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Alan Wake – bringing it together (part 5)

It has been a busy few weeks and the project development has slowed down a little. On the plus side, Kelvin has managed to make real headway with the 4 station Xbox cabinet with the help of some sixth formers…

… the XBOX station designed and built by students. We used different materials: wood for the case, 3D printed brackets for the monitors and speakers and metal for the monitor bracket pivot.

With the forethought that this literacy course may be best employed as an intervention, I decided to write the resources as an online course, through GameLab® – a quest-based learning platform where teachers and students play, design, and share quests and badges to personalised learning.

CaptureSomewhat ironically, given we are using an Xbox title, complete with episodes and achievements, Gamelab operates in a similar way. By earning experience points, rewards, and achievements, players “level up.” The course is designed in such a way that access to the Xbox is governed by your rank. Rank is achievement by successfully submitting great literacy quests, which earn you experience points, and we all know what points make…

It is a really exciting platform and a powerful motivator, as well as a great tool for moderating access to the Xbox.

Move forward two weeks and few late nights, we now have 80+ learning assets or quests written, ranks and rewards defined (badges, achievements and awards). There are a wide range of skills explored, reading (reading the script, reading the instructions, researching, reading the in-game text), writing (descriptive, scripting, creative, marketing), and speaking and listening (listening to the game, explaining to others), the Alan Wake literacy project on Gamelab is ready for launch.

Exploring literacy through Remedy’s critically acclaimed psychological action thriller, Alan Wake on the Xbox 360.

Students will play, explore, reflect,  on their game experience and the games  design and creative narrative. With this experience and knowledge they will write, design and create a range of Alan Wake quest responses.

I estimate approximately 60-80 hours depending on the level of the student. I have even managed to get one or two guinea pigs students to test the first rank of quests.

Last night I went through the maths behind the course.

There are 8 categories, introduction and episodes 1-6 to coincide with the six Alan Wake episodes and one category, ‘Anytime’ which are released on set XPs totals. These focus more on the technology behind the game, and act as ‘extra-lives’ in case students fall short of a marker.

7600 XPs for the Quests

350 XPs for Badges – mainly for cooperative work.

1420 for Achievements, somewhat back loaded. Recognising progress in the game, with a 800 for submitting quests and a whopping 500 for reader the Alan Wake Files (a book about the game, written by one of it’s characters)

1380 XPs for Awards, the arbitrary points.

Rank Name Points
Private 0 – 299
Corporal – Ep1 Nightmare 300 – 1199
Sergeant – Ep2 Taken 1200 – 2199
Officer – Ep3 Ransom 2200 – 3199
Lieutenant – Ep 4 The Truth 3200 – 4499
Colonel – Ep 5 The Clicker 4500 – 5999
General – Ep 6 The Departure 6000 – 9999
Field Marshal 10000 +

The final hurdle may look like a significant task, and it is, but there are some big rewards on offer, for some tough but very rewarding Awards. I am looking forward to getting started.

Just remember…

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Alan Wake hardware choices (part 4)

pc_and_xboxGaming in school – for literacy?

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).

xbox_cabinetSimon 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.

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Alan Wake (part 3)

The script for Alan Wake is amazing.  It is even more impressive when the sound effects and background audio adds depth to the experience. Playing on the Xbox just amplified the experience.

script

What is more, I have learnt a little about “script writing” code (no computing code) and the need for space on a script page.

O.S. Off screen, V.O. voice over and so forth. I think it is pretty straight forward. Both terms are similar terms, but they have slightly different applications. O.S. is used when the character is in the scene location, but not currently on screen. V.O. is used when the speaker is not physically in the scene (Barbara Jagger is often present but not scene), or the speaker is a character’s inner-monologue – as with Alan Wake’s narration. Another learning opportunity to explore with the students. The space is for the directors notes, as far as we could find out.

Apologies for the late posting, this post was left in draft by mistake.

