End of semester feedback

Here’s my end of semester survey. The first two questions are being asked of all first year writing students and I’ll share the aggregate data from those questions with the Writing Program. The other 8 questions are for my own edification and planning for future classes. I won’t look at the results until after I’ve submitted grades.

Here’s the form to sign up for end of semester conferences with me. Before you come in to meet with me, look over the draft of your reflection letter for the class and self-score it using this form, which is very similar to the one that the Writing Program uses to assess FYC portfolios at the end of the year.

Week ahead: 15

15 11/29 Final portfolio assignment
12/1 Zork: The Great Underground Empire

For class on Thursday, spend at least an hour playing the text adventure game Zork. (The link in the table above goes to the emulator built by the Internet Archive. If you have trouble with it, you might also try the version hosted by textadventures.co.uk) Zork is one of the earliest interactive fiction games, written in the late 70s. It builds on the game Adventure (a.k.a. Colossal Cave Adventure) which came out in 1976 and set the terms for the genre, but Zork is a much larger and more developed game than its predecessor.

You’ll quickly notice that the Xanadu game inside Kentucky Route Zero is clearly referencing Zork.

Try playing around on your own some first, but there are plenty of Zork walkthroughs available online. Start with the commands: “open mailbox” and then “read leaflet.” A few other basic commands to remember:

  • Look (l)
  • Inventory (i)
  • North (n), South (s), East (e), West (w) will move you in those directions.
  • get [object]

The version at textadventures includes the following in response to the command “info”:

Welcome to ZORK! You are near a large dungeon, which is reputed to contain vast quantities of treasure. Naturally, you wish to acquire some of it. In order to do so, you must of course remove it from the dungeon. To receive full credit for it, you must deposit it safely in the trophy case in the living room of the house. In addition to valuables, the dungeon contains various objects which may or may not be useful in your attempt to get rich. You may need sources of light, since dungeons are often dark, and weapons, since dungeons often have unfriendly things wandering about. Reading material is scattered around the dungeon as well; some of it is rumored to be useful. To determine how successful you have been, a score is kept. When you find a valuable object and pick it up, you receive a certain number of points, which depends on the difficulty of finding the object. You receive extra points for transporting the treasure safely to the living room and placing it in the trophy case. In addition, some particularly interesting rooms have a value associated with visiting them. The only penalty is for getting yourself killed, which you may do only twice. Of special note is a thief (always carrying a large bag) who likes to wander around in the dungeon (he has never been seen by the light of day). He likes to take things. Since he steals for pleasure rather than profit and is somewhat sadistic, he only takes things which you have seen. Although he prefers valuables, sometimes in his haste he may take something which is worthless. From time to time, he examines his take and discards objects which he doesn’t like. He may occasionally stop in a room you are visiting, but more often he just wanders through and rips you off (he is a skilled pickpocket).

Zork launched the company Infocom, which was created by staff and students at MIT. They launched a series of text-based games over the span of almost ten years before being purchased by Activision. At the time, the ability of these games to parse relatively natural language was innovative.

Wolf in White Van Reflection Post

Once your essay is published as a page on your site, also publish a post that links to your essay and also does the following:

  • Invites readers to read the full essay by conveying what is interesting about what you’ve said and/or why they should care about your argument. This invitation can take many forms, but the gist is that I want you to recognize what is most exciting about your own essay and to convey that to an imagined audience.
  • Articulates, in a concise way, the controlling idea for your essay. Ideally, your controlling idea will be part of what is exciting about your essay, so this might not be distinct from the first bullet point. But if you don’t state clearly in your invitation what your controlling idea is, then make sure you say it someplace in your post.
  • Explains how your essay fulfills one or more of the course learning outcomes.

Week ahead: 13

13 11/15 Fiasco discussion
11/17 Atari games with Stella: Pacman and Donkey Kong
11/18 Podcast episodes 15 & 16 due

For Thursday, install Stella and then play Pacman and Donkey Kong. Try both of them, so that you at least have a sense of how they work and then pick one of them and play for at least 30 minutes. We’ll discuss your reactions to the games on Thursday.

