Kinect Games v5 using Kinect SDK v1.8

This update has been coming for a long time and was actually pretty much complete before the summer, but I’ve been so busy with my new role at College that I haven’t had a second to package it up and get it out. The new version of my Kinect educational games makes use of the latest Kinect SDK (v1.8) for the original Kinect for Windows, using the new SDK brings some performance boasts in itself. However the main thing that this release adds is the new X-Ray mode in my NoNeed4Green program (the green screen without a green screen). Press X once to show a skeleton overlaid on whoever is standing in front of Kinect, press it again to show just a skeleton avatar. I’m sure all you innovative educators out there can think of uses for this in the classroom.

Download the new version of Kinect Games from here. It requires Windows 7 or Windows 8 and a Kinect for Windows v1 or Kinect for XBOX360 with external power supply.

X-Ray mode in NoNeed4Green
X-Ray mode in NoNeed4Green

Thanks goes out to Benjamin Swindells (an ex-student of mine) for providing the skeleton graphics captured from his 3D models. Benjamin is one of the best 3D modellers/animators I have had to privilege to teach, far better than me at 3D art. Also thanks to my fellow MS expert educator Simon Johnson for creating transparent versions of the skeleton for the overlay mode.

On the road with TouchDevelop

TouchDevelop on WP8
TouchDevelop on WP8

I’ve just finished doing the end of term educational conferences with Lee Stott who is a Microsoft Evangelist and a genuine nice guy. I’ve been speaking and running workshops, on Microsoft’s new mobile development platform TouchDevelop as well as speaking about Games Based Learning and the use of MineCraft in education.

TouchDevelop is a brilliant platform and is quite unique in that it runs entirely within an HTML5 web browser, which makes it truly cross platform. It will run on PCs, Laptops as well as Smartphones and tablets running Windows, iOS or Android. For me the outstanding feature of TouchDevelop is that students can create APPs easily, without having to go through a tricky process and they can then see their APPs running on their device, whether it is an iPhone, iPad, Surface or Nexus tablet. Whatever the device is, they can see something they have created running on their device. Everything they create in TouchDevelop is saved to the cloud, so its very easy for students to begin writing an APP on a PC in the classroom and then log back into their account on a mobile device at home (or even on the way home) and continue working on the same APP.

The first conference I spoke at, on TouchDevelop, was at Microsoft’s UK Windows Gaming Awareness Event at Birmingham City University on the 26th of March 2013. I did a presentation and the always risky “live demo” :-).  Luckily it went well and I was invited to speak on TouchDevelop at 2 more conferences.

Games Britannia

Games Britannia
Games Britannia

The first of these was Games Britannia at Sheffield Hallam University, organised by Dr. Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, who himself worked in the games industry for Gremlin Interactive and later on Infogrames/Atari. Games Britannia was a week long event from the 10th to  the 14th of June 2013, Tuesday to Thursday of which, was a series of workshops for KS3 & KS4 high school pupils to attend on many different aspects of the games industry. They had well over 300 pupils in attendance at the conference over the 3 days, attending workshops such as Concept Art, PS3 programming, CryEngine Art, Minecraft, Kinect Motion Capture and of course TouchDevelop.

I ran two morning sessions on TouchDevelop and it was great to see students aged around 14-16 really engaging in programming at a level they could understand. Being able to see them actually create something that worked within a 2 hour workshop was a thrill and one of the things I really love about TouchDevelop.

TouchDevelop workshop
TouchDevelop workshop

I also ran an afternoon workshop on Games Based Learning and I let students try out my free educational games (xGames and Kinect Games) which make use of gaming hardware to revise and engage students in subjects like Maths and English. The games went down very well, although by the end of the day my “Name that tune” pop music quiz was being replayed a lot. However it was interesting to see how that particular age group engaged with the games and which ones worked best with them. With the age group in attendance my xBots game was certainly the most popular, I’m guessing because there were a lot of teenage boys in attendance and that game is partially an FPS. However my Kinect Games and in particular my NoNeed4Green went down very well too.

