Monday, July 26, 2010

Signs Inserted

Spent the morning and early afternoon working on a display box for the museum signs. Had some difficulties getting the stainless steel texture "just right" for the sign, so I opted to go with a scratched metal texture from DeviantArt. I wish I could spend more time getting the 3D objects to look more authentic, but since I do the art design, programming, and instructional design for the whole project, I have to keep things fairly simple. Too much depth in one area means that the project won't go forward quickly. In any case, here's the latest screenshot:

I didn't make a close-up screen capture of the poster display as I wanted to show how it fit into the whole museum entrance. For the rest of the afternoon I think I will turn my attention back to the book project, which has been on the back burner for a while.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Romans in Bad Oberdinkelheim

I've been trying to make the historical background to Bad Oberdinkelheim seem as authentic as possible. While looking at the map of the surrounding area, it occurred to me that, perhaps, the Roman presence was felt this far north. After looking at a few historical maps, specifically one that detailed Roman history in the state of Hessen, I discovered that the Limes Germanicus indeed ran through the area. What better way to celebrate this fact than to have a numismatics exhibit in the city museum:

I wonder just how far I could push the Roman influence and history in the game. Roman ruins as a historical site that the player can visit, similar to the Roman baths in Weißenburg, Bavaria? Perhaps a good point of collaboration with a classicist. I'm still not completely happy, however, with simply hanging the exhibit posters on the wall next to the museum entrance. I'm thinking that perhaps I should model some type of stand or holder in which the posters can be displayed. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Special Exhibit in Bad Oberdinkelheim

While designing the square in from of the city museum, it occurred to me that perhaps the museum should have a special exhibit. A few moments on the Web for gathering inspiration and a few moments with GIMP resulted in the following poster:

Very nice that the exhibit has generous support from the Goethe-Institut, Sparda-Bank, and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research! I wish they would support the DigiBahn Project. Anyway, I was originally going to insert the sign into a holder, which would be displayed in front of the entrance to the museum. Instead, I decided to hang it on the wall to the side of the entrance. Partly because I felt it gave the wall some color and, perhaps more truthfully, I was tired of developing 3D models:

Now I need to think of ways to include the poster and special exhibit into the game. Perhaps the player finds a ticket to the special exhibit on the ground, which he is able to sell to an NPC, finally giving the player enough money to purchase a phone card to complete the level objective of making a phone call. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

First DigiBahn Walkthrough in Unity

For the last week, I have been working on getting my Blender models imported into Unity, installing a skybox, and putting some of the first person interactivity in place. Fortunately, with Unity much of this is simply a questions of dragging and dropping the appropriate pre-constructed assets into the game project. Here's a screenshot of what I have developed so far:

And - if you are interested - here's a video of the same thing, with some additional commentary on the game models and perceived benefits for second language acquisition courses:

Since FRAPS doesn't work with Unity, I'm back to using Camtasia to do my screen recording and, as a result, some choppy video when recording the game sequence. I'm going to have to find some software that will do screen recording for games, preferably something free. Any suggestions?

While looking through some old screen recordings of earlier DigiBahn Project development, I came across this video:

At this point of project development (about one year ago), I was working with seven students from German, digital art, and computer science to get something off the ground. As we were not in agreement with what platforms to use, we decided to mock something up with an Oblivion mod. As some of the students have graduated and gone on to pursue advanced degrees, I have been left to do all the 3D development, programming, and instructional design on my own. It's been a steep learning curve, but I've certainly learned a lot and the project is moving forward at a very decent pace, as a comparison between these two videos will attest.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

And Thus It Begins

After conducting some initials test of importing Blender models into Unity, I decided that it was time to begin development of the game in earnest. I fired up Unity, started a new project, imported a Blender model, and saved the scene. Here's what I got so far:

A modest start, but at least I'm moving forward. In the coming days (weeks, months?), I will be working my way through Will Goldstone's Unity Game Development Essentials while creating my own game. I'm very happy that Unity can read Blender files natively, which grants me much more flexibility in actually developing the game. I can, for example, import a Blender model, see how it looks in the game, make any necessary changes to the Blender file, have the changes automatically update in Unity, and then move on to importing the next game resource. In this manner, I think I will be able to develop the whole game in a step-wise manner. 

