Tim Holt:

Serious Games Summit DC 2005Tim Holt:  (Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

Remediating the classic Atlas body-building cartoon, Holt presented the scenario in which a big burly organization kicks sand in the face of a scrawny game designer. He suggested that modding is a way to create a great-looking game, that can be used to get further funding, without requiring a million bucks for the prototype. In some ways I’m more advanced than the target audience for this talk, but what Holt is doing now is what I’ll have to do if my own idea for an educational game is going to go anywhere.

Holt noted that open-source and alternative development options are available, but he got a little FUDdy on the audience. When Holt, who used to work for Valve (the company that makes Half-Life) first suggested that he would talk about several alternatives to the traditional commercial development process, then admitted that would only talk about modding, the audience chuckled. The presentation walked through the process of using Half-Life 2 as a source for mods.

Differentiated modding – resuing somebody else’s wheel — from the traditional development process. The process starts with buying a commercial game such as Half-Life 2, noting that the companies want users to create their own modifications. Modding is a great playground, but you don’t have to start from scratch. Half-Life 2 includes lots of grungy bitmaps, which wouldn’t be acceptable for a hospital simulation, of course, but are easily expandable. Holt’s laptop has 14 GB worth of content that can be reused in original mods. That content includes code that defines the AI properties or the in-game characters.

Holt showed the Half-Life 2 characters, which his collaborators complained they slouched too much, turning the oppressed out-of-work civilians of Half-Life 2 into confident, confidence-inspiring doctors (with white work boots).

Used Half-Life 2 greenery functions for a forestry simulation, expanding a function originally designed for grass and shrubbery, turning it into a system to populate a forest stretched across kilometers.

“It’s too hard to explain to a bunch of foresters why they’re running around with a crowbar.”

Showed a proof-of-concept game for “Pulse!!” – a first-person medical game that featured an in-game EEG monitor synchronized with an in-game patient. The PC, with stethoscope in hand, touches the patient’s chest, and we hear the heartbeat and breathing, based on where the hand is touching. (In the background, slouching hospital workers wash their hands or punch buttons.)

Indicated that in order to do mods, you’ll need to play the game in order to understand its capabilities. “If your co-workers don’t like it, invite them to play too.”

Saved me a bit of time by noting that there aren’t really any books out there on the subject of modding games.

In response to a question from the audience, briefly mentioned other platforms such as Neverwinter Nights and the new Civilization IV that offer modding capability.

Noted that, in addition to a copy of the game, you’ll need a 3D modeling program (he suggested XSI), a programming environment (Visual C++), and an image editor.

Holt’s virtual forest needs a system where people can share data, posting persistent notes within the game world. [That really got me thinking? would that be virtual geocaching? Let players leave audio comments for each other? That would let students annotate the same simulated world in different ways, according to different objectives? that really opens up a huge range of ways to reuse the same generic simulated environment. Lots to think about! -DGJ]

Giving students a virtual patient that they have to take care of day and night [That would be an extremely interesting variation on neopets, or the parenting simulations in which adolescents are given dolls that they have to take care of]

Offered the advice to “keep it simple,” as applied to “Pulse!!”

Holt mentioned Garry’s Mod – a sandbox version of Half-Life, with a scripting language called Lua.

Played “A Few Good G-Men,” a wonderful demonstration of what can be possible with simulation. Perhaps only a scene that features a cold, stiff military officer in a courtroom setting would work. While the clip was fascinating, I would rather have seen a demonstration of a game – using a remediated version of a movie to demonstrate what modding can do.

(Holt’s use of the buzzword “pedagogy” in his remediaton of the bodybuilding cartoon was hilarious.)