Saturday, May 29, 2010

Year 5 Designing Games linked to Literature

I have been working with four classes of Year 5 students who have recently completed their training in the use of Kahootz. Over the last couple of weeks, they have all been busily designing games linked to the books they have been reading and studying in class. The books include: Rowan of Rin, Finders Keepers and The  Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The students were asked to identify three exciting events in the books that could be turned into a level in a game. They were then asked to identify a challenge or obstacle that the player would have to overcome, what was happening in the scene when they came across the obstacle/challenge, and what would the player have to do to get past the obstacle. This was all part of the design document students filled out in preparation for building their games. Most of the students are now currently completing storyboards for their games.

It was exciting to see the conversations that occured between students when discussing ideas for their games. It was also interesting to see the level of synthesis that was required for students to turn events from a book into a game idea. This generated some very creative ideas!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers - Part 3

Welcome back as we chart the plight of our poor player through the 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers. Part 1 and part 2 have set the ground work, here in part 3 we take a look at games that ask too much or to little of the player.

4. Expecting too much of the player
Your player has a quest to find the magical garden, a place of wonder and mystery. Everywhere they travel they find stories about the garden's beauty and its power, and of the incredible beasts that lurk within it. The only thing they can't find is that stupid garden.

But they've only got themselves to blame, because everyone knows the garden can only be found at full moon while holding a rose. Don't they? That old farmer said it way back at the beginning of the game. I mean, come on!

He knew the secret all along.

Unfortunately for many game designers, players just aren't that good at mind reading. What might be a glaringly obvious hint to you could be just a little too vague for your frustrated player. Our fourth most common mistake is forgetting that your players don't have a direct line into your head and may need little reminders sometimes.

High-profile sinners: The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, The Secret of Monkey Island

Why it happens:
It happens when a game designer gets too caught up in the fun of playing their own game that they can't take that step back to see their game with fresh eyes. You might get so fixated on creating the perfect maze to hide a magical star in that you forget to tell your player that they're even hunting for a star in the first place. Or worse, the instructions you give just aren't very good, and as a result your player finds a 'star' but it's the wrong one and nothing happens. It's always better to break down your instructions into smaller tasks. Step 1: find the maze near the Snowfall Mountains, step 2: find the star hidden in the maze. This way your game is constantly, but unobtrusively, guiding the player. If they still get lost after all that, don't worry - your player's probably just a little slow.

How to avoid it:What do your friends think of your game? What about your parents or your teachers? What do your neighbours think? If you ever want to find out whether your game makes sense to a new player, your first step should always be getting new people to play it. It's called 'beta-testing', when your game is largely completed and you are running through chasing down the bugs. You need people who have never seen your game before. Just remember, when they break your game (and they will always break your game), don't get angry - they're giving you important feedback!
3. Challenging the player (too little)
Your player is a clever person. They're learning all the time. Learning to use the tools in your game, learning to apply them in different sequences, learning to be better at your game. Game designers have to stay one step ahead. You need to make sure that as your player gets better, the game gets tougher. There's an important phrase that game designers like to throw around. It's called the 'Difficulty Curve'. Simply put, the Difficulty Curve charts how difficult your game is from start to finish.

Your game should always start out easy, with tutorial levels and simple challenges. It's only sensible, otherwise your game will seem overwhelming, or impossible. The start is the easy part, the hard part is ramping up the difficulty in the later levels. The third most common mistake happens when a game flops right before the end. Whether the player suddenly becomes too powerful or the game designer has run out of ideas, the last few levels are just too easy.

High-profile sinners: Red Faction: Guerilla, Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy

Why it happens:
There's a number of reasons for a game to run out of steam. The publishing deadline might be approaching or the game's funding might have run out. Maybe all this effort designing the game has gotten boring.

How to avoid it:
One person can only come up with so many ideas before they hit a wall. It's more efficient, and often more fun, to work in a team. This is especially true in game design. Working together, game designers can discuss new ideas and challenge each other.

Stay tuned next week when we round up the top ten mistakes made by game designers!

