PD(Q) – first edition

I went over to the PD(Q) edublogs page this morning to see how submissions were coming along for the first edition. The range is quite interesting! Offerings include-

Check them out, and contribute to the PD(Q) process by leaving your comments!

YoYo Games Ancient Civilisations Game Making Competition

You like antiquity. You like games. You fancy yourself as a bit of a decent game-maker. Maybe you made a scenario for Civ IV or Caesar IV. Here, then, is a competition for you:

And so here it is: the briefly awaited, second ever, YoYo Games competition! Riding hot on the heels of our very successful Winter Competition, we’re hoping to see a crop of games to match the exceptional standard set in that contest.

The Theme

Ancient Civilization! Not just the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians, but also the Mayans, Aztecs, Vikings, and Celts (to name but a few). So many lands, empires, city states, peoples, cultures, beliefs, and symbols. So much food for your fertile imaginations.

As with the winter theme we’ve kept the constraints on competition games deliberately low, hopefully this will result in even more really creative games.

The games will be judged on creativity, originality, aesthetics, and game mechanics. With marks, as usual, for the best implementation of the theme.

A word of warning, we’re looking for fun games to play, not epics – if you feel your game’s strongest asset is its incredibly long and developed plot-line it most likely will not do well in this competition, be sure your games are fun to play from the outset. For the committed entrant the IGDA casual gaming 2006 white paper has an interesting (but long) analysis of what a good casual game should be (pdf).

Judging will be conducted by YoYo Games and Prof. Overmars. As with the last competition the community response will be taken into account when we come to judge the games (with special weighting given to play count and number of Diggs).

So even if you don’t enter the competition yourself, you can still contribute by trying out the games. However, we do ask that the entrants themselves do not rate competition games (on pain of disqualification!).

We’ve giving the developers a bit longer this time round; the contest will end on April 27th, 2008.

The Prizes!

The Winner $1000
Second $500
Third $250

*All prize amounts are US Dollars

The winning games will be announced by early May, 2008.

How to Enter

First, check out the rules. You don’t want to submit a game that can’t win. No copyright infringement!

Then get the Game Maker software (if you don’t already have it), and start programming.

Feel free to visit the GameMaker Community forums if you need a bit of support.

Once you’re done upload your game to the site, be sure to tag the game with “Competition02“.

Finally post on the competitions page of the YYG forum to let us, and everyone else, know your game is up.

Omeka Live!

The Omeka platform has now gone live! And what is Omeka, you may ask? It is a platform for the publication of collections and exhibitions online. Eventually, the makers of Omeka, the Centre for History and New Media, intend to make it available online a la WordPress, but if you’ve got the right system requirements on your server:

  • Linux operating system
  • Apache server (with mod_rewrite enabled)
  • Mysql 5.0 or greater
  • PHP 5.2.x or greater
  • ImageMagick

… you can download and install it right away. I’m in the process of setting it up on a server that I have access to – it might not work, since I’m not entirely sure what I can do on that server (although it hosted both a Joomla and a WordPress installation well enough, so I’m hopeful). The data that I intend to put up concerns the built heritage of the township that I live in. The archaeological implications are obvious, especially in terms of public archaeology. Imagine that you are working on a project in a city neighbourhood- you could use Omeka to solicit community memories much the way this project is doing. Or you could showcase items in your collection, like the Object of History site. More showcase sites are listed here.

All of these sites have very sharp visuals and aesthetically pleasing themes, and more themes will become available as this project progresses – more info on themes right here.

postscript – woops. Turns out my host doesn’t run Linux, which nuked my ambitions right there. Ah well…


A milestone! Today, this blog broke 9000 views, as recorded by the WordPress stats thingy. That’s roughly 55 unique views for each of my 163 posts. The majority of people who view this blog arrive here via a feed in Google Reader, Pageflakes, or Bloglines. The top referring blogs are Stoa.org, Bill Caraher’s The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World, Troels Myrup’s Iconoclasm, The Ancient World Bloggers meta-blog, Emily Short’s Interactive Fiction and Tom Elliott’s Horothesia.

The top search terms that get referred here are ‘Roman battle games’, ‘Civilization IV world builder’ (and variations), and ‘electric archaeology’  (and variations).

