Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts from November, 2011

Design Challenges to Focus Student Effort


Posted Nov. 23, 2011

CategoryChallenges and Contests


Ever since we tested the earliest versions of Gamestar Mechanic, we’ve noticed that young designers create better games when they’ve got something to focus on.  Turn a student loose in the Gamestar Workshop with a full set of sprites and they’re likely to experiment and explore, but they’re also likely to hit a block where they aren’t sure what to do next.  As writing teachers have known forever, it is good to give students a prompt.

Right now, there are several national game design challenges open for entry, and they can be a great way to focus your students’ efforts – and there are some great prizes available for you as well as the student.  The National STEM Video Game Challenge opened on November 16, 2011 and runs through March 12, 2012 .  Although the STEM Challenge sounds like you have to make learning games, the theory behind the challenge is that making any game demands STEM-related skills.  Your students should make a fun game, first and foremost.  The Challenge Youth Prize is open to students in grades 5 – 12, but there is an adult prize too if you want to try your hand!  For more information, check out

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have been around for 88 years, giving talented young artists and writers recognition for their work and giving them an annual event on which to focus their work.  This will be the third year that the Awards have recognized Game Design as a category for art submissions, and it’s been great seeing games get some respect as an expressive medium.  The Awards are a big deal — the winners get to walk across the stage at Carnegie Hall to accept their awards, and many past honorees still prize their award pins.  The Art and Writing Awards deadlines vary by category and region, but video game submissions must be submitted or postmarked by January 9th.  See for more specifics.

Both the Challenge and the Awards accept entries made in Gamestar Mechanic as well as other tools.  In fact, students can even submit game designs on paper, as long as they’re clear about how their designs would play and what the game would be like.  Whether they’re working on paper, in Gamestar, or coding in Actionscript by hand, we think design challenges are a great goal for students to work toward.

“Are You Game?” Recap


Posted Nov. 17, 2011



On Saturday, Gamestar Mechanic and BrainPOP partnered to have an awesome event in BrainPOP’s very own beautiful office. This event was a kick off for the National STEM Video Game Challenge which opened yesterday. I cannot stop thinking about how inspiring and energetic this event was!

A wide variety of teachers showed up to learn about how to use game design in their classrooms.  These teachers were public, private, charter, and homeschooling.  They were at elementary, middle, and high school levels.  They worked with mainstream students, ESL students, and special needs students.  Some were gamers, but mostly they were new to gaming and game design, and couldn’t wait to get started with it!

We kicked off the day with a fantastic keynote by Michael Angst, CEO and founder of E-line Media.  Following the keynote were a series of workshops where teachers made physical games, digital games, played games, reviewed games, and learned about games and STEM learning.   To see pictures of the event, go here. (That link also includes handouts to help teachers prepare their students for the STEM video game challenge).

I left the event with a deep understanding that teachers from all walks of life (gamer or not) value the importance of connecting with and teaching students on an innovative and digital level.  Thank you to all teachers who came, to BrainPOP for being fantastic partners, and to the Gamestar team for making such an inspiring platform!

We’ll definitely be doing an event like this again.  See you there next time!

STEM Challenge Opens Today


Posted Nov. 16, 2011

CategoryChallenges and Contests


The National STEM Video Game Challenge opens TODAY!!! This challenge is inspired by President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign, with a goal to motivate kids to take an interest in STEM learning by doing something they’re already passionate about – playing and making video games.

This year’s competition opens today, Nov 16, 2011, and closes March 12, 2012.  It features four challenge entry categories: middle school, high school, collegiate, and EDUCATORS.  That means that all you teachers have the opportunity not only to help your students design games for the challenge, but to enter your own designs as well! Make sure to check out the STEM challenge site for information on each challenge category, the game design platforms available, and prizes.

Want some inspiration? Watch the video of last year’s middle school winners:

I helped in the judging of the last year’s middle school level entries, and I was blown away by the creativity and skill shown in many of the hundreds of entries submitted.  This year, I’m sure, the competition will be even bigger and the games even more inspiring.  Can’t wait!

Kid Designers Outside of Gamestar


Posted Nov. 08, 2011

CategoryGames by Kids


My previous post highlighted two super awesome games made by kids in Gamestar Mechanic.  It’s fairly simple to design games in Gamestar; there is no programming required, and you are prepared by play and fix missions in the Quest to make games that are balanced and fun.  That being said, not every type of game can be created in Gamestar and after creating a good number of games, some kids may be inspired to program their own.  Making a game from scratch is a process.  It involves solid game design, art creation, programming and a lot of planning.  Here are a few impressive examples of games made by kids from scratch.


