Game Design week 5

Game Design week 5. Let me start by saying that Anand spontaneously said this morning, “Mommy, I really like your game design class.” Awww. That’s why I’m doing it, kiddo. (Kevin, let’s talk about co-teaching it next semester, on a Tues or Thurs, since we’re on the same teaching schedule at UIC. I’m thinking we do strategy games (chess / go) and board game design?)

And also, yesterday in class, one of the kids said that if I did this again, he though that lots of kids would sign up for it, because a lot of kids were sad that they didn’t get to take it. So I think it’s going well, and we’re hoping to offer it as a trial summer camp next year for Maram.

I’d really like to have it offered more broadly than just me teaching it — I think one 10-student class per semester is about my limit — so locals, if you’re interested in teaching game design at your elementary or middle school, or teaching it with us at Maram next summer, let me know?

I’d be very happy to share my course materials with you, and talk through what I did, step by step. I can even teach you how to play a RPG or Pokemon if you don’t already know how to play — it’s really simple. Maybe 2 hours on a Saturday to go through it all? Ping me if interested!

Okay, on to the recap.


This week, we transitioned out of RPGs to card-based games — the kids were super-excited to try Pokemon. I opened by asking how many knew about Pokemon (all of them), and how many had already played (3 out of 8).

The ones who had already played, I got them started with designing their own cards (for Pokemon or otherwise) at one table — very free-form, and they were happily occupied for the whole class. I’d made trading-card size blanks for them in advance out of card stock with a paper cutter — 3 each, cut to 2.5 x 3.5. I definitely needed some extras for the perfectionists in the group!

Then I played the opening of a demo game against my son (who learned how to play the day before), talking through what was happening, with the rest of the kids on his or my ‘team’. That took about 15 minutes. Once they had the basics down, I asked them if anyone wanted to finish the game with my son, and one kid did, so they spent the rest of the time playing through the game, while the rest dispersed to go make their own cards.

Next week, the plan is to bring some more ready-made decks so that they can all play through, inserting their own cards into the decks. And then we’ll talk about what makes a game fun, about the problem of overpowered cards that ‘break’ a game — one kid’s card has 1 million hit points, for example, about how to maximize fun for everyone involved, about how randomness affects game play (whether it’s a dice roll in a RPG, or a shuffled deck in this kind of game), and the right ratio of energy to active cards for Pokemon (which we’ll carry through to discussing mana and active cards when we play Magic: the Gathering the following week.)

The kids got to take home a few Pokemon cards for fun with them — pictured is one student who chose her cards based on their cuteness factor. Cuteness is very important in game design!


Game design, week 4

Game design week 4 — we’re finishing up our role-playing game unit. This week, we showed the students how one kid’s rough pencil sketch could be transformed (by his big sister), into a nice clean illustration. We also looked at classic dungeon map design, using graph paper and a dry-erase mat to experiment with some options.

The kids should have all come home with a pad of graph paper this week, along with a few instruction sheets from Hero Kids, talking through different elements of their dungeons, such as branching paths, traps, and secrets.

The kids spent half the class developing their own maps further, adding exciting illustrations, creative ideas (pit of bees!), or color. Then we did some very rapid-fire game playing, adding a few little mini monster figures for some extra fun. Although again, you don’t really need any of that — your imagination and a die is all you need to play a role-playing game.

We didn’t get through quite all the maps, so we’ll finish those up next week, and then we’re going to try designing some Pokemon characters!

Nice little Maram workshops yesterday

Nice little Maram workshops + writing coaching yesterday, and Oak Park Works was a great spot for them. Warm, clean, brightly-lit and welcoming — locals, if you’re looking for co-working space, or event-hosting space, definitely check them out! I ran a little publishing workshop, helping writers understand the current indie/trad publishing scene, what their options were, and what would be involved with various approaches. We talked for two solid hours, and I think it went pretty well and was helpful to them.

Then I did some writing coaching, meeting with someone who is thinking about an MFA, looking over her submission story for some developmental edits, but mostly just talking through where she is in her writing right now, and what good next steps would be for her. It went really well, I think.

I don’t want to set up a full-time writing coach business or anything like that, but at least in the future, when doing writing workshops, I’ll try to append this kind of thing when possible. It’s satisfying — feels like my 25+ years in this field are actually offering useful perspectives. 🙂

I’ll be back at Oak Park Works this evening at 6 p.m. with a free How to Write a Cookbook Workshop. Register at the link below if you’d like to join us! (And if you need to come in a bit late, that’s fine — I know 6 can be tricky with people’s commutes.) I’ll have copies of Feast with me, if anyone wants to pick up an early Kickstarter edition of the cookbook. If you can’t make tonight, there’s another one there, Sat. the 26th @ noon.


Game Design Class: Adventure Maps with Legos

[Bracketing this with a note that I didn’t send to the parents: the trickiest thing for me with the 4th / 5th grade after school game design class is classroom management; I’m not used to trying to keep 9 kids working productively in a small classroom, esp. at the end of a school day when they’re restless. A few of the kids are QUITE high energy.

Once the Legos came out, they were all so excited that all hope of an organized class went out the window. Which is fine, but it does mean I have to reset my expectations of how much can be done in any given stretch. Over and over!

But it’s good for me too — I’m putting a lot of thought into how to keep this fun for the kids, and it’s making me rethink how much of that fun I manage to incorporate into my college classes too. Keeping learning both engaging & productive — not easy!

I’m having my college students do a critical review podcast or YouTube video this semester, in place of one of their papers; it’s an experiment, but so far, they seem more engaged with it than paper-writing, and it’s certainly an important contemporary means of engaging with the cultural conversations around literature and media.]


Game design class, a quick update on class #3 — we worked on creating individual worlds this week. The plan was to start with Legos for inspiration, and then move on to drawing adventure maps; the Legos were a little bit too much fun, and most of the group was just starting to do maps when the hour ended. We’ll bring the maps back next week to work on them some more!

But they had a great time with the big bin of Legos, and came up with a really diverse set of worlds — most of them stayed in the classic D&D adventuring mode, with monsters and danger spots, but Malcolm had a world of vehicle drivers competing and Diana worked hard on her lovely forest setting (with a complicated hinged base). They were very excited to show you the photos of what they built!

Next week, we’ll elaborate on our overall ‘world maps’, and then use graph paper to create a grid of a ‘dungeon’ — a set of rooms for adventuring through. They should’ve come home with a little dice bag to hopefully help them keep track of their dice; with the bag, a D6, and the D12, they should be all set for a two-or-more-person adventure.


[My personal favorite was the world of fire (all the adventuring parts) and ice (separated by a barrier, with a chill out area for the adventurer to recover in). So creative! There was also a super elaborate set-up with a cave and at least four different areas, which is pretty impressive for 45 minutes of building time.

I’m also amused / bemused that Anand had absolutely no interest in the Legos — he just never got into them, which I don’t get! I adore Legos. But he dove into drawing his adventure map, and completed a great sequence (with no interest in coloring it in either), so now I’m going to have to think about what to have him do at the start of next class when the others are drawing theirs.

Anand’s done more RPG gaming than the rest of the class, I think, and is also a few months older than many of them, so I might have him try acting as a TA next time around — walk from table to table and engage with them on their maps, help them brainstorm ideas. Hm.]

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