Scott Courtney, a certified Unity programmer, leans in to look at the lines of programming code in the Unity game engine screen and points out a vector error to Bryan Hill, giving advice on how to correct his game’s display issue. Bryan, along with his partner Ryan Rottmann, competed in the third annual MULE Games JAM (MU Lab for Educational Games), a weekend-long competition held April 20-22 to create a working video game. Their game, Alien Attack, featured a cyborg man attacked by a galloping hoard of invading aliens. An adventure in augmented reality (AR) and played via an iPhone, the game used the actual environment of the room as part of its background terrain.
Here’s Alien Attack:
Connor Penrod and Dustin Hengel’s offering, Pixel Caper, is a 16-bit platforming romp past security measures to steal the Mona Lisa from the Louvre and replace it with a forgery. With its ingenious use of dual physics engines and quirky thief protagonist, Pixel Caper closely followed the theme of this year’s MULE Games, which centered on fakes or fake news, a factor that helped Pixel Caper capture this year’s $500 first prize, barely edging out Alien Attack, which won the $250 second-place prize.
It was a difficult decision for the three judges: James Gordon, a Senior Editor of the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Tim Linder from MULE’s own Art Team and Scott Courtney, a Principal Engineer from Sine Nomine Associates, an IT research and custom development engineering firm based out of Barryville, Va. Sponsored by his company, Courtney, an MU alumnus and Missouri native, flew into Columbia specifically to lend his expertise as a Unity mentor and to assist with the judging.
The MULE Games sprang from the work of Jim Laffey, Proffessor Emeritus, Program Director for the College of Education in Townsend Hall on the University of Missouri-Columbia college campus. The Lab’s original purpose was to research online social systems using educational technology. These efforts led to the creation of the iSocial Project, an online virtual environment designed to teach children with autism more about social skills. It was during the iSocial Project that the MULE Game’s administrative host, Joe Griffin, a User Interface Designer for the Lab, joined Dr. Laffey’s team. Says Griffin, “I started working on [the iSocial] project, and while it wasn’t quite a game, it had all the same pieces and needed the same people. Seeing the impact we had on the kids who played and their families, and seeing how much fun they had to be “playing a game” and not just going to class, got me hooked on making serious games rather than just games for entertainment.” A father of three (soon to be four) and member of the Educational Technology Lab’s Design Team, Griffin volunteered to be the on-site facilitator for the MULE Games, kicking off the competition, mentoring students and ensuring the contestants needs are met.
In addition to sponsoring the MULE Games competition, the Lab is currently completing a game designed to teach 6 – 8 graders about the water cycle: Mission Hydro-Science Unit 4, also known by its nickname, Mission HydroSci. Created using the Unity and Perforce gaming engines, the game’s premise is a mission to explore, manage and preserve the water resources of a newly discovered planet. Dr. Laffey developed the game’s science-oriented concept along with Dr. Troy Sadler, an Adjunct Professor in the department of Learning Teaching & Curriculum, submitting grant proposals to Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and The Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) in 2014 that yielded $4.2 million to fund the Mission HydroSci project.
In the game, the players’ duties are as part of a research team aboard a space station surrounded by other characters from various organizations – such as scientists, corporations and the military – that have active interests in the use of the new planet’s resources. The gameplay involves first person exploration of the surface, setting up a research base planet-side, recovering crashed equipment and gathering data for the research team. The game requires the development of hypotheses and logical interpretations of the data gathered to develop solutions to the new planet’s water use issues, not to mention exploring a few intriguing alien ruins containing puzzles along the way. The team hopes to release the beta version to interested educators at the end of this summer.