Forum Novum: a market in the Sabine Hills – scenario for Caesar IV

This is my first attempt at a scenario for Caesar IV. It is based, loosely, on the site of Forum Novum in the Sabine Hills north of Rome. What I have always found fascinating about this site is the way it didn’t develop into what we would recognise as a ‘town’, per se.forum-novum-08-02-25-21-26-33.jpg

A student playing this scenario as part of a class on Roman urbanism would try to reach the ‘winning conditions’, but would be encouraged to look at the underlying assumptions the game makes about social, civil, economic, and religious life. Specifically, by using the game as a kind of Roman socio-economics simulation engine, the student is forced through game play to confront the Roman economy…

It’s late right now, so I’ll write more about how the game would be used in a class, and what playing it might teach. In the meanwhile, you can download the scenario here into your ‘data’ -> ‘scenarios’ folder for Caesar IV. No doubt there are bugs and other problems that need to be worked out, so let me know how you get on…

(by the way – the game puts an ‘apron’ around the scenario for aesthetics… but the one I chose doesn’t really fit, as you can see when you follow the Aia river by the town towards the edges… the painting tool in the scenario editor is absolutely abysmal!)

  • postscript: I discovered that my scenario had a bug in it that caused catastrophic crashing of the game. So I’m rejigging it, and I’ve posted over at Titled Mill Forums asking for help… which I duly received. The ‘production version’ is available here, as will be any future updates.

FYI – Caesar IV tutorial

A tutorial covering just about everything related to scenario building in Caesar IV may be found here.

My ambition is to create a Forum Novum scenario, with as close as an approximation to real Roman economic realities built in as possible…

postscript: A small program for checking your scenario for errors is available from this thread (scroll down). It checks for the following:

“When you load a scenario, it will check for these things:

– factories that are missing raw materials
– missing natural resources such as clay pits and iron mines
– resources that are available but can never be used
– resources that can be exported but are not available
– requests for unavailable goods
– scenario goals that cannot be achieved, including building and resource goals, and prosperity and culture rating goals

It will attempt to load the XML file and check some more things:
– missing keys for empire level cities, requests and goals
– wrong values for rating goals

In addition to this, it will show you:
– Maximum level that housing can attain (housing tab)
– The number of available foods and basic/luxury/exotic goods (housing tab)
– A list of all used resources, including their total import/export amounts and trade prices (resources tab)
– A list of trade cities with what they buy and sell, including the route type (water/land), cost to open, and their ID in the scenario (handy for writing the XML file) (trade routes tab)”

Handy, that!

Web 2.0 is not a democracy (and some disparate thoughts on Wikipedia & authority)

Web 2.0 is not a democracy…. but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I tell my university students to be leery of the Wikipedia: since anyone can write/edit an article, how can you be certain of its authority? Apparently though, only a small hand-full of people are responsible for the majority of its articles and edits. So there is editorial control, and other user-content sites are similarly not democratic. From Slate, ‘Digg, Wikipedia, and the myth of Web 2.0 Democracy’:

It’s getting harder to be a Wikipedia-hater. The user-generated and -edited online encyclopedia—which doesn’t even require contributors to register—somehow holds its own against the Encyclopedia Britannica in accuracy, a Nature study concluded, and has many times more entries. But even though people are catching up to the idea that Wikipedia is a force for good, there are still huge misconceptions about what makes the encyclopedia tick. While Wikipedia does show the creative potential of online communities, it’s a mistake to assume the site owes its success to the wisdom of the online crowd.

Social-media sites like Wikipedia and Digg are celebrated as shining examples of Web democracy, places built by millions of Web users who all act as writers, editors, and voters. In reality, a small number of people are running the show….

What is interesting in this article – from the point of view of one who has followed the whole PDQ discussion from its inception – are the different models for generating what amounts to ‘authority’ in formats that are supposed to be ‘democratic’. Authority emerges despite the best efforts to the contrary… If PDQ is going to be successful (that is to say, accepted by the wider academic community beyond those of us who spend far too many hours on the internet) , it has to find its own model for generating authority – or perhaps it will emerge anyway? – in order to demonstrate its value to those who prefer the current models for academic publishing.