Friday, July 9, 2010

Stadtplan von Bad Oberdinkelheim

Keeping with the idea that the city museum will also be a tourist office of sorts in the game, I decided that a map of the city and its immediate area should be located in front of the museum. Simply modifying the meshes for work I have done already on the pedestrian zone sign, I came up with the following model: 

To make the sign, I did a quick Google search for "Stadtplan" and found a nice .png image for Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz. This image is actually only a placeholder as, once the game level is done, I'd like to make a map for the way the game level actually looks. This way, the player/learner has a reference point for the layout of the game. And, keeping with the idea of transferable learning, gets used to looking for similar structures in real-world spaces while abroad in German-speaking lands. Here's a quick render of where the map could potentially be placed in front of the city museum:

I'm at a loss, however, on what to do with the empty space adjacent to the city museum:

The other day I was thinking that, perhaps, it would be a nice place for an outdoor cafe, and I even went as far as making a sun awning for the cafe. Unfortunately, however, it just didn't look realistic and I decided to forget about it. Perhaps simply the exit for the museum? I'll have to give it some more thought.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Museum Signs and Integrating Information Channels

Spent the later morning and early afternoon getting signs made for the city museum. Here is a quick render of what I have so far:

I think that in the coming days I just may add a sign indicating hours of operation. Once that is completed, I will add a few other things that can typically be found in a pedestrian zone plaza in front of a museum: a few benches, flower pots, bicycle rack, etc. One aspect of the 3D digital game-based learning environment that I find particularly attractive is the interactive-visual. Player/learners will have to integrate information passed along a visual channel (e.g., the "Stadtmuseum" sign) with information passed along audio channels (e.g., a NPC who tells the player/learner: "Gehen Sie zum Stadtmuseum"). I'm thinking that the process of piecing this information together in a virtual representation of a real-world space could help foster the growth of stronger mental schemata. 

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Learning Objects and Unity Import Test

Since writing my conceptual analysis on how to structure narrative in 3D digital game-based learning (3D-DGBL) environments in support of second language acquisition, which is scheduled to appear in the upcoming issue of The Foreign Language Annals, I've been thinking a lot about how to make my design recommendations an instructional reality. In the analysis, I basically describe the unique problem that 3D-DGBL environments pose for the instructional designer, that of player/learner agency, and posit that a learning object/object-oriented approach might be a way to manage this agency. Each game resource could potentially present an opportunity to learn for the player/learner and should be designed as a complete unit of instruction, addressing areas of language, society, culture, and overall gameplay.

Although I think my conceptual analysis is a step in the right direction, a move away from abstract theory toward practical application, I still am wondering how these design recommendations will actually be coded into the game. Case in point: The tower I have been working on for the last few weeks. I've spent a lot of time trying to make it look realistic, but how do I I move it out of the realm of "eye candy," so to speak, and into the realm of valuable instructional object? And how do I do so in an unobtrusive and interactive manner? Some of these questions, I think, will be answered in the coming weeks as I work in Unity and discover its strengths and limitations. Some of the object-oriented design that I propose in the article may need to be layered onto the game (e.g., code that causes a certain event to be triggered when a player is in the vicinity of the tower) instead of being included directly in the object in true object-oriented fashion. This insight leads me to believe that the pedagogy of the future will be strongly defined by its tools and player interaction with the products of these tools, rather than solely by theory which prescribes how these tools should be applied. Effective instruction may arise at the intersection of tools, theory, and practice, which in my mind highlights the importance of language instructors of the future being proficient in numerous technologies and programming languages. Anyway, just some thoughts as I work on the game.

I took Unity and Blender for a test ride yesterday, wanting to see how easy (or difficult) is would be to import models from Blender into Unity. Initially, it did not look so good as the first model I imported (into the demo game that ships with Unity) had a lot of shadowing on the meshes:

After consulting Unity Game Development Essentials by Will Goldstone, however, I discovered that I was importing the models incorrectly. That is, I was not making the appropriate settings in the Meshes section of the Inspector component. Once I checked the options for calculating normals, smooting angles, splitting tangents, and swapping UVs, I got this much cleaner import:

So much nicer! And I really like the effect of having a medieval tower on a tropic island. Some aspects of the import could still be improved upon, such as how to get the bumpmap applied and getting the lighting just right, but otherwise the process of getting it imported was very easy. Here's the screen capture illustrating how I did it:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Video of Finished Tower and Explanation

I just finished putting the final touches on the 3D tower model in Blender. I decided to document some of my backend work on the model with FRAPS and show of the tower with an turnaround render. This is what I got after merging the two videos in Camtasia:

From here on out, I need to figure out how to import this model into Unity 3D. From what I've looked at so far, I need to bake the textures onto the model, and then put the .blend file into the correct Unity project directory. Apparently, Unity reads .blend files natively, but I'm sure that I will uncover some interesting problems as I import the model.