June News: Brain Soup?

With endings ended, it is time for some new beginnings. Sprout is fully sprouted, Exploring Matter is explorable, my first term of teaching at at ArtCenter is successfully taught, and graduating OSA students have graduated. For the first time in two years, there is time and space for something new.

The possibilities are endless! But the available time is finite. I have a backlog of game ideas that deserve doing. All of them are bigger than we can reasonably do in a summer, including DROMP, the cloud game I’ve been aiming at for years. So, I marked out two days for brainstorming, and came up with several new ideas that deserve doing – all of which turned out to bigger than we can reasonably do in a summer.

Fortunately, I have friends. One of them reminded me that, when her students come up with a concept that is out of scope, something bigger than can be done with the resources at hand, she counsels them to pick a piece of that idea, and just build the piece. That’s great advice. In fact, when my students have that same problem, I give them that same good advice. Oddly (or not), I was unable to give myself that advice when I needed it. I am, once again, grateful for my friends.

The plan is this: to begin building an anthology of small digital science toys and games. We would publish the anthology as a single ‘game’ on Steam, via Early Access, and slowly add new items as time and funding permit. Note that most of these will be toys, rather than games. They will be pieces excerpted from larger game concepts, fun mechanics that are open-ended, and hopefully invite 20-60 minutes of exploration. Plus achievements, to help motivate and reward said exploration, for those who like achievements.

Ultimately, fate permitting, the anthology grow to include 5 – 10 playful science bits, and exit Early Access into official publication. It will then be a sort of Brain Soup, a curious melting pot of digital dumpling-toys and tasty-treatlike-minigames. So maybe we’ll call it Brain Soup. Or not. Suggestions welcomed.

The first toy will be an algebraic creature constructor, with the working title of Numerologist. This constructor is the core tool of what might someday be a game of mathematical zookeeping, or veterinarification, or something like that (photo shows paper prototype). For now, it shall be a standalone toy.

Once again, thank you all for your support. There is a world of joy in innovation, in building wonderfully odd things that have never been built before. There is utility as well, in the way that unexpected surprises can inspire curiosity and learning. There is often very little support, which makes this challenging. Your help makes a huge difference, so I hope you’re looking forward to sharing a bowl of brain soup with us (whatever that soup ultimately gets named).

As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a pair of hand-drawn math creatures, from last week’s brainstorming / prototyping session. They’re rather cute and curious.

Thank you,

– Tim

 

 

 

Sprout Resprouted – And other springy news

You may recall, in the last major news update, I received an unexpected invitation to join the faculty of ArtCenter College of Design, to teach in their just-launched Game Design program. There wasn’t really time in my schedule to create and teach a new class, but it was a great opportunity, so I agreed to do it anyways. This made me a more-than-full-time teacher for most of the past fourteen weeks, working 6-7 days per week to create, manage, and teach various classes. Yikes.

As of last week, my first term at ArtCenter is now happily concluded. The class had some lumps, as all first-time endeavors do. Yet, it ended well. Overall, I think this faculty position is a good fit, and a win-win for both ArtCenter and for myself. I look forward to continuing. Come fall, when the program returns from summer break, I’ll know better what’s coming, and be able to organize a better balance of teaching, making, and living.

And! That’s not all. In the scant bits of in-between time, we’ve managed to wrap up some long-running projects.

Most notably, Sprout is finally all done and finished and published and done and done! Last year, we successfully published to Itch and Steam. After some months of experiment, and adaptation, and pauses while I digressed into other projects, we finally finished the iOS and Android editions of the game. As of last week, Sprout is available to the world (free) on iOS (Apple Store) and Android (via Play Store). With Sprout published and working on all four target platforms, we have finally achieved a full and happy conclusion to this project. Go us!

In a smaller but still worthwhile win, Exploring Matter In Space has been updated, and is now available in the sort-of-intended design. You may remember that it was officially published last October, in heartbreakingly flawed form. Discussion and anger ensued, updates were made, and the book is now in acceptable shape. Which is nice.

Also. The Rose Valley Game Jam happened (photos). It turns out that the Pasadena school district has a games/programming track for their high school students. I hadn’t been aware of this, but it turns out to be a pretty cool program. As part of that, a partnership of various groups (city of Pasadena, ArtCenter, Caltech, and others), planned and hosted a weekend game jam for these high school students. Representing both ArtCenter and myself, I volunteered as an “industry mentor”, and spent the weekend helping students to turn their ideas into a working, digital reality. The students were capable and creative, and I was overall really impressed with them. While necessarily rough, every game also had at least a spark of brilliance. It’s worth saying again – I was impressed.

