBASIC is TRULY free. There are no purchasing costs, no site licenses, no upgrade fees – EVER! We wrote RobotBASIC because we care about education and we give it away because we believe students NEED more exposure to engineering and programming BEFORE they go to college. And, they need exposure that is exciting and motivational so they will WANT to learn – they need RobotBASIC.

In addition to standard BASIC syntax, RobotBASIC also includes legacy-style commands that make it possible to teach some fundamental programming principles to even 5th graders (I have done this personally). You cannot believe how excited young students get when they do something where they feel THEY are in control (program the simulated robot). If simple programming concepts like this are introduced early, students will view programming as a natural tool by the time they get to HS.

RobotBASIC is also a great stepping-stone to college level courses because it also allows a variety of C-style syntax which makes it easier for students to transition to more cryptic languages like C and Java.

RobotBASIC is not built around other systems – rather it is its own COMPLETE system. One of the major advantages of RobotBASIC is its integrates robot simulator that allows ALL students to have their own PERSONAL robot to program, even at home to do homework. The 2D simulation, seems simple at first, but it has far more sensors that even the most expensive educational robots.

When a school is ready to move past simulation, RobotBASIC offers a fully-assembled REAL robot that has nearly all of the sensors as the simulation (perimeter sensors, compass, beacon detector, line sensors, and battery monitoring). This means that AFTER a student gets their program working with the simulation they can IMMEDIATELY control the real robot with the same program, making the real robot perform the same tasks. This system means that schools only have to buy one robot because students get to develop and debug their programs on the simulator. Remember, a real robot is NOT required. Many schools will be happy teaching robotics using ONLY the simulation, which is totally FREE.

We have eight introductory project-based lessons available as PDF downloads available on our EDUCATIONAL MATERIAL page at RobotBASIC.org. Many science and math teachers have never had a programming class, so the lessons are designed to allow students to progress with minimal supervision. RobotBASIC has an extensive built-in HELP system and there are many low-cost books available for those that need a more personal approach.

If you visit www.robotbasic.org, near the top of the home page you will see some links to YouTube videos that show you how easy RobotBASIC is to use. There is also a link to an interview with me recently published by Circuit Cellar Magazine. Below all that, is a summary of the language’s major features.

If I can be of any help or provide you with more information, please let me know.

John Blankenship
Vero Beach, FL
www.RobotBASIC.org

A book is also in the works to provide classroom topics and assignments for science and math courses based on the programming language. This is an exciting gamification effort desperately needed in STEM fields. Outstanding effort by all.

 

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Top 10 Nobel Prize Games, 2014

Back in 2009, I wrote about Nobelprize.org’s educational gaming simulation center. These are “games and simulations, based on Nobel Prize-awarded achievements.”

Their Top 10 most visited educational games have changed some over the years, so here is an updated list:

1. The Blood Typing Game
2. The DNA – the Double Helix Game
3. The Immune System Game
4. The Control of the Cell Cycle Game
5. The Pavlov’s Dog Game
6. The Electrocardiogram Game
7. The Transistor
8. The Diabetic Dog Game
9. The Split Brain Experiments Game
10. The Lord of the Flies Game

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Can a Shooting Simulator Sway Jury Outcomes?

Of all the interesting ways videogame technologies are being applied, the use of a shooting simulator to train grand juries in Texas ranks fairly high.

Police shootings often become controversial. Recently, for instance, an officer in Hearne, Texas shot an armed 93 year old woman. In the Lone Star State when an officer shoots somebody, Texas Rangers typically investigate and the matter goes before a grand jury to decide the officer’s fate. If the shooting is deemed justified, the officer is no billed. If not, a trial ensues.

In Houston and San Antonio, grand juries undergo training before hearing cases involving police shootings. The training involves the use of a simulated firearm, and seeks to emulate some of the difficult choices police have to make when facing armed or potentially armed suspects.

Jurors might face video of an armed bad guy who threatens them with a gun, and choose to fire; clearly a case of justified shooting. Moments later, someone may jump out and surprise them with a cell phone in hand, which could be mistaken for a handgun.

Advocates say the interactive training better prepares jurors to deal with cases involving the use of deadly force. Detractors maintain it preps the jurors to favor law enforcement officers who have fired on civilians. The jury is still out, to coin a phrase, as to whether this type of training will spread to other jurisdictions.

