This is a learning opportunity

One of the driving goals we have had here at the Maine Game over the past year is providing 6 high quality, fun, and educational games to the Maine Discovery Museum.   The members of the club have worked countless hours in my classroom and at home to create something we’re all proud of.  The games are done.  The Maine Game has finished development.  Party time, right?  Not so fast.

The games need to be played.  They need to be played by people coming into the Maine Discovery Museum in an accessible, engaging way.  Our first thought was to create an arcade style setup with a touch screen monitor/all-in-one computer in a classic arcade style booth.  That concept slipped out of sight when the overhead of buying material for the booths and getting them built at little to no cost from volunteered work were not achievable goals within our parameters.

We then moved on to plan B.  We decided we could wall mount the screens/all-in-one computers that will play our games.  That idea worked for us and the Discovery Museum, had very little overhead and the installation is as simple as putting in screws in plywood.  After that decision was made, went on the hunt for the best/least expensive solution because we are still operating from donations of time, effort, and money.   After an abundant and extensive amount of Googling, we finally landed on a wall-mountable all-in-one computer from Dell.  We generously got funding from the Perloff Family Foundation for 2 machines, placed the order, and waited with baited breath to get our physical vessel to showcase our hard work to the world.   When the computers came in, we put our games on the machines and began the process of testing the hardware.  That’s when problems started to show up like uninvited house guests.

Our games ran slow.  Really slow.  Painfully slow. Audio died, graphics froze, and the computers would not let our seemingly simple games be played over time.  In the beginning everything is great, but then over time when the games were being played everything would stop working.  At first we thought we had not optimized our games enough.  That’s an easy fix!  We can reduce draw calls, look at what we’re checking each frame and when the games load in the code, remove all unused game objects, compress sound and images, and reduce the graphic quality of our games while keeping them fun and playable.  Once that was done, we put them back on the computers and ran into the same issues as before.  Our games were not playable over time and we had to approach it from a different angle.

The next step was to optimize the computer.  We turned off all bells and whistles within Windows 8.1, disabled all unnecessary services and start up programs, and streamlined the computer as much as possible.  Once that was done, we played our games.  We had the same issue as before.  Our games were not able to played over time and we had to take yet another step back to figure out what was going on.

After testing/debugging for a solid 2 days after optimizing everything we came to the conclusion that the hardware in the computers we bought just can’t handle games.  Not just our games, but games with graphics in general.  The Dell all-in-one computers crumbled under the weight of simple web based games from various popular gaming websites we tested with.  We found comfort that it wasn’t our games or Unity that was breaking them, but became frustrated when  we were looking at large paperweights that looked like functional computers that were supposed to play our games.

That brings us to today when we are at square 1 for hardware and funding for said hardware.

Later today we are going to loan the Maine Discovery Museum our testing machine that we’ve been using for the past year in house.  We are confident it will work with everything we have made and we want the games to be played and enjoyed sooner than later.

Next, I’ll start the exhausting process of getting funding, researching hardware, and turning this into a learning opportunity for everyone.   It will take some time to rally the troops from this setback and move forward, but we are a resilient gaggle of nerds and will be better/faster/stronger because of it.

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat.  It is a temporary detour, not a dead end.”
-Denis Waitley