I want to give a shout-out to the designers of Gamestar Mechanic, which is the web-based application we used for our Game Design Camp last week. I am not sure what I would have done without the site, to be honest, since so many other game creation applications that I tried came across as clunky, difficult to use and didn’t have the learning mechanisms built in as nicely as Gamestar Mechanic does. I’ll admit that those difficulties are more with me than the sites, given my fair level of inexperience. But Gamestar’s emphasis on the learning made all the difference in the world,
While we paid a little for our premium service at Gamestar, the site has free accounts for students and for teachers. The premium service opens up different possibilities and extends the abilities of users, but the free service would be a fine starting place for any teacher thinking about bringing gaming into the classroom. It’s important to note that Gamestar is about Game Design, and not about programming. I had some students in the camp who wished we had plunged into more programming of games. But we were all about game design.
What I like about Gamestar Mechanic:
- Simple to set up a “classroom” account by teachers and easy to share the link with students for joining in. It literally took just a few minutes;
- No email necessary for student accounts, although you would be better off linking the student accounts to a classroom/teacher email (in case passwords get lost);
- Quests are designed for students to play games and learn gaming skills. I particularly liked that users have to “repair” broken games and learn about the elements of building games. Also, as you move through the Quests and other challenges, you “earn” more tools, such as sprites, backgrounds, music, etc. That reward system for playing the Quests was pretty powerful;
- Graphic novel stories introduce the characters and the overall narrative of the Quests. Not every student read the graphic stories, but it appealed to certain kids, for sure;
- As the teacher administrator of my gaming classroom, the site gave me data about my players. I could “see” how far my students were in their Quests, how many comments they had posted on other games and how many games they had designed — both in draft stage and in publishing stage. This would be valuable in a classroom learning setting;
- I loved that the site kicks out some basic statistics for a student game creator, too — allowing you to see how many people started the game, how many finished, and what level was most difficult for users. I used this tool with a few students to revise their games;
- It’s good to have a place in the site where users can play and experience top-rated games, see the various contest winners (we were playing some STEM games), and also view classmates’ games in our own classroom area. Known as Game Alley, this area became a regular destination for our gamers;
- You can embed games and links to games created by students in other websites. The downside is that you have to be logged in as a user at a Gamestar to play the games. Or at least, that’s what it seemed to me. It may be that there is a time limit on how long a link is open to the public.
- Tech support for Gamestar Mechanic was fantastic. Whenever I had a question, the tech people were back to me within a few hours, with answers. One student found a glitch in a Quest and when we emailed it to tech support, they were grateful for the discovery and gave kudos to the students (and also, a special little award badge that you collect in Gamestar).
Thoughts from students about Gamestar Mechanic:
- They wished they could do more player vs. player game design. The site is only set up for player vs. computer.
- They wanted to manipulate more of the controls of sprites and design elements.
- They wanted to upload their own backgrounds and music and create their own sprites from scratch.
- They wanted more game immersion possibilities (first person)
Overall, it was a very positive experience to use Gamestar Mechanic for the camp, and I would highly recommend it as a starting point for game design in the classroom.
Peace (in the mechanic),