Gamestar Mechanic Teacher Blog

All posts tagged “game design”

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!)

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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

 

Designing Fun: There’s more to game design than programming

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Posted Apr. 17, 2014

CategoryGaming Education

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This is not fun…

Your students are programming ninjas. They’ve spent the last nine weeks iterating, code tweaking, and testing their programs. Having them design games turned out to be a great move. Not only have your students been engaged, but they’ve also been applying and comfortably discussing core computational concepts, such as sequences, loops, parallelism, conditionals, and operators. The time has come for beta testing. As you and your students view and play the final products, something feels wrong… Yes, they exemplify mastery of core computational concepts. Some of them are even pretty darn awesome looking. The problem is, they’re not fun to play. What went wrong?

The reason games are wildly successful is their engagement factor. A big part of game design is the study of the concepts behind the basic elements of a game, and how the balance of ease and challenge in games creates fun, engaging experiences for the end-user. Games are made for other people to play. If other people don’t enjoy a game, it isn’t designed well. When you make a game for someone else, you have to balance it, consider the elements that make up the game as a system, and how the experience will affect the user (the player). In other words, games are a complex system designed around creating an intuitive, immersive, and satisfying user experience. To be successful as a game designer, you must approach this complex system holistically. Skill and drill coding exercises and practice will not help here. Students need a solid perspective on systems to design great games and any great interactive experience. This is as important to STE[a]M as the ability to write solid code.

Designing Fun

Balance & FlowWhat makes a game fun? What gives a game its addictive qualities? Great games induce a cognitive flow state in players. A game is actually just a complex system, made up of various elements that work together to produce a satisfying experience. Cognitive flow is created when all of the game’s elements are working together in perfect harmony to create the ideal balance of ease and challenge. As an educator, you may be familiar with the ZPD, or Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. This is the same idea. “A game is balanced when it is easy to play, but difficult to win” (Gamestar Mechanic learning guide).

So, how do we teach students how to design fun and engaging experiences? When I started my first game design project, I gave students three blocks-based programming tools, a video on cognitive flow, and an article on Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development. This did not work. You’re surprised, right? Seriously, feel free to make fun of me.

One of my students actually asked me during my first run of this project if he could use a tool he found, called Gamestar Mechanic. I said, “Sure.” I immediately Googled Gamestar Mechanic myself and made a teacher account. I was immediately stoked to find that Gamestar teaches flow! It approaches this problem by teaching students about the systemic nature of games and how to use the elements of the game to bring balance. Further, it does all of this with game-based lessons wrapped in a gamified narrative scaffold. Students begin by completing the quest, Addison Joins the League, which introduces them to three important concepts in end-user experience: systems thinking, user-centered design, and the iteration feedback loop. By the time students have finished, they’ve balanced multiple games in repair missions and have designed and published their own game in a space where they can get feedback from fellow designers.

 

STE[a]M, fun, and the future.

In the grand scheme of things, making an experience engaging (fun) may not seem as important as teaching students to code, understand programming logic, or build a working circuit. The companies and designers who are most successful–whose devices are in our pocket right now–are not successful because they build utilitarian functional items. They’re successful because they make stuff that’s fun to use. They design end-user experiences that are intuitive, immersive, and satisfying. Learning to design fun engaging experiences, whether in games or otherwise is a pathway to career success in multiple fields.

This is something that I want for my students. I want to prepare them to thrive, rather than survive. I want them to know how to innovate. I want them designing the next game, device, tool that I didn’t even know I needed or wanted but that I just can’t live without. I need to empower my students to be entrepreneurs, industry leaders, and sought-after creative consultants.  That’s a 21st Century skill, and that’s what STE[a]M in education is all about.

Gamestar Girl Reflects on Experience

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Posted Oct. 03, 2013

CategoryGames by Kids, Gaming Community, Guest Post

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One of the best things about working on a game for kids, is finding out how kids play the game. We talked with mustelidae, a Gamestar player who has been a strong part of our community for years. She’s a high school student and an aspiring game designer.

How did you get into Gamestar? 

           It began one night when I was nine years old. I remember that night clearly – my dad was driving me somewhere and it was raining hard. I don’t know what put the idea into my head, but as we were driving I decided that I wanted to make a video game.

           After that night, I embarked on an endless quest to find the means to make my dream come true. It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered Gamestar Mechanic through the STEM challenge. There’s something special about Gamestar Mechanic that I’ve always loved. Even though there are more powerful tools out there, the way that Gamestar Mechanic allows me to create in a very concrete, intuitive way is something that I haven’t found anywhere else.        

What do you like about being part of the community? 

           I really like being able to have other users review my games. It’s always interesting to see the opinions of people who don’t know me personally. I’ve found that their opinions are usually very honest and unbiased. These reviews have definitely helped me improve my game-design skills.  

