I’m currently directing Earl Shank and Anthony Thompson in an independent study focused broadly on developing local games in and about Truchas, NM. Today was our midpoint meeting: a good time for reflection, goal setting, and overall planning. Lots of people have been inspired by hearing or reading about local games and want to jump in the pool themselves. But much of what already exists by way of tutorial is focused at the beginning of this process: first steps, basic software knowhow, brainstorming, etc. Either that or a total post mortem, like the chapters Jim Mathews and Mark Wagler, or Julie and I wrote in Mobile Media Learning. Writing about process now, when we’re right in the thick of it, could begin to provide one of those missing pieces for others involved in or hoping to pursue local games work, especially newcomers.
Revisit your goals for the project after work is well underway.
- List accomplishments and derive a new set of goals from those accomplishments, previous goals, and emergent themes.
- Consider internal motivations and responsibilities to external stakeholders in so doing.
- Turn high-level goals into practical deliverables and concrete steps.
For the Truchas project this week, real decisions need to made about what is feasible, what is important, and how to tie together disparate strands begun through formative research. Although they already set goals in their project proposal, for such formative, exploratory work it makes sense to almost start all over now that we know the territory a bit rather than just stick with what sounded like a good idea in the beginning (I think I learned this from agile). With a larger scale project, or one with more emphasis on a final product that must be used, you probably want to have something like this happen earlier in the cycle.
Here’s what we came up with (I’m not suggesting you read my handwriting):
This whiteboard came out of a fairly simple procedure:
Have: List all the assets that have been developed so far, including game concepts and production, soft skills mastered, relationships built, community assets discovered, etc. In this case, we have
- a testable prototype game,
- two more designs at the storyboard stage,
- documents providing background on Truchas, the land grant and its people,
- contacts made among residents and curators of the information about the place,
- some experience in the ARIS engine, and
- a sparsely written blog documenting the project.
Want: Next, we used the list of what we have to derive goals for the end of the semester and possibly beyond, but being careful about the distinction. These are products to be developed, skills to have mastered, connections to be made. In our discussion about forming these goals, the students considered input from two different directions:
- Internal – their interests, desires for personal goals, what they would like to see through and why, and
- External – their responsibilities (self-perceived in this case) to stakeholders in Truchas, the business school, and those in the broader ARIS community or even more broadly concerned with using videogames for purposes outside entertainment.
An example of an internally motivated goal is to pursue the further design of one of their game ideas even though there is not likely time to produce a playable prototype (or at least one good enough to ask others to test). The “co-op” game is a much more ambitious design than the others: technically, the possibility the resulting game will be really fun, and because the content of the game itself most closely represented a central issue in the community – the tensions involved with preserving local culture for generations to come. Their goal that represents the most external motivation is probably the intent to produce a public event in Truchas as a part of the project.
We’re not done when we’ve made these two lists (but this didn’t end up on the board). Next: making sure the goals are describable in terms of concrete deliverables, and reachable through likewise concrete steps.
Sometimes these derive in a fairly simple way from what is already begun. For their goal of producing a much more polished version of the Goblins game (based on an archived folk story they came across – in Spanish, los duendes), they simply need to find playtesters, get feedback, and iterate. They largely know the game they are trying to make and just need to make the reality better fit their vision.
Other aspects of that game’s production are less clear. Who and under what circumstances this game will be played, if at all, outside their design and testing remains up in the air. Is it for tourists to Truchas? Residents? Students at UNM? Conference attendants looking for another Dow Day? Will it satisfy their (the students) intentions to make a game that is merely inspired by Truchas, or does it need to connect more materially with the community? What possible connections are there that might not be currently obvious? The goal pictured above that has the longest way to go is the public event they wish to host. Again, this is an open-ended, exploratory project, so I’m quite okay with some of the goals being vague to the point that progress would really be defining the goal more concretely. YMMV.
So that’s a snapshot of our midpoint reflection. Again, this isn’t how it should be done, but hopefully enough of a light shone on our process to give you ideas for reflection and goal setting in other projects. All in all, I’m really excited to see where these guys get in the next eight weeks, and how they pave the way for others down the road. Also, by the time I was done playtesting their v 0.1, I was really beginning to get scared by los duendes.