Making games in partnership with local Schoolchildren

This year our HNC Games students at Reid Kerr College worked in partnership with a local Primary School, Lochfield Primary in Paisley, to produce games for their HNC Group graded unit project. This is the third year we have worked in partnership with Lochfield for our HNC Graded Unit games, however this year we took things a step further with the schoolchildren actually contributing art work for the games.

Students presenting ideas to Lochfield Primary
Students presenting ideas to Lochfield Primary

The project began in February and in discussion with the school we set the theme for this years games to be “Healthy Living”. So we tasked our students to come up with game ideas that promote an awareness of the benefits of healthy living and asked them to select a representative from each team of 4, who would present those ideas to the primary school. On the 8th of February we visited Lochfield Primary and our students gave PowerPoint presentations on their game ideas to around 70 Primary 6 pupils. They were then given the opportunity to get feedback from the kids and discuss their ideas further in small groups, effectively using the schoolchildren as a focus group. Some of my students were extremely nervous about the idea of presenting to and talking to schoolchildren, but as in previous years those fears soon dissipated when they realised how enthusiastic and positive the children were about the games, something that rubbed off on the rest of their team-mates when the representatives reported back. One thing that we introduced this year, which we hadn’t done before, was that we asked the schoolchildren to draw art for the games, so during the discussions with the schoolchildren, our students also discussed with them the types of art they would like them to create.

Discussions with the schoolchildren
Discussions with the schoolchildren

From February to May our students worked away in their teams turning their concepts into games for Windows 7 using XNA4. We received a bunch of art from the schoolchildren which we scanned in and used in at least half the games, along with art produced by our own students.

On May 20th we had a big event at the college and over 70 Primary 6 pupils were bussed into the college for the day. We had to split the schoolchildren up and we enlisted help from the Care & Construction departments in our college, who took turns with half of the group while the other half played the games our groups had created. Once the children were finished playing the games they went onto an online survey and rated the games out of 20, based on originality, graphics, sound and most importantly gameplay.

Schoolchildren playing the games
Schoolchildren playing the games
Total concentration
Total concentration

Lee Stott from Microsoft attended the event and very kindly provided prizes, in the form of Kinects, for the winning team. It was a close call between two of the games and in the end one vote could have swung it either way; eventually the only game which featured a 2 player mode won. In the end it was a triumph for gameplay, however the game which came second had an excellent concept, was a great game with far more complexity to it and even had a level designer. I’m hopefully they will develop it further and enter it into the imagine cup next year.

The top 4 games as voted for by Lochfield Primary 6
The top 4 games as voted for by Lochfield Primary 6

This partnership with Lochfield Primary has improved our students’ experience of learning in a number of ways and opened the eyes of the schoolchildren to games development as a possible career path.

Benefits to Games Development students

1. They had a realistic learning experience by designing and writing games for a live client group.

2. The partnership was an enjoyable and positive learning experience for both the schoolchildren and the college students, as they experienced working with a partner to produce artwork for the games.

3. The competitive element of the partnership was appealing to them and a motivating factor.

4. Peer review by other students and by the schoolchildren was invaluable in forming ideas on how the games could be improved in the future.

The winning team (from left to right: David Savage, Grant Hamilton, Michael Collins, Ryan Kennedy along with Lee Stott from Microsoft).
The winning team (from left to right: David Savage, Grant Hamilton, Michael Collins & Ryan Kennedy, along with Lee Stott from Microsoft).

Lee stayed on after the schoolchildren had left and took part in a judging event in the afternoon with my HND Games Development students, who had been tasked with producing a Windows Phone game based around an apocalyptic theme (so lots of Zombie games). We had an impressive judging panel,which I had kept as a little surprise from my students :-),  that included myself, David Marshall & Martin Barrett from Reid Kerr, Fiona Rushton & Ian Tyson from James Watt, Daniel Livingstone from UWS and of course Lee Stott from Microsoft. Ten of my students presented their game concepts, how their games had been developed and how they felt about the way their game had turned out. They also answered questions from the panel, who had the opportunity to play all the games on Windows Phones. In the end the panel came up with a top 3 and Lee presented the winning student with a Windows Phone as a prize.

