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),


Video Game Design Project: Turning the Lens on Product Advertising

Game Project Advertising Posters 2020

We’re nearing the end of our Video Game Design unit, with most students now finished with designing, building and publishing their Hero’s Journey Video Game project in Gamestar Mechanic. I’ll be spending time in the next few weeks, playing their games to assess their storytelling prowess and design skills. (I’ll share some as I go along, too)

Another element of the game design project is to explore how advertising campaigns are used to sell products (this is one of part of many elements of writing assignments I weave into game design). We deconstruct advertising posters, and then, their task is to design and make their own posters for their own video game projects.

It’s a nice art diversion connected to critical literacies, to learn how to use loaded language, visuals to connect to audience, and informational text about a product. Hopefully, these activities will make them be more informed when they are targeted by companies for products.

Peace (draws your attention),

Slice of Life: No, Virginia, Minecraft is NOT Shutting Down

(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.)

This year, Minecraft players in my classroom suddenly became a ‘thing’ again after a few quiet years. I have clusters of sixth graders talking about building, playing, exploring, and as we are in our Video Game Design unit, there’s plenty of chatter about how Minecraft is different from other games they play.

There’s also been a lot of conversation about Minecraft shutting down. A lot of worry and concern. Questions. Some heard it here. Some heard it there.

This news of Minecraft closing up by the end of the year is false, just so you know, but the fact that so many of my students have heard it and passed it along to each other in our classroom space — never mind across whatever apps they are using — gives me a chance to revisit with them a Digital Life lesson from earlier this year about false information and the viral nature of social media sharing.

And how to debunk fake news.

Last night, I did a little investigative work. I was already wary of the reports because of the “this doesn’t make sense” common sense test — Minecraft, owned by Microsoft, has more than 100 million users who pay a pretty hefty fee for the game. If Microsoft were truly closing it up, it would be more than a ripple. It would be an uproar.

I searched “Minecraft Closing” and saw a slew of articles, including the one I was really looking for at Snopes (don’t know Snopes? It’s a site dedicated to researching news items for veracity).

Snopes clearly labels the news of Minecraft’s demise as “FALSE” and then goes into the back story. It all began with a prank that went viral when an openly prank news site first published it as a joke (sort of like The Onion does) and Google’s algorithm temporarily grabbed it for a news item. Oops.

You know the rest: prank becomes news, becomes shared.

Here’s a Minecraft Vlogger, explaining all this, too (while wandering Minecraft world)

I’ll be going through this thread of discovery with all of my classes today, to remind them of techniques for investigating fake news and to ease the minds of my Minecrafters.

And it looks like I need to add a new slide about this into my Fake News presentation …

Peace (true and truth),

Celebrating Storyboarding for Video Game Design

Hero's Journey Video Game StoryboardsWe’re in the starting phases of our Hero’s Journey Video Game Design Project right now, and as students hash out the story they are going to tell in the form of a video game, they have to brainstorm the “story-frame” and sketch out the levels of their games. The storyboards will become maps for the design, done in Gamestar Mechanic.

I love this part of the project because their thinking becomes most visible to me, and allows us to have conversations about story and game play, and how those might intersect.

Hero's Journey Story-frame

Peace (map it out),


Independent Book-Based Board Game Design Activity

Book Board Game DesignTwo main activities are taking place in my classroom right now — we’re in the midst of a unit of independent reading (choice books with plenty of quiet reading time) and the start of our Game Design Unit. Merging those two ideas together (along with a much larger Video Game Design project), students are in the midst of designing a board game based on the book they are reading.

They won’t be building the actual game (I’ve framed it as they have been hired as game designer and someone else would be building the game itself) but are working on how a story might unfold as a game (this is how their video game project is situated — story as game/game as story). The requirements are the visuals of a game board, directions on how to play and instructions on how the game is either won or completed.

Already, some interesting projects are trickling with, with some neat ideas about how characters or plot or setting might become the central focus of a game that honors the story and maybe riffs off it in another direction. In the collage, the upper left is my mentor text — using a story I am nearly finishing, titled A Drop of Hope, which I have been thoroughly enjoying.

While every game is different, the mechanics of game design — strategy, game play, visual design — all will be central to our larger game project based off the Hero’s Journey template.

Peace (roll the dice and make your move),


Book Review: My Life As A Gamer

My sons really loved this My Life As A … (Book, Cartoonist, Ninja, etc.) series by Janet and Jake Tashjian when they came out, but I sort of ignored them as yet another knock off of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series. Finally, I had a student recommend the series to me, and who am I to ignore a suggestion by a student?

I chose My Life As A Gamer, which I believe is the fifth book in the series of nine books (so far), and I have to say, I really enjoyed the story and the cartoon artwork that went along in the margins of the story. (I believe Janet writes the stories and Jake, her son, illustrates them). The story of Derek Fallon and his friends enlisted to test out a new video game really struck a chord with me as I begin to bring my sixth graders into our own video game design unit.

There are adolescent escapades and funny moments, but also some deeper looks at family (dad is out of a job, etc.) and Derek’s own struggles with a reading disability — the cartoons in the margins of the book are representative of the ways that Derek learns by doodling vocabulary words — and the sketch-noting-vocabulary aspect of the book’s illustrations caught my attention, for sure, as I often have my students do the same.

This story also gives some insight into the development of a video game, as Derek and his friends spend weekends at a video game design company, play-testing an upcoming game — Arctic Ninja — and elements of storyboarding and narrative design and intuitive design are all woven into the story.

Looking at the next few books in the series, I see the next two have interesting themes as well: My Life As a YouTuber and My Life As a Meme. My interest is piqued!

Peace (doodled),