Friday, June 1, 2012

Introduction to Game Creation with Esoteric

Creating games and quests in a 3D virtual environment is very challenging and requires in depth knowledge of 3D Graphics creation, Game Design and Computer programming. Each of these are demanding disciplines that require 3-6 years of college education coupled with many years of work experience to master.

It also requires excellent spatial intelligence and hand-eye co-ordination and the ability to overcome repeated bouts of motion sickness (a capacity for this can be inculcated over time by playing 3D videogames or by reading books in a moving vehicle). Consequently most 3D Virtual world platforms have to rely on a small community of power users or collaboration with professional developers for the creation of content.

With Esoteric™ the aim was to create extensive and highly detained virtual environments that utilize ‘play’ as an active ingredient for deep and authentic learning.

To have any hope of accomplishing this we needed active involvement of a large community of experts with in-depth knowledge of domain information and skills. To pair off all these experts with developers would require a massive organizational effort and a lot of investment.

It was obvious that we either needed to find a fount of that elusive group of effective educators who were also experienced game developers or develop a platform where teachers and other domain experts can actively create content for 3D Virtual worlds easily without needing years of education and training.

The Game creation pipeline in Esoteric™ is the result of 4 years of investment in research and development to accomplish precisely that.

Overview of Esoteric worlds 

Esoteric™ is a gateway to many vivid and rich worlds. After logging in into Esoteric™ users can access several persistent and non-persistent virtual worlds in different subject matter domains. 
The system is developed from ground up for teaching and learning and has many features that facilitate the creation and sharing of 3D Virtual world based learning content. 

Esoteric™ Teacher Lobby

When a user is logged in with a Teacher’s account privileges they can access various 3D virtual worlds. In non-persistent virtual worlds they have classroom management privileges and also administrator privileges if they are publishing the virtual world. In persistent virtual worlds they have access rights and privileges similar to students. 

Teachers also have access to the powerful Esoteric™ editor where they can create many types of maps and games and to the teacher sharing space where they can browse and share content with a community of teachers. 

Esoteric™ Student Lobby

When a user is logged in with a student’s account privileges the can access the various 3D Virtual worlds. Depending on the virtual world so accessed the user can have different kinds of Avatars associated with their account. 

All the actions of the user and the information collected by the user along with the progress of the user in the various virtual worlds is stored along with their unique ID in their learner profile. 
Students may be given special privileges by their teachers in certain virtual worlds such as classroom management, video recording and can even be given special access to the editor for creating games. 
Logic in Esoteric™

Esoteric is an online virtual world with a full featured array of game logic objects built in that allow teachers to easily create a wide and diverse variety of Interactive learning content. 
Creating game logic usually requires basic programming knowledge with some degree of proficiency with computer scripting. However, Esoteric™ has created a simple gui (graphics user interface) based system that allows Teachers to create Role playing, Action, Strategy or Adventure games without needing to know any scripting. 
 The engine achieves this simplifying game logic to six basic categories. These are:

Avatars: Player’s entity in the world and the entities of other players
Items: Objects in the world that player’s avatar can handle and collect  
Actions: Something that happens to the player’s avatar 
Triggers: Places in the world where actions happen, items can be collected or building or cultivation can take place
Missions: The objective of the player in the world
Teams: A Grouping of player’s either created by players themselves or assigned to them by the system or by teachers. 
Each of these categories is explained in more detail further in this document.
Avatars in Esoteric™

“An avatar is a computer user's representation of himself/herself or alter ego whether in the form of a three-dimensional model used in computer games,” Wikipedia 

In Esoteric™ the Avatars are not just a graphical representation of the user but also a logical representation of the user’s properties, abilities and status and inventories in the said worlds.

As Esoteric™ is a gateway to multiple virtual worlds its users can have several Avatars associated with their identity. On logging into a new Esoteric™ world an Avatar can be selected by the player from the Avatar pool available in the world. 

All or even specific Avatars in the pool can be subject to hunger, stamina and life mechanics and restraints system by the teacher.

User Identity Image: This is a 2D image that the user can select to represent them in the Esoteric™ system. It is usually their latest updated photograph.  

Persistent World Avatars: These are Avatars the users have chosen to represent them in the various online persistent virtual worlds. Depending on the virtual world they are associated with the Avatars can have a range of different shapes, properties and abilities. 

