Posted by: Jared Seay | May 5, 2010

Repurposing Commerical Source Engines for Educational Purposes

As a member of the Serious Games Initiative listserv I get lots of info and ideas about developing, using and re purposing games for educational and training use. The latter – “re purposing”-  is an extremely useful tool for those who use games in their teaching.

This is a bit more complicated than just playing existing games in a library or classroom.  This is about actually creating a game or or game-like-environment using the  modding capabilities of a commercial (digital) game.  “Modding is a slang expression that is derived from the verb “modify”. Modding refers to the act of modifying a piece of hardware or software or anything else for that matter, to perform a function not originally conceived or intended by the designer. The term modding is often used within the computer game community, particularly in regard to creating new or altered content ” (From Wikipedia: Modding).

All you need to know is that, using this (not so difficult to learn) capability of many commercial games, an inspired librarian or educator could  create a pretty darned exciting learning game or environment about a particular topic.  Really.

Recently a post from “Pauline” re -inspired me to look into this concept again.   Here’s the start of the thread that is proving very informative:

Pauline: I’m doing some research into the advantages and pitfalls of using commercial source/games engines for developing serious games in HE <Higher Education>  (e.g. Valve’s Half Life 2, Unreal Tournament 2004)……I was wondering if anyone familiar with this area could direct me to relevant literature/case studies?

Tim: Pauline I can’t per se point you to any literature or case studies, but modding commercial game tech has proven pretty practical for numerous projects for myself and others. It has it’s advantages, but is not without it’s pitfalls. I’ve listed a few positives and negatives below. The negatives aren’t that bad, but you do need to know what you’re getting yourself into.

Positives

* You often get an extremely high quality development environment with extensive tools and other resources

* You get to take advantage of all that the original game offers, such as art assets, AI code, user interface and other features

* The platform is highly supported by both online communities of users as well as the original company

* The community of amateur mod developers is an excellent resource for knowledge and expertise

Negatives

* Creating high quality game assets (3d art, 2d textures, animated models, etc.) is hard work

* If you do not have the skill and resources available to create a mod, you run a good risk of either never finishing or going way over budget

* You can’t completely rebrand your work to remove the game name, logo, etc.

* You need to install the original commercial game to run your mod, which often directly contradicts IT policies about installation of games

* You will always have the original game present on any machine running your mod, which may be an issue in say student labs or other areas where this could prove to be a distraction

* You can’t sell your work (if there was some interest in this)

Carl: Hi Pauline,  These examples are quite old but you may find them useful:

DoomED and Hard Play two HL2 mods:

http://www.desq.co.uk/doomed/index.aspx

http://www.ucalgary.ca/hardplay/

Teaching history through Civilization:

http://civworld.gameslearningsociety.org/

There seems to be some documentation on all of these sites.

The game “Civilization” mentioned here is probably the most utilized computer game in all of education historically ( pun very much intended).  DoomEd and Hardplay use the “Half-Life”environment engine.

<btw, as soon as I get these folks full names and associated institutions, I’ll put it here.  Not everyone posts with this info to the listserv….. imagine that.>

-JAS

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