Playful Learning Workshop
Playful Learning Workshop

On Tuesday evening I was fortunate enough to attend an amazing talk from Gary Carr, Creative Director of Lionhead Studios. Gary has worked with industry legend Peter Molyneux for the past 20 years and is responsible for the art in titles such as Barbarian 1 & 2, Populous 1 & 2, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and the Fable games.  He had some fascinating insights into what is like working in the ever changing games industry and I’m hopefully Gary will come up later this year and speak with some of the 150+ games students at our new West College Scotland.

Then came the Juggernaut - FABLE
Then came the Juggernaut – FABLE

In between conferences I had a day in Leicester where I actually did a bit of shopping, although I was almost refused my Scottish ten pound note when the lady serving me asked what it was and if I would rather pay on card. I’ve been told repeatedly since that I should have said “I think you’ll find pal that’s legal tender”.

However, that day I also got to visit Leicester College and spoke to a great guy called Chris Seaton who is Computing Supervisor there. It was very interesting to hear the challenges he faces with the adoption of learning technology, which seem to be the same throughout education. I also got the chance to plug TouchDevelop to some of his computing lecturers and it was great to visit another FE college while on my travels.

CAS Conference 2013

cas confOn Thursday I headed with Lee to Birmingham University for the Computing at Schools annual conference. This is a great event which is probably the biggest educational conference for School Computing teachers in the UK. I ran a workshop at CAS last year on Games Based Learning, but this year I helped Lee with one of the plenary keynote presentations to the whole conference on the Friday morning. So I got to present and demonstrate TouchDevelop to around 200 of the most motivated computing teachers from around the UK, which was a big thrill, although a bit scary. We gave out around 200 TouchDevelop books and copies of my games development based curriculum. I also ran a workshop on TouchDevelop later on that day, which was attended by over 30 teachers and in a short 50 min session it was good to see so many teachers quickly picking up the basics of TouchDevelop and starting to create their own apps on a whole host of devices from Google Nexus tablets to MacBooks.

CAS Conference 2013 - Birmingham University
CAS Conference 2013 – Birmingham University

One of the things I love about these conferences is the people you meet and I met a variety of highly motivated teachers from different sectors, including a number from Scotland. I also found out while at the conference, that the Scottish government had announced £400,000 over 2 years to CAS Scotland to help support CPD training for Teachers in Computer Science, which is fantastic news.

College Development Network

The following week I attended two conferences in Scotland, this time without Lee Stott. The first was the Computing, ICT and Digital Media Annual Conference at City of Glasgow College on Monday 17th June 2013 and the second was the Festival of Dangerous Ideas: Learning Through Gaming conference at Dundee College on the 20th of June. Both conferences were organised by Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network (formerly Scotland’s Colleges).

At the first event I presented mainly about TouchDevelop to the audience who were made up of Heads of Departments and senior lecturers from around Scotland and I covered an exciting project I had organised for Gerry making use of Minecraft.

At the second event in Dundee,  Chris van der Kuyl from Brightsolid gave a fascinating and motivational presentation on why games should be used in education. Chris was responsible for bringing MineCraft to the XBOX360 which became the fastest and biggest selling game on XBOX live marketplace ever, selling something like 6.5 million copies in North America alone. He gave some fascinating insight into MineCraft and how it could be used in education. He also spoke about E3 and showed the video below of a wonderful looking creative game called Project Spark coming to XBOX1 later this year.

I presented at the conference on Games for Learning and demonstrated my xGames and Kinect Games. I also went into detail about an exciting Minecraft project that I had organised for Gerry Dougan, which was the brain spark of Derek Robertson from Education Scotland. I will do a separate blog post on this project later to do it justice, but in summary 8 teams of 4 from Scotland and Norway competed over 3 weeks in the virtual world of Minecraft via a shared online server, to create their vision of what an “Ideal Learning Environment” would look like. What they came up with, the hours they put in and the learning that went on inside the world, truly blew my mind.

Minecraft Build Competition
Minecraft Build Competition

HEA STEM : Teaching and Learning Programming for Mobile and Tablet Devices

My final conference, before my summer holidays could properly begin, was a Programming for Mobile & Tablet Devices event at London MET University on the 25th of June 2013. It was literally a flying visit to London, down on Easyjet on Monday evening and back up Tuesday evening. I was reunited with Lee Stott and he presented on the Opportunities of Microsoft devices and services and I followed him with my now much rehearsed, presentation and demonstration of TouchDevelop, which you can download from here.