The winning game - Dead City
The winning game – Dead City
The winner of the Windows Phone from Microsoft for best Graded Unit game
Ally Louden – winner of a Windows Phone from Microsoft for the best Graded Unit game
The 2nd and 3rd placed games - Escape and Haven (Escape on the right hand side, Haven at the bottom left).
The 2nd and 3rd placed games – Escape and Haven (Escape is on the right hand side, Haven is at the bottom left).
Runner up Ryan Anderson and 3rd place Daniel Boyle
Runner up Ryan Anderson and 3rd place Daniel Boyle
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Kinect Games Version 4

I have updated all my Kinect games to use the new Kinect SDK v1.7 and with it I have added some significant changes.
Math Mage & Word Mage
Math Mage & Word Mage now feature a fully immersive, interactive Augmented Reality experience, where the player actually appears in the game world wearing a Mage hat nonetheless :-). This works for both 1 player and 2 player modes. You can also now press number keys 1 or 2 to toggle player 1 or 2 between Right-Handed and Left-Handed modes. You can also take extra snapshots of the players in the game by pressing the SPACEBAR on the keyboard.

Math Mage with Augmented Reality
Math Mage with Augmented Reality

In Math Mage you swipe through the correct numbers using your right hand or left hand in the style of “Fruit Ninja” and you must avoid swiping the wrong numbers. It can be used to revise times tables, odd numbers, even numbers and prime numbers. Word Mage uses the same principal, but with Nouns, Adjectives, Verbs and Adverbs, where you must swipe through the target words and ignore the words outwith the target category. You can edit the word lists and there is even a miscellaneous category where you can make up your own word lists based on anything like countries, capitals, foods etc.


NoNeed4Green
Kinect Games version 4 also features my new NoNeed4Green, the Green screen without a green screen, which you can read more about in my recent posts, but it bascially lets you create scenes using background pictures and foreground objects of your own choosing, while people who stand in front of Kinect are cut out and placed in the layer between the background and foreground to produce images which can be saved. Watch the video below recorded using FRAPS and you will get the idea.

Kinect Magic Cursor
My magic cursor, which lets you control Windows using your hands, now works with press and grip gestures for doing the left mouse button. To simulate a left-click you simply PRESS with your left hand. If you GRIP (make a fist) with your right-hand it simulates holding the left button down. If you RELEASE (stop making a fist) it releases the left mouse button. To move the mouse cursor you simply move your right-hand in front of Kinect.

Kinect Angles, Kinect Time and Kinect Pong remain pretty much as they were, but are updated to use Kinect SDK v1.7.  Read my earlier blog posts for details of those games.
Click here to download the full stand-alone installer for the latest version of Kinect Games which includes Kinect SDK v1.7.

Click here to download the latest installer for Kinect Games without Kinect SDK v1.7 (for those of you already have the SDK this download is significantly smaller).

The games require a Kinect for Windows or Kinect for XBOX360 device connected to a Windows 7 or 8 pc.

Please download the games and use them with your students. I’d love feedback from teachers who are using the games on their experiences with playing the games in their classrooms. Please email me at david.renton@wcs.ac.uk with comments and feedback.

Word Mage for Kinect

Kinect Games version 3

During my adventures with Microsoft in London a week ago, I created a Windows 8 app version of my Math Mage game using Microsoft’s new TouchDevelop platform and later on that week I created a new version of the game called Word Mage, which tests students’ knowledge of Verbs, Nouns, Adverbs and Adjectives. The new game was for a Hackathon competition and was hastily put together, but I thought the idea was a good one, so I’ve now created Word Mage for Kinect for Windows, based on my previous Math Mage for Kinect. As a programmer turned teacher Maths makes perfect sense to me, English on the other hand not so much, so this game is one that I could have done with growing up, if not present day :-). The new game is just like Math Mage in that it employees “Fruit Ninja” style gameplay in an educational game which consolidates learning in multi-sensory active way. Educational theorists say that multi-sensory active methodology is the best form of pedagogy :-).

With that in mind I bring you Kinect Games, which adds the all new Word Mage along with Math Mage, Kinect Angles, Kinect Time, Kinect Magic Cursor and Kinect Pong. Kinect Games v3 will run on Windows 7 or Windows 8 desktop mode and will work with an XBOX360 Kinect or the official Windows version of Kinect.

