Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: Video Game Designing from Tektoma

If I were a twelve year old boy about to review the website Tektoma, I am certain it would be a really enthusiastic review about the way I learned to program my own video games. It would be replete with words like, “awesome” and “totally cool”, and it would get proof read by my mom who would tell me not to use an exclamation point at the end of every sentence.

If I were one of the engineers from my church that work at Lockheed, the review would likely be similar to the twelve year olds but with better grammar and broader adjectives. They would certainly give Tektoma “two thumbs up.”

Alas, I am neither of the above and am nary inclined to ever be thus. My choice of adjectives is much more archaic and my vein of interest runs no where near computer video gaming or learning to design my own. The truth is, I found the process close to the thrill level of ironing; something I try to avoid at all costs. This was just like, totally not, you know, for me…dude. If I had to do this sort of project all of the time, I would need a bumper sticker stuck to my office chair that reads, “I’d rather be ironing.”

All of the above clarified; obviously the right type of person/personality would find what Tektoma teaches to be a stellar niche. Their website claims that kids as young as seven can design and program their own video games, using their tutorials. (Which as you'll see, doesn't say much for me!). I would add an asterisk by that statement to say a child that knows his way around the computer and has an interest along these lines may be able to do so at age seven. Otherwise, a computer novice would need to be a bit older, in my opinion.

Some of you are likely wondering why my children didn’t get to test out this product. This time of year is full of rehearsals, performances and tests worked around regular school as well as a house full of company and Thanksgiving break. Just wasn’t feasible to tack on something as time consuming as this program is, at this point in our school year. So, by default, I am the guinea pig.

After signing up for my free trial period, I was instructed to click on a link to download some software called “Gamemaker.” In order to run this software, your computer must use Windows XP, or Vista. They are working on a Mac version that is “coming soon.” When taken away from Tektoma’s site (in which appropriate content suitable for young children is a top priority), I was taken to where I was to download the software. That site obviously does not monitor their site for appropriate content because there was a large banner advertising a game with a scantily dressed Asian girl which was pretty unavoidable. Therefore, parents, I recommend that you be the ones to download the software, not your child! Once that software is downloaded, you will have no further exposure to such things on the Tektoma website.

After the software was installed, I went straight to the icon that said “create” to start doing just that. Unfortunately, I somehow missed the instruction to watch the video on how to watch the videos and started to watch the video without watching the video on how to watch the videos. Hee-hee. Sounds like I am giving you the runaround, doesn’t it? More clearly stated: you need to watch a video on the proper way to view the tutorials.

Because I missed that bit of information, I went straight to picking the game tutorial I wanted to watch. By way of lack of interest, I chose the shortest one that was an hour and five minutes long. I would be making a memory game in which an object would appear on a black background and then disappear. Each time it reappeared there would be another object added that the player would click on to show that it was the “new” object. Simple at first yet becoming more difficult as the many scattered objects begin to increase in number.

About ten minutes into the video, I found myself stressing that I am supposed to watch and remember so many steps. Shortly after that, the instructor talked about the other window that I should have had open so I can do the programming as I follow the directions. Duh. Even I should have realized the sense in that! He also mentioned the video I should have already seen. Oops! Pause button pushed, I headed over to the proper video and gave it a go. It showed how to have the Gamemaker software open on one window and then how to go back and forth between the tutorial and your own work in progress.

Returning to the tutorial, I quickly caught up to where I had been in the instructions. I will say that the information presented was straightforward, clear and easy to follow. I was surprised that I was doing as well as I was. However, I started noticing that sometimes there was a difference in some of the buttons I had on my screen and some that he was using on his (they were supposed to be exactly the same). I don’t know if, along the way, I selected something I shouldn’t have or what. It may have been a problem with the settings from my end but I had no way of knowing that for certain. I speaka no computer-o. The only thing I could guess was that there was a pop-up window at one point telling me I was using the “Lite” version of Gamemaker and for $20 more I could upgrade to the “Pro” version. However, it was stated on the Tektoma site that I had full access to everything needed in my trial version to create these games so that may not have actually been the issue.

Anyway, as I was plodding through designing my game, there were times that the instructor would click on a button titled “center” that I didn’t have, then another couple of icons titled “persistent” and “mask” were also missing. Then there came a “depth” icon that I was supposed to click on and assign a value to. Nada. So, although I could do what was being shown to some extent, I imagine the end result would have been not quite right.

You see, I must “imagine” the end result because I never actually made it to the end. Two and a half hours into my 1 hour and 5 minute tutorial, I was still only half way through the information, due to stopping and working on my own screen as I went along. (The tutorial is divided into sections so that you can click on the area you want to work on without having to scroll through the entire video to get there. I could see I was only at the half way mark!).

Frustration was beginning to set in as I noticed more missing elements on my screen. There were some other quirks happening that I don’t even know how to coherently explain. It was apparent that this just wasn’t going to be a successful endeavor and I had already put much valuable time toward the project. If I was only half way through at two and a half hours, I could not justify spending that much longer in self-inflicted torture. Especially if the differences here and there from the instructor’s screen and my own would most likely effect the end result and cause it to become a failure on all counts!

