Those who can teach... and this is how!
Submitted:|| 18th May, 2003
.:: "Those who can..." ::.
Don't worry, this isn't going to be yet another article complaining about the way people treat newbies, and saying that either they should get more respect, or that people should flame them off the face of the Internet. No, this is for those who've chosen the path of pastor to the masses; who've chosen to help as many newbies find their feet in the click world as possible.
It focusses on trying to teach people something special: It attempts to teach people how to teach.
.:: Understanding and mental imagery ::.
With a few rare exceptions, newbies usually fall into the category of people who've played lots of games, perhaps used a fair few PC applications, and want to make games themselves. They see the things they didn't like in existing games and think "If only I could make a game myself - I'd change this, that and the other".
To teach someone, you have to understand their position. There is no such thing as an 'original idea' - we think of everything based on things we already know. Someone thought of the car because they wanted a faster version of the cart, and a more portable version of the steamtrain. Someone thought of automated print-pressing because hand-pressing was laborious. In the same way, newbies (of course I'm generalising here) only know of games and applications, and so their original perception of how games are made will be coloured by that mixture of ideas. They generally imagine things to be a very much visual experience (in the same way as games), but also aimed towards ease of use and (mostly) keeping users as far from the mechanics of their creation as possible.
You see this a lot in absolute newbies' conversations when they ask you how you make games. Since games and applications keep you as far as possible from the actual mechanics, they forget that somewhere along the great big line that is softwaredesign, something is behind all that. They see only a person jumping, not the many physics-related variables required to make him do so. They see only a loading screen, not the many processes going on behind it.
You have to understand that this naivity (yes, I am aware that I spelt that wrong) is very much going to colour the questions they ask you, and the ideas that they try and give you. What's more, this is the first wall that you will have to break down if you want to help that person make a game.
.:: Learning Hierarchy ::.
As you all know, your fledgling newbie is going to have to learn an awful lot before they start making a game that's getting very good. However, just because we understand the principles behind these things, don't expect them to. You must view knowledge in a hierarchical way (in other words, some more important than others).
Allow me to explain: There's no point trying to convey the idea of expressions and variables to someone who doesn't know about the event editor. Conversely, there's no point trying to teach someone how to use the event editor if they don't know how to create and place objects into the level editor. If you get the information round the wrong way, you'll just have to end up repeating yourself.
Ultimately, all of the above boils down to patience. How much of it that you need will depend very much on the individual that you're trying to teach.
Resist the temptation to start plugging custom movements immediately. Let the student play around with the standard movement systems and discover their faults on his own. When they're finally pushing their limits enough to notice the bugs, they should be ready to confront the wider world of player physics and custom movements.
Teach them also the art of not biting off more than you can chew. No sooner have they started making games than they'll want to be building a website, and making custom installers, and all as easily as using the custom movements in TGF. They'll also be wanting to release their creations on DC. That's something which in itself can't be treated lightly. Make sure that your newbie has access to games of an exceptional standard to keep them in their place, maybe show them examples of when newbies in the past have claimed that their games were the best thing since sliced sausages. This will save them a lot of heartache when they release their first game and everyone yells at them for saying that it was 'awesome'.
These are all things which the newbie - as obvious as they may seem to us - probably won't know. After all, it's natural human instinct to want to brag about your achievements.
Try and think of how your newbie is going to be entering the world of click, and think too of what they will need to know to get in.
.:: "Remember well, Young Skywalker does!" ::.
Ahh, master Yoda - he the truth speaks! Enough yoda-talk for now, though. The point of that little subheading is to remind you that at one time in the perhaps not too distant past, you were a newbie too, asking the oldbies of the time all the dumb questions that modern newbies will ask you. It's wise not just to think of the answers you were given, but how you felt because of those answers. Think of the manner in which the people spoke to you, and whether you felt built up or torn down afterwards. Use your own knowledge of your click-youth to help clickteam's young ugly ducklings paddle their way up to oldbiehood.
.:: Alas, we are but mortal men ::.
Know your own limitations, and encourage them to know theirs. For your part, you must remember that you can't help every newbie alive, even if you're a particularly charitable person. If you take newbies on one at a time, then you'll get them established in the click world more quickly, and you'll then be able to crack onto another one.
For their part, they must understand that they can not run before they can walk. Many's the newbie I've seen who's come onto the CT forums saying:
'how do you make games in TGF? What is TGF? I want to make a halo-beating game!!'
Deliberate exaggeration, but you probably know what I mean. Let them know that they'll need to take things slow, and they'll reap the benefits eventually.
.:: What you stand to gain from it ::.
Don't worry, we're nearing the end now. Although no one should be teaching for what they get out of it, it's nice to know that there are dividends to be earned. Besides the obvious sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that you've helped someone fulfil their dream of making games, newbies also tend to be big-hearted individuals, and they'll be quite glad to help you get publicity from their own creations. Links and mentions in the credits are quite frequent for those who offer their time to help newbies. Many of my hits are from the people I've helped - not all of whom are actually newbies, just people who're grateful for someone who'll spend the time to help explain the problems with TGF/MMF.
Right, that's it! Feel free to tell me what you think, and if you have any suggestions yourself, just comment.
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