Looking forward to seeing you again next week


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kahootz in High School

Hi, my name is Simone Polly and I am currently using Kahootz as part of a PDHPE unit of work for year 8 students at North Sydney Girls High School. I have found this software an exciting and dynamic medium for my students to engage with and one which lends itself to their love of technology and computer games. My own experience with computer and video games has been extensive which I feel has aided me in both understanding and enhancing my use of Kahootz.
The key strength of Kahootz in my classroom has been its inherent ability to foster a collaborative and supportive approach to school work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers - Part 2

Welcome back to part two of our exploration of the top 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers. Last week, we looked at games that were too hard, too easy, or just teased the player. This week, we're going to follow the plight of your poor player when it comes to games that just don't seem to care. But before we start, can I just take the time reiterate a quick disclaimer. The games used as examples here are simply recognizable individuals and are by no means the only guilty parties. Also, I actually like many of these games - one simple design crime doesn't ruin the entire game. Please don't shy away from these games just because I've pointed them out. The best way to learn game design is to play games, especially the bad ones!

Now on with the show.

7. Being inconsistent
Is that a baddie or is that one of your allies? Is that a door or a piece of wall? Is that lava, toxic slime or just shag-pile carpet? What's going on here? Inconsistency is a huge source of frustration for your player. It's never any fun when you lose, but it's even worse if there's no way you can tell why you lost.

High-profile sinners: Splinter-Cell: Double Agent, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Call of Duty 5: World at War

Why it happens:
You're going to quickly lose a player if they can't clearly and quickly identify potential threats and distinguish them from the safe places. Consistency in a game establishes the rules of the world. It's important to establish these rules early and stick to them, because your player needs them. It's called 'training the player'. Your game provides consequences and reactions for everything your player does. Over time your player can learn to predict the consequences of an action. When they predict correctly (I knew that monster was going to pop out of that sewer pipe, because it happened to me just before) they feel prepared and empowered, not to mention a little bit paranoid the next time they pass another sewer pipe.

Go on, take a look. I dare you.

How to avoid it:
It's the games that fell down at the design stage that are most likely to be inconsistent. Take care to think carefully about your game from the perspective of the player. What will the player see when they look down this corridor, how will the player react when faced with this monster? Is there even the slightest chance that something in your game might confuse your player? It's important to have an answer to these types of questions at the design stage. If you get to the build stage and the designer is confused about how to tell two different enemies apart, you can bet the player is going to be completely lost. Your design document is your greatest friend at this point. Draw pictures, make notes, write stories about your characters. All these ideas will help flesh out and individualise your characters and your world later down the track.

6. Being repetitive
Your player has tirelessly explored the first level of a huge catacomb, hunting for gold. They find a makeshift rope elevator and, breath held in trepidation, they descend into the dim second level. And they find... exactly the same rocks placed in exactly the same way with exactly the same monsters hiding in the exact same shadows.
Oh great - more rocks...

High-profile sinners: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Red Steel, Black and White 2

Why it happens:
It's rarely intentional. Game designers won't often go out fo their way to make four identical levels with four identical goals and obstacles. Unfortunately, sometimes a designer runs out of time or simply runs out of other ideas.

A game designer runs into the office, despondent, and cries, "The deadline is looming, the game has to be sent out to the publisher in a week and we still haven't worked out the lava world!"

And a response comes back, "Oh don't worry, just make that water world look orange and throw in some of those fighting fish. We'll call 'em 'lava-fish!'"

It's not what I'd call a neat solution but it works, especially when you've run out of time. Truth be told, there may be occasions as a game designer where it's your only option. But it's annoying to your player because it shows you ran out of time or simply didn't care enough to come up with enough ideas to see your game the whole way through. The player feels cheated, they play the game for the challenge of overcoming new obstacles, not facing the same old problems again and again.

How to avoid it:
Design, design, design. An hour of effort in the early stages planning out all your worlds will save you much heartache and stress later down the line. It's okay to have games that repeat themselves sometimes, remember that this gives your player more time to practice the skills you are teaching them. For example, if one level asks your player to pick 5 apples and return them to Farmer John, your game teaches them to expect that apples may need to be picked. You can 'repeat' this level once or twice without that sneaking feeling of repetition by maybe throwing in another obstacle, perhaps this time the apple orchard is guarded by a mythical creature, or the player has to choose only the red apples as green or yellow apples contain deadly poison. Effectively we have the player performing the exact same task three times in a row, collecting 5 apples, but by adding more challenging elements it feels like a different level each time.

5. Not rewarding the player
Playing a game is hard work! Just like any other hard work, it feels good to be rewarded for it. Games reward players with power-ups, or better weapons, or new abilities. These rewards change the way the game plays, they make the player feel more powerful and they allow the game designer to introduce tougher, cleverer enemies. It's a win-win-win, keeping the gameplay fresh, encouraging your player to play your game and giving you more freedom as a game designer.
For me??

