Alan Wake hardware choices (part 4)
Gaming for literacy is not any easy sell to other staff, before you have had a proven track record of success with students, but as they say ‘Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.’ Andre Gide
I am by no means the only educator exploring this medium. There is Angry Birds physics, Dance Dance Dance for PE, Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 or Bridge Builder for Maths and many more. The genre of “serious games” a plethora of overthrown governments and social dilemma. Settled on the game title, it was time to explore the hardware arena.
There are note as many hardware choices of courses, PC, Gaming console, mobile device, phone or browser but still a decision needs to be made. Here are just a few of the questions we asked ourselves.
What game title? What PEGI rating? We know it needs to be low blood and guts and it probably pays to steer clear of contentious gaming titles and overt gender stereotyping and violence. School-home access – can the students explore the game away from The Academy? (little did we know students would want to carry on with the studies over the summer holidays). Does the narrative need to be central to the game experience… dah it is a literacy course? How frequent are the checkpoints? Can a game autosave? Is online, multiplayer a valued feature?
PC or Xbox? What are the benefits of each? What are the relative cost? Set-up costs? Mobility? We staff be able to set up their own class rooms? How many students to a single work station? How many stations?
How long is the game and do students need to be able to complete the title? Games have natural breaks or levels, how frequent are these breaks? What is the value of watching another student play, observing the game setting, picking clues, attention to other game / literacy aspects of the game? What is the optimum ratio of game-play to literacy tasks? What is the impact of more than one console in close proximity, or sound clashing?
The Alan Wake project is part design and part chance. Remedy’s Alan Wake was made available as part of the Humble Bundle sale on PC. I thought for $5 it was worth a punt, plus it came with a bucket load of additional content (trailers, books, comics and more) most noticeably the script. Meanwhile the team have continued to be supportive where they can. It was attractive, cinematic and dramatic. The PEGI rating was ‘TEEN,’ it was all guns, guts and gore but it was chilling. The narrative was clearly important, the games central character is an author for goodness sake.
Steven King once wrote that nightmares exist outside of logic and there’s little fun to be had in explanations. They’re antithetical to the poetry of fear. In a horror story the victim keeps asking why, but there can be no explanation and there shouldn’t be one. The unanswered mystery is what stays with us the longest and is what we’ll remember in the end. My name is Alan Wake, I’m a writer. – Alan Wake
Whilst I played the game at home, Simon Chappell and Kelvin Shirley helped with the practicalities at work. The PC recommended requirements for a Alan Wake is a little more than you would find in an average day to day PC, plus a little extra help is needed in the graphics card department (£60-100). My home PC is a touch more powerful than the average PC, it met the minimum requirements, but it certainly found the flares and flash bangs graphics difficult to render. When I finally reach the penultimate graphically intense scene, the game was pretty unresponsive and I had to completed the scene in, what felt like, slow motion. The school PCs were about as powerful CPU wise, but the graphics failed miserably. It would cost approximately £60-100 per work station.
The upside was the relative affordability, the downside, students would unlikely be able to access Alan Wake away from the classroom on their home PCs. Second, we had wanted this to be a literacy project and upgrade PCs locked the teaching and learning to that ICT room only. With a question make hanging over the classroom project, we explored the games console option; an alternative that would offer mobility though restrict the number of work stations available. (That option that became more affordable following the Microsoft and Sony announcements of new consoles in Q4).
Simon Chappell sourced the monitors, Xboxs’ and wireless network adapters (optional), foreseeing the possibility of collaborative gaming projects in the future, and produced a costings sheet. Our technology colleague, Kelvin Shirely, designed an Xbox cabinet, complete with fixed monitors, retractable wings, and is currently exploring ventilation options. I got on with writing the bid and playing the game, and I also spent some time seeding the idea with a few colleagues in the English Department.
If you want a chance to get the project of the ground at your school this is the curriculum bid.
Using the XBOX to engage low achieving boys with literacy (reading, writing and speaking and listening).
The Xbox 360 can be used to create powerful classroom learning opportunities on a variety of themes, pending the game title selected (here I implied that it was not only an English project and could be used in other curriculum areas). This project aims to uses Remedy’s highly acclaimed game title Alan Wake, to engage engage low achieving boys in their literacy development (notice not low ability, this project can be used to engage students across the ability ranges), predominantly Y10- boys, and exploit the connection between digital gameplay and multimodal literacy that has be clearly established (Buckingham & Burn, 2007; Zimmerman, 2009), (using smarter people with similar ideas than yourself often helps).
Curriculum bid –
4 XBOX 360, 4 monitors 22”, 4 wireless network adapters, cabinet materials to enable mobile use.
Approximate cost – £1000
Alternatively – a single XBOX setup – using the classroom monitor –£200. This issue here is keeping the class engaged with a single learner/player experience.
I am happy to say the bid was accepted, I completed Alan Wake today – still a little confused, and I am now about to embark onto the scheme of work. A scheme of work that will be written to with bother single and quad Xbox set ups in mind.
A woman. A man. Two lovers, held apart for far too long. Enveloped in the light of a glorious dawn. They both feel it, he’s home at last. Are these actual events or merely a dream? A memory or a glimpse of what is to come? One thing is certain, this scene takes place in another time and another place… far, far away… from Night Springs. Narrator.
Whilst we work on the cabinet, I get the game finished and start on the scheme of work and the learning assets.