Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Getting into Making Games

Evan Jones recently wrote a blog post here called You Should Make A Game in which he suggested that the world would be a better place if everyone started making games (even bad games). Then Adam Bishop wrote a guide for anyone in that scenario who thinks it would be great to make video games but isn’t really sure how. He gave run-downs of some of the software available to help you get into game development.

If you feel like you’ve got a tough road ahead because you don’t have a background in programming, I know where you’re coming from.  I have a Master’s degree in history and I’ve never taken any programming courses aside from some very basic stuff like intro to Turing in high school over a decade ago.  At some point during my graduate studies I decided I was interested in making video games and I started seeking out the tools and the knowledge necessary to make that happen.  Since then I’ve published a game on Xbox Live Indie Games which I’ve made a small amount of money from, participated in the Experimental Gameplay Project, and worked on a number of other projects.  I was able to use this work as a springboard to my current job as a programmer in another industry.  So when I say that you can learn to make games without having a technical background, I know that it can be done because I’ve done it myself.

That being said, there are some caveats.  While you don’t have to be an expert programmer to make games (and you don’t really need to know any programming when you’re just getting started) it is something you’re going to have to learn a bit of.  Whether it’s C#, Action Script, or something more specialised and simple like Torquescript, you are going to need to understand some of the programming basics like variables, if/else statements, and objects.  If you don’t know what those are yet don’t worry, they’re really easy to pick up.

Adam has a background in writing about international development but he can pick this up and use it as a launching pad into a new career path(a programmer). If his story encourages or inspires you, then read the full list of tools recommended from him here.

He also mentioned the Experimental Gameplay Project, it’s a group of indie game developers, running a friendly competition every month. The rules: Make a game based on the month’s theme, and don’t spend more than 7 days. Here is a little history:

The Experimental Gameplay Project began as a student pitched project at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University. The project started in Spring 2005 with the goal of discovering and rapidly prototyping as many new forms of gameplay as possible. A team of four grad students, we locked ourselves in a room for a semester with three rules:

1. Each game must be made in less than seven days,
2. Each game must be made by exactly one person,
3. Each game must be based around a common theme i.e. “gravity”, “vegetation”, “swarms”, etc.

As the project progressed, we were amazed and thrilled with the onslaught of web traffic, with the attention from gaming magazines, and with industry professionals and academics all asking the same questions, “How are you making these games so quickly?” and “How can we do it too?” Though we successfully met our goal of making over 50 games, we realized that this project had become much less about the games, and much more about the crazy development process – and how we could help others do the same thing. We wrote about this process in our white paper How to Prototype a Game in Under 7 Days.

While these information might give you some different ideas around making games, teachers as learning game designers could help make learning a lot more fun and effective! We also like to notice you to a free resources which will be available soon to all educators: Game Design Tool Kit from Learning Games Network(a non-profit spinoff of MIT’s Education Arcade. It is committed to developing and distributing educational games based on research).

Our Game Design Tool Kit enables teachers to integrate game design activities across the curriculum to support students’ achievement of learning goals in a wide variety of subjects.

learning games network

Emerging from our game design workshops at MIT and developed in partnership with FableVision, a Boston-based storytelling and media development company, the Game Design Tool Kit consists of a step-by-step handbook with lesson plans, extension activities, and assessment rubrics to accompany index cards students use as a guide during a comprehensive project-driven design process. Samples of recommended student documentation and case studies will be available online.

The Game Design Tool Kit is flexible enough to be used in a variety of learning settings from formal classrooms to informal after-school programs, clubs, or camps. Activities can be used discreetly in a single class or club sessions or integrated into lessons and programs that span a week, quarter, or semester, depending on scheduling and desired breadth and depth of understanding and assignments. Resources are best suited for students from Grade 5 through adult but can be adapted and simplified for younger students, where appropriate.

The Game Design Tool Kit is not intended to be a primer for any specific game production tools or technical frameworks. Rather, resources have been designed to support conceptual game design and development activities before students sit down to tackle software programming. The Game Design Tool Kit outlines strategies teachers can use to bridge conceptual development with technical implementation through a variety of tools and applications, including Game Salad, Game Maker, Gamestar Mechanic, and Kodu, among others.

Game design is an effective way to engage students in research, creative development, critical thinking, and collaborative skills development. Maybe you will plant creative seeds in some students’ minds and change their lives forever no matter they will become programmers or not.


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3 Responses »


  1. Links for August 12, 2012 | Andrzej's Links
  2. Utilizing Game Mechanics in Online Learning | Classroom Aid
  3. Game Design and Online Course Design | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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