Category Archives: Blog

Are We Headed for a Second Video Game Crash?

Who doesn’t remember 1983? It was the year that Thomas Sankara became the president of the Republic of Upper Volta. It was the year McDonald’s debuted the “chicken” McNugget. And it’s the year that video games, once a viable and promising business, went (in economic terms) completely tits-up.

Custer's Revenge - tits up

Quoth Wikipedia:

There were several reasons for the crash, but the main cause was supersaturation of the market with hundreds of mostly low-quality games which resulted in the loss of consumer confidence.

E.T.

Confession: i actually loved this game when i was a kid.

Because i hail from the copy/paste school of online research, i’ll allow Wikipedia to elaborate:

Unlike Nintendo, Sega, Sony, or Microsoft in later decades, the hardware manufacturers in this era lost exclusive control of their platforms’ supply of games. With it, they also lost the ability to make sure that the toy stores were never overloaded with products. Activision, Atari and Mattel all had experienced programmers, but many of the new companies — rushing to join the market — did not have enough experience and talent to create the games.

King Kong Atari 2600

Think you might want to add some – you know – *stuff* to this one, fellas?

Essentially, when Activison cracked the nut that allowed them to make games for the proprietary Atari 2600 system, that opened the floodgates for inferior knock-offs and low-quality carts. If there’s an Atari or Activision game on the shelf selling for $60, and a bin full of carts selling for $1 apiece right next to them, Joe Uneducated Mom is probably walking out with an armful of shovelware than a copy of Pitfall II.

Doomed to Repeat It?

Can you think of another period in history when there was a “supersaturation of the market with hundreds of mostly low-quality games?” Can you name a time when we have $60 games competing with a bin full of titles selling for $1? i can. It’s called “NOW”.

Fart App

We’ve transcended figures of speech: at some points the selection becomes, quite literally, shitty.

i’m no economist, but i have heard the phrase “supply and demand” bandied about. What we have now is an oversupply and an under-demand. There are too many people making games, and not enough people to play them – and more importantly, not enough people willing to pay fair market value for them. When the president of Nintendo takes to the stage at GDC 2011 and implores people not to sell their games for a buck, something alarming is happening. And when you get a trend of people reducing the cost of their games from $1 to FREE because $1 was too expensive, it’s time to consider jumping ship. And then setting that ship on fire.

When you have every community college boasting a over-subscribed video game program of one kind or another, but recent reports suggest that graduates’ success at landing an industry job is 12%, there’s a problem. Something ain’t right. The dam’s got to burst.

Out of Control

Am i out to lunch here, or are we headed for another catastrophic, landfill-full-of-E.T.-carts crash of the industry? And if we do crash, what will that crash look like? If you are an economist and you think i’m out to lunch, please tell me why.

Fame.

i took the family to IKEA today, as a weird potty-training reward for my youngest. The store offers free child care in a room with a ball pool; we told Izzy that they wouldn’t take kids who weren’t potty trained. Before a week was out, she was pooping on the can like a champ. But this isn’t the story about a 3-year-old’s bowel movements.

IKEA Meatballs

And this isn’t a picture of a 3-year-old’s bowel movements (though you wouldn’t know it.)

This is the story of how Izzy was two inches shy of the height cut-off, so we dropped Cassie off at the ball pit and took Izzy secretly to get a frozen yogurt cone to stop her from crying inconsolably. i was wearing my “I Am an Evil Lemon” shirt, one of the fine items we sell for fans of Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. The cashier looked at it and said “cool shirt!” This was exciting to me. “Do you know what this is?” i asked. “No,” he said.

Oh. What a let-down.

Sad trombone

i said “It’s from this game i made with my daughter.” His face brightened up. “You were on the news!” Then my face brightened up as well.

The World Over

What i found remarkable about the exchange was that he was a young guy, supposedly part of a generation that didn’t watch teevee any more – and especially not the 6 o’clock news (or the nation-wide morning show Canada AM).