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Beyond Second Life

Tony Bates refers us to an article in the Chronicle by Jeffrey Young: After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds.

The article details the challenges universities have faced when trying to integrate SL into lessons. Consequently, they are exploring other venues for instruction that offer more controls and fewer distractions.

Sometimes this leads to additional problems. Few companies in this specialty are as established as SL’s parent, Linden Labs. Some have gone broke, taking virtual classroom space with them when the plug was pulled.

A couple of promising efforts either underway or coming this year include Open Cobalt from Duke University, funded by the NSF and the Mellon Foundation, and OpenSimulator which leases virtual space for instructional purposes.

Several initiatives are out there to offer classroom space to educators at no cost to them. Young notes Aaron E. Walsh over at Boston College hosts about 2,000 educator accounts on Education Grid, a world devoted to online instruction that Walsh set up through his project, the Immersive Education Initiative. The mix on Education Grid is about 80% university profs and 20% secondary teacher accounts. The IEI leases space from OpenSimulator.

To counter the academic exodus, SL now offers a version of its software universities can host on local servers, which effectively prevents outsider access and the ability for students to wander over to red light districts.

It’s interesting to see the idea mature from a fanciful notion, to gritty reality, to something tailored for specific educational needs. For instance, initially universities set up virtual spaces identical to real world lecture halls. This resulted in unwieldy virtual space that was hard to navigate. It’s also interesting to see the day coming when SL will be considered “old hat” by professors and students, who will be using newer, more robust environments geared specifically for virtual education from the ground up.


Study: Business Simulations Raise Grades for Undergrads

Dr. Richard Blunt over at BX-Games has a non-refereed paper on eLearn Magazine regarding a study of three college classes split into control and experimental groups to examine video game effectiveness for learning. The courses consisted of freshman business students, a junior level economics class, and a junior level management class.

Portions of each class received the intervention while the remainder did not. Grades were compared between the two groups from each class. The introductory business experimental group used the game Industry Giant II, the economics students used Zapitalism, and the management students used Virtual U (a free download thanks to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation). Here is Dr. Blunt’s summary of the results:

The findings show that classes using the game had significantly higher means than those classes that did not use the game. There were no significant differences between male or female scores, regardless of game play, while both genders scored significantly higher with game play than without. There were no significant differences between ethnic groups, while all ethnic groups scored significantly higher with game play. Lastly, students ages 40 and under scored significantly higher with game play, whereas students age 41 and up did not.

In short, the studies found that, at least in some circumstances, the application of serious games significantly increases learning.

The comments section has some interesting conversation, especially regarding business simulations, which have been used in B-schools for at least 50 years or so. One could argue the board game Monopoly is a business simulation, I suppose, and if so that would stretch back their birth date to the 1930s (or much earlier, if conspiracy theorists are correct).

Other than that, the importance of the study is that it seems to show an intervention may lead students to a higher grade, at least in undergraduate business courses. Somebody will need to determine if students who volunteer for interventions such as a business simulation video game would earn a higher grade anyway just because of their own innate study ethics, or if the games serve to encourage slackers to work harder, etc.

References:
Blunt, R. (2009, December 1). Do serious games work? Results from three studies. [Online.] Available: http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=research&article=9-1


School Bus Driving Simulator Promotes Safety

We’ve looked in the past at the giant ship simulator at Texas A&M – Galveston, where boat pilots entering the Merchant Marine can train virtually on any ship and all the world’s major ports, and the giant flight simulators used by the FAA to train airline pilots and traffic controllers in Oklahoma. Now comes word of a school bus simulator designed to train new drivers in safe driving.

This is no simple video game trainer. The price tag is a reported $200,000 for schools in Prince William County, VA. Here are the key quotes from an article on a local television station’s site:

Users see a dashboard, identical to those in real school buses. The computer then creates a variety of road hazards drivers can see and feel, such as bad weather.

“It allows them – in a laboratory setting – to make mistakes that don’t cost lives, doesn’t damage property and they get an opportunity to learn from that,” said Director of Transportation Ed Bishop, Prince William County schools.

Eventually, all 725 Prince William school bus drivers will train on the simulator; some to specific needs like backing up or making turns, so they are better drivers when they are out on the road with students on board.

School bus simulations are actually old news. eSchoolNews detailed efforts [free subscription required] by North Carolina schools to adopt bus driving simulators designed by the state highway patrol way back in 2001.

