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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

Fire Tag with the AEOE

Last weFireTagWithAEOEekend, as planned, I joined the annual state-wide meeting of the California Association of Environmental and Outdoor Educators (AEOE). I played some games, learned some neat stuff, and shared a bit as well.

Among other things, I taught and played Fire Tag with around twenty fine folks, some of whom were kind enough to stick around afterwards for a group photo.

Good times were had by all, and several said they were excited to take the game home and try it out with their students!

– Tim

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