Using Stella

Here are a few tips on using Stella, the Atari 2600 emulator you need to install on your computer in order to play a few of the required games this semester, such as Combat.

  1. First you need to get Stella (it’s open-source and free). You can find Stella for Windows, Macs, or Linux operating systems from the project’s download page.
  2. Once the file is downloaded, open the installer just like you would to install any other program.
  3. Accept all the default settings.
  4. Once Stella is installed, you’ll need a game “ROM” — this is essentially a tiny piece of software code that mirrors the code on the original game cartridge. There are plenty of places online to find ROMs. Atari Age is the premier Atari site, and in addition to scans of the original packaging and instruction manuals of different games, you can find many ROMs there. Go to individual game pages and look for the “Download ROM” icon (it looks like a white Pac Man in a blue circle). Experiment with different games. You might especially try playing the following classic Atari games:Combat, Pac-Man, Air-Sea Battle, Yar’s Revenge, Asteroids, Demon Attack, Space Invaders, and Frogger
  5. The ROMs at Atariage are often compressed as .zip files to speed up downloading (even though they are already extremely small files). Once the game is downloaded, you’ll have to “unzip” the file to extract the .bin file inside. This .bin file is the actual ROM. Most Macs and PCs can uncompress the games without any problem. Remember where you’ve placed the unzipped .bin file that is the game ROM, and you’re ready to load it up in Stella.
  6. Run Stella. When you first open the program you’ll see a DOS-like directory. Navigate through here to find where you saved the various .bin files you’ve downloaded.
  7. You might have to experiment with the different controls and functions keys. In general, press F2 to begin the game.

Gamecast: 2048 and Habituation

In this episode of Gamecast, Cindy and Niky discuss the game 2048, analyzing its strategies and exploring it through different perspectives. We also raise various important questions: Why is 2048 easy to begin with but harder to handle? Can it help us improve our Math? Is being familiar with the game equal to mastering it?

We hope you enjoy!

Gamecast: Minecraft and Art/Relaxation

Minecraft players only start out with a few blocks, but have the ability to make an infinite amount of different creations. It also provides the opportunity for people to zone out and wind down while playing the game. In our podcast we discuss Minecraft as an art game and  a relaxation game and why it has become popular. 

Week Ahead: Fiasco


Group Players
Group 1
Wed 11/9, 4-7pm
Group 2
Wed 11/9, 8-11pm
Group 3
Sun 11/13, 5-8pm
Group 4
Mon 11/14, 7-10pm

Your group will need to decide on a space to play — pretty much the only thing you’ll need is a table large enough to sit in more or less a circle around it. And you will need to decide which playset you’re going to play through (Main Street, Boomtown, Suburbia, or The Ice).

I have created a Google doc for each group with some tables laid out where you can document decision made during your gameplay. Check the Fiasco subfolder in our shared Google Drive folder.

In class on 11/8, I will distribute packs of 20 black and white dice, some index cards, and printouts of some tables from the playsets to each group.

Fiasco Rules and Setup

You should read over the Fiasco rules before class on Tuesday 11/8. Note that it has a lot of pages, but the text is very large and includes lots of pictures and tables. (I read the rule book the first time from start to finish during a short flight, in less than an hour.) Also, the actual rules run from pages 8 – 60 — the next 40 pages are the playset tables you’ll use during game play, but you don’t need to do anything more than glance over them until it’s time to play. It’s worth reading or at least skimming over the “replay” that starts on page 101. Don’t worry if the rules seem a little confusing — you will probably feel a little confused and lost as you start to play, but once you get going it will be fine.

Wil Wheaton (of Star Trek fame) co-wrote a playset for Fiasco and then got together with some friends to play the game for his show Tabletop. Below are the three parts of that show. It’s probably a good idea to watch at least the set up video and a part of the first one.

I’ve created a Google doc that charts out there game as an example for you, which is in the shared Google Drive folder too.

Class on Tuesday

In class on Tuesday, we’ll discuss the Analyzing Wolf in White Van assignment and any remaining questions about the novel itself. We’ll also discuss the rules for Fiasco, how it will work as a graded assignment, and the reflection assignment for it.

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