Thursday, January 21, 2010

Project Horseshoe

So, I went to Project Horseshoe this year, not knowing exactly what to expect, but hearing from survivors of earlier years that it was awesome. I was not disappointed, and now I understand what it is all about.

The format is highly similar to a game jam. The first night, we collect in one place and have introductions and casual conversation. Bright and early the next morning, we brainstorm a bunch of potential projects to work on, and then aggregate around a few that are of passionate interest. Then we spend the rest of that day and most of the next day working on our projects. At the end of the second day, we present our results to the entire group. I've praised game jams before, so if you like that kind of "get lots of amazing stuff done in a very short period of time" you'll understand the appeal of an event like this.

There are two key differences between PH and a game jam. The most obvious is that in PH we are not making video games from scratch, but rather brainstorming the solutions to difficult problems facing the game industry (for example, my group worked on how to build ethical decision-making into games, in a way that is more sophisticated than a choice between pure-good and pure-evil). So it is more of a "game design jam" than a "game jam."

The second difference is the quality of people. PH is invite-only. This is similar to the difference between the Global Game Jam (open to all) and the Indie Game Jam (invite-only among a small circle of professional game devs). Both methods can work well, either a focus on quantity or quality... as long as the "quantity" method includes some way for the great stuff to bubble up to the top. PH is in the latter camp.

All reports (from this year and previous years) can be found here.

Relevance to teaching:
  • Some reports may be directly relevant to student projects. For example, in one class this quarter, I see one student proposing a game with ethical decision-making and three students writing proposals for Facebook games, both of which are topics covered this year.
  • In a course on the game industry, game design, or game criticism/analysis, one possible assignment could be to read a report of the student's choosing and present it to the class -- the same way other courses might do the same with reading and presenting a current research paper or foundational article from the field.