Time To Make a Start – Welcome to Interactive Media and Game Design

[The Digital Worlds uncourse blog experiment was an experiment in authoring an online Open University course in public. A lot of the material in the Digital Worlds blog found it’s way into the Open University course T151 Digital Worlds – designing games, creating alternative realities, which next runs in May 2010. But you can also read it here… for free…]

Have you ever played a computer game – or watched someone playing a computer game, and wondered how the game works, whether from a technical point of view, or at a more psychological level? Why is one game fun to play, for example, when another is not?

Or maybe you’ve noticed an increasing number of television adverts for computer games, many of them looking like big budget Hollywood movie trailers, and asked yourself just how big an industry is computer gaming?

This blogged-course aims to give you a greater understanding of how interactive media in general, and computer games in particular, work. From the technical basics, through the development process, to marketing and distribution; from the simplest 2 dimensional computer arcade games like Pacman and Space Invaders, to immersive three dimensional virtual worlds populated by thousands of other people, you’ll see how the media landscape is changing, and how game technology is helping to drive that change.

First of all, let’s have some ground rules:

  1. this “course” is not a course about learning how to play computer games better; that said, one of the best ways of learning about game design is to look at – and play – some of the games that are already out there. I’ll direct you to some of these games at appropriate points, as well as providing you with opportunities to explore some virtual worlds, but don’t spend too long playing with them! If you already are a gameplayer, we’ll hopefully provide you with new ways of looking at, and thinking about, the games you play.
  2. this “course” is not really a course (although it might come to be…). I like to think of it more as a learning diary of my own journey into the world of computer games and interactive media design. I have a map, of a sort, in the form of this interactive mindmap (click through to see it…), which includes topics I’ve been told are worth looking at, but as with all the best journeys, I may stray from the original path I had in mind at times!
  3. I like weblinks; in fact, I love weblinks. So you may find many of the posts include links to other stories and resources, such as this story I saw yesterday: It’s official: games revenues overtake music at retail (here’s the original press release from the Entertainment Retailers’ Association). Please feel free to follow the links and check out the stories, bookmark/favourite them, or open them in another tab in your browser so you can read them later.
    Some links – like the tabbed browsing link – I’ll add ‘in passing’, a bit like links to a glossary in a book (so if the term, concept, or idea is new to you, click through to learn more…:-).
    If time is pressing though, you shouldn’t miss out on too much by not following the links….

Along the way, I’ll be exploring how to design and build computer games, as well as exploring some of the digital worlds that are starting to appear all over the web. Each week, I’ll post a mini-tutorial on game development using the Game Maker package (at least at first). You can download Game Maker for free from the YoYo Games website.

What I’d link to think is that the tutorials I’ll post will encourage you take up the challenge of creating your own games – and maybe share them back with me, and other readers of this blog, via various social websites (but we’ll come to those in a later post!)

So are you ready to begin? We’ll start for real, tomorrow, with a look at look at what games are and how they’ve evolved over several hundred years.

In the meantime, why not write down the names of three of your favourite games, and then ask yourself what they have in common.

Once you’ve done that, try to write down your own definition of what a game is

If you want to share your answers as comments to this post, please do so :-)


8 Responses to “Time To Make a Start – Welcome to Interactive Media and Game Design”

  1. 1 Kate March 4, 2008 at 7:37 pm

    Favourite games (well, more the ones I have actually spent time on)

    Tetris – it is a classic.
    Sticky wicket – BBC cricket page, just in case you didn’t know.
    Spider solitaire – on daughter’s computer while sorting out her anti-viral/adware etc.

    You can probably tell I’m not a serious gamer. :-)

    What is a computer game?

    Some sort of interactive activity on a computer – usually including some form of goal to achieve.

    Not a complete definition, but a start maybe?

    Back to concurrency!

  2. 2 Andy Mee March 4, 2008 at 9:21 pm


    My favourite games at the moment are:

    i) Runescape – a free and easily accessible virtual world at http://www.runescape.com/

    ii) Shark Runners – the use of real world data in a game appeals to me for some reason. http://dsc.discovery.com/convergence/sharkweek/shark-runners/shark-runners.html

    iii) Spin the Black Circle – as it’s simple, addictive, and a bit different. http://www.onemorelevel.com/game/spin_the_black_circle

    Runescape probably isn’t technically a game but definitions can get in the way sometimes.

  3. 3 possibleprojects March 5, 2008 at 12:24 am

    Favourite games in order:

    Mr Do.
    Manic Miner

    Simple platform-like with a dose of humour and above all a killer tune.

  4. 4 Tony Hirst March 5, 2008 at 12:43 am

    I remember playing sharkrunners when it came out – http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/010500.html

    I agree that the use of real world data is a compelling idea (in the case of sharkrunners, using GPS location data for real sharks and having to plot data-gathering runs for a research boat…)

    Do you know of any other games that use real world data in this way, compared to using real world data in a flight simulator, say (such as the flight simulator easter egg in Google Earth ( http://tinyurl.com/ywekwb ))?

  5. 5 Tony Hirst March 5, 2008 at 12:59 am


    I have fond memories of Tetris too – but do you know why it was such an important game?

    there was a BBC documentary on the history of Tetris that used to be on the web somewhere, though I couldn’t track it down just now.

    I did come across this telling of the Tetris story, though:


    PS for anyone who isn’t familiar with Tetris, it’s a bit like this:-)

    If you were going to recreate this version of human Yetris, how would you script it?

    PPS okay – if you absolutely have to play it, then… ;-0

    But in return, the two part question is:

    a) what makes it so compelling?, and

    b) what makes it a game?

    PPPS on the topic of Manic Miner, I have that in mind as the subject for something in a week or two… ;-)

  6. 6 Doug Clow March 5, 2008 at 9:27 am

    The idea of setting off on a journey in this sort of space reminds me of Chris Bateman – although he ends up teaching a lot more philosophy than games design :-)

    (There’s also some great stuff on his blog about types of games, types of play, and types of players – it’s easily the best work I’ve seen on what makes for a compelling game, and for whom.)

  7. 7 Andy March 5, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    I’m not aware of other games that use real world data (though there must be loads). I find the thought of dragging real world data into virtual world’s interesting as well – for example, real world aircraft tracking in Second Life at http://youtube.com/watch?v=BMH2-rCkz3Y

  8. 8 louise March 5, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    My current three favourite games are all on facebook: warbook, scrabulous and the dot game. Common factors are the social aspect and relative simplicity (quick to learn, not too demanding on my time).

    I would define a game as participative goal-oriented entertainment.

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