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This blog post continues on from the last posts theme of ‘Restrictions Make Us More Creative’ looking at ways that people can be enabled to teach themselves to program, exploring limited sub-sets of commands within StarLogo TNG…
So, I’ve spent the past year working with young and old people, helping them explore the programming of computer games and complex systems using StarLogo TNG. Following the ‘Restrictions Make us More Creative’ theme, I am going to write about a way in which restrictions can be used within StarLogo TNG, to enable participants to construct their own programs in a much more exploratory, open ended way, than conventional instructional, step by step processes.
Just to recap StarLogo TNG is a programming environment, which is a development of the educational programming Language ‘Logo’ with two key differences.
1. StarLogo TNG uses a Visual Programming Language made up of colour coded Logo Blocks, programs are created by clicking these blocks together.
2. It is massively parallel, so any instruction you give to one agent, you give to potentially 100′s of the same breed, often simple instructions result in fascinating complex behaviors.
Sub-sets of StarLogo Blocks, are limited sets of commands that can be defined by whoever is facilitating a session with StarLogo TNG, and are used as a way to enable participants to explore a limited set commands within the wider wider language.
With this sub-set, we can explore different ways to configure, if statements, which are simple commands which tell the computer,
* If “this” is the case, then..
* Do “this other thing”.
This little program tells the breed of characters that this little program is,
* If “the ‘C’ key being pressed” is the case, then.
* Do “move forwards 2 steps”.
A more complex example of this is the Termites activity, which was developed by S.T.E.P. at M.I.T., and taught as part of the Imagination Toolbox workshops. For this activity the participants use a part built StarLogo program that has, 100 or so termites, 100 or so geometric cubes, and a sub-set of ready made StarLogoBlock procedures (mini programs), that can be combined and recombined in a variety of different ways.
The aim of this activity is to create a program for the individual behavior of Termites that, when scaled up to 100′s of termites, all interacting locally, will model the collective behavior that builds a mound, or in this simplified model, piles the blocks (or chips) on top of one another.
The user is given a sub set of procedures, such as:
* Move forwards a random number between 1 & 6
* 50% chance turn left
* 50% chance turn right
* Pick up block
* Put down block
* If there is a block already here then do X
The procedure that you are building in this activity, is executed several times a second, so the trick with this activity, is to recombine one simple set of simple instructions, that is flexible enough so that the Termites will do different things, depending on whether they are carrying a block or not, and whether they are standing on top of a pile of blocks or on the ground. Here is a videograb our solution, which is one of many, and not necessarily the most effective.
Video Grab of Termites Activity
I remember attempting this activity for the first time, and quickly realising that having a limited subset of blocks gave me a freedom to explore the system I was creating, in a way that I wouldn’t have felt if I were using the full language, which at that point I just wasn’t ready for.
This activity, and it’s restrictions also provided one of the biggest lightbulb moments, for the group I was working with at Saint Francis of Assisi School, as part of Fact’s ‘Game V’s Film‘ project.
I was just beginning to think that I had pitched this activity too high for the group, when one lad, shouted out that he had ‘Got it!’, and then started to show his mates how he had worked out how to get the termites to do different things, depending upon whether they were stood on a pile of blocks, or on the ground, using just the code that the sub-set had allowed him.
The subset parachutes us into an exploration of a very specific phenomenon, in this case emergent Termite behaviour on a colony level, without having to get bogged down with aspects of the system that aren’t relevant to that exploration.
I think that the way that the StarLogoBlocks can be combined and recombined in many different ways, restricted only by the internal logic of the language, and the inventiveness of the person using it, offers a lot of possibilities to artists wanting to create tools that put creativity in the hands of the people they are working with.
Both this use sub-sets of Logo Blocks, and the restricted Visual and Spatial Mapping Language of the Canal& Map, are feeding into work I am currently developing, part building activities with which we can digitally model, systems representing the behaviors of thoughts, emotions and memories.
Here are a couple of links to narrated videograbs of games that young people from Kirkby Sports College made working on the project I described above.
By Rhiannon, Kirkby Sports College.
Two Solutions to One Problem
By Danny Kirkby Sports College
- By Neil
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I am currently working with Fact, on a Computer Game Design project with a group of young people at St Francis of Assisi School, Liverpool. The group have spent the past five weeks developing their creative programming skills using a variety of problem solving activities, and they have now started to create their final games.
These include a “Herd ‘Em Up” Zookeeper game called ‘Alpha Animals’, the “Empire building”, ‘McDonalds V’s Burger King’, and a host of other games that I could never have predicted when I gave them their design brief.
Working in small groups, the young people have been set the task of developing a simple computer game, in which their avatar is caught between two conflicting groups. This has given them the chance to develop the first person games that they are excited about, but also necessitates them to program the complex systems of intelligent agents, that make good games interesting and unpredictable.
I have encouraged the group to drag their faces away from the screens as much as possible, using Knex, paper and blu-tac to build tangible representations of code, movement based activities to represent the programming of group interactions, and paper and pens to create these fantastic game design system drawings, like the one above left , which became a mixture of game design document and eco-system diagram.
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Wishing a Happy New Decade to all of the people Re-Dock have collaborated with during our first two years! We thought that it would be good to share a novel approach to project planning, management and evaluation: The A-Team.
At the early stages of any significant creative project – whether it’s an event, performance, workshop, exhibition – there are many elements to consider – artistic inspiration, collaborating partners, funding, audience, venue etc.
Balancing all of the inter-related factors that make a successful project is hard work and there is always the danger that all of these practicalities could dull the original artistic inspiration….
…what you need is – The A-Team! (cue music!)
