Video Game Design: Planning/Storyboarding/Creating

Video Game Design Storyboards 2023

We’re in the midst of our annual Video Game Design Project, in which my sixth graders use Gamestar Mechanic (which continues to work for us … phew) to explore how to tell a story through the platform of a video game. It’s challenging, and interesting, and completely engaging for my students, and a way for me to teach storytelling in a different way.

Video Game Design Narratives 2023

Our focus: telling a narrative story through the building and publishing of a video game, so that the player is a reader of the story that is in the form of a video game.

They are now in the design phase of the games themselves but these collages capture some of the planning pages from the project, as they have to think through the narrative story their game will tell before the building process in Gamestar.

This collection is from another year, showing the insides of games. I use this as a mentor text with students, to show some games that were successful in integrating story into game.

Peace (and Plans),

Video Game Design: Playing for Assessment

Video Game Design 2021We’re nearing the end of our Video Game Design project and so, my task as a teacher was to play their stories which are video games, and that meant playing nearly 60 games.

Many were very interesting — with cool design features and narrative frames set into levels in meaningful ways. Others were lacking enough story, which was a focus every single day in class as they worked.

I assess the projects along two strands — the design of the game (playability, choices around challenges and tools, flow of the game, etc.) and story (consistency of narrative, the reader is a player in a story, proofreading/editing, etc.)

Overall, I was impressed by how they were able to juggle the Hero’s Journey framework of story with the design of video games inside Gamestar Mechanic. And all of my students were highly engaged in this project, from start to finish.

And as always, we did a lot of writing beyond the game design itself. I made this a few years back for a presentation and most of these writing assignments are still central to this particular project.

Writing Activities in Video Game Design unit (update 2017)

Peace (leveling up),

Slice of Life: Wandering Around Inside Student Video Game Projects

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’re nearing the finishing line of our Hero’s Journey Video Game Design project, in which my sixth graders have been working to create video games that represent story. As usual, their focus remains on design and building the game as I repeatedly force them to consider and work on the story aspect of the project. Somehow, they both balance out, mostly, by the time we reach the finishing line (this week, before break).

I shared out the following video yesterday, showing my own play inside some of the games that students have been designing, as a sort of video game design mentor text. I chose games that were made by writer/designers that effectively used the message areas to set a story into motion that the player/reader plays/reads. (I used a filter in Animoto to catch their attention with my video excursions).

Today, we will do some peer reviewing/feedback of games and then by tomorrow, most if not all games should be done and published inside the Gamestar Mechanic community for players around the world to engage with.

Peace (phew),

Video Game Design: Storyboarding a Game Concept

Video Game Design Storyboards

We are in the midst of our Video Game Design project and every day, after a mini-lesson on design, I repeat the mantra: Your game is a story; your story is in the form of a game.

The storyboarding aspect of the project helps ground students into this idea, and allows me to have some individual discussions about how they can envision the player of their video games as readers of their stories (or how reading their story unfolds through the playing of the game).

At this point, all of my sixth graders are hard at work on their video game projects inside Gamestar Mechanic, and having a blast with this non-traditional way of telling digital stories with design, game mechanics, and text.

Peace (inside the game),

Slice of Life: Gearing Up for Video Game Design

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

The weeks after Thanksgiving are often the time when I introduce a unit around “non-traditional writing” where my sixth graders explore Interactive Fiction texts and writing (just wrapping up) and move into Video Game Design with Gamestar Mechanic.

Librarian's Quest: Let The Gaming Begin!

Alas, Gamestar pulled the plug on its online site due to the end of Flash software in browsers but, phew, launched a stand-alone app for Macs and PCs (but not Chromebooks) that remains a robust place for learning about game design and an opportunity for young people to tell stories through design principles.

Today, I am going to walk my students through the various steps of accessing the app on their school Mac laptops, launching the app, registering an account within my special classroom space in Gamestar, and begin exploring the site before I start to introduce the “story” they will be “writing” as a video game project.

Gamestar Mechanic - Educational Game Review

This particular cohort of kids is tricky. They get antsy. They focus on other things. They jump ahead. I’m going to remind myself to be patient today as I work to get 60-ish sixth graders up and running, and playing games.

