Mar 2, 2015

First Round of Playtesting

As a part of our methodology, we have committed to holding at least one play testing session during each sprint. This is imperative, because we can talk circles and analyze our work all that we want, but the perspective of members of our target audience, children around fifth grade, is invaluable. This was made abundantly clear when we tested our most recent iteration of Collaboration Station on three children, siblings: Joe, 12, Myra, 9, Jim, 10.

We started the play testing session by handing the children the devices with the game on its welcome screen. We then observed their interactions with the game start up and device pairing. They struggled with this, so we took note and moved on. They played the matching game several times, and then we asked them questions about the different aspects of the game. In order to eliminate the random answers that children are prone to, most of our questions were specific yes/no questions, such as “Did you like the sound effect when you got a match?” or “Did you like being assigned a country?”

The results were rather insightful. We learned that our start game sequence isn’t intuitive for children, and so may need directions or different wording. We observed that the scenario text framing the game sets up certain expectations for the child. We said that they were cleaning up the space station; the fact that match pairs didn’t disappear or get “put away” was confusing in the context of the scenario. We learned many other things, and generated a couple new game ideas from the children’s suggestions.

Do you have any suggestions on how to perform qualitative tests with children? Let us know!

Click on the following link for Playtesting_Session_One_Documentation.

Feb 27, 2015


Last Thursday, we had the incredibly enriching experience of getting to meet with our partners, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis (TCM). Specifically, we met with Cathy Hamaker who is a TCM Exhibit Developer. We presented and played our current version of Collaboration Station, and discussed design questions that we are facing in the production of the game. It was rewarding to get fresh insight into the design questions we face from someone who faces these issues on a daily basis.

TCM is dealing with the same major design question we are: How do you make a game that is collaborative by its nature? During our discussion of this, Cathy said something incredibly profound: “Collaboration and Cooperation are not the same thing.” Their dictionary definitions are almost identical, but the connotation differs. Collaboration implies the desire to work together to achieve something, whereas cooperation can be begrudging. We want to make a game experience that is collaborative and exciting, in which one player's success is beneficial and praised by the team, while still allowing the game to be played by a single player. Design is hard, but it is good to know that our partners are invested in the success of our endeavors and wish to learn from our work.

Above, Dr. Gestwicki, Kaleb, and Cathy play through the third version of Collaboration Station (the version complete at the end of sprint three).

We are still attempting on finding the best solution. So, do you have any insight? Let us know! We welcome an open and intellectual dialogue of our work and any suggestions on how to improve or solve design dilemmas.

Feb 18, 2015

External Processing

Have you ever been stuck on a problem? You’re working, and all of a sudden, you hit a wall. A big wall. One you can’t even see past. What do you do?

Do you sit there and stare at your computer screen just willing the right answer to come to you?
Do you get up and walk around?
Take a coffee break maybe?
Is that how you know it’s lunch time?
Or maybe Amazon time?
Or, do you sit there, befuddled for the rest of the work day?

I’ve learned that one way people cope with writer’s block when producing code is to talk to a Desk Buddy. Desk Buddies come in all shapes and sizes, but their purpose is the same. Sometimes, you just need to talk out a problem. Sometimes, the act of trying to explain it to someone (or something) else is exactly what you need to push you past the part you don’t understand.

“Phone a Friend” has always been how I operate, but not everyone is that extroverted. To some, the thought of talking to someone - say nothing about admitting a problem to them - is a completely unwanted stressor.

Enter: a rubber duck, plastic Android figurine, or plush Domo, who will listen to your problems without interrupting or trying to offer unhelpful solutions and will ultimately save the day, your sanity, and the project.

So, let us know. Do you have a Desk Buddy? How do you deal with roadblocks in programming, writing, game design, or projects in general?

Feb 13, 2015


TMA - Specifically TLA! (Too Many Acronyms - Specifically Three Letter Acronyms!)

Warning: This blog post comes from the point of view of a non-programmer who has had to quickly come to terms with the whole bowl of alphabet soup that is programming jargon.

  • “We need to create and drop in the SFX.”
  • “We need more TDD.”
  • “The wifi P2P is acting up again.”
  • “UPnP”
  • "EOF"
  • "FRP"
  • "Post RCM about SRP."
  • "I need a high DPI device."
  • "Using control+shift+F is a DGA."

Have you heard of PCMCIA? It stands for “People can’t memorize computer industry acronyms”. And, it’s the truth. Every day that I’m in the studio someone introduces me to another acronym that I don’t understand and won’t remember. I write down as many of them as possible so that the next time I hear letters mentioned in that configuration, I can inconspicuously (or very conspicuously) flip through the pages of my notebook and figure out what people are saying as the programmers continue their conversation. The problem is that I’m constantly bombarded by these acronyms. I mean, really, even the name of our group gets shortened into a TLA! When we chose our name, we realized that Space Monkey Studio is “SMS” so we added the tagline “Message and data rates may apply” and were highly pleased with our cleverness.

So, here’s my question to all of the programmers out there: How long did it take for you to unscramble the mess that is computer industry jargon? Is there any possibility that in one semester I can memorize enough to hold a coherent conversation with a programmer (and without my notebook)? Do you have a favorite TLA that I should know about? Leave a comment and let me know.

Feb 9, 2015

On Scrum

As members of Space Monkey Studio (SMS), we adhere to the Agile Scrum methodology. By beginning each two week sprint with a two hour planning meeting, we are able to clearly define tasks and take responsibility for those tasks with a certain number of hours bid for its completion. Through “daily” scrum meetings (“daily”, because we meet as a whole team only three days a week), we can easily stay updated on the progress others have made and identify which tasks rely on the completion others. We end each sprint with sprint review and retrospective meetings in which we review our newest iteration of the game and any other artifacts of the sprint. We then identify practices we did well and practices we need to improve on or change.

Scrum has been extremely useful in coordinating a multidisciplinary team. It allows for open communication and the forming of temporary scrum teams to tackle a task, which has encouraged team members to draw on the expertise of members in other disciplines. For example, artists (visual and audio) and programmers worked together to integrate the different artwork (assets) into the game. We also worked to equip the artists with the knowledge to able to rapidly integrate assets as soon as they are produced.

Scrum gives just enough structure to be productive, and no more. It has given us a plan and structure so that we can work effectively as a team, while also allowing individual team members to take initiative and contribute to the success of the project.

For more information on Agile Scrum and how it works in agile software development, Agile Scrum Website!

Feb 6, 2015

Space Monkey Studio

Space Monkey Studio – Who are we and what are we doing?

We are a multidisciplinary team of Ball State University students under the supervision of Dr. Paul Gestwicki. Our team is involved in a BSU Immersive Learning project funded by through the Provost Initiative for Immersive Learning. We will work in conjunction with the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis to create and original educational video game about the International Space Station.
Collaboration Station –  What is it about?

Our original, educational video game will teach information about living and working on the International Space Station. It will be a multiplayer experience comprised of a series of mini games that are played on android devices. Each player will play their own version of the mini game, and their success will contribute to the team progress as a whole.

The video game will feature original artwork and designs,, as well as background music and sound effects created by our team artists. The themes and images in the game are inspired by actual living conditions and scientific experiments performed on the International Space Station.

By focusing the core of the game content on NASA learning objectives and Indiana fourth and fifth grade science standards, the finished product will be an excellent resource for entities wishing to supplement their offerings on the solar system, gravity, and careers in STEM fields.

What Next?
We are extremely excited to immerse ourselves in this wonderful learning experience. We are working to publish a downloadable version of the game (both for desktop and for android) to a website! Don’t forget to tell others about our project, and we look forward to your continued readership.

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