But that didn’t beat my experience a week ago. We had rented a cottage in Haliburton, a patch of cottage country three hours Northwest of Toronto. The map to that area of Ontario has exactly one road running through it; the rest is very very green, and spotted with lakes. The village closest to the cottage was a place called Gooderham, which i hesitate to call a “one-horse town”, because i got the feeling they likely had to borrow a horse from the next town over. The only commercial buildings in Gooderham are a diner, a gas station, and a convenience store.

Nowhere, Ontario

Three hours Northwest of Toronto? Not convenient.

We went in to buy marshmallows, popsicles, and snow cone syrup – you know, all the camping staples – and i was wearing my Evil Lemon shirt. As with the IKEA story, the guy behind the cash register remarked at my shirt. “That’s a strange shirt,” he said. “Oh – it’s from this game i made with my daughter,” i replied.

And then, this guy who worked his parents’ convenience store in the middle of B.F. Nowhere in Ontario, three hours Northwest of Toronto, and three months after the fact, said “Oh – you were on the news!”

i’ve had people write to me to tell me how they’ve shared the game around. You’ll remember the teacher who dressed up as the Ponycorns game and went to an anime convention. At the cottage, we spent some time with an old friend of ours, who is also a teacher. Before school ended, he shared the game with his high school students, who went absolutely nuts for it. Come exam time, his students (unprovoked) doodled ponycorns fan-art on the backs of their papers:

ponycorns

ponycorns

ponycorns

IMPORTANT NOTE: My friend does not teach art.

Tiny Voice, Enormous Head

Many people ask me how Cassie is handling her notoriety. A few weeks back, we wanted to have brunch at a place downtown. The waitress politely told us it would be a five minute wait for a table. Cassie looked up at her and said, in a rehearsed manner, “Hi! My name’s Cassie. i’m five years old. i made a game called Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure, and almost everyone in the whole world has played it.” Then she waited, expectantly. This, of course, was all to my utter horror.

“Cassie … are you trying to get us a table more quickly?” i asked. Then, to salvage the situation with humour (as i am wont to do), i chuckled uncomfortably and said to Cassie (for the waitress’s benefit) “No, sweetie – this is how you do it: you say ‘DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM??’”

i’m not sure the waitress appreciated that approach either.

Every so often, i’ll catch Cassie smugly saying to her sister “i’m the famous girl”, and i’ll bark at her from another room “KNOCK IT OFF. You’re NOT famous.” She just continues colouring, and humming to herself contentedly.

We’re far from having created a monster, but my wife and i do have to issue occasional reminders about humility vs. conceitedness. We told Cass that “almost everyone in the world” had played her game, only to help frame it for her. She wouldn’t have appreciated the scope of the game’s virality if we had said “GREAT news, sweetie! Your game is huge in Michigan, and in select parts of Western Mexico!”

Still, the fact that folks remember us from the news remains a thrill. It’s a far cry from getting mobbed in a shopping mall by squealing preteen girls, but hey … we can’t all be Wilford Brimley.

Wilford Brimley

This November, i’ll be talking about the whole roller coaster ride of creating a viral game, and the steps we took to maximize our exposure and reach during the peak of the craziness, at the Screens festival in Toronto for my presentation “Ponycorns: Catching Lightning in a Jar“.

How Little Things Escalate

“Escalation” is the term game developers use to describe the ways in which a video game gets progressively more challenging. There are many different ways to escalate a game. Here are a few:

  1. decrease the amount of time the player has to complete a goal

    Super Metroid

    at the climax of Super Metroid, the player has to escape the ship before it explodes

  2. increase the speed or power of obstacles

    Pac Man

    Pac Man’s ghost enemies speed up as the game escalates

    Bubble Bobble

    Bubble Bobble introduces the invincible Baron von Blubba when the player dawdles

  3. decrease the number of “chances” or “tries” the player has to complete a goal

    Donkey Kong

    Donkey Kong gives the player a set number of tries (“lives”) as the game escalates before the machine requires another quarter and the player has to start from the beginning

