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How I used XNA Game Studio in the classroom Part 2

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This post is a little late; I was meaning to write it back in the last week of the holidays and this first term has been rather busy with a new head teacher, the rain, new junior classes and new computers to set up in my classroom.

Just to set the scene, I have two stage 5 classes, one is IST (which I had not taught before) and the other is Multimedia.  In my previous post I showed how I have been using XNA Game Studio in IST for Windows Phone 7 game development (see post here).

In multimedia I wanted something more substantial, something that like web design could be used as a means of income or personal benefit. I had been buying books, Evernoting (if that’s the term lol) every blog and article I could find on XNA to help me develop a course which would be easy enough for my students to follow and build on. In term 3 last year I used a section from an online source (which has since disappeared) with my year 11 Multimedia class so they had a base side scrolling game on which to develop from. This however turned out to be a total fail, the students simply did not understand the concepts of game making in a code based environment.

Just to be clear if you were wondering, XNA Game Studio is not a game engine like the Unreal engine or Unity 3D, it is a framework from Microsoft which uses C# as its managed language, Visual Studio as its coding environment and is simply a framework or set of API’s which are used to develop games for the Xbox, Windows and Windows Phone 7 platforms.

I was struggling for a way to in which teach to XNA with meaning and purpose. At close to the same time that Coding4Fun dropped the tower defence game for Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s Faculty Resource Centre also dropped some XNA goodness. Now the Microsoft Faculty Resource Centre already had some XNA resources though these were aimed at university level. The new XNA resource was aimed directly at high schools. Game Development with XNA: Semester 1 – Appendix by Pat Yongpradit was what I was trying to come up with. Pat’s resource is developed using an existing Microsoft book written by Rob Miles Learn Programming with XNA (which you can download here or here for free). Pat’s course develops further the concepts found in the book and can be used with both XNA 3.0-3.1 and the newer 4.0.

At this stage sadly I have nothing in which I can show to you of what the students have learned. We started the course in term 4 last year and are only just at part 2 which involves concepts like multiplayer games, sound effects, timing, game design, reading text input from the player, object-orientated programming and two dimensional arrays.

Given how the IT situation is in our schools with software and the filter there have been a few hiccups along the way which have needed work rounds. With my school still being Windows XP at the start, we were using Visual Studio 2008 and XNA 3.0-3.1. There are extension sections built into the course to keep the gifted students challenged as well, I have 3-4 students (the class has only 15 students) really trying their hardest to complete these. The course also focuses on using the Xbox gamepad when developing games and somewhat at the expense of the keyboard and mouse. These however can be purchased off eBay fairly cheaply.

As yet Pat has not released the promised Semester 2 course. If the second course does not drop in time I will have the students take what they know and develop a game over two terms for the Xbox.

If you have any ideas on teaching for XNA Game Studio I would love to hear from you and if you would like to start using it with your classes and want some pointers drop us a line

Written by theMolisticView

March 11th, 2012 at 1:22 pm

How I used XNA Game Studio in the classroom Part 1

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The last term was an extremely busy time, the last 9 weeks of year 9 IST was no different. I was originally planning to have the class start on Lego NXT Robotics having purchased 3 kits in late term 3 however there was a delivery issue with the battery charger for the kits. So I had a choice to make, move on with the basics of Lego robotics or try something else. At around the same time in which I was making my this decision I visited the Microsoft Channel 9 Coding4fun website. Released earlier in the year was Script TD, a simple tower defense game for Windows Phone 7. Script TD is a simple tower defense game which uses XML as the format to easily change gameplay and based on an open source, perfect for IST.

ScriptTD Home screen

So if you have been following along this year, you would already realise that developing for Windows Phone requires Vista or Windows 7 based computers. My school has yet to come into this decade re operating systems being stuck on XP. Luckily for my students I have 4 laptops for them to use running Windows 7 along with all the typical designer software. Other then needing Windows 7 (who really still uses Vista?) there are no other required pieces of hardware, you can do all the work in the phone emulator with no need for a phone. I have 2 HTC HD7 Windows Phones so I chose to go a little further.

To complicate things a little further, I was asked to head my schools participation in the DEC’s Google Apps trial. A little unprepared for this I chose to throw Google Apps into the mix for term also. My immediate use for Google Apps with this project would be the collaborative abilities of docs and the ease of use of Google Sites so each of the 4 groups in the class could have a site designed specifically around their tower defense game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by theMolisticView

December 22nd, 2011 at 2:11 am

Windows 7 Ultimate A month on

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When does Windows 7 SP1 arrive?? Now Windows 7 is a major improvement for the windows platform. It leaves Vista for dead (which I have only used for 2 days in total). Now I don’t know if it is because I have a DET copy, but my version of Windows 7 is extremely buggy as is my Office 2007 suite. Windows 7 as with my first PC in 2002 on XP does not like some older or computer specific third party applications. My Toshiba has finger print recognition software for login and passwords. There is no problem logging in to the machine, but when you use an application that requires a username and password one day it works the next day it needs a shut down and re-boot. A simple restart does not work with this.