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Wake-ing a thirst for literacy (part 2)

alan_wake_2Having only assumed the role of English teacher fairly recently, I typically have to read for the very first time, the text I am about to teach, for the very first time, a few weeks before the term starts. Being on the school leadership team comes with many privileges however you are expected to ‘fill-in’ and teach where you are needed most.

Although I have been introduced to established GCSE Goliath such as ‘Of Mice and Men’ and ‘The Woman in Black,’ and reacquainted with ‘Romeo and Juliet’ some sixteen years after I taught the play as ‘second-subject’ unit of work on my PGCE. (I even remember organising a Y9 trip to the cinema to see the flourishing Leonardo DiCaprio embrace a fragile, sweet Claire Danes. Time flies…) My first subject is Physical Education in case you were wondering. Anyway moving on, although I have indulged in various collections of poetry and spent too long learning the context and content of these collections, musing over the poems meaning or meanings, reading and learning the text is definitely a professional challenge. So, I am not sure why I thought preparing a video-game scheme of work for developing literacy would be any easier?

For the record it is not, if anything, it is in fact even more challenging. Not only do you have to research the content and context, explore the narrative and design the learning tasks, you need to be the expert, you need to be authentic. It is no different with a video game script, only to be authenticate you also need to have played the game. (Not an easy sell to my wife.)

If the literacy hook fails to inspire them, then the game truly will.The Xbox is a fantastic gaming platform and the experience of gaming, and gaming with literacy in mind, captured the students imagination (more of that in future parts…) though you do need an appropriate title. That is basically code for no overt gender stereotyping, absolutely minimal profanity and violence however it must be exciting for the students. There really is no need to make it difficult for yourself. Alan Wake was perfect.

Our protagonist, Alan Wake, isn’t initially an action hero rather he is a popular fiction writer attempting to escape the pressures of fame and creative expectation vacationing (Americanism) in Bright Falls. After his wife’s mysterious disappearance his search to find her is swiftly diverted into the realm of the paranormal, heavily influenced by television shows like Twin Peaks, X-Files and Twilight Zone with a good Stephen King horror splash (no blood). The tangled, swirling tale occasionally sputters and stumbles, but offers enough scares and thrills (and unnerving soundtrack) to keep you uncomfortably hooked.

The episodic gaming isn’t particularly original however it provides useful, almost enforced pauses, and literacy opportunities; how the story unfolds, differences within and between episodes, story-line forks, character development and effectiveness of monologue. There is also plenty of reading and listening opportunities as well. Wade collects his own strewn manuscript pages, posters and information signs direct visitors through the parks. Detail is regularly delivered through radio broadcasts and the Twilight Zone-esque television shows as well large amount of extraneous character dialogue that’s worth hearing.

Let’s not forget that Alan Wake is a psychological thriller, a game that exploits fantastic lighting effects and contrasts in night and day. Moonlight pours from above, streetlamps and construction bulbs indicate the way forward, and Wake’s all-important flashlight is not only a weapon, it is a tool for exploration. As a consequence of restrictive viewing, you are more aware of your vulnerability which heightens the game-play. In tight spaces, you are primed and ready to be shocked. In wide open spaces, the enemies can attack from all angles, leaving constantly shifting the angle of the camera from one side of the screen to the next. Both equally unsettling. Even more so if you allow yourself to be unsettled by haunting score and supernatural sound effects. I definitely hope to explore how the game makes the students ‘feel’ and whether or not they can write about this?

Just because there’s such a focus on story and presentation doesn’t mean the game lacks a responsive and satisfying combat system. In fact the more you play, the more variety is added to the combat culminating in a handful of thrilling sequences. I a sure this will keep the students hook – but how many students and for how long?

Games website ‘How long to beat’ suggests the main story requires 10 hours of game play. I am currently half an hour into Episode 4 and logging approximately 10 hours (guess I am not an accomplished gamer). However that does includes significant pauses to make teaching notes, read all the manuscripts, read all the signs, posters and listen to all the dialogue. Even replaying the odd section here and there to explore my own questions. Finally as I was playing the game I was trying to record English curriculum teaching opportunities, of which there are many. Some ideas are straight forward, response, reflective, and some are a little… left field. Some make sue of the fantastic bonus material available from the Humble Bundle download.