High-profile sinners: Bill Nye - The Science Guy: Stop the Rock!, Halo 3: ODST

Why it happens:
Games that don't reward the player simply aren't fun to play. Games always try to reward the player, but sometimes - whether it's because they don't understand their own game or they don't understand their player - the player just doesn't feel rewarded. As a result the game feels like a hard slog, it's a struggle to get to the end.

How to avoid it:
To properly reward the player, you have to understand what your player's going to get out of playing your game. One of the most difficult transitions for a game designer to make is the transition from designer to player on their own game. It's easy for a game designer to play other games and pick out flaws and complaints, but it's very difficult to see where your own game fails to satisfy the player. The easiest way then to find out if your game feels too hard, or not rewarding enough, is to give it to your friends and family to test it. A game that fails to reward the player can easily be saved in the testing stage. All your ideas have been fleshed out and turned into a game, the testing stage then allows you to tweak your game. Adding rewards can be as basic as giving the player a scoreboard that ticks up as they play.

Next week we will be continuing the list of the top 10 mistakes made by game designers, working ever closer to the number one most common mistake made by game designers. Looking forward to seeing you then.

Stay tuned!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Building Games Linked to H.S.I.E. - Government and Democracy

Last week Anthony was contacted by a teacher for suggestions on creating games linked to the Year 6 Human Society and Its Environment units, Government and Democracy. We had a quick brainstorm and below are three ideas for creating games on this topic.

1. Who's the Boss! (Three Levels of Government)

The player has just been elected the sheriff of the island. You will have to perform the roles of three levels of government, local – state – federal. The player can look around the island, seeing the parliament and the courthouse and etc. When the player is ready to get to work they can walk up to a billboard just outside parliament. On the billboard there are three pictures (one representing each level of government). There is a picture of a dog (local government responsibility, catching stray dogs), a pot hole (state government, looking after the roads) and a bank robber (federal government, catching federal criminal and taking them to the courthouse for trial). Clicking on a picture will take you to a level where you have to play out that responsibility. For example, clicking on the picture of the dog will take you to another scene (another part of the island) where there are a number of stray dogs running around. The player will then have to catch all stray dogs. When you have succeeded, you have to click on the dog pound, etc, which will take you back to the main island to attempt the responsibilities of the other two levels of government

2. Aliens in Canberra! (Democracy)

A space ship lands in Canberra (or Sydney etc). The player is an alien, stepping into Australia for the very first time. You have to introduce this alien to democracy, citizenship, voting, etc so they can take this knowledge back to their home planet. Your alien will explore around Canberra, listening to questions and finding hints. These hints are then used when you try to enter your space ship. The ship’s computer won’t let you take off until you have answered three questions about democracy etc correctly. You can take your alien sightseeing to Parliament House and other significant landmarks.

3. Anarchy! (Government)

You are a police officer, and suddenly the world has turned mad! Dogs are running stray, sewerage is polluting lakes, the roads are pot holed and traffic lights aren’t working, crimes are being committed, etc. You have to go around town, finding these problems. You must then determine whose responsibility it is to fix up each mess – local, state or federal government. (It would be good if the game designer placed an even mix of local, state and federal responsibilities). This could also be split into three levels, etc.

If you have any game ideas that are linked to curriculum, we would love to hear from you!

Monday, May 10, 2010

First thoughts

Hello. My name is Debra Lade and I am currently teaching an all boys Year 3/4 class at West Pennant Hills Public School. I taught at Winston Hills several years ago and whilst I was there I participated in a 40hour teach to the future computer course. After participating in this course my interest in teaching students lessons through the use of ICT has continued to develop. Last year I experimented with Video conferencing (Cuddie-cuddie project). I enjoyed the first project so much I decided I would try something new again...this is how I discovered Kahootz. Prior to the training day my experience with any gaming software had been minimal and I am still trying to navigate my way around 3D worlds without colliding :)

After finally gaining access to the software at the beginning of this term my class had their first 'real' lesson two weeks ago. They loved it! During all of the lessons every boy in the class has been thoroughly engaged. It is wonderful to watch them communicate with one another as they discover a new and improved way to do something. In each lesson there have been at least two students say..."Mrs Lade I worked out a quicker way to..."

I can already tell that this project will be a huge success. If it is raining and we are inside then the boys are playing with Kahootz. Really looking forward to teaching them some more skills so they can begin to make their games.