References:
North Carolina district tries 3-D driving simulator to improve bus safety. (2001, January 1). eSchoolNews. [Online.] Available: http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/top-news/?i=32981

P.W. County adopts simulation training for school bus drivers. (2009, September 17). WJLA. [Online.] Retrieved October 13, 2009 from http://www.wjla.com/news/stories/0909/660289.html


Full Spectrum Warrior Used to Treat PTSS

We’ve talked a lot about how the military uses video games for training and PR purposes. Here’s an interesting video over at The New Yorker about how a popular military video game is being used to treat post traumatic stress syndrome for soldiers returning from battle. The game is basically a modification of Full Spectrum Warrior, called Virtual Iraq. The basic idea with immersion therapy and other such treatments is to provide repeated exposure to the patient so that the negative reflexes become muted. I was particularly interested to note that smells can be introduced to the regimen, including diesel fumes. The olfactory glands are the biggest in the brain, and can trigger strong reactions and memories. The work is spearheaded by Albert “Skip” Rizzo over at USC.

Rise of the Giant Simulators

Imagine an old style simulation designed to train newly hired air traffic controllers. The students gather in a large room, in the center of which is a model airport made of plywood. Different students grab toy planes and begin “flying” them around the room by holding them out at different heights and walking in circles around the airport. Students take turns playing air traffic contoller, shouting out altitude and speed instructions to the airplanes. Occasionally, a plane is ordered to land at the airport. When mistakes are made, the planes “crash,” and students start over again.

Sounds very 20th Century, doesn’t it? Hold your breath: air traffic contollers are still trained that way in 2008. But, things are starting to change as the technology for giant electronic simulators, essentially videogames played out on room-sized screens, matures.

We last discussed the technology back in November, when looking at the ship simulator used by the Texas Maritime Academy over at Texas A&M – Galveston. All manner of ships can be programmed for students to pilot into the world’s major harbors, using seven 15 foot screens and tilting floors to help provide the full pitching deck experience during virtual storms.

Now, Matthew Wald at The New York Times brings us an article on the giant air traffic control simulators used by the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in Oklahoma City.

The sophisticated video games are meant to address a serious real-world problem: Nearly two-thirds of the agency’s 15,000 air traffic controllers will no longer be working by 2017 when they reach the mandatory retirement age of 56. … As a result, the agency now must hire and train some 1,700 controllers a year for the next decade, a task the Government Accountability Office described as a major challenge. Experts say that having a high proportion of trainees and rookies in towers and radar rooms may reduce safety. To meet the challenges, the agency is turning to electronic tower simulators, which one instructor described as “a big Xbox.”

Wald reports administrators hope to shave 20-60% training time using the big video games. Six simulators run 18 hours/day training students, though Wald states the old style simulations are still used. When virtual planes crash, though, the resulting fireball lighting up the monitors makes a much more visceral visual impact.

The article concludes with an interesting summation of the videogames used to screen candidates. The games gauge how well a candidate can multitask and deal with distractions. A battery of tests are used, too, requiring mental math computation. Remember those word problems in grade school requiring you to compute the rates and times of two different cars, trains, or airplanes leaving different cities? Well, you get the picture. Finally, students “are also given a hyperactive version of Pac-Man to play in their spare time. The idea is to keep students’ skills sharp, instructors say, and hone their ability to watch several targets at a time.”

References:
Wald, M. L. (2008, October 7). For air traffic trainees, games with a serious purpose. The New York Times. [Online.] Retrieved: October 16, 2008 from http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/us/08controller.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&sq=serious%20game&st=cse&scp=1

The Top 10 Most Influential Educational Video Games from the 1980s

People who grew up playing videogames are influenced by them, especially when designing games of their own. Those who played through the 1980s are reaching their professional prime, and the games they played in school are worth examining. Here we’ll take a look at what I consider to be the top ten most influential educational games from the 1980s.

The Eighties were an exciting time for video games, as graphics and computing power increased to the point where games started to become visually appealing and interactive. Educational games from that decade in particular taught teachers, parents, students, and designers things that are still influencing titles today.

Thanks to the wonders of the web, the original versions of these games are often available online, and there are discs and ports to other platforms floating around as well. Playing the original versions, while nostalgic, also helps remind us what made these games important. Some things they taught us were good (learning can be fun when presented properly). Some things, not so good (skill and drill only gets you so far, even in a game). Read on for a trip down memory lane, a discussion of each game’s significance, and some locations to try out versions for free.