I am certain that if I were to call tech support, someone would have walked me through the process of straightening things out from my end. That would assume, first of all, that I could clearly communicate the problems I was having with my screen and I don’t know if I could have done so intelligently (since I speaka no computer-o). Secondly, that would also mean I had to start over with programming my game…which wasn’t going to happen because I had a lot of ironing to do!!!

So, I felt I had seen enough, tried enough and succeeded enough (yes, I counted it as success to do what I did to that point!) to write a semi-intelligent review. We are all wired differently and apparently I am NOT wired like a computer or video game. However, I have utmost confidence that a student that has a love for all things Bytes and Megs would be thrilled to learn how to design their own games!

The Tektoma experience will be a huge hit with the right kid or even the right adult who has a bent in the techno direction. Benefits of learning to design your own game include exercises in logic, creative problem solving, algebra and geometry. The level of game programming increases with difficulty so the child can naturally progress from the simple to the complex. They can even share their games with others and try out games that others have designed. There is an online discussion forum and a place for file sharing. The folks at Tektoma also add new tutorials each month.

If you would like to get your child videogame savvy, then Tektoma really is a great resource. If you click on this link, you can sign up for a free 14 day trial and give your kids a leg up in the realm of relevant job opportunities. For a taste of what your child (or yourself) can learn to design, there are samples of the actual games on the home page that you can play and try out. Go ahead and sign up for a free trial and see what you think. After the 14 days, you can buy a one year membership for $14.95 per month or $140 per year. There’s also a way to earn portions of free membership when you refer a friend and they join. All the info is there on the site.

As for me, I am going back to my right-brained world where I can color outside the lines and use hot glue to fix my problems, rather than a series of commands. For those of you left-brainers out there, I do thank you for making my life easier and this blog possible. Do you do windows and ironing too? (Thats "windows" not "Windows," by the way).

1 comment:

Gingerbread Mommy said...

GREAT post, I totally agree!

At the Intersection of Creation and Evolution: A Dream

The alliterating story below is based on a dream I had several years ago. Please contact me for permission to reproduce.

Darkness devours me.

I am enveloped in emptiness.

Are my eyes open or are they closed? I strain against this shroud of night and still see nothing.

What is this place?

An image illuminates in front of me. A large, leafy tree streaks past and vanishes.

It deserts me to the darkness again.

In a moment, more images appear. A rapid succession of snapshots and thoughts clamor before my eyes and mingle in my mind.

I see seedlings. Several supple shoots have emerged before me and then swiftly stream away.

“The first trees on earth were not seedlings”, my mind observes. “They were not created as small insignificant saplings.”

That thought is rapidly replaced with a vision of a man.

He’s maybe 30; he is muscular and needs to shave.

He fades away.

In his place I see an infant.

A tiny bundle of pink skin upon a soft blanket flickers briefly in my brain.

“Man was created with age,” is the next statement I hear. “Adam did not begin his life as a baby, he began as a grown man.”

The voice seems like my own.

The thoughts do not.

Reeling before me now is a blur of rivers, forests, mountains and even layers of the earth. It is like a movie rushing rapidly before my retina.

The soundtrack of this epic is proclaiming a peculiarly plain concept:

“The earth was created with age. Creation and evolution are not in total opposition. There is a reason that science finds the earth to be quite old: it was made that way.”

Thoughts continue to tumble through my mind; pictures parade before me. I listen in amazement to what seems to be puzzlingly profound and yet rather apparent all at once.

“Adam was created as an adult. Trees and plants were made fully grown.”

I suddenly feel quite certain that, if I were to chop down some of the trees that had been spoken into existence, I would find a range of rings running through their trunks.

“The earth was brought to life with age built into it… just like Adam. He did not begin life as an infant. The earth came into being with what it would need to sustain the life that was created. It was old when it was young. The world was
made with maturity; it was also produced with purpose.”

These thoughts are thrilling. Why had I not seen this before? It seems so simple. Obtusely obvious. Had others not observed this correlation? If they had, why wasn’t it being candidly conveyed?

In the span of thirty seconds I have been ravaged by a radical revelation. I feel the weight of its worth resting on me; it is tantamount to tangible.

I am neither a theologian nor am I a scientist. I don’t claim that the ethics of evolution are completely compatible with the Bible’s account of creation. But certainly Science can come concurrent to creation and affirm our faith with facts.

Of course, the Omnipotent Originator of the Universe is exceedingly elusive to what our mind could ever envision. Above what science could ever extensively elucidate.

Accordingly, creation is confounding too. Each diverse discovery deems it more marvelous to grasp. Many scientists have reluctantly relented to the theory of Intelligent Design.

That’s why, alongside those facts, we also need faith.

Lying inexplicably at the intersection of those two essential elements is an exceptional endowment: the intermittent insight of our dreams.