Thursday, April 29, 2010

FRAPS Test and Musings on Second Language Acquisition

Finally got the full license for FRAPS yesterday and I decided to take it for a spin around the Battlefield 2142 neighborhood to see what it would do. All in all, I'm very impressed with the software and consider it $37 well spent. It will be especially useful when I begin to document gameplay for my book project and describe the development work I am doing in Blender. While making the video, I also started to reflect on 3D digital game-based learning for second language acquisition:

To summarize what I say in the video: I think that the sense of presence these 3D games provide can be a powerful platform on which to design second language instruction. Specifically, the simulated social contexts found in these game environments - when coupled with well-designed second language instruction - could potentially create learning situations that combine embodied action with spatially-situated knowledge. Or, in other words, the student will know what to do and when to do it.

I think that this type of research is really sorely needed at the moment as the humanities continue to flounder. As essays in The New York Times recently pointed out, the outlook for the humanities is particularly bleak and the recession has hit graduate students especially hard. Not that digital game-based learning is the panacea for all these problems, but perhaps it is a new direction (like the neurological approach to English literature) that will help us to re-conceptualize what we do and lead us to see it in a new light.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Test Render for Foreign Language Annals

This past week I have been polishing my 3D digital game-based learning article for The Foreign Language Annals, getting ready to get the final submission out the door. Now that the text has been corrected and improved, I thought that I would look at the images that I would include in the essay. I have done a lot more 3D development since the time I originally submitted the essay and I want to put my best foot forward. Throwing all the models together that I have created so far, I came up with this:

Nothing really fancy with lighting or texturing, just something to give the readers of the essay an idea of what is currently possible in a 3D gaming environment. I just wish that some of this technology had been around when I was learning Russian. It would have made mastering the whole perfective and imperfective verbal aspects so much more fun.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hitting Two-For-Two

Good news on the DigiBahn front! Briefly stated, the paper I submitted to The Foreign Lannguage Annals (FLAnnals) was accepted with minor revisions and my application to the Humanities Gaming Institute was also accepted. Wow, hitting two-for-two. I was particulalry surprised (and flattered) about what the three reviewers for the FLAnnals had to say about my essay:

  • I'm fascinated by this topic and I think the author has introduced the subject well, defended his/her thesis and I look forward to seeing more things from him/her.

  • I think it's safe to say, however, that there needs to be more research of this kind to keep pace with the changing definitions of literacy.

  • I enjoyed reading this manuscript. It is very well written; it flows very logically. As a instructor who utilizes a great deal of technology and recognizes the potential for game play, I find the intersection between theory and the potential of gaming nicely stated and reflecting many possibilities.

  • I thank you for a glimpse of what language learning could become in the near future. An app for my iPhone!

  • As noted above, the text is extremely well written and does not need much editing in terms of mechanics, style, etc.

I was hesitant about the manuscript would be received as the topic of digital game-based learning is extremely new in the field of second language acquisition and I was afraid that it would be perceived as fadish or just way out there. Computer games to teach a foreign language ... huh? Anyway, the feedback was a tremendous source of validation for my project and made me think that a book project - just maybe - might also be similarly received.

I've been spending the last week tightening up my submission to FLAnnals and will return to modeling once I got the essay where I would like it to be. Then, as the submission also needs some good images as eye candy, I will spend some time setting what models I do have up for some still renders. I'll will add more information about the Humanities Gaming Institute as soon as I find out more. And lots of pictures, too, when I am down there.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Leave a Light On

I am getting closer to finishing work on Building A, after which I will make a movie using most of the models I have developed so for for the game. Because I couldn't wait to see what it would all look like in the end, I inserted my lamp model last night and did a quick render:

Not bad, I suppose; it looks almost real! In the coming weeks, before I make the video, I'll be adding the finishing touches to the models. For instance, cleaning up some of the meshes, putting recessed windows into the tower, a gabled roof for Building A, perhaps some flower boxes, and a few other knick-knacks such as a museum sigh, hours of operation, and an international sign indicating tourist information. I'll also see if I can grab a model or two off the Web for a bench I'd like to have in front of the museum.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Layering the Bumpmap

Since I started using Blender, I have been using GIMP to make my bumpmaps. Usually I just took the colormap and did the following to it:
  1. Desaturate the layer
  2. Invert the colors
  3. Adjust the brightness (to 15) and the contrast (to 90)
Then I would import it into Blender in its own texture channel, map it to the rendered normals, and call it good. The problem I have been encountering, however, is getting different quality of bumps, so to speak, on the same bumpmap.

This problem became especially apparent as I was modeling the upper floor of Building A, an older exposed timber work structure. How would the beams look - well, like wood beams - and the stucco more smooth? Then it occurred to me that, just like I make the colormaps in GIMP using layers, perhaps I should also try to make the bumpmaps with layers, too. And this is what I got:

Although I still need to work on the texture for the beams a bit - the wood grain runs (strangely) in the same direction for all of the beams - I am pleased with how it was possible to make a distinct contrast between the strongly-grained timbers and the smoother stucco. I think that I will revisit the bumpmaps for all the models I have developed thus far and tweak them bringing them into Unity3D.

Update: And here is a quick render of the model with a new and improved bumpmap:

Looks a lot more interesting and realistic, although for complete realism I suppose that I would have to check out a book on how to construct exposed timber work houses in Germany. Something else for my "to-do" list I suppose.