#1 “Mad” Murdock! Allow “Mad” Murdock to get all the ideas out there without fear of criticism…. ya crazy fool! Dare to dream. Ask yourself – Without limits, what would you make happen? What do you really want to do? What has never been done before? Capture the imagination of others through playfulness! Murdock brings to the table anarchic unrestrained creativity in a crazy-genius kinda way…
#2 B.A. (Bad Attitude) Baracas (Mr T) Next up is B.A. – a superhuman, who does not know the meaning of the word compromise. In structuring your project, address whatever needs to be addressed, head-on! Identify any factors which might limit the scope of your creativity and smash through those barriers! B.A. can build the machinery to make the impossible possible. He ain’t got no time for the jibber jabber!
#3 Faceman A really successful project needs some style! How is your project framed and how will it reach it’s audience? Elegance, craftsmanship, ingenuity, fireworks! These are the qualities Face is looking for. Allow your great ideas and hard work to have the maximum effect through exquisite execution and a touch of class.
#4 Hannibal Life is contingent – and you cannot plan for everything but, if you have been through the previous 3 stages then perhaps by now you can already find a path to success?
I love it when a plan comes together!
A-Team Strategy is akin to Edward de Bono’s ‘Thinking Hats‘ with an important difference – the A-Team didn’t just sit around thinking – they made shit happen!
- By Neil
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Neil’s over in Boston – M.I.T. – home of Prof. Noam Chomsky and more importantly birthplace of Starlogo – “programmable modeling environment designed to help you model and explore the workings of decentralized systems, such as bird flocks, traffic jams, and market economies.”
Neil’s specialist Starlogo training will have direct practical applications in educational game devt. projects such as “The Loop” as well as new approaches to 3D relationship modeling for The Flunstellas Organisation.
We had a great skype-chat with Neil this eve and we’re expecting a post with some insight into his discoveries any time soon…
On Monday we had the first ever Rotunda cinema at the Lee Jones centre in Kirkdale. Over 40 pensioners and guests came and enjoyed the screening, developed and hosted by the young people from Rotunda college. We had adverts for local places of interest, trailers for classic films such as ‘The Quiet Man’, the ABC minors song, a raffle, oranges and ice-cream, and of course popcorn. Milkman Tommy himself came along to watch his own films by local film-maker Tim Brunsden.
The price of entrance was 1p or a clean jam jar.
- By Neil
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For our first ‘Loop’ session in Norris Green. We worked with a group of young people to discuss their experiences of the Loop Line. After a few creative activities to stimulate thinking about the people that live in their area, and how they could use the Loop Line in future they created a Hula Hoop drawing, and later a simple computer game, which they designed so that characters tell you their sugestions for the Loop Line when you bump into them.
Here is a short film of the the Loop computer game
To find out more go to http://liverpoolloopline.blogspot.com
or contact email@example.com
- By Neil
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As a result of their first workshop with the Loop project, the lads at Rice Lane City Farm created this film about the places that you can easily get to from the Hartley Avenue entry/exit point of the Liverpool Loop Line. Using a hula hoop to represent the area, they added images of the different places people might want to go, the people that might go there, and some of the things that they might do when they were there.The group then filmed it using an a toy train on the hula-hoop as a steady-cam, adding their own commentary.
To see the film and find out more go to http://liverpoolloopline.blogspot.com
After 3 workshops with young people from Rotunda college and the ‘young’ people from the Lee Jones Centre, we are proud to announce: A Small Cinema at the League of Welldoers!
“From Rotunda With Love” will feature several short films by local film-makers on a variety of issues, chosen by the young people for the League of Welldoers. Expect traditional cinema experiences such as local adverts, classic trailers, and people throwing orange peel.
Monday 3rd August
Box office opens 12:30pm
Presentation Starts 1:30pm
price – 1p or a jamjar
The A Small Cinema project got properly underway this week with the first workshop in Kirkdale, working with young people from Rotunda College, and the members of the League of Welldoers.
We all shared memories of cinema experiences. I learnt that you used to be able to pay for entrance using Jamjars. I’d like that now!
“Went to see the Wizard of Oz with a cousin and aunty I had just met for the first time”.
For those who are fans of The Wizard of Oz, it’s playing at the Plaza Cinema in Crosby / Waterloo in September.
On Monday I made a presentation at the conference on the use of Technology in Children’s Dance Theatre, held at FACT in Liverpool. I talked about my role as a digital designer for a children’s dance show called ‘A Different Tune’, which is currently touring, as well as giving people an insight into Isadora, a very nifty piece of software for digital design.
I based the presentation on three oppositions:
1. input / output
2. Values / value
3. media / idea.
The first aim was to communicate how Isadora can be used to take any number of inputs (sound, movement, colour, position, midi….) and apply that to an output (size, volume, position, speed, etc ). For this I had people cheering to make the screen brighter, waving their arms to make a movie go faster and turning two volunteers into a human mixing desk by having raise and lower coloured paper infront of a camera.
This then raised the question of ‘Whats the point?’. And of course there isn’t any, unless you have an idea to communicate.
Finally I asked three people to design an imaginary creature (based on my ‘Creatures in Motion‘ workshop. They then developed a biology and history for those creatures. And finally they created the sound of that creature. As they growled, chirped and mewed, the images of the creatures grew, but this time we had all invested a lot in their stories and ideas and so were more deeply engaged by this relatively simple input / output.
I never generally like technology for its own sake and find myself often having to argue for the absence of it in shows. An audience needs to engage with ideas, not technology.
On Thursday night, the View Two Gallery was taken over by A Small Cinema – a temporary cinema installation showing short films from local film-makers. The packed out audience were treated to popcorn, red velvet seats and courteous ushers and some great films by local film-makers. A Small Cinema is now being developed into a Re-Dock project byartist Sam Meech, who will be working with communities around Liverpool to host their own Small Cinemas later in the year.
For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Helen Willis