Lee Stott presenting at London MET
Lee Stott presenting at London MET

I must thank Jacob Habgood from Sheffield Hallam University, Simon Humphreys from CAS, Gerry Dougan from the College Development Network, Yanguo Jing from London MET and of course Lee Stott from Microsoft for having me at their events.

If you want to try TouchDevelop go to www.touchdevelop.com

TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop
TouchInvaders created using TouchDevelop

You can download my games development curriculum from here and you can watch my video tutorials for it here.

You can download a free book on TouchDevelop from Microsoft research by clicking here.

Games Development the ideal cross-curricular topic

I spent over 10 years as a software engineer in industry, working mainly on database systems and in that time I never once used Physics and very rarely used Maths. However when I started teaching Games Development around 7 years ago, I finally started to use both Maths and Physics and it quickly dawned on me that Games Development would be an ideal way to engage students in Maths & Physics.

Around 3 years ago (2010-2011) Curriculum for Excellence came into schools in Scotland and was implemented in Primary Schools first. Part of curriculum for excellence was to contextualise subjects to make links between subject areas in order to make the learning relevant and meaningful for students. Teachers started developing cross-curricular topics in Primary Schools and were fairly successful at implementing these.

“Curriculum for Excellence encourages teachers to use their professional expertise and creativity to show how subjects can be linked, just as they are in life and work.” (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Education/Schools/curriculum/ACE 2011)

High Schools only properly started implementing Curriculum for Excellence in the last academic year (2012-2013) and I think it would be fair to say that they found it harder to find cross-curricular topics to make this work in High School.

This leads me back to Games Development, which I believe is the ideal cross-curricular topic to engage learners in traditional subjects like Maths, Physics, English, Music and Art, as well as ICT. These are subjects in which males in particular, have been disengaging in recent years.

In recent years Valve, a major games company, have been trying to get involved in education. They said,

“It’s eye-opening to see how video games can be used in amazing and unexpected ways to help educate our next generation”

In 2011 Valve made their popular puzzle game Portal free as they wanted teachers to play it and understand how much potential it has in educating young students, in subjects like Physics. Valve are quoted as saying,

“Using interactive tools like the Portal series to draw them in makes physics, maths, logic, spatial reasoning, probability, and problem-solving interesting, cool, and fun which gets us one step closer to our goal—engaged, thoughtful kids.”

(http://www.develop-online.net/news/38654/Portal-goes-free-in-Valve-education-push 2011).

In 2011 NESTA collaborated with industry luminaries Alex Hope and Ian Livingstone to publish Next Gen – a widely-applauded government advice paper on how to improve the teaching of computer science in English Schools.

The report came up with some interesting recommendations:

  • Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young people into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and computer science.
  • Include art and computer science in the English Baccalaureate.
  • Encourage art-tech crossover and work-based learning through school clubs.
  • Introduce a new National Video Games Development and Animation Schools Competition.

In February 2013, Michael Gove adopted one of the main recommendations of the report by announcing that Computer Science was going to become part of the English Baccalaureate.

Learning and Teaching Scotland (now Education Scotland) started a game based learning initiative in 2006 called “The Consolarium” which focused on game based learning,

“The vibrant and dynamic world of the computer game and its impacts on learning and teaching is an area that Learning and Teaching Scotland is committed to exploring, promoting and developing.” (http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/usingglowandict/gamesbasedlearning/index.asp 2011)

The Consolarium also looked at Game Design as well as game based learning,

“Game Design is a creative medium. It challenges pupils to analyse problems, structure solutions and continuously evaluate their progress. There are many game design tools available for use in schools and at home. It can be used in a number of different ways in our curriculum – not just within computing clasrooms.”

(http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/usingglowandict/gamesbasedlearning/gamedesign/gamedesignandlearning.asp 2011)

With all this supporting evidence, I believe that Secondary Schools should use Games development as an integrated learning context to support Curriculum for Excellence. Games development is an ideal topic for the “Joyning the learning” approach that is an integral part of Curriculum for Excellence. Games development involves Computer Programming, Physics, Maths, English, Music and Art. Many would consider that Games Development is 90% programming and although programming is a vital part of it, there are so many other curricular areas involved.

