Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts in the “Challenges and Contests” Category

Game of Sprites – An epic adventure in STEAM learning.

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Posted Dec. 02, 2016

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Gaming Education

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 “Greetings, valiant Mechanics! Are you ready to embark on a grand adventure? Then prepare yourselves for Game of Sprites!” (GSM News, Nov. 16, 2016)

The Holidays are upon us! The students are restless… It’s time for a new challenge! Starting November 18th, the awesome team at Gamestar Mechanic began releasing a series of brand-new Challenges for your students to play through. These challenges will not only allow your students to unlock new sprites and gear but also provide them with a great lead up to a new Contest that will task them with creating their own games using these newly-released sprites! This challenge is awesome for lessons in game design, plot, character development, user-centric design, and creative writing, among other things.

As mentioned in earlier posts, designing a balanced game, one with flow, involves system-based thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, art, storytelling, and digital media literacy. It involves “Systems-Thinking” and “User-Centered Design”. To develop even a simple game, a student must act as sociotechnical engineer, thinking about how people will interact with a system and how said systems shape both competitive and collaborative social interaction. This is the 21st Century Story-Teller’s Art. This is where Liberal Arts meet STEM. This is what STEAM is all about! This is why those of us who were children of the 90′s remember and even revisit a great old game, much as though it were a great piece of literature we had read in childhood. I’m not trying to blaspheme here. Please do not attack me for putting Cloud and Frodo in the same basket, but I would argue that they might just belong together.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the team at Gamestar clearly had a lot of fun putting these challenges together. They are well-designed games in which students will have the opportunity to earn never-before-seen sprites that also contain a lot of humor. I may be getting my geek on a little too much, but I seriously had some “laugh-out-loud” moments as I played through the two challenges that have been released so far. I’m seriously stoked for Episode III to be released today!

As this is the Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog and I am a teacher, I think in lesson plans. So without further ado, here is a sample lesson plan for you! (I am so a poet and totally know it!)

Read more »

STEM Video Game Challenge: A Quick Start Guide

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Posted Nov. 25, 2015

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events

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As any experienced teacher knows, November and December are often months packed with activity, anticipation, and a dash of pure insanity. Then, after going home to spend time with family, we arrive back to school in January for  the midwinter blues. Let’s develop a plan to beat those blues right now by looking forward to the National STEM Video Game Challenge.

The fifth cycle of the National STEM Video Game Challenge, launching in 2016, opens on March 15th, and you can begin preparing your students any time. Whether you’re teaching a full on Computer Science course, like myself; using computer science in your Art, Math, Science, or Technology class; or conducting a STEM or STEAM focused after-school program, the National STEM Video Game Challenge is a good way to motivate your students to kick it up a notch.

Now, I understand that you may have little experience with the topic of game design or perhaps you just aren’t prepared to write a curriculum on the topic over your Holiday Break. So, in the Holiday Spirit, I’ve decided to provide you, my fellow teacher, with a “quick start guide”.

Step 1: Video Game Design 101

Let’s talk about game design. Your students may have extensive experience with Game Development via various popular programming environments, but the fine art of game design focuses on the following powerful 21st century concepts, including but not limited to:

Addison Joins the League

  • Designing systems
  • Designing for end-users
  • Creative problem-solving

These concepts are covered in more detail in the post, Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming. So, how do we get our students primed and ready to design a really coherent, engaging, and creative game for the National STEM Video Game Challenge? Here are some of my suggestions for class activities to get students thinking like game designers.

Addison Joins the League & the Apprenticeship Badge

Addison Joins the League, the introductory quest of Gamestar mechanic, is all about introducing students to the five elements of game design and how they work together as a system to create a satisfying and engaging end-user experience.

The Apprenticeship Badge, which can be earned in the Gamestar Mechanic workshop, provides a more in-depth study of what goes wrong in the game design process and how to solve those problems, again to improve the overall system and make better end-user experience.

Additional resources and activities.

If you’re looking for a more scaffolded class-wide cooperative learning experience, I highly recommend the materials at the Gamestar Mechanic learning guide, which provides a wealth of lesson plans and curriculum resources. There’s something here for just about everyone, so check it out.

Gamekit Beta

Not able to be online every day? Add in Gamekit Beta, which is like “Gamestar Mechanic unplugged”. There you’ll find activities that focus on concepts such as the balance of luck and strategy to create fun.

Step 2: Design your entries

Gamestar Mechanic typically has a challenge open right within the workshop that includes a special STEM Challenge template or a way for students to choose an existing game from their Workshop. Now, let’s look at some ways to set your students’ STEM challenge games apart from the rest.

Serious Game design

You may or may not be aware of the growing serious games movement. “A serious game or applied game is a game designed for a primary purpose other than pure entertainment. The serious adjective is generally prepended to refer to products used by industries like defense, education, scientific exploration, health care, emergency management, city planning, engineering, religion, and politics” (Wikipedia).

Dr. Jane Mcgonigal talked at length about this in her famous 2010 TED Talk, Gaming can make a better world.  Today’s kids are often highly motivated to embrace making a positive difference in all kinds of social action and public service projects.

A good way to get some great content out of your students for the STEM challenge is to get them thinking of how they can make a game that is not only fun to play but also helping the player learn something valuable and even world changing. Here are some serious games made in Gamestar Mechanic as examples:

Finally, here are some lessons from Scholastic to help you level up your students’ game content.

Details details details.

Now that your students have learned the basics about how games use goals, rules, mechanics, components, and space in a balanced way to create flow, it’s time to give them one more trick to suck players (and the judges) in. This is the part that puts the STEAM in STEM. It’s time to talk about story.

Your students have likely been focusing on building their levels up to this point. Now it’s time to visit the game and level settings screens and add some context to this adventure. The game and level intro and win messages are a great place to begin to build a unifying story. Use the game intro and win messages to set up the context of your game in terms of exposition and resolution. What is the setting? Who is your main character? What is going on? This involves the player in the story of the game and gives them a reason to care. Then, as the story unfolds, remind students to use the level intro and win messages to cue each wrinkle in the larger narrative of the game. Each level should build on the unifying theme of the story, including finishing touches, like background & soundtrack. Students should be encouraged to tell the story with the 5 Elements – Don’t lose players by telling a story in cut screens that has nothing to do with the game they’re actually playing. The space, components, mechanics, goals, and rules should fit the story or the story should fit the space, components, mechanics, goals, & rules.

To give the game an epic scope, students can include elements like

  • A boss or two (Use a Boss sprite or Just beef up a sprite with the wrench tool)
  • Text message blocks to help unfold the story (get these from the message box challenge)
  • One or more levels that have an epic scope (aka: Multiple Screen Scrolling)

Step 3: Iteration Feedback Loop

The iteration feedback loop is a key part of the Game design process. In this case, it really helps to have a convenient way for your students to play each other’s games and provide feedback. I have my students post a copy of their game to Edmodo. You could use Google Classroom, Moodle, MyBigCampus, or whatever social / LMS space you have. Then students can go play their classmates’ games and give feedback in Game Alley. Make this an opening / warm-up activity or a closure activity each day, and each day focus on a specific aspect of the design. For example, “play a classmate’s game today and give him or her feedback on how the game space contributed to or detracted from the overall balance of the game”.

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We would love to hear about your experiences. Comment below with your successes, frustrations, questions, and any great ides you would like to share. Let’s make some great games this coming spring.

DFTBA

 

Toon Academy: Minecraft

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Posted Oct. 01, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Partner Highlight

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Looking for something super fun to do with your students this month? Look no further. Our partner MinecraftEdu has teamed up with Toontastic  on a contest for kids to show what they are learning by playing Minecraft starting October 7th. There’s even created a Common Core-aligned Mission Plan and a Launchpad Toytivity to help teachers and parents work with kids to create their contest entries teaching others their favorite Minecraft activities.

Here’s how you enter:

  1. Create a Minecraft “How Toon” on Toontastic that teaches other kids your favorite Minecraft activity.
  2. Submit your cartoon to the contest between October 7th and October 17th, 2013.
  3. Share you How Toons with friends and family on Facebook and Twitter – each like, share, comment and tweet counts as a vote for your cartoon!

At the end of the contest, the cartoon with the most votes will win a “How Toons” Prize Package from Launchpad Toys and MinecraftEdu. For more information, check out the post over at Toontastic.

FHI Game Jam

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Posted Jun. 07, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

I recently wrote about the interscholastic program and competition we run in partnership with FHI 360.  In a nutshell, we train 9 NYC public middle schools to use Gamestar Mechanic, support their teachers, visit their classrooms, and organize a final competition where kids represent their school in a Game Jam.  Well, that Game Jam happened on Tuesday of this week and it was AWESOME!

In the four weeks leading up to the Game Jam, teachers divided their classes into groups of 2-4 and each group made a game in Gamestar.  The games could be about whatever they wanted, though, looking back, I think I’ll add some more parameters to this design challenge to keep the games more focused.  Then the Gamestar Mechanic team played and gave feedback on each and every game.  The groups had one week to iterate on their designs before resubmitting them to the Gamestar team.  We picked one winning group from each classroom and invited them to compete in the game jam.

On Tuesday, 11 groups showed up to the beautiful offices of FHI 360 in Union Square, NYC.  They were tasked with designing a single-level game that provided at least one difficult choice for the player in just one hour.  As they designed, the excitement and nervousness in the room was palpable.  And the kids made superb games! After the hour was up, Brian (General Manager of Gamestar Mechanic) and Eddie (Producer at Large Animal Games) judged the entries while the kids played each other’s games to assess their competitors.  Finally, winners were announced.

1st Place: Prison of the Mind by FlyingForever, Ventus14, W.Carter

2nd Place: Misguided City Boy by Yungdeion, Anthony17, Roberto27

Congratulations to FDA III for taking home second place prize, and MS244 for taking home the win!

Partner Highlight: The Scholastic Awards

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Posted Mar. 27, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Community, Partner Highlight

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Gamestar Mechanic has had the good fortune to work with the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards since our early days in Beta phase. The Scholastic Awards is a 90 year-old program begun by the founder of Scholastic, Inc. that recognizes talented young artists and writers and provides them with opportunities for recognition, exhibition and awards.  We’re happy to say that every year a few of our Gamestar Mechanic users are winners in this impressive program!

Scott Larner

We caught up with Scott Larner, the Senior Manager of National Programs at the Scholastic Awards – and an avid game player! – and asked him to share his thoughts about game design, creativity and education.

Thanks, Scott for taking time to talk to us and to share your thoughts with our teacher community! We would love to hear more about why the Scholastic Awards launched a category for video game design and how you’ve seen this category grow over the past couple of years. 

Scott:  The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has always sought to respond and recognize the creativity of middle and high school students – in whatever form it takes. The photography category was introduced in the 1940s; in the early 2000s The Scholastic Awards began to honor students for computer-generated art. Like these earlier categories, Video Game Design was added to respond to an evolution of the way young artists were choosing to express themselves. We couldn’t afford to look away from the rich and eclectic work being done by young people designing games.

The growth of the category has truly been astounding. In 2010, the first year we offered the category, we received a few hundred submissions. This year that number had grown to over 1,300 submissions.  This reflects a growth in the number of schools that offer video game design classes; hard work on the part of The Scholastic Awards staff in promoting the category; and the overwhelming number of young thinkers who were already designing games on their own who just needed an outlet to share their work. We expect the category to continue this explosive growth in the future and we look forward sharing the work of young game designers.  But even more importantly, we look forward to playing their fantastic games!

How do you see video game design relating to other areas of the Scholastic Awards? And do you see themes across categories?

Scott:  Teenagers are at a point in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and what they want from life, so naturally a lot of teenage art and writing explores themes of identity.  The Video Game category is no different. In a way, the video game category adds an interesting depth to this exploration of self. Designers build characters for players to inhabit, and place those characters in situations and worlds built from their imaginations. The experience of playing through a game can give the player unparalleled access to the idiosyncrasies of the designer’s inner-world. In the best games, you don’t just absorb the artist’s visions, you participate in them firsthand.

With 90 years of experience behind your program, what do you think are the main benefits of creative competition?

Scott:  The main benefit of The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards has been and will continue to be the validation from an impartial eye, from someone who is not your teacher, a family member, or a friend, from a professional who is evaluating your work on its own merit. Winning a Scholastic Award is an empowering moment. Artists like John Baldessari, Richard Avedon and Tom Otterness have all said that the Scholastic Awards served as a jumping-off point for their careers, as a moment when they came to the realization that they had the talent to pursue their creative passion, not merely as a pastime, but as a calling.

The scholarships, publication and exhibition opportunities, and ceremonies are all important parts of our program, and add a tremendous value to winning a Scholastic Art & Writing Award, but we find that the students who get the most out of The Awards are naturally drawn to writing, drawing, designing video games, and so on. It’s these students who embrace the recognition and really build on it.

We know you’re also a writer, Scott, so from your own perspective, can you talk a bit about how games are a powerful medium for creative writers?

Scott:  Because a person can play a video game at their own pace, it gives the writer an opportunity to explore details and add digressions that may not work in conventional prose. Whether it’s a message scratched into a wall or a dusty tome that the player can open and peruse, video games deliver story details in many new and interesting ways. Modern role-playing games like Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls series have taken great advantage of this, providing the player with hundreds of pages of material which helps add flavor and fills out the history of their fictional worlds.

Lastly, how can teachers get their students involved in the Scholastic Awards?

Scott:  The most important thing that teachers can do is encourage creative students in their classes to submit to The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. We accept submissions starting in the middle of September at www.artandwriting.org. Teachers and students can also like us on Facebook to keep up with Scholastic Awards’ news. Email info@artandwriting.org for more information or to request posters and other promotional materials.

Thanks again, Scott! To learn more about the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, please visit www.artandwriting.org.

Guest Post – Kerri on the STEM Challenge

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Posted Mar. 25, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Guest Post

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Hey guys!

We’ve been doing a ton of traveling and game design workshops around the country to gear up for the National STEM Video Game Challenge.  Our guest blogger today, Kerri Schlottman, is E-Line Media’s VP of Business and Partnership Development and has been coordinating the efforts on making these workshops a success (and they have been).  Here’s Kerri to tell you more:

E-Line's Biz and Partnership Development Superstar

As you know, E-Line Media is a founding partner and co-presenter of the National STEM Video Game Challenge. This exciting Challenge encourages middle and high school youth to design their own games as a form of 21st century skill development and STEM learning – plus, making games is creative, fun and exciting, so what better way to encourage youth than by tapping into their natural passion for games! This year, the STEM Challenge received funding from the Hive NYC Learning Network and from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to hit the road and teach kids across the country how to design their own games.

We had no small feat – 30 workshops in just two months! We’re still in the swing of things and are working with an incredible group of museum and library educators across the country. Some of our partners for this amazing road trip include: American Museum of Natural History in NYC; Brooklyn Public Library; Orlando Public Library; Parmly Billings Library in Billings, MT (where over 50 kids showed up!); Hawkins County Library in Rogersville, TN; Museum of History & Industry in Seattle, WA; Sahara West Library in Las Vegas; Cranston Public Library in Cranston, RI; Arizona Science Center in Phoenix; Madison Children’s Museum in Madison, WI; and Iridescent Science Studio in the Bronx – to name a few.

Each workshop introduces youth to core game mechanics, how to build balanced game systems, and the iterative design process. Participants have a chance to make non-digital games in small groups and to also get started building games with Gamestar Mechanic. Plus, plenty of play testing and feedback!

All of these fun workshops have been an effort to spread the word about the STEM Challenge and to expose youth to the huge educational benefits of game design. To learn more, visit the STEM Challenge site! Original games can be submitted through April 24.

Healthivores is back!

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Posted Jan. 14, 2013

CategoryChallenges and Contests

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Remember last year’s awesome competition from our friends at Healthivores? They’re back!

If you missed it last year and want to participate, you’re in luck. Here’s a note from the Healthivores team: This year’s Healthivores Video Game Contest has begun and its easier than you think. Check out the included Lesson Plan that will take teachers, even those with zero game design experience, step-by-step through the process of teaching your students to design games. You will have your students completing their video games in less than 4 weeks. This year Healthivores has added Technology, Science and Math focused Lesson Plan options to the already popular Nutrition and Fitness Lesson Plan. Each winning team will receive one laptop for the teacher, one for the school and one for each student on the team (See 2012 Winners here). Deadline for entry is March 31, 2013 (allow 4 weeks for completion of Lesson Plan). Get started now at the Healthivores Video Game Contest homepage!

Games and Storytelling

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Posted Jul. 03, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Gaming Education

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Right now, in Gamestar Mechanic we are featuring the Scholastic What’s Your Story? Contest. This contests is open through August 1st and serves as part of the Start. Write. Now. Alliance for Young Writers and Artists initiative. This all leads up to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards that open in September.

These days, the idea that games can tell effective stories is not exactly new. Now many teachers are using games with their students to deconstruct stories or game design to understand narrative development. But the art of telling stories through video games is still in its adolescence. This funny video by Extra Credits and Daniel Floyd gives some good examples of how storytelling and writing, in particular, are faring in the world of video game creation.

Keep in mind this video was made 4 years ago, and 4 years can make a lot of difference. There are three main points that Floyd makes in his piece that I feel are changing by the minute:
1. Mainstream consumers are beginning to pay attention to good writing. Since 2008 a number of smash hit video games have come out with exceptional writing, the most notable of which are the two most recent installations of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series.
2. Games are no longer only a consumer product. The implementation of games in education is picking up quickly as educators recognize the potential for games to teach. While there is a lot of buzz about games teaching Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, teachers are also realizing the power of teaching narrative in games.
3. Writing is not always seen as the key element in game storytelling. As we are seeing in a lot of Indie Games, stories in games can be enthralling and rich with almost no writing at all. Check out the popular adventure games by Aminata Design for example.

While writing and storytelling in games may never be exactly the same to that in movies or books, games are certainly growing as a medium for narrative. Because we believe in the power of games to tell stories, and the power of game design to inspire youth to create narratives, we are featuring challenges like the Scholastic What’s Your Story? Contest. Can you tell a story through your game design? Give it a shot!

Healthivores!

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Posted Jun. 05, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests

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Often playing video games is associated with unhealthy behavior.  There is a strong stereotype of a gamer who stays in the basement, eating junk food and never leaving the house.

So it may come as a surprise to some when Green Ribbon Schools added a game design contest as part of their Healthivores program.  For this contest, Gamestar made some new sprites depicting both healthy foods and fast foods.  The kids who entered the Healthivores contest made use of these sprites in very interesting ways.

Their were over 400 entries to the competition.  The winning game described a war against the “fast foodies,” where the hero (you) learns that apples and other health foods give you nutrients and “special powers” to fight in the war, like running faster and jumping higher.

Check out the competition page and play the games of the winners!

National STEM Video Game Challenge: Celebrating Success

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Posted May. 23, 2012

CategoryChallenges and Contests, Events, Games by Kids

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An adventure game where your character moves around by manipulating the attractive and repulsive forces of the atom. A 3D battle against pathogens inside the human body. An early learning game starring a shark that teaches first graders about inequalities. They could be the latest releases from a premiere educational game studio, but these and 14 other incredible games were all made by students between the ages of 10 and 18: the winners of the 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge Youth Prize.

On Monday, May 21, I had the pleasure of participating in the Challenge’s Celebration of Success where 28 youth game designers from around the country — out of a field of over 3,700 entries — were honored for their original game designs at an event held at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC presented by Challenge Sponsor Microsoft.

IMG_6182

The youth winners began their visit with a VIP tour of the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games exhibit where they got to see and play some of the most significant titles in the history of gaming. Then it was off to the auditorium where representatives from the game industry, government and the educational community — along with family and friends — recognized the designers for a job well done.

Challenge judge and game designer Sean Vesce of 20after1, who’s work includes titles like the Tomb Raider and Mech Warrior franchises, praised the designers’ work and talked about his own experience as a young game maker inspired by some of the great early Activision titles. Alex Games, Education Design Director at Microsoft also addressed the youth, telling them “You did something awesome! Making games, like anything good in life, takes a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance and a lot of not giving up.” Dr. Games was followed by video congratulations to the winners from celebrity Challenge judge (and self-professed nerd) Zachary Levi of NBC’s Chuck.

Joining the sponsors and game industry professionals in praising the young designers were Representatives Debbie Wasserman-Shultz and Jim McGovern as well as Cristin Dorgelo, Assistant Director for Grand Challenges at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Following the ceremony, several of the winners of had the opportunity to demo their games for the guests in attendance.

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You can meet the 2012 Youth Prize winners and see some of the amazing things they’re doing in this video. You can also check out the complete winners list here with footage of each of the winning games and even links to play a few online.