After many years, Gamestar Mechanic is live. The core idea of the project is a game in which designing games is the main play activity. It features an easy-to-use game creation tool that lets you make a huge variety of 2D games, all wrapped up in an anime-steampunk storyline and a robust online community where you can share your games with others.
To be honest, the launch of Gamestar is somewhat bittersweet for me. I wrote the original proposal to fund “Game Designer” (as it was then called), in collaboration with noted games and learning scholar James Gee, at the beginning of 2006. The idea for the game grew out of a longstanding interest of mine in mixing game design with game play. The previous year I had taught a course at Parsons on the idea of a “Metagame” which combined making games and playing them. Chatting with Jim about these ideas, he convinced me that the MacArthur Foundation, which was at that time just warming to the idea of games and learning, might fund it.
With James Gee as the principal investigator, we applied for and did receive generous grant money from the MacArthur Foundation – its first major game-related grant, as far as I know. Kudos to Connie Yowell, the head of MacArthur’s Digital Media and Learning division, for having the moxie and gumption to fund this crazy idea.
Thus began years of development work on the game. Dozens of Gamelabbers spent many long hours in creating the title – too many to list here. However, some of the most influential were lead designers (at different times) Katie Salen and Greg Trefry, as well as the original lead programmer and architect Eric Socolofsky, my partner at Gamelab Peter Lee, and Kyron Ramsey who designed the original characters and game sprites. I was the Chief Design Officer at Gamelab, and had a strong hand in guiding the project from the start. Jim Gee and other literacy scholars also shaped the educational vision of the game from its inception.
Gamestar Mechanic received a second generous grant from from MacArthur by way of the Institute of Play, which was a tremendous help. Unfortunately, my company Gamelab closed its doors in 2009 (that’s another story), but we managed to keep the project alive through the closing of the company. It is now in the capable hands of the Institute of Play, the non-profit Peter and I founded in 2007 (which Katie Salen has turned into a truly amazing organization), as well as E-Line Media, an NYC-based development studio.
Scott Price, a producer at Gamelab who is now heading up the Gamestar Mechanic team at E-Line, is the unsung hero of keeping the project afloat, putting in countless hours to transfer the game between companies and to keep the quality of the experience high. I’m extremely grateful to E-Line, the Institute of Play, and to the MacArthur Foundation that the project has survived and is reaching the public.
At the same time, I must admit that it is difficult to see Gamestar Mechanic going live after five years without being part of the launch team – it feels like my baby is being raised in a foster home. But regardless of its complex history, the good news is that a tremendous game has finally seen the light of day. Congratulations to the many many people that have played a part.