3. W - What Do We Want/Need to Know?

There are so many directions that an IBL project around learning how to make/design games could take, and thankfully there are a number of technology tools that can help along the way.  I will outline a few tools that could be used along the way, and what sub-questions they could help to answer as part of addressing the essential question.

1. Gamestar Mechanic

Online (Flash-based; not supported on mobile)
Free for basic features; educational package is available for $2 per student (minimum of 10 students)

Gamestar Mechanic is a video game that teaches you about video games.  Awesome, right?  In the process, you learn about different types, or genres of games, like adventure and platformer games, as well as elements of game design, like space, mechanics, components, rules, and goals.  The graphic novel-style narrative guides users through the story and the game, and completing quests unlocks sprites and components that can be used to design your own custom games.  Best of all, these games can be published and shared to the world in Game Alley, where you can also play others' published games, rate, and comment!

Teacher resources include a printable curriculum with activities and worksheets!

In addition, PBS Kids collaborated with the makers of Gamestar Mechanic to make Gamestar Mechanic Jr for younger students, available for free and accessible on desktop and mobile web browsers.

Example Sub-Questions:
  • How does the use of space affect the difficulty of a game?
  • What are the elements of game design?
  • What are some examples of video game genres?
  • How does perspective (e.g., top-down, side-scroller, first-person) change how a game is played?
  • When is a game too easy?  Too hard?
  • How does changing the mechanics of a game affect how it is played?

2. Pixel Press Floors

iOS (free)

Pixel Press Floors is a platform where you can design your own video game levels, and share them with the world!  You can use their iOS app to design the levels, or (and this is the coolest part), you can draw the levels on paper, take a picture with your iPad's camera, and watch your level come to life!  Pixel Press Floors makes platformer games accessible for kids to make and share.

Example Sub-Questions:
  • How does the use of space affect the difficulty of a game?
  • How do the mechanics change the way a game is played versus other games you've tried/made?

3. Super Mario Maker

Nintendo WiiU

Super Mario Maker is a lot like Pixel Press Floors, except that your students will probably have heard of it (and it's a lot more expensive!).  Students can use Mario Maker to design and share their own custom Mario game levels.  Toggle between designs in the original Super Mario Bros, Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U, and more!  The more levels you design, the more design elements you unlock!  The ability to play levels that other people share, including the 10 and 100-Mario challenges, could invite a great discussion on the elements of game design that you might have introduced while using Gamestar Mechanic!

Example Sub-Questions:
  • How does the use of space affect the difficulty of a game?
  • How does changing the game style affect the mechanics of the level you designed?  Does your level become impossible in the Super Mario Bro. 3 skin, even though it was possible and even easy in the Super Mario World skin?
  • How do the different components in each skin (i.e., using Yoshi or spin-jumping in SMW or wall jumping in New Super Mario Bros. U) allow to improve on your level design?
  • What made a level that someone else designed fun?  Boring?  Infuriating?  What makes you want to keep playing a game?  What makes you want to keep trying to beat a level even when you are struggling?

4. Scratch

Online (Flash based; not supported on web browsers)

Scratch is an child-friendly, icon-based programming language.  Students learn about computer science concepts by connecting sets of commands together to make a script.  By experiment with different combinations of commands, students can make a program come to live... like, maybe, a video game?  Because Scratch is a sandbox-type application, meaning that you create programs from scratch (see what I did there?) and add different components to your game in layers, I wouldn't begin with this program when teaching about game design, but I would strongly suggest picking it up in the middle and extending it all the way through the unit or project that you are working on.

Example Sub-Questions:
  • Think about some of the games that you know.  What are some examples of components that could be expressed at variables?
  • What is conditional programming, and why is it important for a video game to use conditional programming?
  • How can we use equations to add variability, complexity, and difficulty to our games?
  • What is RNG, and how does it affect the games that we play and design?
  • How can we use the broadcasting system in Scratch to program character dialogue and trigger multiple actions in our games?


iOS, Android

I'm sure many of your students (unless they're really young) have heard of, are playing, or are completely obsessed with Pokemon Go.  Pokemon Go is a (so far very successful) experiment in augmented reality, and I suspect that more games utilizing Augmented Reality will be making their way into app stores very soon.  Want to get a leg up on this newfangled AR thing in your classroom?  Aurasma is a free mobile tool that allows you to create AR beacons, or Auras, out of everyday objects or locations.  Perhaps your students could make their own AR game, scavenger hunt, or adventure!

Example Sub-Questions:
  • How does Augmented Reality change gameplay, considering that you are now moving around in a physical space to play the games versus pressing buttons on a controller?
  • How does interaction with other players of the game differ with Augmented Reality compared to other multiplayer games (examples from different genres could include World of Warcraft, Minecraft, and Super Smash Bros.)?
  • Many of the Augmented Reality games that currently exist have an open world-type format, where the game continues on but there isn't really a win-condition.  How might we use Augmented Reality to create a game that integrates a stronger plot and a definable win condition?

Google Docs

Online and Mobile

But wait, Google Docs is just a word processor.  We can't make video games out of that?  While this might be true, many video games start out with a script, a plan, an idea, or some combination of the above.  Using a tool like Google Docs helps capture those ideas, with the ability to do so collaboratively.  If your class is focusing on Role-Playing Games (RPGs), which focus heavily on story, plot, and character development, it is entirely possible that a story that was created in Google Docs could become the basis for a video game programmed in Scratch.  Or maybe that's the goal?


Online (I believe it is accessible from mobile devices
Basic accounts are free

BoomWriter is a tool that engages students in the process of writing a book together.  Yes, a book.  A real life book that you can buy and give to other people.  Beginning with a simple prompt, students write their own ideas for subsequent chapters.  Then they vote on those chapters to decide which one will get added to the book, and the process continues until A REAL BOOK IS FINISHED.  Along the lines of Google Docs as a tool in the video game process, what if a book that you make as a class becomes the basis of a video game that your class designs?  Hey, if the Harry Potter people can do it, then so can we!