Human Experimentation with a Programming Class

This year I am teaching a course titled “Intro to Game Programming”.  With a broad title like that I can teach almost anything or any language.  I wanted to get a lot of kids into my programming classes so I figured if I give the course a cool name they will sign up.  They did.  I have 20 kids in the class this semester.  Not bad for a school of 175 kids.  I also wanted to look at game engines as a teaching tool so I guess you would call this live experimentation on humans.  Cool.

I originally started with GameMaker and Corona (Lua) but after looking at the future in my crystal ball, which is oh so reliable (it did not predict Trump but then nothing else did either), I have moved the class into a couple of industrial strength game engines.  I have part of the class in Unity and part in Amazon Lumberyard.  In both cases I just looked for really cheap or free textbooks.  In both cases I hit the jackpot.

For Unity we are working through Patrick Felica’s “Unity From Zero to Proficiency”.  This is actually a series of books that starts at the absolute “do not know didly” stage and advances to a fairly proficient level.  Patrick actually solicits advice and suggestions on improving his books so I give feedback from my students to him.  Considering the price, the resources and the readability it is a great way to go.  Are there errors in it?  Yup but so far they are things that can be figured out.

Amazon Lumberyard is a real experiment.  Amazon bought CryEngine and is revamping it.  The new Lumberyard version is new, as in maybe two years?  After reading the reviews comparing it to Unity I was not going to bother but the author of the textbook I use for Corona suggested I give it a try.  He would send me an early release of his new Lumberyard textbook to beta test with some kids.  New software?  New book?  Human experimentation?  What could go wrong!  Let’s go for it!  So I have three of my sharpest kids working through the book and taking editorial notes as they go.  The book is Dr. Brian Burton’s “Game Design Fundamentals with Amazon Lumberyard: Space Explorer”.  The book is a complete game building course starting with building the objects with Blender, shading with GIMP and then game building with Lumberyard.  The book is very incomplete at the moment.  Chapter 3 is about 8 lines, pictures are missing captions and so on.  Very early release.  I love it.  Instead of the kids just reading the tutorial and following along they actually have to figure out what Dr. Burton’s intent is and fill in the blanks.  I get editorial suggestions from them at the end of the period and forward them on to Dr. Burton.

At the moment the “programming” part of the course has not hit the traditional concept of coding.  We are building things now.  ZtoP uses Javascript for its language and Lumberyard uses Lua.  I know nothing of Javascript and I know Lua in a different environment.  No problem.  After taking a quick look at the programming chapters in ZtoP we should do just fine.  Dr. Burton has not written the chapters on programming for his book yet.  This might be a slight problem but there is always hope the chapters will arrive before the kids get to that point.  After all this is human experimentation so there is a bit of risk involved.

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