News: Geneva, Judging, Diamonds, Zebra, Matter, and more!

Title

Hopefully, that was an interestingly obscure title. For sure, lots of interesting stuff has been going on.

Geneva

The Geneva School (in Florida) reached out to ask if I would be willing to donate something for their annual fundraiser. They seem like good folks, so I sent them a copy of The Puzzle of Life. The auction took place just about a month ago, on March 10th. The day after, I went to check out their online auction site, and found that The Puzzle of Life was *not* listed in the after-sale. Which means someone must have found it intriguing enough to purchase during the auction proper. :)

Judging

Judging for this year’s Serious Play Awards continues. Having reviewed my share of the analog entries, I’ve now begun working through the digital entries. They’re all over the map – wonderful, terrible, hopeful … everything. I’d say more, but that would disturb the anonymity of the process. Shhhh…

Diamonds

I was invited to be a judge for the regional qualifiers of the Diamond Challenge for High School Entrepreneurs. This is a national program with over $100K in prizes orchestrated by the University of Delaware. In essence, it is Shark Tank for high school students. So, I was a shark in the Social Benefit category. It was interesting. There was lots of creative kindness. All the ideas were full of heart. Many were short on facts. In the end, the judging came down to who had the best handle on the situation, and most knew what they were talking about.

Exploring Matter

In more core-type Mindful Mammoth news, I’ve taken several further steps on my quest to complete my first interactive e-book – Exploring Matter In Space. My editor finished reviewing the first draft (15K words) of the Teacher’s Guide for the book, and sent me a set of comments. This past week, I’ve addressed those comments by adding several additional atom-related classroom activities (4K new words), and removing words related to two now-deleted interactive features (sad realities of tight budgets in the field of educational publishing). While this continues to be a rocky process, it does yet continue, and I think the final published product will be a worthwhile book that is head-above-the-rest.

Zebra

In sad news, we have shelved Project Zebra. For now. This all started back in December with several meetings with a local entrepreneur. He was interested in using games to raise funds for transformative development technologies. These technologies are things that would, in developing areas, bring long-term and sustainable benefits all out of proportion to their initial cost. We talked over goals, I generated several broad-and-fuzzy concepts, and we then filtered them down to one core concept. I created a playable analog prototype for that concept, with the eventual goal of turning it into a working mobile/digital game. Sadly, this was a fraught process with a whole bunch of miscommunication on issues both small and severe, and we have decided to part ways. The core idea is solid (IMHO), and with some modest luck, I may someday be able to make it real. A short montage of the development process for Project Zebra ->

And more!

The next month will be full of a whole bunch of things:

  • The annual meeting of the AEOE, where I will run teach-the-teacher workshops on both Fire Tag and The Puzzle of Life
  • Taking steps towards porting Sprout to Android and iOS.
  • Various last-minute edits and improvements to the Exploring Matter e-book, and the accompanying Teacher’s Guide.

 

Thank you

In all this work, your financial and emotional support has been critically important. Invaluable even. Thank you. As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, we’re sending you a set of connected people from the playable analog prototype of Project Zebra. This is a game all about connections, and in the analog prototype, we used pushpins to represent people living on a foamboard world. When players created connections between people, we simply tied a ribbon onto each of the connected people. The color of the ribbon represents the type of connection: red for investment/health, yellow for commerce/trade, and white for war. For your safety, and for the comfort of the U.S. Postal Service, we’ve removed the sharp steel bit from the pushpins :)

Thank you,

Tim

AEOE ’18

A small but nifty piece of news: The California Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE) has accepted both of my proposals for the upcoming annual/statewide conference in late April. This means I’ll be running teach-the-teacher type workshops for both Fire Tag and The Puzzle of Life at the meeting.