  4. increase complexity

    Bejeweled

    as Bejewelled escalates, it introduces extra gem colours, which makes finding matches more challenging

  5. increase the grind – an action the player must perform repeatedly to be successful

    Gran Turismo

    Gran Turismo introduces endurance races where the player must race for a set number of real-time hours to win

    World of Warcraft

    World of Warcraft confronts the player with increasingly more difficult monsters, which forces the player to repeatedly kill weaker monsters to improve his stats

  6. decrease the amount of visual information available to the player

    The Legend of Zelda

    The Legend of Zelda periodically turns out the lights, and requires the player to doggedly re-ignite lamps

  7. increase the quota – the number of small goals the player must complete within the time limit. This is really just a variation on decreasing the time limit.

    Diner Dash

    As each level progesses, Diner Dash increases the number of customers you have to serve

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!

i learned an interesting tip about escalation. i wish i could credit my source, but i have a memory like a sieve . (Mother Nature escalates my life by increasingly turning me into a doddering old fool.) The tip is to escalate your game with a lightning bolt graph, rather than a smooth incline. Regard:

Game Escalation Graphs

In an old-school arcade game, the levels get progressively more insane, until you lose the game and have to feed the machine more quarters. This makes sense for a coin-op that exists to devour your hard-earned pocket change, but it doesn’t make sense if you’re designing a more modern game where you want your player to be engaged for as long as possible. A freemium game, for example, lives and dies by retaining players; a linear escalation curve increases the likelihood that the player will quit out of fear or exhaustion. If he just barely makes it out of level 10 by the skin of his teeth, he may not even want to attempt level 11. He’d sooner quit while he’s ahead.

Steve Ballmer

Is that all you got?? BRING ON THE WATER TEMPLE!!

A modern game that strives for retention might use a lightning bolt or stair-step graph. Here, level 10 was insanely difficult, but level 11 gives the player a bit of a breather. One of the early examples of this approach that i can remember is the coin-op beat-em-up Final Fight. After brawling your way through a preposterously crime-ridden city as the roid-raging mayor or one of his two ninja buddies, you get to smash a car. No bad guys, no chance of death, no risk of losing – just a time-limited opportunity to smash a car.

Final Fight Car Smash

Because nothing says “tough on crime” like the mayor engaging in a little senseless vandalism.

A more modern example is Little Things, a hidden object game on the iPad that i’ve been playing this week. The levels in Little Things are, refreshingly, NOT rooms in a Victorian mansion in which a child ghost has murdered a wealthy detective. Instead, they’re little pictures composed of even smaller pictures. The player has to complete his quota by finding the items on the list.

Little Things

i was trying to keep this article classy, but they had to go mentioning shuttlecocks.

Some of these pictures make it easier to find the little things within. The umbrella’s striped design makes it easier to compartmentalize sections of the image and limit your focus. In contrast, the hideously jam-packed cupcake is a real challenge to sift through.

Little Things Beagle

Little Things beagle: easy. Little things hamburger: not-so-easy. (This is somewhat of a reversal of real life.)

If Little Things were to escalate linearly, you’d unlock the easy pictures at the beginning of the game, and the denser pictures towards the end. But Little Things has a staggered escalation; the densely-populated hamburger is introduced before the cinchy electric guitar. If the escalation was linear, you’d complete 10 missions in the beagle picture before moving on to complete 10 further missions in the wheelbarrow picture. Instead, Little Things bounces around from picture to picture, shuffling in the easier images to give the player a break. Even the missions themselves are staggered: in one instance, you’ll find yourself scouring the level for 15 objects under distinct time pressure; the very next level, you’ll need to point at four pairs of sunglasses in one of the easier pictures.

Where's Waldo

Serously – there he is. He’s RIGHT THERE. Just click on him. 50 points.