Word Mage for Kinect
Word Mage for Kinect for Windows v1

Click here to download the latest version of Kinect Games including Kinect SDK.

Click here to download the latest version of Kinect Games without Kinect SDK (for those who already have it installed).

Click here to download the source code for my Kinect Games.

The Kinect for Windows version of Word Mage adds a brand new feature which allows you can add your own words to the game by editing the word lists. It also includes two extra word lists for the special mode in the game, which will then use whatever words you put into the “correct.txt” file for correct answers and whatever words you put into the “words.txt” file as wrong answers. For an example the files that come with the installer have a list of countries in the correct.txt file and a list of cities in the wrong.txt file, so if you select the special mode, players will be trying to identify countries instead of cities. You can use this for mode for whatever you want, be creative with it please :). You can also edit the list of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs as you see fit.

Word Lists
Word Lists

The 3 difficulty levels in the game increase the speed at which the words come at you, but they also increase the range of words used. In easy mode it only uses the first one third of the word list, in medium it uses the half of the list and in hard mode it chooses words from the entire list. I tried to remove words from the lists that could be both verbs and nouns etc, but if I have left any in please send me a message and remove them from your own list. It’d be great to get an English teacher on the job of perfecting the lists, any volunteers?

In game it defaults to video mode off, if you want to allow the players to see themselves while playing press the S button during the game to turn the video feed on. If you want to turn it back off press the SPACE BAR. Some computers may lag with the video mode turned on, so try it out and see.

On the main menu you can adjust the angle of the Kinect sensor by using the UP and DOWN arrow keys on the keyboard. Adjust it so that the players’ heads are clearly visible in the small window in the top middle of the main menu screen.

Please download the games and use them with your students. I’d love feedback from teachers using the games around the world on their experiences with using the games in their classrooms. Please email me at david.renton@wcs.ac.uk with comments and feedback.

Windows 8 Appathon and BETT Show 2013 (My week in London)

First off respect to all London workers who do the tube thing every day, it’s a very quick and efficient way of getting about London, but I couldn’t handle the rush and crush every day. I saw one women getting the door slammed shut on her and another few close calls, plus I experienced being crushed hard against the other commuters on the tube on the way home from BETT one evening, something I’ve not experienced since I was in Manchester to watch Rangers in the UEFA cup final a few years back. So respect to those who do that every day.

Before Christmas I took part in 3 virtual university sessions on TouchDevelop with Peli de Halleux from Microsoft Research in USA and was selected from the 50 or so educators from around Europe who took part, to go to London for a final 24 hour appathon.  TouchDevelop is an exciting new platform which allows you to create apps on any HTML5 enabled browser and therefore you can develop on pretty much any platform, including mobile devices such as tablets or even phones. The apps you create can also be tested in the browser, so this platform provides the opportunity for students to create apps on mobile devices for mobile devices and on pretty much any device they have and see it running on that device. The final apps can be published as Windows 8 RT apps or Win7/8 phone apps on the Windows marketplace.

Microsoft Offices in London
Microsoft Offices in London

I flew down to London (courtesy of Microsoft) on the Sunday night before the event and due to Easyjet delays ended up getting to the hotel just before midnight. We began the event on Monday in Microsoft’s plush London offices and it was exciting to meet up with the other educators from around Europe who were taking part. Along with my English friends Jimmy Edwards and Ray Chambers who I knew from Microsoft Partners in Learning, I especially enjoyed talking to and sharing ideas with the 2 guys from Norway who are doing amazing stuff with Minecraft in the classroom. The appathon kicked off properly at 11am and we went hard at it, developing our app ideas into reality using TouchDevelop way into the small hours. I was creating a Windows Phone app version of my Kinect Math Mage game which I had just finished developing the previous week.

The guys from Norway
The guys from Norway
Appathon kicks off
Appathon kicks off

The competition went on late into the wee hours and I was last to leave at around 4am, but on the walk back to the hotel it dawned on me that I had a bug in the game and did a bit more in the hotel and finally went to bed around 5am. Luckily we didn’t need to be back to present our apps until 1pm.

End of the night
End of the night

We gathered together at 1pm and presented our apps to the judging panel and to our fellow educators. Math Mage was one of the fully completed apps, which made me feel pretty good about it, but there was some very stiff competition from Eastern Europe and from my friend Ray Chambers.

Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon

I must give a shout out here to Michael Philp a Scottish art student who created the amazing original art work for Math Mage, in my view anyway Math Mage was certainly the best looking app :-).

Math Mage for Windows Phone
Math Mage for Windows Phone

At the dinner later that night, the Ukraine pulled off the win for an amazing app which lets you construct and test electric circuits on your mobile phone. The winner received a brand new Surface RT Tablet courtesy of Microsoft. Despite not winning the big prize Microsoft UK were very impressed with the apps that myself and Ray Chambers produced and are going to publish them both in the Windows Marketplace.

Winning App from the Ukraine
Winning App from the Ukraine

On Wednesday I went to the BETT Show at the ExCeL Convention Centre where Vince Cable and Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito opened the show in the new Microsoft Arena in the middle of the massive ExCel conference centre. I bumped into Ollie Bray on the tube on the way to BETT and had a good chat with him and he shared some ideas for things I could do with Kinect, as well as catching me up on the exciting things he is involved with at present.

Anthony Salcito Microsoft VP
Anthony Salcito Microsoft VP
I enjoyed exploring the show on Wednesday and met up with the Northern Irish team from GameToLearn who I had done a Skype interview for last year, but never met in person. I recorded a new interview for them at the show and tried to be more positive this time when they asked for one word to sum up education (last time when they sprang it on me and I said “Challenging”). I also saw a company from Greece who are producing some nice educational Kinect games, not a million miles away from the Kinect Games I have created, but who are charging for their games (better grab my games for free while you can). Their system does have a whole backend reporting system to give feedback on how the students are performing which is a nice touch, but my games make better use of Kinect’s camera to give a more augmented reality aspect to my games. I couldn’t see an overall theme running through the show, but if I had to choose one I would say BYOD was the dominant message, which is Bring Your Own Device and the idea that in future students of all ages from Primary through to FE and HE should be allowed to take the amazing technology sitting in their bags out and use it in the classroom.
BETT Show 2013
BETT Show 2013
On Thursday Ray Chambers was back in town and after a morning of footering with our PowerPoint we headed to BETT to present on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop. Before we presented we went to the NAACE stand for the launch of the Kodu Kup in conjunction with Microsoft. I bumped into Microsoft VP Anthony Salcito at the stand and had a chat with him about my Kinect Games and showed him pictures of how they were being used in Schools on my iPad mini (never have I wished for a surface tablet more). However he wasn’t totally put off as he came along to our K-Team presentation later on. On the NAACE stand Stuart Ball from Microsoft Partners in Learning along with Nicki Maddams from the K-Team launched the exciting new competition for all school kids aged 7 to 14, where they are challenged to work together in teams of 3 to produce a game which will be judged by Microsoft, with the top ten teams from around the country winning a trip to Microsoft HQ in July, where the top teams will be rewarded with XBOX360s and Kinects.
After that myself and Ray rushed over to Learn Live D where we were presenting as the K-Team on Kodu, Kinect, xGames and TouchDevelop and how these tools can and are being used to the classroom to engage and excite learners. We had some famous faces in the audience such as Anthony Salcito and Stuart Ball from Microsoft and the game developers behind the Fable game series. The presentation went very well and it seemed to be well received by everybody.
K Team Presentation
K Team Presentation
Math Mage live demo at BETT Show 2013
Math Mage live demo at BETT Show 2013
On the Friday myself and Ray had initally planned to take it easy and just take in the show and I had planned to go see Professor Brian Cox presenting, but Lee Stott from Microsoft managed to glently persuade myself and Ray to take part in another Appathon, this time it was the Stone Hackathon which was being judged by Johnny Ball of 80s kids tv fame. Ray made a french and maths version of his Spelling Bee app and I made an English version of my Math Mage called Word Mage which tests kids knowledge of Nouns, Verbs, Adverbs and Adjectives. Congratulations to Ray as he managed to grab second place for his Spelling Bee App and won a small portable printer for his efforts. It was another day spent on touchdevelop and it is a platform that I am getting very familar with in a short space of time, so much so that I have agreed to produce teaching materials for Microsoft on using TouchDevelop for games development and programming. The materials will cover basic programming concepts and how to use TouchDevelop to create classic arcade games like Pong, Breakout, Space Invaders etc.