In the Fire Tag workshop, I’ll run a game, host a discussion on the game, and help teacher-players to figure out how they might use Fire Tag in their own programs. Similarly, in the Puzzle workshop, I’ll introduce The Puzzle of Life, give attendees an outline of the Puzzle-based Systems and Ecosystems lesson plans, then help them figure out how they might customize the lessons for their particular audience/interests. Note that all the Fire Tag materials, and the vast majority of the Systems and Ecosystems materials, are available on a pay-what-you can basis (free from the Mindful Mammoth websites, or paid on Teachers Pay Teachers)

These workshop opportunities are a small big deal. All of the things that I have made, I have made to be used. Yet, for the most part, these things are used only within the very limited reach of my own arms. This conference is a good opportunity to share these ideas with a wider audience, and more specifically, with an audience made up of people that are actually rather likely to want to use these ideas in their own work.

So. No new chickens have hatched. But eggs abound.

– Tim

Lots o’ News

Yes, it’s been a while. A while in which lots of things were going on. In fact, there were so very many things going on that it was hard to find time to write about them.

Now, life hasn’t slowed any, but the writing bug has been neglected too long, so it’s time to give it some attention. Noteworthy happenings:

Sprout

As of today, over 34K people have ‘licensed’ Sprout on Steam. This means that they have made their way to Steam Store page for Sprout, and clicked the (inaccurately named) “play game” button to officially add the game to their Steam library. Of those 34K people, 25K have actually installed and run the game, and 16K have finished.

Also, somewhere in all that fuss, 410 people took the time to write a review, of which 95% are positive! Which is all just plain awesome!

Serious Play Awards

New year, new awards season. Once again, I am volunteering as a judge for the Serious Play Awards. Last month, I received a share of the tabletop games, gathered up a few friends, played the games, and wrote several (lengthy) reviews. This month, the digital games will start coming in, and I’ll take time out to offer constructive feedback on those as well.

Exploring Matter, In Space!

The bulk of the book design is settled. The illustrator is illustrating, and the developers are developing, which meant it was time for me to write the next piece – the Teacher’s Guide.

While anyone can read and enjoy this book, the target audience is practicing classroom teachers. These fine folks are notoriously overworked. To help them get the most out of the book with the least amount of additional effort, I wrote a 15K word Teacher’s Guide. The guide gives background and history on some of the key ideas and experiments in the book, and offers suggestions for hands-on projects and exercises to help students understand the nature of matter.

AEOE

The Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (AEOE) is the umbrella professional organization for environmental and outdoor educators in California. Basically, they’re what the name says, and they’re good people.

Some years ago, I went to their annual weekend conference. I taught a short workshop on leaves, attended a random sampling of lectures and workshops, and just generally hung out with a bunch of creative, interesting, and like-minded people. It was great.

The 2018 conference is going to be in Malibu, which is not so far from home. So when the call for presenters came out, I took time to write up several workshop ideas, and put those in the pot.

Zebra

Two weeks ago, I signed a short-term contract to do initial development on a small digital game. Codename: Zebra. Very broadly, the game is promote understanding and action around agriculture, poverty, and development in Africa. This initial phase consists of research, prototyping, game design, and the creation of a vertical-slice-y tech demo in Unity. If this first phase goes well, we may then follow up with a longer contract in which Mindful Mammoth will take the game through to publication. I plan to be a little secretive on this topic, at least for a few months, until we have settled on a concrete direction.

THANKS!

As a special thanks to those who have supported us at the $10/month (and above) level during Feb and March, we’re sending each of you a pair of prints: near-final illustrations from the Exploring Matter e-book. Tweaks need yet be made, but these illustrations give a good preview of what the final book will look like.

Thank you,

Tim

December Updates: Sprout, Fire Tag, Exploring Matter

I missed a month. There was no official November news roundup! Apologies. That’s not because there was no news. Rather, that’s because life was even busier than usual.

I finished the second draft of Exploring Matter, in Space. This was a major revision, backing away from overly-ambitious interactivity (budget constraints), and re-envisioning the book as something more like an enhanced picture book. I’m now awaiting feedback from other folks on this project. I expect we’ll need one more revision, this time for details of continuity and wording. Then, it ought to be finished!

Mindful Mammoth now has an Itch.io storefront (here), where you can buy a print-and-play copy of Fire Tag for the cost of pay-what-you-want. It’s a nice thing in general, as well as being a useful step on the way towards publishing Sprout.

