RappyBird: On learning through jokes

image

I told my friend Miranda that I’m working on a final project for my game design class that takes place in a rap universe. She responded, “So like Flappy Bird.” And I was all, “No, buuuuuuutttttt …”

So I checked out a very excellent tutorial from Thomas Palef on making a Flappy Bird clone in HTML5 and I made this gross RappyBird clone in about an hourish. It was good fun, and it made me want to mess around more with the Phaser framework, since I  Javascript despite that it’s all dirty-dirty.

Anyway, jokes often prove good teachers for me. Cranking out silly doodads to amuse my friends and myself has taught me a lot about making useful things for the web, so it’s a time-waster that doesn’t make me feel like a total waste.

Jokes are also the impetus behind some other projects that I have really enjoyed recently, especially the work of Pippin Barr, whom I would love to meet some day:

Lo-fi dick fight

image

Jostle Bastard

image

Sluice.js at #SNDmakes

image

I spent the weekend working with some awesome journalists, designers and technologists at #SNDMakes Designathon on story forms in Indianapolis. It was a whirlwind of great ideas, cool people and interesting prototypes.

My group, Team Pink, designed Sluice.js, a proof-of-concept node.js app that surfaces social conversation about specific ideas within a story. As we create more complex stories online, it often becomes difficult for users to understand the particular topics within a story that interest their friends. We want to help surface those ideas to better integrate conversation within storytelling and to further engage users within editorial products.

If developed into an actual product, Sluice could also help editorial teams get granular social data on their work and improve taxonomy by dynamically generating tags and topics based on how the story is discussed in social media. Understanding what points truly matter to users can help editorial teams improve future coverage decisions. 

Building out Sluice would require some serious work with natural language processing and robust integration with social APIs (aka stuff that we didn’t have time to do in a weekend hack). Our prototype used only a small dataset and hand-selected, rather than programmatic data analysis. (Also, full-disclosure, I need to go back and make it responsive.) I think there’s great potential for a tool that could improve storytelling and the social news environment by closing the feedback loop around ideas within stories.

I had an absolute blast this weekend, and I left smarter and more invigorated about the untapped possibilities of online news design. All of the prototypes that came out of the event were terrific. Check them out:

PS: My teammate Cory wrote a great recap of the weekend and the importance of building community over at the Vox Product blog.

Woo! Chicas Poderosas — an organization dedicated to empowering Latin American journalists to excel in visual storytelling, data visualization and interactive media with hands-on skills training — will hold its first workshop in the United States from April 17 to 20 in Miami. 

I’ve been working with Chicas founder Mariana Santos and Miranda Mulligan (two of the most amazing chicas I know) on getting the workshop here since the fall, and I cannot wait for all the awesomeness this will bring to Miami journalists. Hope you’ll join us!

Game design: Predator vs. Pack and Royal Bluff

I’m taking a game design class this semester that’s taught me a lot about designing and evaluating systems. The goal is to create a system that’s flexible enough to allow for strategy and emergent play but defined enough to place logical constraints on behavior.

This class is very pointedly NOT about graphic design. We use existing prototyping materials and we’re not supposed to create any objects for the games other than a simple rule set. it’s been challenging to learn how to work on design problems without my usual visual toolset, and it’s made me realize how often I turn to visual solutions when I should be thinking harder about systems as a whole.

We’ve designed, tested and submitted two games so far, a physical game and a tabletop game. Next up is my final, which I plan to build as a digital game. (That one will have some visual elements, and I’m excited about them.) Here’s what I’ve made with classmates so far (Titles are linked to rules.):

Predator vs. Pack

Predator vs. Pack is a sort of tag/werewolf hybrid. The game started out trying to test how humans act in and switch from solo predator to pack predator strategies, and morphed into something really more fun than is sounds.

PvP involves secrets, teamwork and a lot of running around, so you should get a workout. The game is built for four to 10 players, and you’ll need some cards and some sort of flag system. We used flag football flags, but you could just as easily use fabric scraps tucked in pockets or waistbands. 

Royal Bluff

image

Jack bluffs like a pro …

Royal Bluff is like Bullshit with some extra twists thrown in. It’s for 3 or 4 players, and you’ll need a deck of cards, a 10-sided die (or an app that generates random numbers from 1 to 10), 2 red poker chips, 2 black poker chips, a white poker chip and an opaque bag.

If you play either game, I’d love your feedback on what we built. Both games are very simple systems, but designing them has been way more challenging than it appears. We’ve spent a lot of hours testing and iterating this semester. We’ve also spent a lot of time playing other games, and I’ve grown to admire how game designers balance probabilities and choices and create actions and constraints. I’m excited to adapt and apply these skills to other work.

Chrys Wu does the journalism world a great service (as is her wont) by aggregating all the NICAR14 materials on her blog. Excellent resources abound, and it has been a blast “attending” from afar.

Photo, instagram/lxbarth

Catherine Bracy: Why good hackers make good citizens

from TEDxCity 2.0, September 20, 2013