“Children need to be given digital building blocks to inspire them to build digital content” – Ian Livingstone, Life President , Eidos
Designing Computer Games in Schools
Computer games are not only fun, but also very educational (I wish I had known this when I was younger, as convincing my father to buy the latest games console would have been much easier!). Nowadays I have to convince my wife, naturally I use my 7 year old son as my excuse to buy my games. “Gaming can extend his learning” I say, or “He needs to be exposed to the rapid changes in technology and kept up-to-date to manage in this digital world”; she’s not convinced, but I end up getting my way anyhow 😉
In my previous posts (Using Games for Thematic Learning and How can we learn through games?), I have outlined the reasons I feel that computer games should possibly be used to establish excellent contexts to learning and allow students to access areas of the curriculum that they would have otherwise found dull and boring. I also spoke in favor of ‘Thematic Learning’ (‘Project Work’ in other words– why do we as educationalists have to use fancy words for simple concepts? Isn’t it supposed to be our job to make things easier to understand?!) and how Thematic Learning it can be used as a tool to facilitate multiple curricula.
I thought it would be interesting to have a look at the different tools that we as teachers could use to allow students to make the games rather than to play them (I’m sure my wife would find this more agreeable for our son). Making games is an excellent learning opportunity and as a teacher of technology I would urge all ICT/Computing teachers and subject leaders to introduce this into their curriculum as soon as they have the opportunity to do so. I will include some helpful links in this article that should hopefully get you started with possible schemes of work and study that will make your lives a little easier when trying to roll out a “Game Creation” module if you do not have one already.
Okay so we can all play games, whether it’s on our smartphones, tablets, PCs or consoles; the fact is that we are more exposed to games now than we have ever been. But not many of us want to venture down the route of exploring how the games were made. Believe me, this can be as interesting as playing them.
So when is the right time to get students started on this road to game creation? Well with the myriad of tools available for us as parents and educators we can start the wee ones off on their progressive journey towards game creation. Don’t worry I will include links for these too!
The important thing is that game creation allows the students to develop some excellent skills like coding and programming, as well as allowing them to let their imaginations, artistic abilities and passion for fun run a little…wild! In addition to this, game creation can have a lot of cross-curricular contexts (yes that’s Thematic Learning again) and you should have no trouble getting funding from your school if you can prove that it will extend the boundaries of your subject…
Step 1: Simple Design Tools
Okay, so to begin with it’s very important to keep things simple and not to go crazy looking for specific software that is needed to make games. Microsoft PowerPoint (or Apple’s KeyNote for you Mac lovers – believe me, I’d be a Mac lover too…if I had the money!) is an excellent tool to get students started with games that require the user to make choices. A good example of this would be the “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” type setup where students can generate a quiz and only progress through the game if their answer is correct. This can also be used as an excellent AfL (Assessment for Learning– more educational mumbo jumbo – AfL is basically when you check if the students get it) in the classroom to check the students’ understanding. You can download a template from here: http://www.teachingideas.co.uk/ict/files/wwtbamtemplate.ppt
This PowerPoint strategy is also good if you want them to create an adventure game which can have several outcomes with every possible outcome being on a separate linked slide. Try it yourself and see how it goes – It’s very good fun and keeps them engrossed for ages.
Scratch Junior (www.scratchjr.org)
This is probably one of my favorites, easy to use and you can let your, errrm I mean you students’ imagination run free. The Junior version that was launched in late 2014 is an excellent tool for children that aren’t quite ready for the standard version and also allows them to access the controls and coding blocks in an easier way. Additionally, the vibrant colors and easy to use interface allows the little ones to become more involved with the activities. The advantage of using the Scratch environment is that so many people have designed tutorials, videos and even done blogs to support the learning of it; this makes our jobs of delivering the curriculum a little easier – it’s a just a matter of filtering through the web to find resources that will suit you and your students.
The added advantage is that now both the Junior and the Standard versions of the software are supported as a web based application as well as being available handheld devices (yes, even the iPad supports it) – and it’s free!