Last and least, but still notable – I finished the final revision of the Fire Tag chapter for the third volume of Learning, Education, and Games book series: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom & Beyond. The whole anthology of 100 chapters is now off to the publishers for final editing and whatnot. The book should then be out later this year.

What’s next? With three major projects wrapped up and done (Sprout, Exploring Matter, and LEG3), there is time for something new! I have a long list of things I wish I could do, of projects that could be awesome – if only someone could do them right. This summer, I’ll take one, build it out, and see what we can make of it.

My first choice of projects would be DROMP – the game of tactical cloud combat. I think there’s loads of potential here. The problem is that bringing it to fruition, to the point that it could bring fun to players and earn revenue for us, is likely a 6-12 month project – whereas summer is just three months long. This means that, from an economic and production perspective, DROMP isn’t the best choice. It may be that a different, smaller project would be a better option at this time. So I plan to spend the next few weeks exploring possibilities – dreaming dreams, writing design docs, creating some rough paper prototypes, and consulting with friends. Based on this work, we’ll then pick the next project, give it a summer of serious attention, and see where it goes.

As always, this work is both joyful and difficult, with challenges that are technical, financial, and emotional. Because of this, success is only possible with the kind support of many fine folks folks. Thank you.

As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a set of silly feature stickers. Think Mr. Potato Head, but flatter. They’re a simple, silly pleasure for the young-at-heart.

Happy spring!

– Tim

On The Pod: Talaterra

Mindful Mammoth and Talaterra LogosTwo weeks ago, Tania Marien interviewed me for Talaterra – her podcast about freelance educators working in natural resource fields and environmental education. That episode is now live, and you can find it on her website, on iTunes, on Google Play Music, and several other places around the ‘net.

I met Tania at last year’s statewide meeting of the Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE), where she was running a session on what it was like to be a freelance environmental educator. As one of said freelance educator folks, she has taken it upon herself to examine the freelance educator condition in order to 1) promote the value of freelance educators 2) help build a network of freelance educators and 3) help build support for the work that we do so that we may continue to make a positive impact upon the world. Which is all idealistic, wonderful, and practical as well. As one aspect of that work, she has begun producing a regular podcast – Talaterra, on which I am the latest guest. A real honor 🙂

If you’re interested in a short summary of goings on at Mindful Mammoth, and some musings on what it is to be a freelance/indie creator, you should dial into the podcast and give it a listen. You can find the episode here.

– Tim

January News: Sad, Tantalizing, and Interesting

Across these past two months, multiple metaphorical yarn balls have wound, unwound, knotted, knitted, and a whole bunch of other verbs as well.

The Very Sad News

You may recall that the NSTA published our book project, Exploring Matter, with several egregious errors. After multiple conversations, the NSTA and I finally managed to agree on a set of changes to fix the problems. My NSTA contacts agreed to put those changes into the update queue, and told me that the update would likely be out by the end of calendar 2018.

December 31st came around, I decided to check on the book, and I found that there was indeed an update! Hopeful and scared, I downloaded the update, and flipped to the problematic chapter. There, I found an incomplete implementation of our agreed upon changes. Of the items on our update list, some were done, and some were inexplicably left undone. It felt like a kick in the gut. I have rarely been so disappointed.

With this partial update, the concluding chapter of the book is better than it was, but still deeply flawed. I am currently working on writing an evidence-based breakup letter to the NSTA. I had thought that this book might be the start of a fruitful, multi-book partnership. I suppose that may still happen someday, in the way that all things are possible. Right now, just I’m too sad and angry.

I’ll share the letter on the $2+ Patreon channel in a few days, when it’s finished. It’s worth sharing carefully.

The Tantalizing News

Sprout is really, really, almost, almost, almost ready for a mobile release. A year after we released it on Mac and PC, it’s doing just great on Steam. As of this exact moment (5:28 PM PT), exactly 39,579 people have played Sprout on Steam. Of those 39,579 people, precisely 782 have written reviews, 95% of which are positive!

In that same time, since our Steam release, I’ve been squeaking out small advances on Sprout. This means updating the build to maximize performance on mobile devices, and learning how to deal with the two main mobile sales platforms: Google Play and Apple’s App Store. I believe Sprout is all ready to go, and I’m just waiting for a final thumbs-up from Jeff. He’s already found one bug, so there may be others still hiding, but I’m pretty sure I’ve now got them all. If not yet, then very, very soon.

So, stay tuned for final news about Sprout on mobile! Any day now.

