New “Workers Killed” notification panel for StarCraft 2

Workers Killed animated GIF

Last year, we ported our “Upgrade Notifications” to the GameHeart for StarCraft 2 with a ton of assistance from Ryan Schutter and Ahli. Taking advantage of the structure of the GameHeart Extension Mod, we’ve prototyped a new feature for community testing and feedback. If “Workers Killed” panels turn out to be desirable, the code itself can be easily integrated into GameHeart in the future.

The “Workers Killed” notification is a little pop-up tab that appears on the left side of an SC2 observer screen that shows how many workers have been killed recently. Our goals for this feature are to make it easier for StarCraft 2 observers, casters, and spectators to identify and assess the amount of economic damage during attacks on the mineral line.

Closeup on Workers Killed tabIt’s pretty simple: Every time a worker is killed, our code waits 20 seconds. If another second worker dies in that period, we open up the panel and show how many workers have been killed. After 20 seconds pass with no workers being killed, the panel disappears and we reset the kill-count to zero.

Here are a couple of possible situations in which the notifications can help:

  • Hellions or Banelings kill multiple workers: Casters can tell exactly how many workers died during a single blast, eliminating the need for mid-game “caster math.”
  • Periodic attacks by Medivacs, Oracles or Mutalisks over the course of a game: Casters can easily discuss the effectiveness of each separate attempt.
    Multi-pronged harass: Observers can track the total number of workers lost without opening the 1v1 Workers Killed panel open.
  • Scouting worker deaths: This is very common and does not bring up the notification. 2 or more workers must be killed to bring up the notification window.
    Mineral line attacks in 2v2 games: Separate color-coded notifications appear for each player losing workers.
  • Big battles occurring near bases and mineral lines: Viewers can watch the battle itself while casters can point out the long-term consequences of worker pulls and losses.
  • Post-game analysis: Observers can hide notifications mid-game (Control-Shift-W for workers, Control-Shift-N for upgrades) or use a custom interface file to hide them by default. Their visibility can also be toggled by observers during replays.

As we add more features to GameHeart, we are constantly thinking about how much screen real estate we’re using. We want to make sure that our automatic notifications never stray into the annoying territory and are only open when helpful. We also want to ensure that our code doesn’t affect game or player performance.

In other words, we need your feedback and help! Since our work runs on top of GameHeart, it’s the same process as starting a GameHeart match. Go to “Custom Maps,” choose a 1v1 or 2v2 melee map, and click on “Create Map with Mod.” Search for and select “GHWorkerKilled,” an Extension Mod that includes our all our notifications and (as far as we can tell) all of the current features of GameHeart.

Kudos to Nick Mohr for implementing this new feature. Good luck and have fun!

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On Competition

Originally published at the author’s blog, Stay Classy, on April 9th.

Patrick Miller made a blog post today called “Fighting games aren’t just about competition” in which he says some on-point and perceptive things. I suggest giving it a read over.

However at the beginning my book gets a mention as a partial inspiration for the post, and I had some thoughts about what he talks about in it, so I wanted to write these out.

If you want the executive summary that might get you to skip this blog post: I agree with Patrick’s post pretty much all the way through in the general. This post of mine is about specifics and adding in some of my views that you would find in the book (and my other work/talks). More after the jump.
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Baseball’s Curious Geography


Originally published at the author’s blog, Simpler Creature

I was never really good at geography. I’m still not, really. I can’t name many capital cities, and though I know the names of a lot of countries, I’ll still screw up which one is which on a map. It was never a major focus of my education growing up, and I haven’t had much curiosity about it as an adult.

I do find geography fascinating in a sports media context, however. I recently stumbled upon a link to the above map that shows which MLB team Facebook page has the most “likes” on a per county basis. On the surface, the map depicts much of what you might expect: the regions where teams are geographically located have the most fans. For example, New England seems to love the Red Sox. New York, half of Connecticut, and parts of NJ and Pennsylvania seem to like the Yankees. The south, with the exception of parts of Florida, seem to like the Braves.

Interesting though it is, let’s be clear about what the map shows. It’s a breakdown of Facebook “likes,” so we’re only talking about people in those counties who are 1) on Facebook and 2) interested in “liking” a baseball page. I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m on Facebook, but I don’t officially “like” the Red Sox page according to the language and mechanics of Facebook. It should also be noted that the color coding is based on the “most” likes, though it doesn’t indicate by what margin. So a county might be pretty well divided across teams (Yankees and Mets, say) but if a small majority like one over the other, boom, it’s coded for that team (I think this explains why there are supposedly no counties that support the Mets or the Athletics, when obviously those teams have large fan bases).