Will write again soon - Mrs L :)

The 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers - Part 1

When you're designing a game, you've always got to keep in mind the poor player. Your poor player is the entire reason you're making a game. Sure, you could be making a game for yourself but that's a bit like writing a book or drawing a picture for yourself. You're already going to know how it turns out and there isn't any sense of discovery when you play it.

Today, we're going to get to know your poor player. We're going to take a look at the 10 most common mistakes made by Game Designers, and how to avoid them. These aren't just 10 mistakes I've seen teaching Kahootz in schools, or 10 mistakes I alone have made while designing games. These are the top 10 mistakes that are being made by even some of the best designers.

10. Making the game too hard
You've created an elaborate puzzle game where the player has to pit their wits against a series of fiendishly difficult riddles, math problems and logic patterns, but your player has just spent the last hour trying to work out the code to get in the front door.

High-Profile Sinners: Myst, The Castle of Dr. Brain, The Legend of Zelda

Why it happens:
You've got some great puzzles for a game. They're going to really confuse your player but they're obvious if you think about it, right? Unfortunately you aren't always going to be around if your player can't work out why the door knob won't turn, even though you know it's obviously because they need to pick the lock.

Hot to avoid it:
Simply put, your player might need a little bit more of a hint. Is there a way you could use sound and pictures to suggest that the door is locked? Maybe a thunking sound or an animation that shows the door getting caught on something just as it starts to open? This is called player-feedback, and it lets your player know what reaction they see whenever they try to do something in the game. Player-feedback is critical, it helps the player feel more involved in the game and teaches the player some of the rules of the game (such as, sometimes you have to pick the lock to open a door).

9. Making the game too easy
You've got another great puzzle, but if you make things too difficult you're going to end up with a frustrated player. You give them hints and make everything as clear as possible. Suddenly you find no one wants to play your game because it's too easy. What went wrong?

High-Profile Sinners:
Red Faction: Guerilla

Why it happens:
It happens when game designers try to make their game easier, but accidentally go too far and take away all the challenge by giving the wrong kinds of hints. Players are very happy to play a game that is challenging or difficult if they have clear objectives. Hints and player-feedback should not patronise the player by giving away every little secret or lighting the way to each little hidden treasure. Learning and exploring is what makes a game fun, don't let the hints take away the fun.

How to avoid it:
Be careful not to give too much away when your giving hints. Game Designers have to be very careful to balance what hints they give out and when. Hints and player-feedback are important, but it's the way you give those hints that are the key. As any writer will tell you: show don't tell. Instead of using huge swathes of text to signpost every little part of your game, maybe you could use sounds or images. Let's say, for example, that your player walks into a toxic gas cloud and falls ill. A game might flash a warning text on the screen telling the player where to run to for medical attention, but a good game might make everything you see turn green and the character might start limping and struggling to walk in a straight line. This sudden change leads to a sense of urgency and forces your player to engage with your game, to remember where they last saw a first aid tent for example.

8. Teasing the player
Your player has just discovered a wonderful new magic power, or a fantastic new piece of equipment that suddenly makes even the most difficult enemy a mere distraction. It's fun playing with their new 'superpowers'. But then they're taken away, without warning, never to return.

Where did I put my black-hole anti-matter blaster? I had it just a second ago...

High-Profile Sinners: Half-Life, Splinter Cell

Why it happens:
It's cool when you get a new toy, especially when that toy is a powerful mega-robot with hover jets and invisibility.

There it is, hovering behind the other invisible mega-robot.

Game Designers love giving players new toys, and players love getting new toys. When done well getting a new 'toy' revitalises the game and gives the player more enjoyment out of familiar, predictable environments as the player effectively relearns how to interact with the game. The problem is that sometimes these toys are too powerful. Nothing is a threat to the player anymore. The game is no longer any fun without the threat of defeat. The Game Designer has realised that they've made a mistake by letting the player get so powerful. So the game pulls a swifty: a contrived reason is found for the player to lose these new-found toys - whether that be theft, betrayal or unexpected catastrophic meltdown. It's not clean and it's not pretty, but it happens.

How to avoid it:
Let me clarify that the problem isn't giving players these toys in the first place, in fact offering treasures and toys like this can be a great way to reward your player and keep them engaged in your game. The problem is the way in which these toys are suddenly yanked out from under your player. It's perfectly acceptable, and in fact quite fun, if there's a good reason for suddenly losing all your hard earned treasures. Good Game Design encourages a strong story. If you're going to give your player a toy, make sure they know why they're getting it and make sure they understand the limits you've placed on using it. For example, a catapult would be great fun to roll around a medieval battlefield in, reigning down unmitigated destruction. But once the battle is won, there's no use in a lumbering catapult when your actual job (monster-hunter) requires stealth and good aim. In fact, you only have such a machine because the King lent it to you, he may well order you to return his expensive contraption once you've saved the day.

