[Hotel Dusk] Game evaluation & possible use in a drama context

Late one afternoon in February an excited, inspired Drama probationer arrived in my classroom. She, as well as other Aberdeenshire probationer teachers, had just received a presentation on Games-Based Learning by the Aberdeenshire GLOW team. She’d been tipped off that I was into GBL and wanted to know more about how games consoles could be used in class to inspire and motivate her pupils, as well as make the learning experience active instead of passive.

We discussed how a game could immerse pupils into scenarios based on the noir style of film making. I’ve already mentioned the sequence of events that led us to investigate Hotel Dusk, but wanted to record our thoughts on the positives and negatives of the game engine and how Hotel Dusk could be used in a drama classroom.

Hotel Dusk is an adventure game filled with puzzles in which you need to use the objects scattered around the eponymous hotel along with more than a bit of stubborn determination. Although solutions to the puzzles are usually logical, it is not always clear why some objects need to be used instead of other similar objects. The feedback is limited to phrases such as “Not going to get anywhere using this right now.” and I found myself reaching for the cheat sheet after two hours trying to solve the “electrical room problem”. Turns out I wasn’t using my DS properly, as I can use my finger and the stylus at the same time!

<< video 1 here soon >>

Unfortunately illogical or infuriating puzzles are not the only negative to the game. You cannot get out of conversations once you have started them and this can cause problems if you are running low on battery power. This happened to me a few times on the train and even if you save regularly you always start to run out of juice at the wrong moment. That said, the conversations are one of the best bits about the game – Kyle Hyde’s hard-boiled detective role has been extremely well written – or maybe that’s a disservice to the pulp genre – it’s written in an authentic way and provides excellent material for role-play in the drama classroom.

We discussed how to make best use of the game and came up with the following ideas:

  • filming sections of dialogue or action for pupils to start a scene from
  • using character profiles to create more authentic portayals
  • use save games (max 3 per cartridge) to allow pupils to choose own path through discussions / selected scene – similar idea to ergodic texts mentioned by Derek Robertson
  • filming pupils and somehow embedding them in sections of the game

We are now at the stage where a bid has been submitted to Aberdeenshire GLOW team for equipment to try this out in school, hopefully in the August-October term. Time will be given to allow groups of pupils to experience the game in greater depth but as I am 8 hours+ into my game and (I think) about half-way through there may not be enough time to allow pupils to play from start to finish. I’m now looking at ways to take flip camera footage and apply a filter to make students look like the hand-drawn characters in Hotel Dusk, any tips or suggestions would be gratefully appreciated!

Bradley and Kyle engage in open questioning

While I was looking for images to use in this blog post I found an article on using Hotel Dusk in an English context at Perth High School. It is well worth a read and contains a full walkthrough of the game in case you’re stuck! I spoke to Lisa Sorbie in April when beginning to investigate the game and her comments proved extremely useful when planning the direction of the project.

[Conference] Look to the Future (Heriot Watt), 11th June 2010 – A day in my life as a Software Developer

I was lucky enough to be in the audience for an inspiring view of the current situation in the field of Software Development. It has now been 6 years since I left this area of employment to become a teacher and, I’m happy to say, a lot appears to have changed in this time.

All four presenters agreed on the importance of student portfolios over exam results when hiring their employees. I spoke to David Thomson (Ludometrics, Glasgow – still looking for a job title) during lunch and he told me it is much easier to see if a person can apply skills learned through a portfolio of work. It separates these candidates from those who are able to “jump through the hoops” but have no real passion for the subject. Peter Dickman (Google, Zurich – Engineering Manager) backed this up in his presentation by stating “Your qualifications get you through the door, but it is what you have done with them that counts”. These two presentations had much in common but covered very different fields. David talked about his experience as a games creator in small start-up companies (his largest employed 21 people). Peter is one of the 20,000 currently employed in what sounds like an amazing but at the same time immensely demanding company.

Stuart McLaren (SQA – Web Manager) showcased how his team recently restructured the SQA main site to make it a more fluid user experience and mentioned briefly about Games-based learning assessments being developed by their eAssessment & Learning team. Would love to know more about that! Stuart also showed ‘Ask Sam’, an avatar which offers spoken assistance on a number of pre-determined topics. There was also an actor who portayed Sam on a Bebo page to allow pupils to ask more specific questions. He mentioned during his presentation that the SQA were advised on user experience by Bunnyfoot – whose presentation was possibly the most intreguing section of the workshop.

Sarah Ronald (Bunnyfoot, Edinburgh – Managing Director) talked about the “evolving field of people-based experience” over computer-based in her short presentation. Sarah was inspired by her “heroes of UX” (user experience) Don Norman and Jakob Neilson to set up the Scottish arm of Bunnyfoot in Edinburgh. We saw a great video of a user trying to find a Dr Who toy on the old Tesco website. I thought the eye-tracking visuals were fantastic and will have to try and hunt down something that can be used in class with Higher/AH Information Systems pupils. The reason behind the video, Sarah explained, was to let clients see “barriers to experience in real time”. I hope Sarah or Heriot Watt can share this video as it would be an excellent classroom resource.

Another useful resource for teachers I found at the Bunnyfoot site is a list of what they call “wireframing” apps – or websites that allow creation of UI prototypes. At my school this is still a mainly paper-based exercise from S3 to S6 (although the more ingenious start to create them in MS PowerPoint or a similar application). Neil Collman posted reviews of 4 current sites on the Bunnyfoot blog – I recommend you take a look!