The net effect is that Little Things held my attention much longer than it would have if its escalation were progressive. Give consideration to staggered escalation if you count player retention among your next game’s goals.

Untold Entertainment Goes Forth


Untold Entertainment Goes Forth

When Untold Entertainment Inc. turned three last year, we were reeling from the fallout of the global economic collapse. It’s been a slow, difficult recovery, and we still have a lot of work left to do, but i’m happy to say we’ve nosed out of the tailspin. This was a landmark year for Untold; we are poised to have an absolutely incredible fifth year going forward. If last year was our Empire, this year is our Jedi. Bring on the Ewoks, baby.

Ewok

Yub nub, motherf*cker.

Here’s a look at the Year That Was.

2010

August

Last fiscal ended on a dark note. We were struggling through Spellirium, our post-apocalyptic puzzle adventure game, as various production problems saw the budget sapped with very little to show for our efforts. The year ahead had us planning to complete service projects in the hope that we’d bank enough margin to continue working on the game.


Spellirium

September

My book was published! Unity 3D Game Development by Example: A Beginner’s Guide is a great introduction to game development, computer programming, and Unity 3D itself, which is a super-powerful game engine for creating on a wide variety of platforms. Thanks to you all for buying a copy, or for recommending the book to your friends.

Unity 3D Game Development By Example

Fall

We launched Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two on YTV.com. Jinx 3 was the first game to use UGAGS, the Untold Graphic Adventure Game System. It supported multiple playable characters, an inventory system, a subtitle system, game variable control, and a “puppet” guidance system, which enables the developer to write commands to build in-game cutscenes. Jinx 3 was the first UGAGS game we developed, but the second one to launch, after Heads.

Jinx 3: Escape from Area Fitty-Two

i spoke about UGAGS at Gamercamp Level 2.0, a Toronto convention celebrating the joy of video games.

October saw the publication of a now-infamous article about the Vortex Game Development Competition, where the previous year’s winners were revealed to have never worked on the winning game.

i experimented with a feature called Linkbait Tuesdays, where i used the Linkbait Generator to spit out randomized titles for blog posts. It wasn’t much appreciated by my readership, and didn’t appreciably increase blog traffic, so i killed the feature.

On Hallowe’en, we launched our second free games portal called ZombieGameWorld.com. If you know the song about the old woman who swallowed the fly, you’ll understand our challenge with these portals. We built WordGameWorld.com in order to attract a word game-playing audience, so that we could control the site’s ad inventory and find an audience for Spellirium. When the site suffered from flagging traffic, i decided to build a network of game portals; ZombieGameWorld.com was ostensibly created to help drive traffic to WordGameWorld.com, which should drive traffic to Spellirium.

Old lady who swallowed a fly

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly. i don’t know why she swallowed the fly. i guess she’ll die?

To round out the fall, i grew a beard to win hockey tickets, despite not enjoying hockey. i spoke at an interactiveontario luncheon. And i wrote an article for Mochiland.com on the disgraceful refusal by contracting companies to credit their Flash game developers.

Ryan Henson Creighton's epic moustache

Why wouldn’t you want your game to be associated with this guy?

Winter

As the cold weather set in, i took a position at a private college teaching Unity 3D game development. i had hoped for a better experience than i had at Hervé Velasquez School for the Digitally Inclined, but no such luck: halfway through the course, which was dubbed Programming II (the students had supposedly been taught Flash/Actionscript for four months prior to my arrival), i had to dial everything back and re-teach programming basics to them. And by basics, i mean stuff like “What does the ‘=’ symbol do?” and “What is a variable?”

name

What … is your NAME?

The class was only eight students, but i had no fewer than two of those students’ parents call or email me to ask why little Billy was getting low grades on tests. YaRly.

