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On Using Gamestar Mechanic

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. 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.

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