The Interesting Career News

As of today, I am officially an instructor at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. It’s kind of a big deal. In two weeks, I will begin teaching game production in their newly born Game Design program. So far, I feel quite good about this. All the people that I have met have been competent, kind, and excited to do the difficult work of making beautiful things. Which is amazing!

The next fourteen weeks will be nuts. I will be a full time teacher: science and math at OSA, and game production at ArtCenter. I will post occasional updates here, but there will be no noticeable motion on any Mindful Mammoth projects.

And yet! One of the major obstacles in all of our science/game projects has been money. Several worthy projects have simply ground to a halt because we could not take time away from paid projects. With the funds from this new job, I will have the freedom to use this summer to take some risks, and (fingers crossed) make big strides in at least one of these long-postponed projects.

The punchline is that the next fourteen weeks will be rather quiet here, but the three months of summer should bring at least one amazing advance. In short, I’m excited about this new job both for the job itself, but also for the creative opportunities that it will enable.

Thank you

Twenty eighteen was a complicated year with small triumphs, medium triumphs, and significant sadnesses. With Sprout and Exploring Matter soon to come to an official close, I look forward to taking some of my favorite ideas out of the storage closet, and bringing them into the world with quality and class.

Thank you all for your company and your help. None of this would have been possible without you. As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a cheesy bumper sticker from ArtCenter. It’s out of keeping with the usual style of swag, but highly relevant. This new job is a big deal that could lead to significant positive impacts to our science gaming projects. Fingers crossed!

Thank you all. Keep in touch!

– Tim

November News: GLL Con, and Exploring Matter notes

Let’s see. Since last we talked, Game Level Learn Con ’18 happened. GLL is a small but growing community of folks interested in the intersection of games and education. Folks like us! This first-ever GLL Con brought together 25 quality people to share, play, and converse around our shared interest in learning and games.

At the Con, I ran two workshops. The first, Designing Effective Learning Games, was a friendly workshop where I presented some examples and best practices, then helped attendees to begin thinking about how to go about creating the games that they wanted to create. In second workshop, Systems and Ecosystems, I introduced teachers to the Puzzle of Life -based curriculum (here) that I developed. This curriculum helps students to learn about nature and to practice systems thinking. The above picture shows me (background) working with teachers and game designers at the Systems and Ecosystems  workshop. You can find the slide decks for both talks here.

In other news, I am continuing to talk with the NSTA folks about patching our e-book, Exploring Matter In Space. They have agreed that something ought to be done, but we are still working out the details. We have a conversation planned for later today where we aim to finalize our plans for a patch, so that those plans can then be put into action.

I continue to be grateful to have the company of friends and patrons in this quest to help build a better world through play. As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you a random sampling of cards from one of the very first versions of Fire and Flora. Why? Last month, my former supervisor at SAMO (and good friend) was cleaning out her office, found some artifacts from early prototypes of the game, and mailed them to me. I thought it was a cool blast from the past, and so I wanted to share.

Thank you all. Keep in touch!

– Tim

Inspiring Games from IndieCade ‘18

Once again, IndieCade has come and gone. Once again, it was amazing and exhausting – though in a very different way from previous years.

As a start, I want to call out some of my favorite games. All of these games are seriously indie. They are made by people with amazing skill and heart, and worth your time and your support. You know how you’re always wondering what you can do to make a difference in this ever-crazier world? You can give these games and creators as much support as you can: money on Itch, likes on Facebook, wishlists or buys on Steam, and kind words anywhere you can.

  • Exposure: A really elegant, challenging, and original action/puzzle game. At first glance, it looks a bit like an artsy knockoff of Ikaruga. Don’t be fooled! The Exposure team started with a similar color-change mechanic, but then took the game in a wonderfully different direction. Can’t wait till it’s out on Steam.
  • Our Good Leader: An open-world, point-and-click, adventure-mystery that is most definitely not set in North Korea. Still in early stages, it seems to have interesting characters, compelling story, and usefully troubling themes.
  • Blindfold: My maybe favorite game of IndieCade. It’s a light, tactical, party game that uses everyday pencil and paper in a truly brilliantly manner. It is a good game on its own merits, and an especially good game for me. I’d thought I was a highly creative person, but playing this game made me realize that I’ve been stuck in a sort of creative tunnel vision, and reminded me that games can be so much more than we realize. Thanks, Blindfold.
  • Unicornelia: My other maybe favorite game of IndieCade. It’s oddly not that much fun to play, but brilliant for the premise and the props and the way they fit together seamlessly. I played it twice, walked away, recruited a friend, then went back and had him take photos while I played it a third time.
  • Shrug Island: The beautiful brainchild of a single person (though built by a team). The gameplay is a little confusing, but the art, animation, sound, and themes are genius.