In this, i further proved the thesis in my contentious What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges articles (Part 1 and Part 2). Helicopter parenting and failure aversion have created a generation of non-functional kids, which i later dubbed The Most Useless Generation. My diagnosis is that many college undergrads have escaped high school without ever understanding How to Be a Student (an article i wrote while teaching last winter, which i’ve only just posted now that i’ve put some distance between myself and the situation).

In the interest of helping young people be more successful, i offered My Prescription for (More) Successful Students, which my students all ignored, and i wrote a serious of articles called Understanding Programming to explain programming basics, which my students also ignored. Oh well. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but sometimes you just have a retarded horse.

retarded horse

2011

Spring

In 2011, we launched an exciting blog series called Pimp My Portal, detailing our struggles to drive traffic to ZombieGameWorld.com and WordGameWorld.com. The hook here was The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget, a pot of just $100 that i spent on Fiverr.com to buy testimonial videos to promote the site, the rationale being that search loves video. The Old Lady who Swallowed the Fly reared her ugly head again, as i found that i had no audience to watch the videos to go to the portal to go to the OTHER portal to find out about Spellirium. The Pimp My Portal series is ongoing.

Around this time, we were commissioned by The Centre for Skills Development and Training to produce a series of games to help teach workplace skills to 15-30-year-olds. The resulting game, Summer in Smallywood, enabled us to make a number of improvements to UGAGS, including auto-save, debug tools, navigation meshes, saved game profiles, and threaded conversations. We’re looking forward to working further with The Centre in the coming year to expand our educational gaming experience.

Summer in Smallywood by Untold Entertainment

In March, i admit i was feeling a little bit desperate and squirrely. Work was trickling into the shop in fits and starts, and i was really wondering whether renewing our lease would be wise. Wild-eyed and hungry at GDC, i was overcome with the need to let the world know i am here, like the tiny Whos living on a speck on a clover stalk, who ultimately issue a resounding YOPP! to show the jungle animals that they exist (and to keep from getting boiled in beezlenut oil).

Horton

A game dev’s a game dev, no matter how small.

To that end, i pulled some shenanigans at the conference, which came to be known as the famous GDC Coin Stunt. The resulting press on most major online games sites greased the wheels for what was to be our greatest victory yet.

i have all the coins shirt

Over the years, we’ve found it so difficult to drive enough steady Flash game development work that we haven’t been able to bank enough time or enough money to do our own thing. To date, the only chance we seem to get is TOJam, an annual weekend-long Toronto game jam, during which we always produce a complete and original game. Indeed, nearly every title in the Original Games section of our portfolio is a TOJam game, completed in one weekend by me alone.

This year, we used UGAGS to create Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure. i worked on the game with my 5-year-old daughter Cassandra. It was no accident that i was wearing my “I have all the coins” T-Shirt in the TOJam group photo this year. After the game went live, it went viral, initially being featured on many of the same sites that covered the coin stunt. In the few months since its launch, the ponycorns game has gone on to become an international sensation (i just granted an interview to a Japanese newspaper this week!).

Cassie and Daddy

[photo by Brendan Lynch]

With the ponycorns game, we took a very important step to improving our viability as a dev studio by launching the game on the Apple iPad and the BlackBerry Playbook. On the third day of its launch week, Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure was featured by Apple in its New & Noteworthy section.

Ponycorns also drove us to develop our first alternate revenue stream based on our original IP. We launched the Untold Booty merchandise store with a number of different ponycorns-based SKUs, and have been very happy with the results.

Throughout the year, i remained active with the IGDA Toronto Chapter, organizing some well-received events including the speed dating-style Game.Set.Match, the Open Mic Night rant session, Straight Outta TOJam: Pint-sized Postmortems, and the Fund in the Sun workshop.

IGDA Toronto Chapter posters

Through the spring, we developed a great puzzle/platformer game called Spladder, which currently runs on a number of kids’ broadcaster sites – YTV.com. TVO.org and CBBC.co.uk among them.