           I also like seeing others’ games. I often get inspired after playing games by other users. Playing games can also broaden my perspective on what’s possible. Sometimes I get stuck within the confines of my usual game design patterns, but playing other users’ games can help me formulate new ideas.

Has Gamestar influenced any of your goals? 

           Gamestar Mechanic has definitely encouraged me to become a game designer. It was always a dream of mine, but it wasn’t until I found Gamestar Mechanic that I was able to actually try my hand at it. I found that I enjoyed it as much as I thought I would. Being able to participate in contests through Gamestar Mechanic has been great and has probably influenced my goals as well.

What would you change about Gamestar?

           There’s not a lot about Gamestar Mechanic that I would change. It’s a really great tool as is.

           However, I would love to have the ability to duplicate levels. My sister and I have both spent hours trying to create exact duplicates of environments that we wanted to use for several levels.

          I would also love to see some more features for creating quest or adventure games. Gamestar Mechanic has pretty much all of the action features that you could wish for, but it would be cool to see some more adventure features. Some of Gamestar’s newer sprites, such as the checkpoint and the backpack, work well for adventure games. I would love to see Gamestar Mechanic release more sprites and features along these lines. It would also be really cool if there was a feature that allowed users to incorporate some simple logic into their games. This would open up all sorts of possibilities for more complex games and stories.

Thanks so much, mustelidae, for sharing your feedback and experience!

Partner Highlight: FHI 360

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Posted Apr. 25, 2013

CategoryGaming Community, Partner Highlight

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One of the “awesomest” projects I get to work on here at E-Line is our Gamestar Mechanic school project with our partners at FHI 360.  FHI 360 does many wonderful things, including working with a network of public schools here in NYC.  For three years in a row, we’ve given these middle schools the opportunity to participate in a Gamestar Mechanic program.  Here are the basics:

Training: We train teachers to use Gamestar Mechanic as an effective learning tool.  We have had after school teachers, math teachers, technology teachers, social studies teachers, art teachers, science teachers and librarians participate in the program. Each teacher uses Gamestar a little differently in their classroom, but all with the same goal of cultivating problem solving and systems thinking skills.

Partnership: We work closely throughout the spring semester with teachers to make sure their questions are answered and their classes run smoothly.  The best part is we get to visit the schools all the time to interact with the teachers and students in person.

Competition: Each year, we gear up classes for an interscholastic game design challenge.  Kids in every school form groups and make games that they submit to the designers here at Gamestar Mechanic.  Professional game designers give feedback on each game and the kids have time to iterate on their games according to feedback.  Then one group is chosen by the Gamestar designers from each class to represent their school in the game jam.

Working in groups for the competition

Game Jam: FHI 360 hosts an awesome event for representative groups from each school.  Kids meet at the FHI 360 offices to create games on the spot to a specific prompt that they learn about that day.  After an hour of rapid and intense game design, judges deliberate on the games and choose an interscholastic champion.  While all teams get prizes, the champion team gets a trophy and recognition to take back to their school.  Each year this game jam has been full of energy, pride, and great design skills from some super talented kids.

We’re happy to work with FHI 360 to offer this professional development and programming to schools that might otherwise not be able to use game design in their classrooms.  This year our Game Jam is in early June and we’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Educator Highlight: Dara Ross

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Posted Apr. 22, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

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For the past 7 months I’ve been teaching game design classes once a week at Brooklyn International High School.  This school has such a positive vibe with enthusiastic students and teachers who are truly flexible and willing to take risks.  Dara Ross, a humanities teacher I’ve worked with at BIHS, has done many great projects with her students including working with Gamestar Mechanic.  I asked her to tell us a little bit about her experience teaching with Gamestar.  Here’s Dara:

Dara Ross

I teach 9th and 10th grade Humanities at the Brooklyn International High School. All of my students are recently arrived immigrants who are learning English. They have all been in the country for four years or less. My classroom is very diverse. I teach students from countries such as Yemen, Haiti, Tibet, Uzbekistan, China and Bangladesh. I teach students who don’t speak any English. In my classroom, I have students who love video games and who played fervently in their home countries as well as students who did not play any games in their home countries. I have a few students who had limited access to technology in their home countries and some students who never even used a computer before coming to New York City. Gamestar Mechanic has been an effective tool for teaching all of my learners how to problem-solve and how to think like a real game designer.

In my classroom I use Gamestar Mechanic as an end of unit assessment where students can create a game that shows their mastery of the content that I have taught. If we read Ancient Greece myths or Macbeth, then students can create a game that explores theme, characterization or plot structures. It’s also a great tool for storytelling and literacy. I have been surprised at how effective Gamestar Mechanic is at motivating students to revise and to make multiple iterations of their games. I have been also very happy at how the students so willingly and completely incorporate feedback into their game revisions. Now, when we are writing essays I can help them see how the process of revising a game is similar to the process of writing.