SunflowerSeeds_tweakSpeaking of – Sprout is almost ready, and we’re on track for a simultaneous release to Itch and Steam in just seventeen days, on 12/20! The game portion of the project is finished (test builds available here), and I’m now working on the publishing side of things. This means setting up accounts, and integrating Steamworks for achievements and leaderboards. Keep your fingers crossed. Seventeen days!

As always, this work has lots of social value, but tends to be materially underfunded (or unfunded). Which is where your help becomes critically important. Big thanks to all of our patrons.

As a special thanks to those who have supported us at the $10/month (and above) level during the last two months, we’re sending each of you small packet of sunflower seeds. With these, you can grow your own sunny sunflowers, and have botanical beauty both inside your digital tools (via Sprout) and outside (via these sprouts). Thank you.

– Tim

Sprout is ready! Playtesters needed!

VidThumbnailThis is RC1, which means it is fully playable with no obvious bugs. Now we need to find and catch the remaining rough patches and subtle bugs. Download the game, give it a whirl, then let me know what you find, and what you think.

Builds for Mac OSX and Windows are in the cloud here.

Sprout is a brilliantly creative, bite-sized, point-and-click puzzle adventure from Jeff Nusz. While he built the game for fun, the ecology of the game is grounded in fact, and the combination of fun and ecology makes this a remarkably effective learning tool – one that I’ve frequently used in classes and lesson plans.

The original version of the game was built in Flash, which was once a cool technology, but is now on the way out. Officially scheduled for retirement in 2020. Wanting to keep the game alive, I volunteered to rebuild it in Unity. Which brings us to today! RC1 of Sprout Resprouted is ready for play and playtesting. Please, give it a try. Then, let me know what you find and what you think.

– Tim

We’re on Itch

MM_Plus_Itch-01

This is a good thing. Itch.io is the most open and free of gaming storefronts. Any and all are welcome. This means that Itch hosts designers from the youngest of snowflakes to the most crotchety of veterans, and has games that run the gamut from art to advocacy to tabletop to VR.

IndieCade have partnered with Itch to create an IndieCade storefront on Itch.io here – which is a major vote of confidence for Itch. Additionally, IndieCade has offered a space on this storefront to all selections and nominees from 2016 onwards. Given that Fire Tag is an Official Selection of IndieCade ’16, and now also on itch.io, the IndieCade storefront will soon expand include us as well.

If you’re on Itch, you can follow Mindful Mammoth from our profile page here. You can also download and review Fire Tag from the game page here. As always, social-type support is a huge help. By following Mindful Mammoth and Fire Tag on itch.io, you can help us to build a better world through play.

– Tim

The IndieCade Report

IndieCade happened! As usual, it was exhausting, wonderful, and varied. My talk went over well, as did the rest of the Game Design Microtalks session. I’d say we had a clean sweep of cool and interesting speakers (myself included :). All delightfully different. The session room was packed, the chairs were all full, and folks were standing along the walls. After it was over, I had a number of really thoughtful folks come and talk with me afterwards. Which is really the best part of IndieCade – the opportunity to talk shop with smart, diverse, and creative people.

On Saturday morning, The Puzzle of Life attracted a number of curious people who took time to sit and construct some possible worlds. My modding sample – a man eating tiger that poops, and whose poop was gathered by a cheerful dung beetle – was sadly underappreciated.

I had the opportunity to play a bunch of random games. Some were surprisingly bland, which is really unusual for IndieCade. However, others were rather amazing!

Notable mentions:

  • Mendel – A gently beautiful scientific sandbox about plants, exploration, and genetics. Even if I wasn’t a botanist, I’d still love this game.
  • Crescent Loom – Which was not on exhibit at IndieCade. Rather, the creator caught up with me after my talk, and we got to chatting about our shared interest in science, games, and biology. It’s a KSP-like where you construct squiggly critters that run on hand-crafted neural networks. Like with actual neurons that you draw. It has a steep learning curve, but it’s really really interesting. Early Access on io now. Highly recommended!
  • Visitor in Blackwood Grove: From the folks at Tiltfactor and Resonym, ViBG was designed to help players learn to use inductive reasoning. Super interesting premise. I had a fairly long conversation with the designer. They are very much into games for good, but using a fairly different design strategy, one that I would do well to incorporate into my own work.
  • Quench: Currently in late beta. It’s a story-driven, nature/physics puzzler. While it wasn’t intended as a learning game, the beautiful design, interesting puzzles, and thoughtfully simulated world all fit together into a fun and interesting combo. A combo with lots of possibilities for teaching, learning, and inspiration.