Blatch is a matching game for the iPad ($0.99) created by GRL5, a 15-year-old.  This game is simple and deceivingly challenging.  The goal is to clear all blocks from the screen by matching blocks of the same color from the bottom row of two columns.  When a pair is matched, they will disappear from the screen, and the blocks above them will fall down into the bottom row.  There are multiple possibilities for matching the blocks, but only one matching order will clear all blocks from the screen.  You can learn more about Blatch and the designer here.

I played this game on easy mode and still barely managed to pass one level.  Usually, that would be a turn off for me, but the mechanics of this game are simple and fun, so I really wanted to keep trying.  This game is also beautiful aesthetically — there are no scoreboards, timers, or other meta data to distract you from the brightly colored blocks.  GRL5 did a great job!

Bubble BallBubble Ball

Bubble Ball is a physics puzzle game where you design a course to get the ball to the goal.  Robert Nay, a 14-year-old* from Utah created this game for the iPhone which, as of today, has gotten over 9.1 million downloads.  Wow!  Robert coded this game with Corona SDK, an environment that lets developers create games for Android and iOS platforms.  Robert designed the game’s levels with his mom, Kari.  More info here.

This game is so basic that there is no sound and graphics are truly bare bones, but the gameplay is fantastic. Levels start out easy and slowly increase in difficulty, and I feel like a total genius every time I beat one!  Check out Robert’s studio Nay Games.

Sissy's Magical Ponycorn AdventureSissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure

This heartwarming game was created by Cassie (5-years-old!) and her dad.  Sissy’s Magical Ponycorn Adventure is a short point-and-click adventure game playable for free online.  Cassie’s dad did the programming while Cassie designed the game, voiced the characters, and created all the art.  When the game was published online, it created a huge amount of buzz on game blogs and Twitter and was a finalist at this year’s IndieCade. Find out about the process of making Ponycorn here and read even more here.

The game is short, sweet, and HILARIOUS.  Just goes to show that brilliant games can come from kids who are too small to even write a line of code.  I also learned that lemons are evil =)

Know of other games designed by kids? Let me know!

Games by Kids – Katya’s Favs


Posted Nov. 01, 2011

CategoryGames by Kids


There are thousands of kids publishing games in Game Alley on about almost as many topics.  Kids make games that tell stories about their lives, that simulate a system they are learning about in school, that features interesting puzzles, or that are simply full of as many sprites as possible.  While a lot of games in Game Alley are fantastic, these are two of my favorite:

Dinosaur Sustanability” by rhys

Dinosaur Sustainability

Dinosaur Sustainability

This game by rhys was a winner for the 2010 STEM Video Game Challenge, and rightfully so.  This is a resource management game where each level is a little trickier than the last.  You are a dinosaur trying to survive.  At first you have all the food you could dream of and no competition, but as the levels progress, you have other dinos competing for your rations and some who are even trying to eat you.

I love this game for two main reasons.  One, it’s an awesome portrayal of predator-prey relationships and resource management.  If you eat everything too quickly, you’ll have nothing left.  But if you eat too slowly, someone else might get to the goods before you do.  The key to winning this game is balancing resources, which is a lovely game mechanic.

This game also stands out because of its built-in scaffolding.  Level 1 teaches you the basics of survival, and the subsequent levels introduce new challenges.  Each level builds off of the last.  This is exactly how good games teach players.  Well done, rhys!

Missing!” by mustelidae



I like this game for very different reasons.  It does not have much gameplay (you collect a point here or there), but boy does it have story, and a unique way of telling it!  You are a tiny hero, solving the mystery of Mrs. Pickleton who did not show up to accept her “pie of the century” award.  By talking to the townspeople, you unlock the mystery of where Mrs. Pickleton could be and why she didn’t come to claim her award.  But here’s the amazing part, you talk to other sprites by using a combination of message blocks and teleporters to create a dialog tree.  Awesome!

This game features mechanics found often in RPGs (role-playing games) like collecting clues and conversing with NPCs (non-player characters).  Yet, mustelidae developed a unique way to use a component we intended for location changes (teleporters) to instead transport the player into a conversation.  Kudos, mustelidae!

At the top of Game Alley you’ll find our featured games section which we update weekly.  Some of the most innovative games by kids can be found here.  Happy playing! And let me know what some of your favorites are!