Try ‘em out!

– Tim

October News: Book, Book, and IndieCade

What books, you ask? Well, there’s the third volume of the Learning, Education, and Games series (a.k.a. LEG3). This one will be titled, 100 Games for the Classroom, and one of those games will be Fire Tag. Each game gets a 1000 word chapter that outlines the game: rules, goals, and how to use it in a classroom setting. I’ve put more time into these thousand words than into any thousand other words I’ve ever written. In September, I submitted the third (and likely final) major revision of those words. The editor is now in the process of reading all the hundred thousand words, in preparation for publishing sometime next year.

Next, there is Exploring Matter In Space. It’s a thing! Published last Friday! And buggy. Dog. There is a whole, long, fraught story behind the development of this book – gigantic dreams cut small by budgetary realities. You know … good deeds … they just don’t pay like they used to. Even the NSTA, big as they are, with all the money that they have, is stretched thing by the ludicrously large task of advancing science education in the muddle of modern-day America. Hence, the smallish production budget for this book. This is the most expensive e-book they’ve ever made, and yet it contains barely a tenth of the interactive bits that we had hoped for. If it’s successful, maybe we can do another, bigger one. We shall see. Fingers crossed.

Editorializing aside, the end result is an interactive e-book that has a lot to love, and one major bug. As we speak, I’m working with the publisher to try and find the simplest reasonable solution. If we can get that fixed, then I’ll upgrade my status from concerned to content, and toot the book around more loudly.

IndieCade! Next weekend, IndieCade will happen. It is possibly my favorite event of the year, Halloween included. It just feels like my people. It’s a rare treat to spend time with even a few of these folks, and a once-a-year-wonder to be able to hang around with the whole kaboodle.

This year, IndieCade invited me to be their first-ever, field-trips coordinator (volunteer job). They’ve had limited field trips in each of the last two years, and wanted to take it up a notch this year. Much as I hate being an administrator, bringing kids to IndieCade is a wonderful good, so I agreed. We now have 300+ students from across SoCal coming to IndieCade to play games, make games, meet developers, and grow their understanding of what games can be and do. It’s been a highly stressful job, at least for me. But I’ve done what I can, and I think we’ve got good odds of being successful. Fingers crossed here too.

Thank you all for working with me to make this happen. All these projects – book, book, and IndieCade – are wonderful social goods with rather poor pay. To make these things possible takes a lot of time, effort, skill, and significant help from friends. Thank you.

As an extra special thanks to those of you who supported us at the $10/month level and above, I’ll be sending you two things: a signed copy of the LEG chapter, and an individual login for NSTA Press that will give you access to both Exploring Matter and the accompanying Exploring Matter Teacher’s Guide.

Again, thank you all for your support. Hope to see you at IndieCade. It’s just about the best thing ever.

– Tim

August News: Events of The Long Quiet

Yes, it’s been two months. I mustache you to forgive me for the delay. Was it necessary? Was there really no time to blog? Not even a little bit? Pretty much.

During the last seven weeks, I worked as the videogame design instructor for Six Points Sci-Tech West. Rarely have I worked so hard or had so much fun in such a short time.

When I accepted the job, I expected that I would have time to work on my own projects in the evenings. On occasion, I did indeed have time to do that, but for the most part I did not. What with creating and reworking lesson plans, hanging out with kids, supporting various events, and being backup for counselors, it was intense. Rewarding, but intense.

During these seven weeks, I was a design and programming coach. I offered kids three development tools – Twine, Scratch, and GameMaker – then helped guide them through the process of game development. We did some pie-in-the-sky brainstorming, built several paper prototypes, jumped into digital development, did a little semi-formal playtesting, and then we showcased their projects at the end-of-camp Sci Fest.

For their games, the two core requirements were: fun AND good. That is, the games should be fun and AND somehow help to make the world a better place. For sure, fun is a worthwhile goal and a real goodness on its own, but why stop there when there is so much more that you could do?

Whew.

All that said, I did have time for little bits of Mindful Mammothy stuff. I continued my volunteer work as an IndieCade judge, reviewing several more games. In slightly bigger news, IndieCade invited me to be the (volunteer) field trip coordinator for the upcoming 2018 games festival.

What does that mean? Well, for the past two years, IndieCade has invited kids from local schools (particularly those with game design programs) to attend. This year, they want to be a little more formal and organized, and it’ll be my job to help make that happen.