– Tim

October Updates: Book, Sloth, and INDIECADE!

Slothapottomous Rex. In a tree. Unable to sleep for all the human hullaballoo. Dreaming of a post-apocalyptic peace, when all the humans are dead.There have been several major things going on this month. And in all that goings on, there is both good news and bad news.

Regarding the interactive book project. The official production estimate came it. Turns out that the projected cost of this book is over ten times the production budget. So. Even more than expected. Sux. In consultation with the editor, I’ve cut out 90% of the proposed interactions: all the dialog trees, the culminating mini-game, and various odds and ends. That was incredibly painful, but the good news is that we now have a workable plan. The book will be finished and published, and it will be smaller than I’d hoped, but it will *be*.

The school year is now in full swing, so I’m working hard on teaching classes and designing classes at One Spark Academy. One of our new offerings this year is Popsicle Engineering – and I’m very proud of it. From the official class description:

What would you do with a thousand holey popsicle sticks, a thousand bolts, a thousand nuts (the threaded steel kind), and a team of friends? Build something awesome, of course! Following in the spirit of the venerable Scrapheap Challenge and the inestimable Junkyard Wars, we will split students into teams, and challenge these teams to engineer solutions to terrifying tasks.

The gamer in me demanded an overarching narrative structure for the class, in vague LARP-style. Thus was born Slothapottomous Rex, the ancient and fuzzy god of laziness. Tired of being kept awake by centuries of human hullabaloo – wars and wonders and rock music and airplanes and reality television and more – SPR (as he is known to his friends) has begun the construction of a Doomsday Device. With this Device, SPR plans to wipe the planet clean of life, leaving him finally free to get some uninterrupted sleep (attached photo). Brave engineers from the kingdom of Zalazoo – can you stop him in time? So far, my students have been really into it.

Last but not least, IndieCade will be here in less than a week. I love IndieCade very much because it always feels like my people. It’s a scant three days in which to share knowledge, experience, games, and fun with friends, colleagues, and the world! On Friday, I’ll share some of my experience with educational game design in the afternoon Game Design Microtalks session. On Saturday, I’ll bring out The Puzzle of Life for the Game Tasting event. And the rest of the time – I’ll enjoy talks, games, colleagues, and friends. All good stuff!

All these tasks are full of joy and hard work. Very hard work. Work that is only possible with your support and company. Thank you.

As a special thanks to Patrons who have supported us at the $10/month (and above) level during October, we’re sending each of you a one-of-a-kind letter, straight from the claws of Slothapottomous Rex. Enjoy! And again, thank you.

– Tim

 

September Updates: Systems and Ecosystems, Sprout, and IndieCade

What’s been going on? As usual, a huge variety of challenging and interesting stuffs.

The school year has launched, and I’ve begun teaching several STEAM classes at One Spark Academy. Among those classes is an updated version of Systems and Ecosystems, this time with a unit on ecological footprints. By tracing flows of matter and energy backwards through the pieces in The Puzzle of Life, players can get a rough estimate of the ecological footprint of various plants, animals, and humans. From this, players can learn why tree-huggers tend to be vegetarian, why there will always be many more rabbits than bobcats, and more!

In other news, I’ve made big progress with Sprout. The end of production is in sight. After that comes publishing – first to Steam and Itch, and (fortune willing) to Android devices via the Google Play store. This will be our first published digital product, expanding breadth of our portfolio, and the scope of our consulting opportunities.

Last but not least, IndieCade comes! On Friday afternoon, I will be one of the speakers at the Game Design Microtalks. Then on Saturday, I will share The Puzzle of Life at IndieCade’s Game Tasting event.

Really! IndieCade is just about the best thing ever. If you make a point to come, I promise you won’t regret it!

– Tim