We launched a new games portal called TowerDefenseGameWorld.com and filled it with free tower defense games, because it’s difficult to prove a theory about a network of games portals lending each other traffic if you only have two portals. We also gave a major upgrade to ZombieGameWorld.com by expanding it to feature zombie games and goodies on other platforms.

i know an old lady who swallowed a horse. She’s dead, of course.

Summer. Future.

We’ve come full circle. Spellirium remains unfinished, but we’re finally spending time on it again. We poked Kahoots with a stick to see if it was still twitching. Thankfully, it is! We’ve made some creative changes to it to spare a fellow indie game dev company some unpleasant legal strife; look forward to a Kahoots-related announcement in the coming months.

i’m writing the 3.x update to my Unity 3D book, which will be ready shortly (send me an email and i’ll add you to our notification list when the update is released).

Going forward, our plan is to leverage the success of the ponycorns game to make major in-roads into game development and education for kids (see our article on CBC.ca). i’m preparing a pilot project with Cassie’s elementary school this fall. We’re preparing the unstoppable UGAGS engine for a business-to-business, and then consumer, release – expect it to have a kid-friendly interface. We’re polling people for their interest in an iPhone/iPod version of the game (send us an email!). i’ll be delivering my conference session Ponycorns: Lightning in a Jar at the Screens festival this fall, and at other conventions throughout the year. Ponycorns is being translated into Japanese in anticipation of the Sense of Wonder Night at the Tokyo Games Show.

Untold Entertainment’s fifth year will be filled with low-life panda bears, daily word puzzles, gamesByKids, and more great articles about game development and education, peppered with rude jokes and stolen LOLcat pictures. Thanks so much for your support, everyone! i’m really looking forward to writing an amazing recap next year.

How to Be a Student

The current crop of teens and early 20-somethings in Ontario (and perhaps elsewhere, but i can only comment on Ontario) is being derided for its poor work ethic and its sense of entitlement. In my notorious articles What’s Wrong with Ontario Colleges? (Part 1 and Part 2), i boiled it all down to certain decisions made by the Ontario Ministry of Education that persisted for about 13 years:

  1. No deadlines. Students are free to submit assignments whenever they feel like it. So an assignment that was due in September can be submitted in June with no penalty.
  2. No failing. As of the 1996 intake, students could not fail the ninth grade.
  3. Social promotion. While students could still fail individual courses throughout high school, every effort was made to “socially promote” them in order to keep them with their peer group. So a student in his fourth year of high school, who was working at a grade nine level or below in various subjects, was still considered a grade twelve student.

Note: The Ministry of Ed has recently reversed its experiment on late penalties. Teachers can once again dock marks for late assignments. A teacher friend of mine thinks it will take another 5-10 years to see the benefits of an improved work ethic in our graduating students, as current grade nine students are brought up under this regime.

Lost Boys

That leaves us with a group of kids who are book-ended by more effectively-educated generations.

The result of these decisions, in conjunction with permissive parenting, is that the current crop of high school grads (which i’ve dubbed “the Most Useless Generation“) has turned out foolish, lazy, and entitled. Not to mince words.

We Don’t Need No Education

When i was teaching a Flash course earlier last year, this exchange took place between a student and me:

Me: You need to understand this concept in order to program a game.
Student: Well that’s your job.
Me: What is?
Student: Making us understand.

“Students” today expect some sort of Matrix-like solution where their responsibility ends with showing up to class. It’s there that the instructor somehow jacks a cable into their necks to inject knowledge into their brains. If the student leaves that 3- or 4-hour class without new knowledge, it’s a failing of the instructor.

Kung Fu

Whoa. I know small business management.

That’s the fantasy. Here’s how it actually works:

The responsibility of the instructor is to disseminate information. The very worst instructors do this by standing at the front of the room and talking. The very best instructors do this by combining a variety of stimuli – they speak, they gesture, they sing, dance and play music, they use call-and-response to engage the class, they have the class members participate by doing (typing the code, touching the fabric, operating the drill press, tabulating the survey results). They try to gauge the students’ UNDERSTANDING of the material as they teach. (Although, despite what Dead Poets Society taught you, it’s not the responsibility of a teacher to be entertaining.)