In totally different news, I bought a new laptop. One of these. I’d call it an upper-middle-class working laptop. Which is kind of a big deal. I try hard to use things for as long as they’re usable. This saves money and helps me to be the humble citizen of the Earth that I want to be. Thing is, my current/former laptop was getting a little funky – the headphone jack was fiddly, the web camera was broken, and about once a week it would either power down for no reason or fail to boot. So I figured it was time to get a new one.

This brings me to the most important issue: thanks. Being an idealistic indie remains a tough job – volunteering for IndieCade (and others), releasing free games (Sprout), and making sure kids have the kind of high-quality hands-on experiences that teacher salaries don’t really cover. Yet, with your help, I can juuuust squeak by and keep making good things happen. Thank you.

As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, I’ll be sending you a mustache. Why? Well, my current/former laptop has a mustache. For the sake of continuity, I feel that it’s important for my new laptop to have a mustache as well. And because we’re all in this together, I’d like to give you that option as well. Maybe we can make the mustache a symbol of the games for good movement. Or not. But it’s a worthy goal and worth the effort.

Tim

June News: Bits, pieces, books, and games

The last year has been busy. Too busy. So busy that I was starting to grump at students and friends, and losing my ability to find the fun in the things I love. So I decided to back off a bit, making May a relatively easy month.

Not easy in the absolute sense, but you know, relatively easy. I finished out my piece of the school year at my wonderfully oddball teaching job; put in a proposal to run several workshops at a conference this fall; made several more rounds of updates to the teacher’s guide of the Exploring Matter e-book; revised my chapter for the forthcoming third volume of Learning Education and Games (a.k.a LEG3); and did some work for IndieCade as a friendly, volunteer juror. Some of the tasks were hard, but most of them were also pretty short.

In the between times, I did a bunch of quieter things. I read This is Not a Werewolf Story, which I strongly recommend. I played a smattering of weird and interesting single player digital games, including Gorogoa (a wonderfully weird and beautiful puzzle game), Duelyst (my favorite digital CCG), and Cultist Simulator (grindy, creepy, and addictive). I also met up with some friends for our monthly game of Near and Far (loads of easygoing storyful fun). Last but not least, yesterday, I took a hike up a river with some friends. And by ‘up a river’, I mean we walked out to the middle of the river, made a right, and walked up it. Because we could. Which was great!

Most of June and July will be filled with teaching, as I develop and teach the videogame design thread for Six Points Sci-Tech West, a summer camp for nerdy kids. I imagine they are like I was at their age. In the between times, I may do a little Mammothish work. Perhaps finally port Sprout to iOS and Android. But I’m still feeling burned out, so I may push that back to August. August will likely be big-time passion project month (Sprout and DROMP and maybe others). We shall see.

Thank you all for your continued support. This wasn’t a swagful month, but it was a meaningful one, so I’ll do something slightly different. As a special thanks for those of you who supported us at the $10 / month level and above, I’ll be sending you a personal, hand-written thank-you letter.

Thank you,

Tim

May MM News: Electric Books and Outdoor Ed

The big happening was of course the annual statewide meeting of the Association for Environmental and Outdoors Education (AEOE). It’s a two-day weekend conference that opened with a group hug. Which was awesome. I then spent the rest of the day as a learner, sitting in on a lecture, exploring a series of population-oriented classroom activities, and taking part in a blindfolded drum stalk.

Come Sunday, I switched roles, and became a teacher. I opened by running a game of Fire Tag. We had a great time as everyone played out their role – chasing, fleeing, burning, and pouring. We used real water, which left us with a bunch of happily soggy players. Several said that they were excited to use the game with their own students. (photo here)

Later in the day, I ran a Puzzle-based program for a group of classroom educators. I use the Puzzle of Life to tell the Yellowstone Story, then walked them through the (free) Systems and Ecosystems lesson plans, and gave them the opportunity to craft their own set of pieces based on their own interests. This was a smaller group, which is not surprising given that the AEOE leans towards outdoors and informal education. But again, several folks were really excited about the ideas in this program, and looking forward to adapting these ideas for the students and ecosystems in their home space.

Overall, the conference was a wonderful experience. Good times with good people, united in a desire to help build a stronger world with beauty, kindness, and an appreciation of nature.

In subtler news, progress continues on my e-book, Exploring Matter. I think we’ve settled the text and design for the book itself. Much production work remains to be done (revisions to illustrations, and programming of interactions). We also need to do at least one more round of revisions to the teacher’s guide, to keep it in sync with the book. But we’re close! And the late-draft illustrations are really exciting.

This is hard, complicated, joyful, expensive work – and it wouldn’t be possible without your help. 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 three prints of late-draft illustrations from Exploring Matter. The printer cut the margins a little short (urg), but you’ll still get the picture. Har har 🙂

– Tim