Monday, 3 September 2012

Three “Games Based Learning” Development Tools Explored


Developing with Adobe Flash
A lot of the games based learning products that I have developed over the years have been done using Flash. Adobe’s Flash is a fantastic tool and creates efficient code (a small file size that is great for web work) but is not necessarily that easy to use for non-programmers. In the last year, I have had a look at some other tools, which can be used to develop games based learning (even if that is not their primary purpose). This blog post is an overview my findings.

Captivate and other Rapid Development Tools
I have used Captivate within the context of e-Learning experiments and have blogged about these before at http://www.games-based-learning.com/2011/10/instructional-design-e-learning-and.html. The Situated example was an attempt to push Captivate to its limits. The SITUATED-training (http://www.pixelfountain.co.uk/captivate-situated-training-demo.html) course puts the trainee in a virtual setting where they need to visit various locations, talk to characters and interact with objects. The instructional design embeds a system simulation inside a dynamic story line. At the end of the training, the trainee is presented with a dynamic end report that shows what they did and didn’t do. The example I developed was a mini project management game, but the approach could be used in humanities and science education.

Captivate is traditionally used for system simulations, but it has a simple scripting language that can be used to control variables, visibility of screen objects etc. It is a bit clunky for people with programming experience, but as you can see from my SITUATED-training example, it can used to develop quite sophisticated solutions. For this reason and the fact that it feels more robust, I would rank Captivate above rapid development tools such as Articulate and Lectora.

Note: My experiments were done using Captivate 5.5 and I note that version 6 is now available.

Construct
Following on from a games workshop design project (http://www.games-ed.co.uk/games-design-workshop.html) with school children in St Helens (Merseyside, UK) I developed a prototype of the chosen design – Eco-Busters. Partly because I wanted to avoid the slow development process of Flash, I fished around the Internet for a game development tool. I settled on Construct 2 from http://www.scirra.com/. Scirra state that Construct allows you to create games effortlessly. They say Construct is a ground breaking HTML5 windows game engine that lets anyone make games without any programming experience.

My experience was that Construct is indeed powerful and easy to get into. But, the caveat I would give is that I have been programming on and off for 30 years – how time flies :( Anyway, I would say that Construct is a tad more difficult than Captivate but is infinitely cheaper in that it is free and Captivate is £850 on the Adobe site.

The Eco-Busters prototype can be found at http://www.pixelfountain.co.uk/Eco-Busters/ Note the game is HTML5, so you will need IE9 or Google Chrome or Firefox. The game is far from complete, but you will get the idea of what Construct can do. Make sure you read the instructions as the children’s design required an intricate method for controlling two characters.  Also, there are other examples on http://www.scirra.com/.

MIT App Inventor for Android Devices
I was recently looking for a tool to develop mobile apps and again I wanted something that was quick to get into. App Inventor lets you develop applications for Android phones using a web browser and either a connected phone or emulator. Originally developed by Google, App Inventor has been made open source and has been taken on by MIT see http://appinventor.mit.edu/.

You build apps by working with:
The App Inventor Designer, where you select the components for your app.
The App Inventor Blocks Editor, where you assemble program blocks that specify how the components should behave. You assemble programs visually, fitting pieces together like pieces of a puzzle.

Once I had got the App Inventor loaded and connected to my phone, which was a bit fiddly due to me having to find a USB driver on the HTC website, everything worked smoothly. Overall the programming environment was straightforward and powerful. The blocks editor might be slightly tortuous for accomplished programmers but the visual approach will suit the novice. In fact, I did a little bit of programming with my 11 year old.

At this stage, I haven’t developed any games based learning, but App Inventor shows potential for gamified quizzes and one of the tutorials is a Whack-A-Mole game.

Conclusion
The above three development tools are not the only tools out there. I chose the above tools as they were easy to get into but also were more than simple presentation builders. Please feel free to comment on any tools that you have used.

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6 comments:

  1. Excellent post! My company is rolling out two packages of courses that K-12 and Higher Ed schools can leverage to teach their students app development and game development. App Inventor and Construct 2 are going to be part of the packages, which is why I was happy to see that someone else is mentioning these great tools for use with kids.

    You can check out the details here: http://howtomakeanapptoday.com/k-12-higher-ed/

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