Playful Cleverness Revisited: Open-source Game Development as a Method for Teaching Software Engineering


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"Playful Cleverness Revisited: Open-source Game Development as a Method for Teaching Software Engineering" (Mart Laanpere, Kaido Kikkas)

This paper discussing using methods from the historical Internet hacker
culture in teaching XXI century students. A case study was carried out in Tallinn
University in the form of action research exercise. The playful learning approach
was selected to involve students of two different courses in the full cycle of
developing game scenarios for an open source strategy game The Battle for

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Playful Cleverness Revisited: Open-source Game Development as a Method for Teaching Software Engineering

  1. 1. Playful Cleverness Revisited: open-source game development as a method for teaching software engineering Mart Laanpere Centre for Educational Technology, Tallinn University Kaido Kikkas Institute of Informatics, Tallinn University Estonian Information Technology College
  2. 2. The A-Ha! Experience <ul><li>„ In that instant, I as a Christian thought I could feel something of the satisfaction that God must have felt when He created the world“ - Tom Pittman at MIT after successfully running a computer program; around 1975 </li></ul><ul><li>„ IT WORKS!!! :) Our campaign really works! Well, it´s not an extremely huge piece of coding-art, but at least it´s playable. Feels funny to play it :) I was quite sure it would never reach this point.. If there was more time it would be nice to develop it further” - Sonja Merisalo at TLU after completing a campaign for Battle for Wesnoth; Dec 2006 </li></ul>
  3. 3. Playful Cleverness <ul><li>A characteristic of the hacker culture (in its original sense) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Doing serious work in a not-so-serious manner </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Originality and creativity dominate over routine </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>A manifestation of the Linus' Law on motivation: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Survival </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Social life </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Entertainment </li></ul></ul></ul>
  4. 4. The roots <ul><li>MIT Tech Model Railroad Club 1946 </li></ul><ul><li>The Signals & Power Subcommittee </li></ul><ul><li>First computer science classes in 1959 (TX-0), PDP-1 in 1961, Project MAC in 1963 </li></ul><ul><li>MIT AI Lab in 1970 </li></ul><ul><li>Formation of the culture </li></ul><ul><li>For more info: Hackers by Steven Levy </li></ul>
  5. 5. Not business as usual <ul><li>“Computer science” ~ “rocket science” </li></ul><ul><li>Too few people to form a market </li></ul><ul><li>Military undertones </li></ul><ul><li>Software was machine-specific </li></ul><ul><li>Hackers kept apart from managers </li></ul><ul><li>=> Playful Cleverness: original display of creativity unhindered by market motives </li></ul>
  6. 6. Decline and return <ul><li>80s: business growth, microcomputers, software as a proprietary product </li></ul><ul><li>1984: Richard M. Stallman founded the FSF </li></ul><ul><li>1991: Linus Torvalds created Linux </li></ul><ul><li>90s: Internet, Linux, LAMP, KDE, GNOME.... </li></ul><ul><li>2000s: The hackers have returned </li></ul>
  7. 7. The hacker way <ul><li>Two major aspects </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Open Source: public development, flexible and unhindered participation, no external burden </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Playful Cleverness: informal management, “ha-ha, only serious!”, grassroot innovation </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Technology and management – both are important </li></ul>
  8. 8. Case Study: the courses <ul><li>Two courses at Tallinn University </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Open Source Management : autumn 2007, Master level, 6 students with backgrounds in education and media </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Methods and Practices of Free Software : spring 2008, Bachelor level, 23 students with background in IT (incl. software development) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Both courses used teams of 3-5 people </li></ul>
  9. 9. Case Study: the tools <ul><li>Environment: Trac (wiki, ticket-based workflow), Subversion </li></ul><ul><li>Target: The Battle for Wesnoth </li></ul><ul><li>Each team had to build a mini-campaign for the game, using web-based teamwork </li></ul>
  10. 10. The Battle for Wesnoth <ul><li>One of the best free/open-source games </li></ul><ul><li>Turn-based strategy (single or multiplayer), lots of different units, day/night cycle, XML-like markup language, central server for campaigns, large active community </li></ul>
  11. 11. A screenshot
  12. 12. A snippet of WML [event] name=prestart [objectives] side=1 [objective] description= _ &quot;Resist until the end of the turns.“ condition=win [/objective] [objective] description= _ &quot;Death of Ryan&quot; condition=lose [/objective] [/objectives] [/event]
  13. 13. Why Wesnoth? <ul><li>Initially, for the OSM course, </li></ul><ul><ul><li>it matched better the diverse background of the participants </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>it allowed for a wider range of different sub-tasks </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>it sparked the hacker-ish innovative creativity </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Yet it worked with the IT people as well </li></ul>
  14. 14. What does it teach? <ul><li>Developing a scenario for the BfW requires elements from three different areas: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>artistic/visual (units, maps, screens etc) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>narrative/verbal (story) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>technical/logical (WML) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>For comparison: “How To Become A Hacker“ by Eric S. Raymond </li></ul>
  15. 15. The building process <ul><li>Storyline , events, scenarios </li></ul><ul><li>Main characters and related unit types </li></ul><ul><li>For each scenario </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Design (objectives, events) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Map design (terrain ,starting points) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Units and recruitment scheme </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Coding </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Coding the campaign summary </li></ul><ul><li>Testing and balancing </li></ul>
  16. 16. The results <ul><li>Well-received by the diverse group </li></ul><ul><li>Lots of creative solutions (including some non-standard campaigns) </li></ul><ul><li>Tools were adequate, but more Web 2.0 could help in a full distance setting </li></ul><ul><li>The Playful Cleverness was grasped well </li></ul><ul><li>The game approach helps non-tech students </li></ul>
  17. 17. Ideas for the future <ul><li>Test the same approach on other IT and media courses </li></ul><ul><li>Try other free/open-source games (also from different genres) </li></ul><ul><li>Combine the experience with social software, 3D virtual worlds (OpenSim, SL) and other distributed environments </li></ul>
  18. 18. Thank you! Further contact: Kaido Kikkas Skype: kakuonu Server@home: