Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

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Common Design Mistakes Made By New Gamestar Mechanic Users

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Posted Jun. 04, 2012

CategoryUncategorized

As a sophomore in college last semester, I had the pleasure of running a game design afterschool activity using Gamestar Mechanic at a local middle school. While I was consistently impressed with the work of my students, I noticed some common themes in the types of design mistakes they would make. I’ve learned from talking to the folks at E-Line, as well as browsing games in the Game Alley, that these mistakes weren’t just specific to the students in my activity: they can be found among many new Gamestar Mechanic users. Let’s delve in to what these mistakes are and what you can do as a facilitator to identify and help pull your students out of these design quagmires. Hopefully, you will find that the instructional framework prescribed by this post applies to any design issue you may encounter.

Game Design Pitfall #1: The “Spam” Shooter

Chances are you’ve seen this type of game before: the player can blast away from a safe and cozy spot, perhaps surrounded by blocks or at a safe distance. Meanwhile, a herd of enemy sprites is constantly moving in and out of the avatar’s line of fire. As a facilitator, a nice rule of thumb to follow is that if you can beat your student’s game with one finger and your eyes closed, then it isn’t requiring enough engagement from the player.

Those poor enemy sprites never even stood a chance.

It’s been established that these types of game aren’t challenging enough to be much fun. But then why do kids make them? One likely cause for this design tendency stems from the desire of students to make games in which the player dominates hordes of enemies. Speaking as a gamer myself, this is an understandable sentiment. But as a facilitator, it would be ideal to remind your students that what’s fun about these games is not solely the blasting of enemies, but rather the overcoming of a difficult challenge.

A more practical explanation for why students create either repetitively or randomly moving sprites is that these are the default behaviors for each sprite when it is placed into the game environment. It’s possible that encouraging your student to explore the various sprite settings via the wrench tool would help alleviate this particular cause of the problem.

So you have helped your student identify that his game could use some added challenge, and maybe you’ve even psychoanalyzed his gaming habits in order to identify the root causes behind his designing behavior. Now it’s time to salvage his design project. The first topic to broach with your student involves the components of his game. You may want to ask the student about how the behavior of his enemy sprites is allowing the player to just sit back and relax. You could also ask him to consider the advantages and disadvantages of having many enemies that are easy to defeat vs. utilizing a select handful of enemies that are more challenging and impactful to the player.

Perhaps the most glaring issue with this student’s game is his use of space. It would be useful to have the student consider how the wide open environment of his game is resulting in the player being able to defeat every single enemy without even moving. If the student is keen on adding more blocks to his game, but isn’t sure where to put them, you could ask him about what kinds of spaces make it challenging yet fun to blast and defeat an enemy.

You could also ask him if a fragging goal is appropriate given the state of his game. If the enemies are located in a position that makes them too easy to defeat, then perhaps a goal that doesn’t involve destroying them – such as point collection – would be more fun.

While it is unlikely that suggesting a rule change to this game would affect it in its initial state, if the student has added additional challenge to his game via the aforementioned methods, you could consider discussing the rules of his game. You could talk to your student about whether or not the presence of a time limit would force the player to come up with more efficient movement and blasting strategies. Likewise, if the player doesn’t appear to have concern for his safety, then a more strict health counter would encourage the player to develop better evasive behaviors.

Okay, so it wouldn’t be my final submission to the National STEM Video Game Challenge, but this game has definitely come a long way.

Although this framework involving components, space, goals, and rules was applied to this specific design pitfall, it can be extrapolated to other design issues as well. A major theme of this approach is about helping your student become in touch with his intuition about whether or not his game is fun. Facilitators who aren’t necessarily gamers should especially feel free to employ this framework when trying to help their student solve a design issue. For more information on topics such as space and adding challenge, check out Lessons 7 and 10 in the Gamestar Mechanic Learning Guide.

I’m also curious if there are any trends you guys have noticed in your students’ games. Feel free to comment below if there’s any design issue you would like to see addressed!

Bully Blasters

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Posted May. 07, 2012

CategoryGames by Kids, Uncategorized

Tagged

Here’s another story about kids making games for other kids, but this time with a very specific goal – battling bullies.  Students from Fresno and Clovis Unified high schools recently launched Bully Blaster in the iTunes app store.  This article describes the gameplay:

“Using their fingertips, players battle bullying by fighting their way through waves of positive and negative words. By destroying the insults and collecting the compliments, gamers compete for their highest score.”

There is also a great video above the article that explains more about the game, the design process, and has quotes from the designers themselves.

For me, what really made this project stand out was the quote from high school student, Michelle Rodriquez, who said that the game allows the player to choose words that they have been called, and defeat them in the game.  This mechanic of allowing players to choose their own bully terminology makes the game very personal.  It also means that you are blasting the word, the idea and the insult, instead of the person who says the word.  It will be interesting to see how this kind of gameplay affects kids, both the bullies and the bullied.

Here’s a short video showing some Bully Blaster gameplay:

If you are interested in kids making games about healthy relationships and social systems within schools, check out this post about our new project Real Robots of Robot High.  This link gives you the background of the project and a chance to sign up for the beta!

Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog!

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Posted Oct. 25, 2011

CategoryUncategorized

Welcome to Gamestar Mechanic’s new Teacher Blog! I’m Katya, Gamestar’s Learning Content Producer.

About this blog

This teacher blog will contain content about Gamestar Mechanic in educational settings: how teachers use it, stories from the field, features of Gamestar, and much more!

A little bit about me

I have a background in teaching ESL, a degree in linguistics, and I’m currently writing my Masters thesis to receive a Masters in Educational Technology Desgin.  I love games, and while I mostly play PC games, mobile, and handheld games, I’m open to trying anything! I’m passionate about learning in innovative and unconventional ways, and also excited to see new intersections of technology and education.

What I do at Gamestar

I produce learning content which means anything from writing lesson plans, to co-teaching in classrooms, to creating videos and webinars to help teachers learn about Gamestar.  My goal with Gamestar Educators Blog and Teachers Website is to share what cool learning content is coming up on our end, but more importantly, ask the educator community for comments and suggestions!  Feel free to comment on any post!  What kind of lesson plans do you want to see? How are you using Gamestar with your students? We want to hear it!