Whilst I struggled on – playing on the home PC, I knew that I would be costing up and Xbox for two. Or looking to beg and borrow an Xbox solution for the launch in the not too distant future. As soon as I found who took my wife… in the game that is.

Episode 1: Nightmare

You think you’re God? You think you can just make up stuff?!

Explore the script. How is the game presented?

How is the game introduced and rules conveyed?

How would you present Alan Wake? Which Hollywood actor would get the lead role? (Alan Wake Visual Identity Guidelines and Alan Wake Cardboard Cutouts – Bonus Material).

Once in the lighthouse a women’s voice whispers, “He’s here.” Where is here? Who does the voice belong too? Does it matter that its female?

Woken by Alice – calm – approaching Bright Falls. Write a describe of Bright Falls.

“Oh Deer Diner” – Why is Cynthia Weaver unnerving? Why is she even in the storyline?

Who is the women all-in-black – what is her role?

How do you feel when Mr Stucky comes out of the diner with your keys? (Dramatic irony)

What is in a name? Bright Falls, Caldron Lake and Divers Isle.

Light vs Dark – what is a psychological thriller. Watch XYZ movie.

Why Alice setting Alan up to write? Whom is Dr Harrman (The Creators Dilemma)

Is Alice Dead?

How would you describe Alice and Alans relationship? Take 1

Why send car crashing over the cliff? What is symbolism?

What’s happened to Mr Stucky – Taken? (at this point players do not know what or who The Taken are.)

Once at the Gas station, Sarah Breaker arrives. Alan decides not to tell her about the encounter with Stucky because “she wouldn’t believe him and partly because he didn’t want to lose her help finding Alice.” – What does Alan Wake mean?

When can you (Alan Wake) not tell the truth? Gas scene. What is the power of you (Alan Wake) and the audience knowing the same thing? Or the other characters not knowing?

Write your own “Night Springs” Episodes (fictional TV show).

Create the soundtrack – What tracks would you select and why?

Episode 2: Taken

Flashback – How would you describe Alice and Alan’s relationship? Take 2 How would you describe Alice and Alan’s NY apartment.

Clicker story – what is the place of urban legends.

How is a conversational tone created – writing conversations. Alan Wake with Dr Nelson

Why is your agent Barry Wheeler such a sleaze ball? How is this created?

How would you describe the hunting lodge?

What should you do when given the three options – Sheriff, FBI or rescues mission – persuade me?

Alan lands on the floor, and spots Taken heading towards him. He tries to reach for his flashlight, but the Taken block his path. It is not before long when a man kills them all and saves him. Meeting the kidnapper – describe Rusty.

How do you feel inside the old water mill? What is the impact of an enclosed space?

When is language appropriate – ‘Lazy Bastard,’ When using flares – ‘ keep those bastards away.’ (do we need to discuss this language with parents and carers).

Write an emotional report on how you (the player) feel, following a prolonged attack by the Taken.

How is sound used to unnerve you?

How does darkness add to the game play?

 

Alan Wake is literally bursting with literacy and there is even more to find in the amazing bonus content.

Video

  • Early Alan Wake Demo Videos
  • Harry Garrett Show (in-game video of Alan Wake being interviewed)
  • ”Making of” Videos
  • Alan Wake “Writer in the Cabin” clips
  • ”Night Springs” Episodes (fictional TV show)
  • ”Balance Slays the Demon” Music Video
  • Alan Wake “The Movie” (full playthrough of the game)

Art

  • The Library of concept art and production photos
  • Alan Wake Wallpapers
  • Night Springs Comic Book
  • Psycho Thriller Comic Book
  • Alan Wake Visual Identity Guidelines
  • Alan Wake Cardboard Cutouts

And more

  • Alan Wake Score Sheet Music
  • Alan Wake Screenplays
  • The Alan Wake Files Book
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