10
Oct

Fun of Computer Science: Gameplay Screen Exercise


Hello again! By this point, hopefully
you’ve installed and confirmed your Java setup and development tools on
your computer, and successfully run the example program we talked about in the
getting setup lectures. I promised you that this course would be about how
programming relates to game development. So far, we have gotten started with the
programming side, but what about the games part? We’ll fix that right now in
this lecture, so if you’re ready let’s get started. So I have another assignment
for you, and it’s probably different from the work you’re used to in most of your
classes. I want you to choose one or two video games, maybe pick a favorite and
also try a new one, and then sit down and play each game for fifteen to twenty
minutes apiece. Not bad for a homework assignment, right? But I want you to do
something a bit different from your usual play sessions. I’d like you to go
through the first three or four screens in the game, and write a detailed
description of each of them. So let me give you some pointers on what you might
look for in this exercise. For each screen, ask yourself, what do you see and
hear on each screen? What actions can you take? Can you press or click any buttons?
How does the game change when you take an action? What happens when you press
the buttons or interact with the game? What happens if you take no action at
all? Is anything else on the screen or in the game active, even if you’re not
giving any input? What do you think the purpose of each screen is? In your
opinion, what did you think the developers wanted players to accomplish
on each screen, and how is that purpose conveyed to the players? Are there
instructions or help telling you what to do on each screen, or are there other
clues that help you figure out and understand what to do
on each screen? Let me give you a brief example using a game called “Contra,” which
I use to play often as a kid. It’s a side-scrolling shoot-’em-up
action game that was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) in
1987. You play as a couple of Marines who are fighting against an alien force that
has invaded Earth’s tropical jungles and other locations.
If you liked 80s action movies like Predator or Rambo, this was your chance
to live out those action scenes in a video game.
It’s not as complicated as a game like Fallout, which I also enjoy. It uses an
NES controller with significantly fewer buttons and actions than a keyboard, so I
thought it was a good good choice for an exercise like this. If you haven’t seen
it before, there’s plenty of gameplay videos on YouTube. Some of this
description that I’m about to give you comes from memory, so it might be a
little off, but hopefully you’ll get the idea.
I haven’t hooked up my Nintendo in quite a while, so I haven’t played the game in
some time. So here I’ve created a little little table that you can use to
organize your thoughts on the games you choose.
I wrote won’t read the entire table for all of the screens, but I just want to
give you an idea of how you can do this exercise. I started on the title screen,
which basically serves three main purposes. First, it provides basic game
info such as the title and publisher. It also lets the player choose between a
one or two player game, and for those players who know, it allows you to enter
a password that gives you special benefits, such as a higher number of
lives to start the game. There’s nothing on the screen that tells you you can do
this, but if you heard about it from friends or a strategy guide, or Nintendo
Power magazine, you knew about it. If you’ve heard of the Konami code, Contra
is one of the most famous games that use that pass code. The screen has the game’s
name written in big colorful font, and shows the two main characters, all
against a black background. You can also see the option to choose one or two
players. There’s a short music clip that plays. There’s a couple of actions you
can take on this page: the select button lets you choose one or two players, while
the start button will take you into the game action using the number of players
that you’ve chosen. You can use the Direction pad and the A and B buttons to
enter the Konami code. If you don’t take any action, the screen switches to a demo
mode, which shows a pre-recorded sample run of the game; a lot of Nintendo games
used to do that, and it helped the player to get a better idea of what he was
supposed to do, and also provided a sneak peek at some of the later levels in the
game. The level info screen: the next screen is really brief to describe.
It shows up right before you start playing any level, and it’s just a black
screen with text telling you things like the name of the level you’re about to
start, and how many lives each player has left. As far as actions, you press the
start button to begin the level, and even if you don’t press anything the level
automatically begins after a few seconds. The main play screen is where all the
action happens. Each level has a different background and musical theme,
and there’s a lot of enemies, power-ups, and obstacles to challenge you. You can
use the Direction pad to move and there’s slight differences in movement
for some of the levels. Most of the levels have the standard move left or
right and crouched down motions, and the up and down buttons also allow you to
aim your gun, the A button lets you jump, and the B
button fires your weapon. However, some levels take place inside
the enemy base, so while you can still move left and right, jump, crouch and fire,
you can’t aim your gun. The UP button moves you forward, but there’s an
electric wall that will shock you when you move forward. You have to defeat all
the enemies first, and then the wall will disappear and you can move forward.
Pressing the start button will pause and unpause the game for any level. The
last screen I described was the “game over” screen. It lets you know that you
have no more lives remaining, but if you have continues, left you can choose to
pick up where you left off. You can use the controller to toggle between ending
the game or continuing, if you have any continues left, and then press the start
button to make a selection. If you don’t, I believe the game just ends after a
few seconds and you go back to the start screen. So this example should hopefully
give you some guidance of how to do your own descriptions, and feel free to use
this table for your own purposes. But why did I ask you to do this exercise in the
first place? I have a few reasons. First, it’s always fun when you have a chance
to play games. Next ,I want to help you start thinking like a software developer,
by which I mean that if you’re going to make your own software and games, you need
practice at creating detailed software descriptions. This is an important skill
even if you’re going to be working on software for someone else,
as a job or in school, for example. You need to have a plan before you start
writing any program. Think of any other job or craft in which you’re building
something. Would you build even the smallest building or create even a
t-shirt or a business card without an idea or plan of what you’re trying to
accomplish? This exercise is to help you start understanding the details of
planning a program. Believe me, not having this skill is one of the biggest stumble
stumbling blocks I see with students that I tutor. Lastly, I use this exercise
to help you identify examples that we’ll be using to demonstrate the programming
and computer science concepts that we’ll be discussing. Sometimes it’s difficult
for new programmers and computer science students to really grasp some of the
concepts, so this approach will help you to better understand the material by
providing familiar and tangible examples. And also,
feel free to do this exercise with any other app or software that you use on
your computer or tablet or phone. It’s still a useful exercise. Okay great,
hopefully you had some fun with this assignment. Hold on to the notes you took,
because we’ll be using these examples very soon.

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