We'll continue the list over the next few weeks until we reveal the number one most common mistake a game designer can fall foul of. Hopefully we'll see you all again soon.

Stay tuned!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Examples of Linking Video Game Genres to Key Learning Areas using Kahootz

In his last post, Anthony wrote about computer game genres. The slideshow below outlines three simple examples of ways to link the genres of Empire Building, Action (incorporating First Person Shooter) and Role Playing Games to H.S.I.E., Science and Literature using Kahootz. The games suggested in the slideshow are examples of ideas students in my Year 5 class during 2009 came up with, and then went on to design and build. If you have other game examples that link to Curriculum areas, we would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Getting To Know Genres

Talking about the genres of computer games is a bit like looking at shades of red trying to call one maroon and one burgundy, at least that's the case nowadays. If we go back only ten or fifteen years the genres were strictly separated, you could tell just by looking at the box whether you were going to get an empire building game or a first person shooter. The reason for this lay more with accepting the hardware limitations of older computers than any strong desire to keep the genres apart.

Then the year 2000 came and game designers began to have more and more processing power to play around with. Their customers steadily bought better and better computers that could handle larger worlds with more intensive 3D graphics. Suddenly designers could make the games they wanted to make. If you wanted to tell a classic gangster story in sprawling New York with gun-fights and car chases, you could. If you wanted to tell an ultra-realistic Post-Cold-War spy story with all the gadgets of a modern James Bond and the twists and betrayals of a thriller, you could. If you wanted to tell the off-the-wall story of a young boy with psychic powers attending a Summer Camp for Psychics only to discover there's a hidden monster out there sucking people's brains out of their heads, you could.

Those three games exist and they were all made almost ten yeas ago, and in order they are Grand Theft Auto 3, Splinter Cell and Psychonauts. In an aside, I cannot recommend Psychonauts enough - it blurs tongue-in-cheek, off-the-wall hilarity with a deeply emotional story as you travel through the minds of your camp-mates cleaning up their Freudian tics and emotional baggage. And best of all, in terms of genre Psychonauts can claim to be (at different times) a shooter, a racer, a puzzle-game, a turn-based strategy game like Risk and a whole lot of fun.

Why talk about genres then? If all these current games are a pastiche of different genres and game-types, what's the use of talking about genres at all? Well, it's simple. To use anything you have to know about it, even on a basic level. Genres are like the archeology of games, they reflect the ancestry of a game. Now that game designers have the computer power to tell whatever story they like, good game designers have to know about the narrative techniques of games in the same way that a good writer has to know about the science-fiction genre and the film-noir genre to tell their story about gritty robot detectives trying to track down a serial killer with telepathy.

Sadly this idea has yet to be realised

Keeping in mind that in recent games the genres can be very blurred, it's important to know what makes up each genre so that you, as a good game designer, can identify genres where they are used and apply that knowledge to your own games. Let's have a closer look at some of the more popular genres that most games can claim a connection with.

The Empire Builder
You are the leader and commander. Your people look to you to take this newly-founded colony and turn it into a vast empire. Protect your citizens, build them houses and temples and walls. Manage your resources carefully. Build an army and crush all others beneath your heel.

Also known as: Real-Time Strategy (RTS) or Turn-Based Strategy (4X)

Real examples: StarCraft, WarCraft, Age of Empires, Civilisation, Master of Orion

The key elements of an Empire Builder or RTS are Resource-Management and Unit-Management from a Bird's Eye View perspective. Simply put, you sit in the clouds looking down on your growing empire. Everything costs money, whether that is food, wood, gold or some other natural resource so establishing an economy is fundamental to your survival. Without an income you can't support your armies, or house your citizens.

The game can play either in real-time, that is to say without pauses or breaks in play, or in a turn-based style, where action is broken up into turns - first you move your armies then your opponent moves his.

The Shooter
You are a one-man (or one-woman) army. You are the quintessential Hollywood Hero, often going out with guns blazing to take on a horde of baddies.

