Jurassic CART: Creating AR Experiences Catalyze Technical Education

Creating augmented reality games and experiences presents an amazing opportunity to entice our incoming adults to learn technical skills. I’ve long believed that game development is a necessary class to offer in the K-12 school system. Most students aren’t interested in subjects such as math and programming. Current programming courses tend to focus on business systems, and math is taught seemingly for the sake of… well, math. Ask most students if they want to build a database or solve equations, and the answer is unsurprisingly “not really”. Ask those same students if they want to make a T-Rex break through the wall of their school, and the answer is found in “Jurassic CART”.

Side Note: If you’d like to skip this article and check out the project page, go to jurassic.step2digital.com, and/or watch this news clip.

Story Time

As last Summer came to a close I had to shift my thoughts from my own game development pursuits, in favor of planning projects for my incoming class. I was about to begin my second year as the Interactive Game Design (IGD) Instructor for the CART High School in California’s Central Valley (yes, I mean Fresno).

File_000Every January the student’s attending CART’s various labs present a showcase project. Prior to my first year teaching the IGD course, I was an adviser to it; I knew that historically the game design presentation has been incomplete, and difficult for the public to understand. Now that I’m on the teaching end I’ve realized the students this course attracts typically do not have any previous experience making games, and they’re not necessarily the top academic performers. My student’s tend to be the ones with mediocre GPAs that are due in large part to playing League of Legends until 3am (the gamer in me is OK with this, the budding teacher is conflicted).

File_001It’s difficult to take a group of teenagers with a wide range of interests/ability and get them to a point where they can present a complete, understandable experience. This is where introducing augmented reality (AR) starts to make a lot of sense. The average consumer of digital media is not yet saturated with AR products. Even the simplest of AR demos, such as a floating cube is incredible to look at. I find that even I am captivated by the simplest of AR displays. It’s amazing to think that our digital worlds can overlay, and even interact with our physical surroundings.

The concept of AR is new to the consumer, and as a developer I’ve never messed with it before. I decided AR was the perfect project for this year’s showcase. The outcome does not need to be an immersive world with UI, inventory, or any of the staple systems a game would have. It just needs a bit of art that looks good, and requires just enough coding to run. It greatly simplifies what an entertaining end user experience could be for my class.

As an elective course, my IGD program in integrated with the student’s English requirement (taught by a separate qualified English teacher). One of the books or this year is Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park. What a perfect pairing. What student (or teacher) wouldn’t want to bring dinosaurs back to life.

I’ll summarize the rest of this story with the following four points:

  • The project was a great success in the eyes of our audience, and in the entry level learning outcomes I was aiming for.
  • While the AR presentation works, it is still rough around the edges. The loading screen feels like one’s phone has froze (working this out is part of our continuing projects)
  • You can see our project in action in this new clip.
  • You can check out “Jurassic CART” for yourself at our official project page, jurassic.step2digital.com.

The Argon Project, and What’s Next

ArgonSiteIf you’d like to know more about what exactly my students did, and get ideas for projects you may want to do, check out the Argon project at Georgia Tech. Argon3 (currently only on iOS) is a web browser that can view AR content. I used this for our class project because developing content for it introduced students to basic programming concepts that surround web app development. Topics introduced include JSON, XML, HTML5 markup, and basic boolean logic/loops for making decisions.

As it stands, the web AR experience created by my students presented well to the general public that attended our showcase; however, it is still rough around the edges. First time loading often feels like the Argon app is crashing. We haven’t talked about the importance of loading screens yet. There are still a few months left in our year. I’m excited to see what we do next. We’re heading in the direction of level design, Unity3D, and possibly creating a Unity based AR game/experience. Whichever direction we go, my students are excited to see what they’re capable of. Though they still don’t recognize ( or like to acknowledge ) the amount of math they’re doing.

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