FEATURED GAME DESIGN PROGRAM
This week I build on my existing knowledge and skills developed with Scratch by taking an in depth look at Gamestar Mechanic, an online game design platform, and how it can support teachers in teaching the Australian Curriculum: Technologies subjects (ACARA, 2013).
GAME DESIGN is more than just inputting computer code. It also focuses on the output components; the end result of the input. Gamestar Mechanic (GM) is a great introduction to the principles of game design – goals; rules; game space; components that creates the play experience; core mechanics that control the interaction of components; choice – the elements that need to be considered when designing game systems to meet the needs of an audience.
The design platform, intended for but not limited to an 8-14 year old audience, produces arcade style games (like the classic Pacman) where you guide your avatar along a pathway to either collect points or energy while avoiding enemies and completing the level in the allocated time. GM fosters important 21st century technology skills: systems thinking, design iteration, problem solving, creativity and collaboration (Institute of Play, 2009). By creating games, students learn about how systems work, consider how others may be part of the system they create and how to modify or change them by analysing, experimenting and testing out their ideas.
As I played through the narrative-based tutorial Quest, I found it scaffolded the introduction of design elements within the context well, providing immediate feedback on the decisions I made. Each individual concept was systematically linked together as a whole through interaction with the design platform and developed context relevant technical vocabulary as I practiced the skills needed to create my own game. The tutorial itself was very well sequenced using a combination of comic frames and unlockable levels with bonuses.
IN THE CLASSROOM -
This sequenced aspect of the tutorial design could be used to model for students a storyboard activity to sequence their own game design as part of the algorithmic process of the Digital Technologies subject. Once successfully through the tutorial, I had the knowledge and understanding of game design elements, skills and components which would allow me to develop my own digital game.
When I created Duckin’ Dragon with Scratch (Lifelong Kindergarten Group, 2003), developing different levels was something I thought would be possible. So, with GM I decided to incorporate several levels in my game to showcase the game ‘assets’ (sprites, enemies, backgrounds, building blocks etc) I had achieved and the elements of game design I had learned. In my game, I introduced different variables each level which means it gets progressively more difficult, increasing the pressure on the player to achieve the different goals. This was a relatively straightforward process as the platform is designed to support development through warning messages and the iterative process of test/retest. You can play my published game ‘Pressure Crumble’ here to see what I achieved with the Gamestar Mechanic platform.
Allowing students to publish their games is an important part of the feedback process where they and others from the local (classroom and school peers) and global community can critically review each others’ games.
TEACHER BACKGROUND KNOWLEDGE
An important aspect of using GM is that teachers do not require a great deal of background knowledge of the program in order to facilitate the learning, which also gives students control over the progress of their learning and the game is accessible anywhere because of its online presence. However, teachers should familiarise themselves with the platform by taking a quick tour of the site, downloading the supportive curriculum guide (Institute of Play, 2009) and looking through the comic tutorial PDFs to assess the suitability for their students and classroom context. There is also a new blog for teachers to share their ideas and a dedicated YouTube channel to help with implementation and project ideas.
IN THE CLASSROOM -
These student blog examples (here, here and here) are a great way to incorporate many of the requirements of both subjects (Design and Technologies/Digital Technologies) of the Australian Curriculum: Technologies KLA (ACARA, 2013).
Their work shows how GM was used by a teacher as a basis for
- exploring, experimenting with and creating games
as well as providing opportunities for students to develop their skills in
- algorithmic processing through storyboarding the game design,
- writing design briefs,
- working within a defined set of parameters
- providing feedback by reviewing peers’ games and
- collecting and presenting their data and reflections in a blog.
It is interesting to note that two of the students were not really ‘into’ playing video games but as they worked through the lessons, they found a sense of empowerment at having created and refined a successful working game that others could enjoy and enthusiasm to find alternatives for their next project (by clicking on the technology tab in their blog, you can see the next unit they completed).
Gamestar Mechanic, in this example, was the introductory phase of a larger unit where students then progressed to their choice of alternative programs. This supports my suggestion that it is used as a stepping stone to other programs that require more complex coding. I believe that Gamestar Mechanic has the potential to provide complimentary knowledge, skills and processes of game design to the computer programming elements of Scratch and engage all students in learning technology skills. Its user-friendly interface and tutorial support makes it an ideal introduction to computational and systems thinking.
Digital Technologies – Knowledge and understanding
- Interactions and impact: 6.3 - Examine the opportunities and consequences of using information systems to meet community and national needs
- Processes and production skills
- Specification, algorithms and implementation: 6.5 – Define problems in terms of data and functional requirements and describe common characteristics and elements of similar problems; 6.6 – Follow, modify and describe simple algorithms involving sequence of steps, decisions and repetitions that are represented diagrammatically and in plain English; 6.7 – Design and implement digital solutions using visual programs with user input, branching and iteration.
- Creating and interacting onine: 6.8 – Use a range of communication tools and agreed social protocols when collaborating on projects and creating, communicating and sharing ideas and information online
Design and Technologies – Knowledge and understanding
- Materials and technologies specialisations: 6.2 – Identify and explain properties and characteristics of a range of technologies, materials, systems tools and equipment and evaluate the impact of their use locally, regionally and globally
- Processes and production skills
- Critiquing, exploring and investigating: 6.6 – Critique, explore and investigate needs or opportunities for designing and analyse and select appropriate materials, components, tools and processes to achieve intended designed solutions
- Generating, developing, and evaluating ideas: 6.7 - Generate, develop, evaluate, communicate and document design ideas and processes for a range of audiences, using some relevant technical terminology
- Planning, producing and evaluating designed solutions: 6.8 - Develop project plans, manage production processes and procedures when safely using a variety of technologies, materials, systems tools, equipment and techniques when producing and evaluating designed solutions for technologies contexts
ACARA. (2013). Australian Curriculum: Technologies draft. Available from http://consultation.australiancurriculum.edu.au/Static/docs/Technologies/Draft%20Australian%20Curriculum%20Technologies%20-%20February%202013.pdf
Institute of Play. (2009). Gamestar Mechanic learning guide. Available from http://www.instituteofplay.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Gamestar_Mechanic_Learning_Guide_v1.1.pdf
Lifelong Kindergarten Group. (2003). Scratch. Available from http://scratch.mit.edu/