Some popular third party applications still do not support the AERO features of Windows 7. Personally this does not bother me as I find most of the Aero features useless. The only one I like is the window resizing for multiple windows of one application. The shake to show only one open window, drag to the top or side to make full screen width etc are of no use to me while the features that have always been in previous Windows OS are still there such as the maximise button, alt + tab, show desktop etc.

Windows 7 itself has little problems also. The self changing backgrounds slow the system, when there changing in the middle of an action in multiple applications it also disrupts podcast play back. Notification sounds disappear and reappear at will. Occasionally applications do not start by clicking on their icon, after a restart all’s good again but those restarts are a pain. Also I am not big on how the folder directory works in both Vista and Windows 7. It is simply too complicated compared to XP and all other OS’s on the market.

One of the best improvements I have found is the codec support out of the box in Media Player. It supports all the Apple file types and more.

Office 2007 for non-commercial use
(from the SIGroup) can act very strange at times. Word works like normal as you would expect and has many improvements many of which I will never use. The weird thing is when you download a document and open it. The Word window opens twice. You get the first window which is blank, not even a white page, and then you get the second window which has the document. PowerPoint supports QuickTime movies right? Wrong, when viewed in presentation mode you get the start image and the machine locks up requiring a forced shut down of PowerPoint.

But my biggest beef is if I had to buy Windows 7 retail, is that there are too many versions of the OS available. They should all be the ultimate version and a hell of a lot cheaper.

Written by theMolisticView

December 24th, 2009 at 6:31 am

DET DER Software

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The DET DER software package is huge!!! I forgot to mention in my last post that the software of the revolution is now available for staff to purchase under the DET license for home computers.

It is available via the ICT section of the intranet and the DET’s external provider of software to staff (SI Group). Both Adobe and Microsoft have separate license agreements.

The Adobe suite is huge and a mega saving. For $93.50 you get the entire CS4 Master Collection plus Captivate, Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements. Just the Master Collection would cost you close to $5,000 (currently advertised for $2,500 US). The Microsoft software is a lot cheaper at $39 for each selection. They offer more than Office as well so take a good look at what they offer and remember that the DET is not going to switch to Office 2010 for a long time.

I ordered my copies this time last week and they were delivered to school by Monday afternoon. Now that is the fastest I’ve seen anything move out of the DET!!

Just a warning though, if you intend on loading the Adobe Mater Collection you will need to ensure that your computer is up for the task. You will need a pretty smart machine to have hassle free running, something like 2GB RAM and a fairly large processor. If you find that you need to update your windows machine I would suggest you wait if you can and allow for Windows 7 to come out and quieten down then purchase a machine. These newer machines with Windows 7 will better than one you would buy today with that Vista thing on them.

An upside to purchasing and installing the Adobe software is that after you register your product, Adobe emails you a list of freebies to choose from. The pick of these I would say is the package. This provides a months free access to what is one of the best on line education libraries there is. They have plenty of series’s on the whole Adobe range from beginners to the advanced.

Written by theMolisticView

September 3rd, 2009 at 7:54 am

"where's my laptop Sir?"

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Today was the first year 9 Multimedia lesson of the term. Before I had opened the door to the room came the chorus, “where’s my laptop Sir?”.

Fair enough question form a group of students who have been kept in the loop since the laptop announcement.  The answer, “I am not sure. I can say you should have them by terms end.”

From this point my planned lesson had disappeared. The students attention quickly moved to the right off my Toshiba laptop, to what was quickly coined the ‘lunchbox’. I opened the lunch box to reveal the DER netbook to varying reaction. Most students were relived to finally see one of their promised laptops in the flesh. But as expected there were the doubters, with the cynical response of ‘why bother with that’.

For a large portion of the lesson I demonstrated the netbooks software and capabilities with the aid of my projector. For the last part of the lesson students took turns checking out the DER netbook for themselves, while I answered the many questions…

  • is it wireless?
  • will the Internet work at home?
  • does it have blue tooth?
  • will the Internet be blocked at home?
  • can I add limewire?
  • does it have MSN?
  • what games does it come with?, and so on.

The only school related questions were, ‘do we have to use it everyday?’ and ‘will we use it in every class?’

At the end of the lesson the kids had made the decision that I will spend 1 to 2 lessons showing them how all the software works and which classes will be best to use them. The only complaint about the DER netbooks that all the students could agree on was the annoyance of the scrolling screen (which bugs me to).

As most of the literature around 1 to 1 laptop classroom’s point out, the students are ready and chances are the first time they come to your class laptop equiped, it will be out, opened and running, awaiting your first laptop lesson.

Written by theMolisticView

July 31st, 2009 at 9:33 am