There’s a lot on the horizon for Mindless Pursuits. Tomorrow will mark three months since I posted the first tutorial video, which was focused on the Generic Shooter Sample Project by Michael Allar in the Unreal Marketplace. At the time, I didn’t expect much. I was making the tutorial just to ‘warm up’ for teaching video game concepts in my daytime teaching job, and with so many tutorials and tutorial channels already available, thought no one but my students at school would ever see them. It was something of an impulse decision to post a thread about them on the Unreal Engine forums. Now – three months and over 400 users later, I’m getting a better handle on what I’m doing, both right and wrong, and have been thinking about what comes next.
Before we dive into what I’ve got planned, let me take a quick step back to explain my philosophy. After 35+ years of software development, coupled with tutoring and training others prior to becoming a licensed teacher, I learned an important lesson: you can be an expert and show people what to do, allowing them to learn by replicating your action and through rote memorization, or you can make them a part of a larger learning experience shared with you, where perfection isn’t the goal, but being willing to experiment, make mistakes, and learn through doing so leaves a more lasting impression. The latter is the core of my teaching approach:
Put the student in a position to learn by sharing the process of learning with them, warts and all, because in so doing, they are stimulated to think about the elements of the lesson as much as the end result, which teaches them even more than they expect.
I’ve been asked more than once why I don’t edit out or re-record parts of my videos where I end up back-tracking because I’ve made a mistake, or why I would post a video such as the latest installment of the Top Down Shooter series, where I knew the solution wasn’t quite right. It’s simple: people will puzzle through these same issues themselves as part of the learning process, and by seeing the instructor do it, it helps them to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. It also help because then I can try to explain why I had to change things, or backtrack, so the reasoning becomes more clear for them as well. I myself only began using Unreal Engine just over 4 months ago. I’m a very fast learner, but I’m still just a learner myself. I certainly see no value in pretending to be otherwise to students that I hope to inspire!
So what does that mean for the plans going forward? Well, it means I don’t want to keep repeating those elements of lessons I know well enough and use often enough in various series that I become bored with them. A prime example of this is the hierarchy (tree) of weapons. If you’ve watched my videos, you’ve now see it a couple of times: a base weapon, a child weapon blueprint for projectiles, a child weapon blueprint for instant-hit weapons, a child blueprint for melee weapons, and then children of those for specific weapon implementations. It’s something I would implement for almost any game I would create, and so it becomes a repeating element of any series I record. I would much rather record a set of tutorials on how to create various weapons in a hierarchy once and revise it as needed for Unreal Engine changes, than to have to recreate it for each series. I also believe that my students online would rather not have to repeat it every time as well. So instead, I’ll create a standalone series on building a robust weapon tree, and then reference it from within future series. Not only does this mean I don’t need to continually re-record the same type of content, but it opens more time for me to provide unique tutorials on more game-specific items.
Because I am going to make this change to my approach, I am going to be implementing it in the remaining parts of the Top Down Shooter and First/Third Person series. Once the weapons piece of the First/Third Person series is done, I’ll make a ‘master’ weapons series to be referenced in the future. After that, if I have a tutorial I know will be referenced in multiple series, I’ll create it as a standalone and then reference it. Examples of this that are coming up are (in no particular order):
- Building a character class tree for easier character class creation
- Implementing ambient music
- Creating a reusable blueprint template for sounds based upon physical material type
- Creating a basic attacking and hiding AI
- Basic connectivity to a listen server for multiplayer games
- and more….
Meanwhile, there is still a fair amount left to cover in both the Top Down Shooter and First/Third Person series. Between now and January first I hope to finish not only the standalone series listed above, but the two current series as well. That doesn’t mean ending them early, but once all of the items that need to be covered are completed through in-series and standalone tutorials. Additionally, I plan to begin the Non-Massive Multiplayer RPG tutorial series in December, and that will mark a new approach for me, where the online students get to weight in on what will be covered. More details on that next month. Please note that I am not promising to finish every topic I have in mind before January 4th – that would be a LOT to accomplish considering my other commitments to work and family, but I’m going to do as many as I can do well!
Finally, I’ve been working on the education site I’ve been wanting to provide: Training at Mindless Pursuits. You can see a couple of brief glimpses in the screenshots in this post. The goal of the site is to provide tutorials and learning opportunities for a number of game systems. Obviously, my initial focus is on Unreal Engine… and it may turn out that I never expand much beyond Unreal Engine because I enjoy it so much! This will be a full-fledged eLearning site built upon a combination of the Open Source Moodle learning management system, original content created by myself in video and interactive formats, and group discussions through course-aligned forums. I’ve been working on the build for a month now, and have the first two courses built. I want to have at least three more completed before I launch. If all goes well, I will be launching sometime around January 1st. I want this to be an in-depth training site for those who have an interest in-game development. Hopefully I can get it there. The biggest impediment is time and expense, but I’m trying to address those!
So that’s it – what I have planned between now and January 4th (which is when the December holiday break ends for school). I hope it’s of interest to you, and feel free to give me your feedback and requests. I have set up a page that lists the topics I currently have in mind, and will add to it as I get requests that I feel I can do a good tutorial on.
See you in the next tutorial!