BIHS students

One thing that I find insanely challenging about Gamestar Mechanic is playing all of the wonderful games that my students create. I grew up playing Pitfall on Atari 2600 and later Castlevania on Nintendo NES, so I am used to using a joystick or a gamepad controller to play games. It’s super hard for me to play the games that my students create by pressing keys on the keyboard. The students create some very complex games using transporters, mazes and multiple enemies. I usually run out of health and die within the first few seconds of a student-created game. I have to use the cheat feature for teachers to skip ahead but then I don’t get the full experience of playing the games all the way through. This is when having student groups conducting peer reviews becomes very helpful. I have to rely on the students to play, assess and give feedback to their peers on my behalf which is a win-win situation. The inherent feedback and iteration loop of game design gives my students authentic and meaningful opportunities for using both their oral and written language skills.

There are a few things that I would love to see added into Gamestar Mechanic in the future (besides old-school Atari 2600 joystick integration). If I could, I would love if there were more audio and sound incorporated into Addison’s learning quest. It would also be great if there was the option for more customization in the game design where the students could draw and/or import their own avatars and enemies. I would also love to see a guide that breaks down what the different blocks, avatars and enemies can do.

One recommendation that I have for teachers looking to use Gamestar Mechanic is to be prepared to play and to have lots of fun! I would also caution teachers to not worry too much when the sights and sounds of their classroom begin to look less like a “traditional” classroom and more like the arcade that you used to hang out at after-school when you were a teenager. Just remember that your students are not only having tons of fun, but through designing their own games they are learning a massive amount of skills such as: giving and incorporating meaningful feedback; revising and iteration processes; motor skills; problem solving; and strategic thinking.

Thanks, Dara! We hear your advice and will definitely take it into account!

If you’re a teacher using Gamestar Mechanic in your classroom and want to share your story, please get in touch!

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.

Gamestar Comics

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Posted Jan. 18, 2013

CategoryGaming Education

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We talk a lot about literacy when we talk about Gamestar Mechanic: digital literacy, computer literacy, games and game system literacy. It’s important to note that in the Gamestar world, there is a ton of good old reading and writing literacy as well. Kids create story-lines for their games told through written intros/outros and in-game messages. Kids comment and review each other’s games using their own words. And in the Gamestar Quests, kids follow the story of Addison through motion comics. These comics tell the tale of a budding game designer going on an adventure in a world where everything is powered by games. These comics and fun and exciting, but they do involve reading, and often kids just want to play games instead of read.

Samson explains balance in a game

One strategy I’ve found effective in a classroom is to start off the class away from the computer and have students discuss the class’s topic before even logging into Gamestar. The Quest comics contain a lot of information about game design through the adventure story, and to make sure your students read this story, we’ve made the comics in PDFs. You can print these and look at them as a class before going onto the computers. Often kids discover a favorite character from the comics, one who represents the kind of games that they like.

Check out this page in the learning guide to download all the Quest Comic PDFs.

Also, if your students are into creating their own dialogue, we have all the Quest Comic PDFs with blank speech bubbles as well. Students can fill in their own ideas, changing the story or the characters according to their imagination. I’ve found this activity to be particularly fun and effective in ELL and creative writing classes. Enjoy the comics!

Level Maps

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Posted Nov. 20, 2012

CategoryGaming Education

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One important part of level design is stepping back to see the whole picture. The new level map tool in Gamestar allows designers to see an full picture of their level design, especially when the level is bigger than one screen.

In the classroom this tool can be super helpful when asking students think about designing space and choice in their games. Often students make maze games that are confusing and don’t seems to have a natural path. When you see your level all in one image, you can see the choice points of a maze in context.

Level maps could also be printed out and marked up by a teacher or peer to show what parts of the level was fun or difficult. I could imagine making a Voicethread feedback using a level map image.

To get levels maps, have your students take the level map challenge under Challenges in their Workshop.

Happy mapping!

Gamestar Gets Political

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Posted Oct. 18, 2012

CategoryGames by Kids

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It’s election season! If there’s one thing we know about politics, they’re hard to talk about – which is why the Gamestar team was so impressed by Stella99 and her game Romney vs. Obama.

The game begins with a mock election in level one: You play the level to decide who to vote for and see the tally of other Gamestar user’s votes. Once you decide who you’ll vote for, you leave a comment and Stella99 updates the level with sprites representing how many votes each candidate gets.

Level 2 is a political mini game. You play as either Obama or Romney and travel around trying to gather votes (points) from citizens. It’s a surprisingly tough level, but very fun!

The coolest thing about this game has been the community’s response. Kids are talking in the comments about how they view politics as a youth, what issues matter to them (“My little brother loves PBS!”), and the latest current events on the election trail. For the most part, the comments have been smart, insightful, and respectful. Stella99 notes in the outro of the game “. . there is no offense intended to either candidate, because I am sure that both candidates are worthy to become president.” If this is not a bipartisan, adult exercise in talking about politics, I’m not sure what is.