Professor Brian Cox at BETT Show 2013
Professor Brian Cox at BETT Show 2013

Word Mage for Windows Phone 7/8
Word Mage for Windows Phone 7/8

Johnny Ball at the Hackathon
Johnny Ball at the Hackathon

Ray presenting Spelling Bee
Ray presenting Spelling Bee

Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Appathon

Presenting Math Mage at the Hackathon
Presenting Math Mage at the Hackathon

Presenting Word Mage at the Stone Hackathon
Presenting Word Mage at the Stone Hackathon

Using technology to stay in touch with family
Keeping in touch with family

A final thank you goes out to Stuart Ball for inviting me down to the Appathon and to Microsoft for paying my flights and accommodation for the event. Also much say thanks to my Head of Section Bill Gallacher, Head of Department Anita Osborne and my Principal Audrey Cumberford for giving me the week off from my teaching duties at Reid Kerr College to attend these events.

It has been an inspiring and eventful week and something I have learned a lot from and with TouchDevelop I am taking back a great new tool to Scotland that I will hopefully be teaching to college and high school students in the coming year.

Kinect Games v2.6 featuring Math Mage

This release of Kinect Games includes the all new Math Mage. Math Mage is an educational game which helps students with numeracy, including ODD, EVEN and PRIME numbers as well as times tables from 3 through to 12. Math Mage has similar gameplay to fruit ninja, but you use your hand to swipe rather than doing a swipe with your finger on a touch device. The objective of the game is to swipe through pages with correct numbers, but not through pages with incorrect numbers. The pages of your magic book have been enchanted and are escaping, but they are numbered, which lets you know which ones are the correct pages to put back into your book. Everytime you swipe through a page with a correct number you gain 5 points, however when you swipe through a wrong number you lose one of your 5 lives. The game ends when you lose all your lives or when the timer runs out. You gain a bonus 5 points at the end of the game for each life you have remaining.

130036219643995106

Click here to download Kinect Games. Once you run the installer it will create shortcuts on your desktop for the different Kinect Games. Kinect Games v2.6 is for Windows 7 or Windows 8 desktop mode. It will work with both Kinect for Windows or a standard XBOX360 Kinect plugged into a Windows7/8 machine.

If you already have Kinect v1.6 installed and want a quicker download, click here for a version of the installer without Kinect SDK 1.6.

Math Mage has a couple of keyboard functions, which are not as yet documented in the game, one of these is the ability on the main menu to move the camera angle up and down by using the UP & DOWN arrow keys. The other feature is that you can take the background away during the game and display live video feed from Kinect instead. To do this press S for show video and to cancel the video stream press the SPACE BAR.


Video showing Math Mage in play

 

TouchDevelop – Making apps for mobile devices on mobile devices

I recently took part in a Microsoft Partners in Learning Virtual University series on TouchDevelop delivered by Jonathan ‘Peli’ de Halleux who works for Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA. The series was part of a PIL Appathon Competition for educators around Europe, the final stage of which will be a 24 hour Appathon in London just before BETT in January 2013. I had no idea what to expect from the series and had no idea about what TouchDevelop was. The series was excellent and I know have a firm understanding of the fundamentals of TouchDevelop and how to create simple apps using it. It was also a fantastic experience to be part of a community of learners from around Europe sharing experiences during online sessions and via PIL network forums.

I currently teach games development mainly using XNA with C#; however we have been looking at different tools to introduce students to programming such as Scratch, Kodu and MIT App Inventor, as XNA can be quite a jump for students who have never programming before. We are also keen to get students creating APPs and after learning about TouchDevelop I think it is a great platform to achieve these goals.

