Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

Gamestar Mechanic as a Pathway to Programming

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Posted Jul. 13, 2012

CategoryGaming Education

In addition to interning full time on Gamestar Mechanic’s recently launched Summer Online Learning Program, I’ve been poking around on Unity, a popular 3-D game design engine that requires some basic programming knowledge. As I started programming my very first game, I realized that the game design concepts I had learned from working on Gamestar Mechanic the past two summers were proving to be invaluable. Huh? How does Gamestar Mechanic, an engine that doesn’t require programming from its designers, help you with an engine like Unity?

Bring it on, Unity. I’m not afraid of the word “boolean.”

As much as I enjoy it, programming can be a long, arduous process. This makes it really important for me to prioritize my programming tasks. As I’ve learned in Gamestar, you can spend quite a bit of time making your game look pretty, but if the core gameplay isn’t fun, then you might have to scrap the whole project.

In Unity, I could have spent a month programming the water in my game to flow in an ultra-realistic manner. But if the core mechanic of my game – fighting zombies – wasn’t fun, nobody would care about the tiny details of my game. Thus I decided to dedicate my programming resources towards making a prototype. In this prototype, I focused on making a combat system that was fun to play and required strategic decisions from the player.

I suppose the word “strategic” doesn’t mean much in zombie games.

In addition to the concept of prototyping, Gamestar Mechanic taught me how to dissect games through the elements of game design. Thinking about the element of space, I looked at my game through a critical lens: what is the space of my game like, and how will it affect the core gameplay? I realized that most of the combat in my game will take place on a raft, which is a flat, wide open space.

This type of space doesn’t always lend itself well to combat (see my previous blog post about Game Design Pitfalls to learn about why!) This led me to two game design decisions: 1) create a fairly robust combat system with attacking, parrying, and dodging; and 2) give the player the ability to customize and upgrade their raft into a full fledged boat. With different floors, compartments, and objects, an upgraded boat would make for a much better combat space than just a simple raft.

When I look at this screenshot, I’m often comforted by the old maritime proverb: every great ship starts off as a simple plank of wood… I may have just made that up.

As you can see, my game is still in its early phases. But because of my experience with Gamestar Mechanic, I’m confident that my time has been well spent. Have any of your students tried programming before or expressed interest in programming because of their experience with Gamestar Mechanic?

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