1. The Oregon Trail

Released: The Oregon Trail came out in 1985 for the Apple II from Brøderbund. Earlier versions were produced by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC).

Significance: Showed us resource management could be a fun and thoughtful element within an educational video game, with a strong dollop of historical context to boot.

Commentary: First developed in the 1970s by student teacher Don Rawitsch, the game probably stretched the boundaries of good taste in some ways, perhaps making it all the more intriguing to school children. Some of the elements bordered on the scatological (“You have dysentery!”). The hunting mini-game was popular with boys, introducing video game shoot-em-ups on school computers; those were more innocent times. But teachers in the 1980s were happy to put all those Apple II and IIe computers to good use engaging students. Even better, kids actually picked up a pedagogical point or two.

A good review, and a link to the original disc image and an Apple IIe emulator are available over at classicgaming.gamespy.com. A web version requiring merely a browser plugin is available at virtualapple.org. An online version called Westward Trail is available here.

2. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Released: The original Carmen Sandiego title also came out in 1985 for the Apple II from Brøderbund; 1985 was a good year for the company.

Significance
: Showed us a boring school topic (geography) could be presented in an interesting way within the videogame medium.

Commentary: According to Wikipedia, Gary Carlston, who helped found Brøderbund, was personally committed to making geography fun and spearheaded efforts to develop the game. Indeed, almanacs were never so cool as students followed the trail of a master thief across the world. Subsequent titles focused on the United States, Europe, and even the space-time continuum. The Carmen Sandiego games were lauded for their educational content, and found their way into classrooms everywhere. For a while, The Learning Company kept up a free online version based on the TV series. Alas, those wishing to play down memory lane for free will have to check the abandoned software sites. As of this writing, the 1991 DOS version is available for download here.

3. SimCity

Released: One of the two first games released by Maxis, in 1989.

Significance
: Showed us that games without a clear way to win can still be fun, educational, and time consuming.

Commentary
: The first smash hit from legendary game designer Will Wright, and one of the first for the Maxis software company, SimCity was destined for greatness. Legend has it the project was turned down by all the big gaming companies, including Brøderbund, when Wright pitched it on account of the game’s objectives were ill defined. How they must rue the day now, as the Sim line of titles has sold in the multi-million copy range for years. The game spearheaded a wide variety of complex computer social simulations featuring variable manipulations for education, business, and entertainment.

Users have long been able to play Classic SimCity online. Earlier this year, the original code was released as open source so it could be loaded on the XO, better known as the “$100 Laptop,” as part of the One Laptop Per Child initiative. The open source version uses the name Micropolis, Wright’s original name for the program.

4. Reader Rabbit

Released: The first title in the Reader Rabbit series was released by The Learning Company in 1989.

Significance: Showed us that computer games could be effectively used in early education introducing toddlers to language arts.

Commentary: Reader Rabbit is a household name in educational software, and the series remains active. Reader Rabbit became one of the early educational gaming series that capitalized on name brand awareness. Many innovators in the edutainment genre followed the Reader Rabbit formula of placing educational content for young players in a fun and interactive environment. Among the more notable: titles in the JumpStart series.

The first edition of Reader Rabbit featured word games designed to introduce letters and sounds to children. Subsequent titles rapidly increased in complexity. It’s hard to find the original online, but for those interested in sampling the look and feel of the series, Riverdeep offers a trial download of the Learning to Read with Phonics version here.

5. Math Blaster

Released: The first title in the Math Blaster series was released by Davidson in 1987.

Significance: Demonstrated how basic math worksheets could be fun when delivered within a videogaming environment.

Commentary: Math Blaster is yet another household name in edutainment with versions still being released under the brand. Brian Crecente over at Kotaku noted a version for the Nintendo DS is to be ported over later this year. One item of interest is the notion of interspersing math problems within a pure gaming environment. I remember playing a version requiring the proper answering of basic equations in order to load up on ammo for the space “blasting” game. This particular type of edutainment has been criticized as the “chocolate covered broccoli” approach to educational gaming, notably by Justin Peters in Slate among others. In other words, it couches the boring, educationally valuable stuff (math worksheets, in this case) within a fun gaming environment. In that regard, many serious game designers today often try other approaches, such as integrating pedagogy directly in the game play. Finding a free online copy to play is tough, but a 2 hour free trial of a recent version is available from DemoNews.com.

6. Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing
Released: Software Toolworks released the first version of Mavis Beacon in 1987.

Significance: Showed us computer skills could be effectively drilled through playful software.

Commentary: I was in an electronics store in College Station in the late ’80s, near the software section. A couple of elementary teachers walked in, and one of them saw the Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing box on the shelf.

“Look! It’s Mavis Beacon,” she said, a note of wonder in her voice.

The other one said, “Mavis! What are you doing now!?”

They stood and stared for a while, gushing in their praise for Ms. Beacon. After they left, I wandered over and inspected the box. On impulse, I bought it and brought it home. Someday I’ll have to write about the house I lived in while attending Texas A&M. Up to eight guys lived there at any given time; most were engineering or ag science students. We had a BBS set up on a separate phone line, and spent a lot of time on TAMU mainframes. It was a terrific introduction to educational computing, and PCs were still young back then. To show you what nerds my roommates and I were, all of us took turns on Mavis Beacon to see who could type the fastest, a competition that lasted all semester.

Alas, little did the elementary teachers from so long ago know, nor I, nor my roommates, but Mavis Beacon was a marketing nom de guerre. It turns out the picture of the smiling Mavis was that of a model, and like Betty Crocker she was a persona created to sell products. Regardless, the product was a good one, and it has helped countless people improve their typing down through the years. Version 17 of the venerable program is available for trial download here.

7. Lemonade Stand
Released: Created by Bobb Jamison from the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1973; coded for the Apple II by Charlie Kellner in 1979. Copies were included with Apple computers sold throughout the Eighties.

Significance
: Showed us that potentially complex and hard to understand concepts like economic theory could be simply and effectively illustrated in a video game.

Commentary
: MECC was one of the great success stories of early educational computing, and Lemonade Stand is perhaps their most famous program after The Oregon Trail. A holdover from the 1970s, a version of Lemonade Stand was included with Apple II machines into the Eighties. Countless school children fired it up and were introduced to economic theory through playing the game. A web version (one among many) is available here.

The game was a “practical simulation,” combining economic theory with simple concepts kids understand (i.e., a lemonade stand). It showed that with judicious decisions, positive outcomes were possible even with variables outside the player’s control (like the weather). The concept has not died, and there are later versions like Lemonade Empire, Hot Dog Stand, and others which follow the same concept.

8. Number Munchers
Released: The DOS version was released in 1988 by MECC.

Significance: Showed basic skill and drill for math could be much more fun on a video screen than on paper.

Commentary: NumberMunchers was the first title in MECC’s muncher series, followed by WordMunchers and others. Vaguely resembling PacMan, players rushed to find correct numbers to the problem onscreen before getting “eaten” by troggles, a process which forced quick mental calculations. It continues to prove exceptionally popular, both among those remembering it from their school days to new adherents recently discovering the game. Online versions abound, but the most important one is over at numbermunchers.org. The actual game can be freely downloaded from PC Magazine here.

9. Zork
Released: 1980, Infocom’s first game.

Significance
: Showed that interactive fiction was a compelling medium.

Commentary
: To anyone who played it, the opening lines from Zork are immortal: “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.”
Was it educational? Indirectly. The game certainly made players read and think, exercises which parents and teachers have harangued youngsters about for years. I played an early version of this game thanks to a fun loving uncle who had access to his office’s mainframe after hours. I think the game was an eye-opener as to what could be done with narrative text and programming. It inspired legions of imitators, but was quickly made obsolete by such graphical games as Wizardry and Ultima I. Infocom’s fate was tied to the ascension of graphical computing as well, as it was bought out by Activision and faded from prominence before the end of the decade. There are still versions of all games in the Zork series floating around online, and its predecessor Adventure. Java versions of Infocom titles as of this writing are available here.

10. Windows Solitaire
Released: Developed in 1989 by Microsoft intern Wes Cherry. Included in Windows 3.0 and every Windows version since 1990.

Significance: Eased the transition to a mouse-based GUI for millions of computer users. Showed us games can have an enormous impact on business computing skills.