The really big difference about TouchDevelop and other dev tools is that it allows you to actually code and test your APP on a mobile device. You can choose to develop on a PC and then package it as an APP, but you can code on any device which has a modern HTML5 browser. So if your device can run IE10 or the latest versions of Safari or Chrome, you will be able to use TouchDevelop to code and test APPs on your device. I have used a variety of platforms successfully with TouchDevelop; on desktop PCs I have used IE10 in Windows 8 and Chrome in Windows 7. I have also used Safari on both the iPhone and iPad and on my Windows 7 phone I have used the dedicated TouchDevelop APP. So although TouchDevelop only creates APPs for the Windows Marketplace on WP7/8 and Windows 8, you can develop and test APPs via the TouchDevelop site on your favourite browser on pretty much any device.

touchdevelop coding on iphone

Coding with TouchDevelop on iPhone

Another great part of TouchDevelop is the community aspect to it. The scripts (APPs) you publish are available to the rest of the community to use and play, which means if you don’t know how to do something you can look up someone else’s script doing a similar task and you will quickly find the solution. You can also take other user’s scripts and alter them and credit is still given to the original publisher as it shows how many variations of your scripts are out there. You can also build libraries yourself and then these libraries can be used by other users when creating their own apps and once again you can see how many scripts are using your library. One other great feature of TouchDevelop is the ability to have a high score table which the community can immediately contribute to as soon as you hit the publish button from your script. This is not publishing it as an app on the marketplace it is just making it available for the community to try out and it only takes 2 or 3 lines of code.

highscoretable

TouchInvaders High Score Table

TouchDevelop comes with a variety of libraries which makes most tasks easy to do. I have been working a lot with the game board, which has built in functions for dealing with sprites, collisions, physics and touch events.

pong

Pong created in TouchDevelop

Once I got used to working with the interface and the language I was able to quickly put together some games. I created a touch version of PONG in about 2 to 3 hours, in which you use your finger to control a Bat by sliding your finger up & down to try and defeat an AI controlled Bat. I also created a Space Invaders clone called TouchInvaders which took me roughly about 4 hours to get a working version, although I did go back later and tweak it to add shields and play about with the controls.

invaders on iphone

TouchInvaders on iPhone

space invaders on chrome

TouchInvaders running on Google Chrome on a Windows7 PC

TouchDevelop is still in its infancy and therefore has a number of minor bugs, but the Microsoft team are constantly working on these and improving it and adding functionality on almost a daily basis. Overall I would say that TouchDevelop has amazing potential and is a good alternative to some of the other tools out there that can be used to teach programming at a beginner’s level, however unlike Scratch it actually allows you to make games I would want to play.

xGames version 2.2

This new release of xGames features many improvements, the main one being that you can now add wave sound files to questions. This means you can create a quiz where you ask a question about a piece of music which will play automatically as the question is asked. Due to some restrictions on dynamically importing sound files during runtime and to make this process quick I am only allowing standard wave files. This does not mean you can’t use your own mp3 files, just that you’ll need to convert them first. If you don’t already know how to do it try Audacity which is a free sound file editor. In Audacity you can load in an mp3, highlight a section of the sound track (I recommend about 10 to 30 seconds), paste it into a new file and export it as a wave file.

Click here or here xGames version 2.2 installer executable

Click here to download xGames version 2.2 installer zip version (useful if your firewall blocks the download of exe files)

Bond audio question shown in the xQuiz editor and in the actual xQuiz game

Ok so I know I said the last version was the last, but I did intend it to be at the time, so I won’t be making the same mistake this time and saying this is the final release, as it may or may not be. I still do need to update the user manuals for all the changes over the past couple months, so there will be a minor update for that when I get it done. When I worked full time as a programmer I didn’t mind the coding, but always hated the paperwork (design, planning, user guides etc) side of things and I’m afraid I still feel the same way about it.

Here are a list of the changes in Version 2.2 from Version 2.1

1. Added the facility to have audio wave files play against each question in xQuiz, xRisk and xDrop. I will not be adding it to xBots as it wouldn’t work in that game as teams can be asked different questions at the same time, however all quizzes will still work in Xbots, albeit without the audio tracks. Altered xBots quiz loader to ensure this is the case.
2. Changed the xQuiz & xRisk editor to allow the user to select wave files for each question.
3. Altered the editor to be more forgiving with blank lines between questions in the text file. So that if you create quiz in notepad or notes on iOS and then load it into the editor it won’t crash.
4. Altered the xQuiz editor so that it automatically adjusts the answer lengths from 52 to 30 if you add a picture. This means there are no longer two editors for xQuiz (previously I had one editor which allowed pictures and one without pictures where you could enter longer answers). You can now mix and match questions with long answers with questions with shorter answers containing pictures.