So while popular news outlets have been rushing to use this map to declare that the “Yankees are America’s Team” they may want to tread with some more caution, given that the data shown is limited in many ways with regards to how sports fans engage with sports media (hint, it’s probably not on Facebook much). Ah, who am I kidding, most of the posts about this map are just link bait anyway.
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Reflections on Game Design for Expression, Fall 2013

So last fall, I decided to step outside of my comfort zone — a statement that will be especially relevant later in this post — and teach a game design class. Now, for those of you who don’t know, while I work in the games domain, my background isn’t in design, primarily. I come from a mass communication and cultural studies background, so my work tends to be sociological in nature and more about players and games as cultural artifacts than about how to “make” them. One of the best things about working at this lab, however, has been a chance to engage with design as a process, to talk with students doing that work, and even be part of making a game or two. So I decided that I wanted to try and teach a design class that leveraged what I knew.

The question became: what kind of design class could I offer? We’ve already got excellent courses taught by others in the lab on game design, digital and not, so I didn’t want to try and retread that territory. A lot of my work focuses on LGBTQ identity in games, and I wondered to what extent that would be useful, when it hit me: what have a lot of queer game devs been advocating for? Making small-scale, personally-meaningful games using free tools. I’d even had exposure to some of those free tools, like Twine and Stencyl, myself — they were things I felt I could teach students. Perhaps most importantly, I had a lot of contacts with developers who had made those games. Could I teach a course about making personally-expressive small games?
And thus was CMS.S60, “Game Design for Expression,” born.
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Posted in Courses



Originally published at Stay Classy in February

This has been a long time coming. It’s time… to blog about Saints Row. Specifically, the latest game in the series, Saints Row 4. We’re going to get there in a roundabout way, however, so bear with me until this is over.

I want to talk about how Saints Row 4 is a game, about games, about games. If you’re interested in hearing more about this topic, feel free to join me after the cut. Definite (though not Earth-shattering — puns!) spoilers for Saints Row 4 and potentially for Saints Row: the Third ahead.

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Friday Games: Fashion = POWER!

Above: Yuna, Rikku, and newcomer Paine are the stars in Final Fantasy X-2. Image Credit: Square Enix

In honor of the Final Fantasy X-2 HD re-release, we will play games where fashion is a gameplay mechanic, including the new Final Fantasy XII Lightning Returns, The World Ends With You, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and others.

Come join us at MIT this Friday, March 28th at 4pm in building 26, room 153 or watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Friday Games: Designer Aerjen Tamminga

Pleasant Dreams

We’ve handed the reins to this week’s Friday Games to our affiliate, Aerjen Tamminga:

This Friday will be an exploration of some of the Euro Games that inspired me to make Pleasant Dreams. I often (accidentally) make games with indirect conflict due to my over-exposure to Euro Games.

Come join us on Friday, March 21st, 4pm at MIT in building 26, room 153 or watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Friday Games: Karaokards


Ste Curran is visiting the MIT Game Lab to give us a tase of his unique style of game related storytelling as well as showing his soon to be released game Karaokards which recently was successfully funded on Kickstarter.

We’ll start at 4pm at MIT building 26, room 153 or you can watch online on our Twitch.TV channel.

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Commercial Games for Academic Literacy


It’s no secret that video games have a long history with education. Some of the oldest educational video games have been around for decades. While we spend a lot of time and effort developing educational games, we should be discussing the potential of commercial games to foster academic literacy and successful learning strategies. I am positing a new way of looking at games for education. This involves stepping away from the classic dichotomy of ‘serious’ learning games versus commercial games and instead looking at how games affect their players and what we can glean simply from playing. Games, both digital and non-digital, open up a space for people to explore, strategize, and learn. They offer new perspectives on old subjects and allow players to break into difficult subjects with ease.

Rome total warIn the past when people have discussed the use of commercial games for learning, they usually take the standpoint of exhibiting a few gleaming examples of educational content within the perceived barren wasteland of commercial video games. Games like Sid Meier’s Pirates, Civilization, or the Total War series are often held aloft as these gems of education within the commercial game scene. I love these games as much as the next person, but we need to stop looking at games for the content they teach us and instead look at how the games teach us to learn. We need to focus on what games teach us when we aren’t asking to be taught.

When assessing the academic use of video games, we tend to focus on two aspects of a game: content and gameplay mechanics. Either the game can teach students about a subject through walls of text, graphs, maps, and historical information, or it illustrates its usefulness through asking players to perform tasks like multiplication or balancing a chemical equation before the timer runs out. This isn’t the way we should be looking at the potential in games. Let’s look instead at how we can walk away from a game better equipped to be an active participant in education. I’d like to give you all an example of what I argue is the ideal format for learning in video games.
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Friday Games: Strider


Wall-clinging! Cybernetic attack dogs! Russian dystopia! Nobody’s entirely sure what “Special A-Class” REALLY means, and we’re pretty sure there’s no real explanation for why a bizarre, plasma-powered tonfa-sword-thing should be called a “cypher,” but it’s difficult to deny that the acrobatic, laconic, robot-animal-deploying Strider Hiryuu is among gaming’s most iconic action heroes. This week in Friday Games we’ll look at a few of Hiryuu’s video game incarnations, from the NES game based on the character’s manga origins, to his playable appearances in Capcom’s Vs. series fighting games, to the recent Metroidvania-y series reboot by Double Helix.

We will start at 4pm ET in MIT room 26-153. You can also watch online on our TwitchTV stream.

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