Step 2: Game Design for Young Children
Okay now lets have a look at some specific examples of software that you could use to get students to create games using something a little more advanced (remember progression?)…
Well we’ve seen the Junior version, the standard version is pretty much the same but has scope for so much more. As with the Junior version, this standard version has a whole host of resources available FREE online (that’s right, they wont cost you a penny and they will keep your students enthused all year long if you want!). Stuck for ideas? The Scratch website (https://scratch.mit.edu/) has loads of examples of other people’s work on there that both you or your students could check out.
Kodu Gamelab (http://www.kodugamelab.com/)
This is very immersive and allows students to create very professional looking games (Sorry Mac lovers, you’ll need a PC or Xbox for this one). The beauty of this is that it allows you to design games on your PC and if you have an Xbox controller, you can plug it into your PC and play your game. The environment also allows for characters to be introduced that can interact with eachother (links to literacy?) as well as being able to develop the much needed computational skills that you want your aspiring game creators to be familiar with.
Again, something you’ll be glad to know is that, like Scratch, Kodu also have plenty of free online resources and support. A couple of popular sites where such resources are available are Interactive Classroom and Consolarium.
Project Spark (http://www.projectspark.com/):
Sorry Mac fans, Project Spark is another Xbox thing, only works in Windows 8 using Internet Explorer 10 or higher; I bet you wish you’d bought a PC now – jokes aside, this looks pretty neat and generally simple to use, however, having a lot of optimization issues – I haven’t used this as extensively as I would have liked, but will be sure to keep you posted if I ever do. Have a look at the video to get an idea of what this game creation platform is all about.
I thought I’d save my favorite to last. I absolutely love the creative nature of this game. The potential is huge and there’s no wonder Microsoft bought this for $2.5billion! If you haven’t played Minecraft yet, I suggest you get yourself a copy, free up an evening of your life; send your wife out with her mates, get a babysitter to watch your kids, stock up on essential rations and, get your creative juices flowing and spend some quality time just doing…stuff!
I won’t go into the educational potential of this game as there is loads out there on the net that you can use. Unfortunately not all of it is free, but there are loads of tutorials and videos etc. that you can refer to. Minecraft’s Education site (http://minecraftedu.com/) as well as the dedicated Minecraft Wiki (http://minecraft.gamepedia.com/Minecraft_Wiki) are excellent places to up your essential Minecraft knowhow. Here’s a quick video to get you going:
Step 3: Advanced Game Design Tools
Okay, so as mentioned, progression is important, so now lets move onto the bad boys of the game creation world…
RPG Maker (http://www.rpgmakerweb.com/)
If you like your Nintendo DS style games, you’ll like the RPG maker. This is a map based game creation engine which is able to generate the Nintendo style games we have all come to be familiar with. The games are extremely narrative and the limit is basically the imagination of the individual using it. It’s worth checking out and generally good fun to work with.
UDK (Unreal Development Kit – https://www.unrealengine.com)
Okay guys – this is what you should have reserved for your extremely gifted and talented students. If you get this far in teaching games creation at school then you’ve done really well. Firstly, you’ll need a very good network and hardware to support this, and secondly, you’ll need loads of time.
For those that don’t know, Unreal are known for making some top games. They now have this development kit which is an engine that allows anyone to create games…for free! I was shocked to see that Unreal have made this stuff free as it’s basically professionally quality game creation stuff. If you do create a game using their engine, you’ll have to pay them royalties to be able to sell and distribute it.
I’m not going to go into much detail, as the potential for this is vast. Also, no one can say it better than the founder of the Unreal engine, Mr. Tim Sweeney:
The Royal Society of Edinburgh
On a final note, if you’re looking for pre-made stuff that’s been tried and tested, the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Computing Science resources are amazing. Why not have a look at: http://www.royalsoced.org.uk/1050_AnIntroductiontoComputingScience.html
So there you have it! A load of resources to get you started on your gaming journeys, hopefully you’ll have a lot of fun implementing games into your curriculum – would be interesting to know what you have done and how you’ve implemented it … Good luck and happy gaming!