Girls are currently outperforming boys, at most levels and in most subjects (even traditionally male subjects). This should help re-address this issue; however it should not disenfranchise female learners, as more and more females are getting involved in gaming. Indeed it should actually help address the issue of the lack of females choosing Computer Science as a subject in secondary school, when they choose subjects to study in the senior phase. This is reflected by the lack of females working in the computing industry and in particular within the games industry.

A Level Entry by Subject
A Level Entry by Subject

Adding further encouragement to using Games Development as a cross-curricular topic is the fact that from the early level through to the fourth level, curriculum for excellence lists Games Development as an experience and outcome that all students are meant to experience.

CFE Experiences and Outcomes for Games Dev
CFE Experiences and Outcomes for Games Dev

How do the various subject areas fit into Games Development?

I will now examine how different subject areas tie in with Games Development as a cross-curricular topic.

Computer Programming

Programming is still central to games development and a topic that has been losing interest in secondary schools until recently; however you can teach the same programming skills that you would learn making a Business application by making a computer game or mobile phone app. If anything games programming is slightly more difficult as it encompasses things like Physics and Maths.  Programming is a vital 21st century skill and a skill that is in high demand by industry. There are currently more jobs available in programming, than there are graduates to fill those positions. Games programming is the ideal way to get young learners interested in programming.

Physics

Physics is central to games, the Holy Grail in games is to make the game experience as realistic as possible and this is achieved by making games look and feel as real as possible. A major part of this is applying real world physics into the games. Things like Newton’s laws of motion, projectile physics and aerodynamics can all be applied in games.

Physics in Angry Birds
Physics in Angry Birds

English

English isn’t a subject you would normally associate with computer games, however more and more authors are getting involved in writing the storylines for games. Some of the big games have better production values and better writing in them, than some Hollywood movies. The biggest computer games make far more money than any Hollywood blockbuster. Students involved in essay writing, could write the storyline for a game, that they will then go onto make in computing. The story may even be displayed in the game or incorporated visually. 

Art

More and more games companies are employing people to work in specific areas, such as art direction, 3D animation, 2D animation etc. Art and in particular 2D and 3D graphics are vital to any game. Learners could be set tasks to produce art work, that would then be incorporated into a game. The art doesn’t necessarily have to be electronic, as the art could be scanned into an electronic format to be included in a game. Something my students did very successfully recently, when producing games for this years HNC graded unit projects in my college. Where they scanned in art work created by local Primary School children and incorporated the art into their games.

Music

In a similar vein to Art, Music and Sound Effects are specific job roles in computer games development. Games need original music and sound effects to make the game a fully immersive experience. Again students could be set projects to produce sound effects or original music scores that could be incoporated into a game.

Maths

Maths is one of the main skills that games companies look for from potential employees. Maths is involved at so many levels in games development. A simple example of this is the use of trigonometry in games to work out the direction a vehicle is moving in. Learners could be set problems to solve that could then be directly implemented in a computer game.

Trigonometry in Games
Trigonometry in Games

ICT

To support all these subject areas would require a whole range of ICT skills, such as Word Processing, Photoshop, Music Applications, Sound Editing Software, 2D/3D animation packages and so on.

Enterprise

Enterprise is an area in secondary education that is becoming more and more popular and games development is an ideal topic for this. It includes core skills central to Enterprise, such as communication skills, problem solving skills and team work where you can develop a game in a group by assigning different roles and therefore takes advantage of the different skills sets the learners possess. In 2012 Paisley Grammar pupils came into Reid Kerr College for advice as part of an Enterprise project where they were attempting to develop an iPhone App; we were able to help them by producing a PC prototype of their game.

Conclusion

Two main problems exist in making this happen, one is a lack of programming skills amongst secondary school computing teachers, who for years have been primarily teaching Microsoft Office. The other problem is getting different departments and indeed teachers within those departments to work together to make this happen across subject areas.

The Scottish government have just announced £400,000 over 2 years to CAS (Computing at Schools) Scotland for CPD training of computing teachers (http://www.compednet.com/2013/06/government-funding-for-cs-cpd-programme/ 2013). Hopefully this money will be used effectively to help computing teachers, throughout Scotland, to update their skills, particularly in the area of computer programming.

In regards to the second problem, it will require management within secondary schools to recognise the value of Games Development as a cross-curricular topic and then show strong leadership to implement it by getting departments to work together.

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.

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.