Also known as: First-Person Shooter (FPS)

Real examples: Unreal Tournament, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Counter-Strike

Shooters are the games that concerned parents usually point to when they say games are too violent. And, to be honest, in terms of the popular games there really isn't much to say to contradict this claim. The shooter is at its heart a violent game, the object is generally to be the last man standing. However, just looking at the violence is missing the point. It's almost like looking at a piece of art and complaining about the brand of paint used. Games do not need to be violent, however some games use violence because it provides simple ways for the player to identify with and appreciate what's going on in the game. This is a topic I feel strongly about, and it's something I'll deal with in greater depth in another post. Shooters are competitive and rewarding on a visceral level, thus shooters use gore as both a threat to the player (if I lose, I die) and a reward for good work. Guns are a big feature, whether they are realistically portrayed or fantastical objects of high-technology and the story (if there is one) reinforces to the player a 'One against a thousand' mentality to capture the player's emotional interest.

A contemporary twist on shooters are Team-Based Shooters: games where you have to rely on your team-mates for success. These games often give the player a choice of characters, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. To win, all roles have to be played together, like an orchestra. For this reason the competitive spirit is drawn from teamwork, winning as a team rather than single-handedly taking on your opponents out-right, and the violence and gore doesn't need such an emphasis to trigger the player's emotional reaction.

The Role-Playing Game
You are a hero of fantasy! You are fighting valiantly to save the world from orcs and monsters and dragons. You can be a paragon of virtue or a heartless mercenary working for the clink of cold coin in your pocket. The world is an exciting and dangerous place, and it's your job to explore its darkest corners.

Also known as: RPG

Real examples: Dungeons and Dragons, Baldur's Gate, Mass Effect, World of Warcraft

The RPG is perhaps the oldest of video games and at some level all games are RPGs. All games give you a role to play which serves as an emotional hook and ensures you have some investment with the game. However, above all an RPG gives you choice. Are you good or evil or just thoughtless? You see a man being chased by a mob - do you leap to the man's aid or do you join the mob? The world is yours and there is no wrong choice to make. RPGs are very story-driven, typically set in a fantasy universe of swords and sorcery though you're only limited by your imagination. A player plays an RPG to have a story unfold around them and to grow more powerful with every act. With each small victory you get experience points (XP), and when you reach a certain number of points you level up, suddenly becoming stronger, more capable, more hardy.

Contemporary games take RPGs down a slightly different route. While there's still a story line behind Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMOs) like World of Warcraft focus on racing up the levels and competing against other players. Players are rewarded for investing the most time in the game. The more you play, the better your armour and your sword will be, the more impressive you look to other players and the stronger you are in the field of battle.

There are other genres out there, including the Racing Game, the Puzzle Game and the Arcade Game. Maybe we'll come back to the others at another stage but for now the three main genres are a good starting point. I'll end with a piece of advice: rather than looking to build a game around a genre, take a hint from our current games and build your genres around the game. If you've made a high fantasy world of knights and goblins but you want to add horseback racing go for it. If you want a science-fiction shooter that expects the players to match symbols on a circuit board to hack into computers, don't let the shooter genre stop you. Good game designers use genres as guides rather than limits. Let your imagination run free!

Next time we'll be looking at the top ten mistakes a first time game designer makes, and how to avoid them. As always, I absolutely welcome any comments and questions. Looking forward to seeing you again next week.

Stay tuned!


Saturday, May 1, 2010


Imagine having our students being so engaged in a complex, goal directed activity, that self-consciousness disappears and time becomes distorted and they do it, not for external rewards but simply for the exhilaration of doing!
This is what can happen when we play well designed video games. I am sure many of us have either experienced it, or witnessed it in adults and children, that complete and energized focus on the game, the fun and fulfillment, the intense involvement, where nothing else matters but the game! What is it about playing good video games that enables this level of engagement?
This level of engagement has been referred to as ‘states of flow’ or being in 'the Zone'. Simply put, for this flow experience to occur, a game needs to:
  1. be intrinsically rewarding, and the player is up to play the game
  2. offer the right amount of challenge to match with the player’s ability, which allows him/her to delve deeply into the game
  3. create a sense of personal control over the game activity

As teachers, if we have an understanding of Good Game Design, we could use it as a starting place for designing more engaging learning environments. Think about it, students in traditional, teacher led classes have little control over what they learn, are passive recipients of material chosen by teachers and must conform to the pace and ability level of the group through group instruction. Contrast the characteristics of what happens when children play video games. In good video games, players have clear goals, are challenged, often have the opportunity to collaborate and their performance is assessed according to clear criteria with multiple sources of feedback. Imagine basing our learning environments along the principles of Good Game Design, and therefore giving students more control over their own learning. Imagine having classrooms where ‘states of flow’ exist!