Commentary: Before 1990, early versions of Microsoft Windows were nothing more than fancy menu systems, presenting a list of programs to choose when starting the computer. I recall reading PC Magazine when Windows 3.0 was introduced, telling us that finally here was a version of Windows worth getting, so I did. Like many others firing up Windows 3.0 the first time, I noticed the Games folder, and quickly tried out Windows Solitaire. The brilliance behind placing this game within Windows was the fact most DOS users grew up on keyboard commands and shortcuts. Despite the proliferation of menu systems, most computers booted to the C prompt, requiring a typed command to start programs. Windows 3.0 not only used the mouse, it required the mouse for navigation. After a few rounds with Windows Solitaire, even the most diehard keyboard shortcut user who had used the same key combinations since the days of WordStar, became proficient with clicking, dragging and dropping with a mouse. In some ways, Windows Solitaire became the most successful educational video game of all time.

Windows Solitaire is still available for free in Vista. The Media Center Solitaire Power Toy for XP is available from Microsoft here.

Honorable Mention: M.U.L.E.
Released
: 1983 from Ozark Softscape via Electronic Arts, originally for Atari products.

Significance: Showed developers how to do multi-player action. Inspired many future programmers.

Commentary: Lazarus Long was a character developed by science fiction author Robert Heinlein as a time travelling fellow who could not, would not die. In Time Enough for Love, readers found Long on a frontier planet, where old fashioned technology was used until colonists could become self sufficient. The book provided an interesting dichotomy between space ships bringing in supplies and colonists using farm animals to settle the new world. Among the many derivative works from Heinlein’s writings (the Starship Troopers board game and movie, for instance), came M.U.L.E., an early multi-player video game. M.U.L.E. stands for Multiple Use Labor Element, and is named after the animals used in Heinlein’s book. The game focuses on supply and demand economics, and allows players to take turns exploiting resources on a recently colonized planet (the planet’s name is Irata in the game, or Atari spelled backwards).

One of the nice things about writing a blog is feedback from readers, and with any top ten list somebody may feel an important item is left out. Keri Mogret commented to suggest M.U.L.E. should be included as an influential educational game from the 1980s, and I heartily agree, resulting in the addition here of M.U.L.E. to the original top ten.

This particular game was something I’d heard about and later read about, but never had the pleasure of playing. (Yes, I read all of Heinlein’s books, but never played the games. Sorry. I did see the Starship Troopers board game at a relative’s house, ca. 1980, and looked at it but didn’t play.)

Via emulators, M.U.L.E. can be downloaded nowadays from several sources. Here’s one good site, and here’s a great fan site. Subtrade is reportedly the best clone of M.U.L.E., and by some accounts is actually better than the original game.

Honorable Mention: Rocky’s Boots
Released
: 1982 by The Learning Company for various platforms; authored by Warren Robinett and Leslie Grimm.

Significance: Showed us a graphical game engine was viable for educational gaming.

Commentary: Rocky’s Boots and its sequel, Robot Odyssey (based on the same gaming engine) were puzzle games requiring players to think their way through solutions. The object of the game involved kicking different shapes off a conveyer belt for points. The concept of using computer graphics in a game designed to make children think was somewhat revolutionary at the time, and Rocky’s Boots won several awards. Here’s a quote from an abstract for a paper in 1984:

Rocky’s Boots (RB), an educational game developed for use with Apple computers, is widely considered to be one of the most imaginative and engaging pieces of educational software currently available. RB presents an introduction to the logical concepts of AND, OR, and NOT. Players incorporate these concepts into arguments which are modeled as “machines.”

Coauthor Warren Robinett keeps a page devoted to the game here, including a disc image that can be played with an Apple II emulator.

The Rise of Photo-Realistic Animation

The bar keeps bumping up higher for quality animations in a videogame. Word came out this week that Afrika, a new safari photo hunt game for the PlayStation 3, would provide ultra-realistic shots of wildlife on the savannah and make good use of the PS3’s graphics capabilities. The game required a mere 25 developers, compared to the 100 or so that many big titles take, and Sony’s sales expectations are modest. Still, the possibilities revolving around photo-realism add to the expectations for future games: serious, educational, and traditional entertainment titles alike.

On the anthromorphological side of things, check out this video, She’s Not Real, from The Times Online in the UK. If you weren’t told ahead of time, it’s possible you wouldn’t know you were watching an animated human … at least at first. Toward the end of the minute long footage, the programmers give a taste of what they can do with an animated person, in a game for instance.