Wish me luck.


Peace (playing it forward),

Video Game Design: More Adventures in Storyboarding

Light Thief Game Storyboard

I wrote last week about my sixth graders making a final push into Gamestar Mechanic before it closes up (due to Flash), and how two of my three classes were designing games based on environmental themes after reading the novel, Flush. My third class read The Lightning Thief, and so they are starting up a video game project of a Hero’s Quest, using Percy’s adventures as their story-frame concept.

As with the other two classes, I have been working on my own video game, too, to show them my process and to share my design thinking, staying about one day ahead of where they are. So, I will be sharing my storyboard for Rescue Quest game in class today, and then finishing my game tonight.

Peace (finding the adventure),

Level Map: Environmental Video Game Project

Video Game Level Map

I mentioned the other day that some of my students are working on an environmentally-themed video game project in Gamestar Mechanic, in connection to the book we just read (Flush). I am staying one step ahead of them, designing a game and I had just finished it yesterday before class to share with them.

The image above is a Level Map of the first level, as I show students what I was doing in the design stage. Plus, it’s neat to see the design that way.

Here are levels 2 and 3

Level Maps (two and three)

You can play the game, if you want, but you will probably be asked to allow Flash to play on your browser.

Play: Clean the Waters

Peace (gaming it),


Video Game Design Storyboarding: Environmental Theme

Environmental Video Game Storyboard

Two of my classes are going to start working on a video game project connected to the novel, Flush, and as usual, what I assign them, I do myself, too. I spent the other day working on a storyboard for my game, which involves battling pollution and saving the turtles (two themes of the novel).

I’m starting to build my game, and my sixth graders are going to begin storyboarding today. We have a few weeks left of Gamestar Mechanic, so I want to get a small project in before the end of the site (and the end of Flash).

Peace (building it out),

The Closing Up of Gamestar Mechanic (with the End of Flash)

Gamestar Mechanic Lobby/WorkshopI’ve been rushing to get my current class of sixth graders in, and moving along, in Gamestar Mechanic because E-Line Media (parent of Gamestar) has announced that when the end of the site comes for Flash Player (end of the month), that’s the end of Gamestar Mechanic (at least, in the current version).

One group is working on a hero story (connected to reading The Lightning Thief) and the other is working on an environmental-themed game project (connected to read Flush).

Even knowing the end of was coming, I’m still sad about it. For (not sure how many years but more than I can remember), I have been using Gamestar every year to teach game design and alternative story-telling to my students, as well as bringing them into a game space where kids all around the world play and publish video games. I was introduced to Gamestar at a National Writing Project event, and I immediately saw all sorts of possibility, and once I got started, I never looked back.

I want to say, the people at ELine Media and Gamestar have been amazing to work with and communicate with over the years. I’ve had my students write letters to the developers about features they hoped to see, and we’ve had Gamestar Mechanic folks respond to my class in video visits. They have been responsive when I have reached out as a teacher. It’s been a pretty terrific experience.

We’ll squeeze in the one last small game design project (our Hybrid Learning Model makes this unit of instruction even more difficult) and I’ll keep an eye out for possible new developments on the Gamestar Mechanic front (they sent some news of a stand-alone browser-based app being developed, so I am going to keep my eyes on that news. It won’t be for Chromebooks, it seems. We use Macs.)

I completely understand why Gamestar could not invest in the move away from Flash to something else (like HTML5), for it is funded mostly by grants (I believe) and small subscriptions and probably has long been running on a shoe-string budget. I’ll write up my own final thoughts about Gamestar some other day.

For now, we’re just going to keep on designing, making, publishing and playing until the screen goes dark.

Peace (game on),

Reading Student Stories by Playing Student Video Games

Video Game Projects 2020This is the time of year when I buckle down and spend time playing the original video game projects that my students have created for our Hero’s Quest project.

Their projects are built around story narrative that integrates a story frame in the design, building and publishing of a video game. Or, you could think of it as how a video game is really telling a story.

I have about 50 video game projects to wander through in Gamestar Mechanic, as I think about how well they did with game design, story development, writing mechanics and more.

Peace (clicking play),