Users may be able to access specialized online shops to buy items for their Persistent world Avatars as well as collect such items from within the virtual worlds. Items in the inventory of a persistent world avatar are available for use by the players within the relevant virtual world unless they are removed by the game or consumed or discarded by the player. 

Non-Persistent world Avatars: These are Avatars the users have chosen or that have been assigned to them by the teacher hosting the non-persistent virtual worlds. Depending on the virtual world they are associated with the Avatars can have a range of different shapes, properties and abilities.

These Avatars and their associated inventories are only available as long as the relevant world live and are removed from the players account once these worlds are taken offline. 

Items in Esoteric™ 

There are various types of items in Esoteric™ each of these are designed to open a huge variety of dynamics that can be created for the virtual worlds they are associated with. Items in Esoteric™ can only be collected by Player Avatars from triggers. The types of items in Esoteric™ are:

Token Items: These items are items that can be picked up and carried in their inventory by the player’s Avatar. These items can modify the properties, statistics or abilities of the player’s Avatar while they are in the inventory. 

Key Items: These items are items that can be picked up and carried in their inventory by the player’s Avatar. These items can provide access to restricted areas within the virtual world and can also be used as a condition by triggers to perform actions on the player’s Avatar. 

Seed Items: These items are items that can be picked up and carried in their inventory by the player’s Avatar. These items can be used for building or cultivation on specific areas in the virtual world.  

Accessories: These items can be equipped by on their Avatars by the players. These items can modify the properties, statistics or abilities of the player’s Avatar while they are equipped. Accessories are different from token because they are visible to other players and because only one accessory of each type can be equipped by an Avatar at one time. Accessories can be; hats, weapons, instruments, costumes and hairstyles.  

Consumable: These are items that are consumed by the Avatar upon collision in the virtual world. These items can modify the properties or statistics of the player’s Avatar when they are consumed. 

Mini-Games: These are a special type of consumable item that gives the player a onetime exclusive access to an assigned 2D mini-game when consumed. There are several types on mini-games in Esoteric™ these include; Anagram maker, MCQ, Speech Evaluation, Match Pairs etc. 

Items make Esoteric™ quest and game creation truly versatile and powerful. 

Actions in Esoteric™ 

Actions happen to the player’s Avatar in the virtual world either when they reach a specific location in the world or when an event happens in the world. 

Actions can give take or check the player’s avatar for:
Its statistics, properties or abilities 
The items that it may have in the inventory 
The accessories that it may have equipped 
It’s Experience level, score or coins 

Actions may be assigned by the teachers to be performed on the Avatar’s in the virtual worlds created by them on the following kinds of events:
On the completion of a building or cultivation task
On the destruction of a building or crop 
On the completion of a mission assigned to the Avatar
On the collision of the Avatar with a trigger

There can be multiple actions performed on an Avatar on a single event. 
Actions can be used as various mechanics in the game these include: 
Actions can be a reward or penalty mechanic for the player
Actions can be a way of increasing or decreasing the pacing of the game 
Actions can be used to create complex logic chains in the game
Triggers in Esoteric™   

Triggers are places of interest in the virtual world. These triggers can be of the following types:

Spawn Trigger: These are triggers where Player Avatars or items can be spawned. Avatar spawn triggers can be assigned to specific teams by the teachers. 

Portal/Transform Triggers: These are triggers that change the location of the player’s avatar on collision. Portal triggers move the player’s avatar instantly from point A to point B. Transform triggers push the player’s Avatar towards a specific vector with a specific force. Map change triggers move the player avatars from one map in the virtual world to another. 

Modify Triggers: These triggers change the properties, statistics, inventory or abilities of the player’s avatar. 

Build Triggers: These are locations where building, training or cultivation can be performed. Build triggers are of three types; Building, Crop or NPC (non player character). NPC type triggers can be both hominoid and non-humanoid and can be assigned aggressive, defensive, indifferent or friendly AI behaviors.   

Missions and Teams in Esoteric™ 

Teams can form in Esoteric™ worlds by System or Teacher assignment or by student participation. These teams can be used to create several types of Individual, Collaborative or Competitive missions in these worlds. 

Mission are basically of two types:

1. Collect a specified number of a specified type of items 
2. Go to a specified number of locations in the world either in a sequential order or non-sequentially (Depending on the assignment of the teacher) 

Using just these two basic types of mission structures along with the various logic mechanics of Esoteric™ the teachers can create a wide variety of quests.

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