Dead Poets Society

Robin Williams: ruining education for decades.

As a student, you have a number of responsibilities. The first is ABSORPTION. You need to come to class on time, fill a seat, and soak up the instruction. It’s all about using your senses: hear the instructor’s voice, look at the visuals, repeat the terminology, touch the equipment (type on the keyboard, operate the drill press, hold the notepad). Your learning increases exponentially when you use two or more of your senses at the same time: touch one of your fingers while repeating a key term, write a note while listening to the lecturer’s voice, or ask a question while looking at a visual aid.

Sponge

You, in class.

Through your ABSORPTION of the material, you need to reach UNDERSTANDING. If you don’t understand the concepts, you can ask questions of the instructor, your classmates, or the Internet (which knows pretty much everything, so i’m not sure why you’re acting like your Google Fingers are broken).

Let me Google that For You

The Old College Try

Once you have (or think you have) UNDERSTANDING, you need to convert that into KNOWLEDGE by way of PRACTICE. This is especially important in a technical or a vocational pursuit like learning to program games, learning to play the piano, or learning to make a hope chest out of pine wood. The reason you need to gain KNOWLEDGE is because the instructor is going to test you on your knowledge through tests, quizzes, exams and assignments. This is how you get marks in a class: by demonstrating your KNOWLEDGE in these situations.

So PRACTICE is the way you convert UNDERSTANDING into KNOWLEDGE. Okay – i get how to use a tablesaw to cut a piece of wood … now i actually need to use a tablesaw to cut a piece of wood. Because if the instructor gives me a test, and one of the steps is cutting a piece of wood with a tablesaw, and i’ve never actually practiced that, i may be on thin ice during the test.

tablesaw

i’m pretty sure i start it up by putting my face on the spinny thing … Man, i wish this test was open-book.

Likewise, if the lecture was about writing a custom class to program a game, i ABSORBED the material, and gained UNDERSTANDING of how to write a custom class. On the test, the instructor will require me to demonstrate my KNOWLEDGE of how to write a custom class. In order to convert my UNDERSTANDING into KNOWLEDGE, i need to PRACTICE … that means i actually have to write a few custom classes. If you just listen to the theory behind writing a custom class, but never bother to actually write a few on your own, you won’t fare well. (But that’s exactly what most of my students have done. And then their mommies call me up to ask why they’re failing tests. Seriously.)

PRACTICE may require some back-and-forth. You may think you understand the material, and then fall flat on your face when you go to practice it. That’s when you return to the instructor and say “i tried this and it didn’t work – could you help me improve my understanding?”, or “could you clarify what you meant by X?”

You’ll know you’ve gained KNOWLEDGE when you can demonstrate the material without having to ask questions or refer to your notes. Someone with a KNOWLEDGE of how to saw a board does not need to check the tablesaw manual or refer to a list of steps on sawing a board. Someone with a KNOWLEDGE of how to write a custom class does not need to call up past assignments, or Google a tutorial on it.

Skydiving

I’m going to begin your skydiving session today by checking a book out of the library.

Prove It.

Finally, back in class on test or assignment day, you DEMONSTRATE the KNOWLEDGE you have gained through PRACTICE. That is what is required of you as a student.

The approach that the no-fail generation takes to education is lazy and firmly rooted in fantasy. They think “If i take a course in X, then at the end of the four months, i will be able to get a job doing X”. (Of course, only people with KNOWLEDGE of X will be in any kind of position to get a job doing X … and it’s only the people with KNOWLEDGE who compete for that job. If you have no KNOWLEDGE of X, you’re automatically out of the running, unless you have a well-connected uncle. )

A better attitude is “If i take a course in X, they will provide me with the information i need to learn X. If i take the responsibility to learn X well enough, i may be able to compete for a job doing X.”