Another disparate thought: What of the creation end of thing? Students are quick to use Wikipedia; Martha Groom and Andreas Brockhaus make this a virtue and have used publishing a term paper via Wikipedia as a forum for demonstrating to their students just what is really involved in getting something up on Wikipedia, and as a model for the peer-review process (!). Happily, they also found it was an excellent exercise for getting her students more engaged in the process of creating academic writing. Their powerpoint is available here; their conclusions:

Writing a Wikipedia article can be a more sophisticated learning experience:

  • Enhances quality of research and writing
  • Enhances student understanding of the research process
  • Highlights importance of using verifiable and credible sources
  • Increases pride in work
  • Encourages collaborative model of knowledge creation

I tried to use a wiki-writing experience in a media studies class I taught at the high school level (the anglophone online high school in Quebec) and I have to say I did not find the same thing with those particular students. They never really understood the point of Wikis, to my astonishment. Part of the problem there though was that the students in question were all taking my course since their own schools did not know what else to do with them: they were the students who had fallen through the cracks in the regular programs. They didn’t have computers at home. And part of the problem was one that Groom and Brockhaus identify in their presentation, the problem that our students, for all their presumed internet savvy, often do not know how to do such basic things as marking up text, logging properly, saving work, and so on. My little class never got to the point where their materials were ready to go live. I find this is true even of my university students.

Lesson learned for next time.

Finally, on a similar theme, Scott Moore is chronicling his experiences with a class on Digital history that he is conducting, and I recall that in one of his posts he identifies much the same problem. He has also recently tackled the problem of assessing the authority of a website with his class – and happily, student feedback from that session shows that it was a good thing to do. This is a lesson for all of us. We can’t assume that our students already ‘know’ how to understand what they find on the internet. We have to make our students aware of where the authority lies.

Responding to “Is PDQ a good idea?”

Over on Ancient World Bloggers, Michael Smith has commented on the PDQ project. He raises some important points that I felt warranted a response (cross-posted over at AWBG); I also must admit that I objected to the phrase ‘pseudo-journal':

“I don’t understand the need for a pseudo-journal whose rationale is “providing a citeable format for people uncomfortable with citing weblogs.”

‘Pseudo-journal’ is not really the appropriate word for what PDQ is trying to accomplish, and I think unnecessarily pejorative. The rationale regarding citation is only one purpose behind PDQ. Certainly, MLA-style citations for blogs exist; but what happens when the blog itself is no longer available, or the author decides he or she has had enough? It takes an enormous amount of energy to try to put quality thought and reflection out there. One niche the PDQ is envisioned to fill is a permanent open repository for these things.

The other niche is the one concerning ‘authority’. We teach our students to be wary of websites for which they cannot determine the author. We forbid them to use the Wikipedia. But the fact remains that our students will turn first to the internet, to blogs and wikis, before they wander down to the library and try to find a copy of the Bolletino Communale. JSTOR is fantastic: but I’ve had maybe six students in the past two years of my intro to Roman culture course actually dig their way through the Library website to gain access to it. It is up to us then to devise ways of providing authority to good solid writing about the past, in the places where our students and the public will find it most easily. PDQ is one answer to this problem.

Traditional peer-reviewing works well, or else it would have been jettisoned years ago. However, I think there is room for alternative approaches to peer-review. I am attracted to the idea of letting it all hang out for the world to see – the evolution of the discussion of the PDQ is in itself a model for a new kind of peer-review.

For me, the greater attraction of something like PDQ is the fact that I write about, and research with, quickly evolving digital tools. Some of my agent-modeling work has been in press for two years now, but the platform I used then is already two or three major version changes out of date. My code is already a relic. Something like PDQ is necessary to get information out there pretty darned quickly. I’m also quite interested – though I don’t blog about it personally – in the political uses and abuses of archaeology, archaeology’s appearances in the popular press, and how that all plays out. There  are issues there that need to be discussed, and *are* discussed on great blogs. These discussions however do not find their way into academic journals (at least not at the time they have contemporary relevance). Again, something like PDQ has a role in legitimizing the discussion.

Finally, and I may be being a bit flip here, I am reminded of the recording industry. No doubt, many record industry executives felt that cds and albums were perfectly good existing ways of getting serious music to its listeners, so who would want to download a single song? The point here is about gate-keeping, and deciding what gets out, and how it gets out, to the public. All of us involved with PDQ are serious academics, who want to make our subject, our interests, and our energies available to a wider public. We want to include that wider public serious about the past, in what traditionally is an exclusive project. We want to lower the barriers to participation, but do it in such a fashion to allow authority to emerge.