Monday, March 28, 2016

Thirsty Llama at Cotopaxi – A Scratch Project

To start, click on the green flag. Then move the Llama with the left and right arrow keyboard keys. When the Llama touches a raindrop there is a popping sound and the Llama smiles. Unfortunately, the Llama is picky and does not smile at each rain drop.

After opening the Scratch community website, logging into my account, and starting to ponder about which project to make, one particular project instantly caught my eye. It was called Hot Air (a game) and it was listed in the "featured project" section on the front page, center screen. Hot Air showed a green island in blue water with a hovering hot-air balloon. The simplicity and clarity of the graphics, clearly contrasting other featured projects, pulled me in. I clicked on it and tried it out. Underscoring its graphical clarity, the project also had simple and straight forward inter-actions. Up, down, left, right keyboard arrows moved the hot-air balloon, and the aim of the project was to avoid seagulls that entered the screen from the left and right side. There were also two numbers on the screen. A counter kept track of the seconds I managed the "stay alive", and a fixed number seemed to indicate the longest amount of time anyone every managed to "stay alive".

What further attracted me about Hot Air were the enthusiastic notes the creator left in the comments section, for example: "22/3/2016 FEATURED 2nd time!!! I won't be able to reply to most of your comments. DON'T ADVERTISE!!!!" The note communicated the excitement of the creators of being highlighted, their felt responsibility to connect with anyone who reached out to them, and a realization as well as apology for not being able to meet all requests for the creators' time. By writing "don't advertise" the creator seems to asked people to refrain from further sharing. And the comment seems to imply that the curator is of the impression that the felt added responsibility is a result of the project being featured.

The enthusiasm connected with responsibility to the other Scratchers paired with the simplicity of the design was fascinating to me, so I decided to try to make my own project inspired by this project. Since I am not an experienced Scratcher, I wanted my first shared project build up from the bottom, rather than remixing existing projects.

The code of Hot Air next to the code of my project.

The island looked much like a mountain, and I remembered my recent visit to Ecuador. During my first visit to Quito, one of the surprises I experienced was that a volcano was visible from the city. The Cotopaxi is an active volcano located close to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This experience inspired me to use a photograph of the Cotopaxi as backdrop for my Scratch project. I decided to replace the hot-air balloon with a Llama, mainly because Llamas are likely to live close to the Cotopaxi, and because they are friendly animals. My plan was an elaborate project in which the Llama would change its looks when hit by a rain drop and after being hit 3 times the game would be over, much like the Hot Air project. However, the coding of the project was more challenging that I imagined. Especially after seeing the code of the Hot Air project, which made use of many variables and even its own built blocks, I decided to simplify.

The popping sounds I added to the Llama when touching a raindrop changed the entire narrative of the project. It was such a satisfying sound, that I decided to give the Llama a grateful expression when it touched the raindrop. Changing the costume introduced a bug into the software. While a popping sound is produced every time the raindrop touches the Llama, the Llama does not change its appearance every time. I tried to resolve the bug by going through some of the tutorials that were conveniently available on the left of the screen. Eventually, I gave up on trying to fix it and changed the narrative of the project to feature a picky Llama that is not satisfied by every raindrop.

While working on the project, the way in which the active community, the featured projects feature, the see inside feature, and the tutorials came together and informed the development of my project was fascinating. Exploring the grammar of the language itself made me think of the many different ways I could have continued to expand the project. The community features helped me get inspired and generate idea for getting started and to persevere. The tutorials helped me get unstuck. While everything was mostly easy to get to, I created my own drawing board or pallet and through-lines on the site that I was at times challenging to keep present, e.g., opening up several tabs of the Hot Air project to be able to flip through codes more quickly, or opening up the tutorials in one tab while working on another. This made my wonder what an analysis of the intra-actions between Scratchers and the Scratch website might tell us about aspects of the sites to further expand the rich learning opportunities of the community.

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