Archives for category: Gamestar Mechanic

Another Indiecade has passed, and another of what is always one of the best game events each year. The magic of Indiecade is that it is actually manages to live up to its name as a *festival*. Not just a conference or an exhibition, attending Indiecade feels like a great weekend with friends, strolling to and from sessions, playing games, and getting a taste of what’s new in independent and experimental games.

I had a busy weekend. Gamestar Mechanic, the game I conceived with Jim Gee and developed with my company Gamelab, was a finalist in the festival. Scott Price, the project lead at E-Line Media, the company that runs Gamestar along with the Institute of Play, presented the game in one of the exhibition galleries and he was happy with the response from the crowd.

I spoke at a couple of the sessions. Nathalie Pozzi and I spoke about our work together on a panel about collaboration, where we premiered a video about our recent project for MoMA, Starry Heavens. Since – compared to a digital game – not many people get to play my gallery work, I’m always happy to share. Perhaps we’ll enter Starry Heavens into Indiecade next year, if we can find the funding to put it on.

I also led Iron Game Designer, a session in which teams of designers compete to create a game in real-time in front of an audience, using a mystery ingredient and a theme that the audience chooses. (The session is inspired by a similar event created by game designer Marc LeBlanc.) I co-hosted the event with Colleen Macklin, and we made a number of innovations this year to the design of the session that helped to kick things up a notch.

For example, instead of pre-defining teams, we only determined team captains. Each captain could pick a co-captain from the audience, and each team also got two random team members from the audience (we drew their names from a hat). That kept the event feeling more inclusive and unpredictable. We also got rid of our “panel of judges,” who never felt essential to the session. The biggest change to Iron Game Designer is that instead of a table full of office supplies – cards, dice, paper, etc – for making game props, we only gave the groups the mystery ingredient – nothing more! We made this decision only a few minutes before the session was about to start, but I am glad we did. The table of supplies always made the session feel too much like an arts & crafts class, and the games that resulted were more elegant as a result. The ingredient, by the way, was bananas, and the theme that the audience picked was The Amish. All of the games were hilarious. In the winning game by Catherine Herdlick’s team, young Amish struggles to emerge from their community of locked arms to reach the forbidden fruit of tasty bananas. For me the biggest thrill was not the (impressive) games that the teams made, the rolling-in-the-aisles laughter of the audience, or the challenge of the game show-style hosting with Colleen, but just that I was able to continue to iterate on the design of the session. I guess that’s why I am a game designer.

One of the final events at Indiecade this year was a Metagame tournament. At the closing party, we gave out starter decks of the game to anyone who wanted to play, and the four who had collected the most cards battled in front of the audience for the championship. Congrats to Miles Nye, who among other techniques drew his cards randomly for the tournament and actually rapped his argument for Parappa the Rapper against his opponent.

See you next year, Indiecade!

I’ve been busy traveling and getting ready for the MoMA opening in a few short weeks, so media about my work has piled up a bit. Here are some highlights.

This piece for the Forbes website kindly remembers SiSSYFiGHT 2000, a web game I created in collaboration with

An early preview of the Deepak Chopra Kinect game I lead designed for Curious Pictures includes screenshots and videos.

In this Kill Screen Magazine interview about games and art, designer and scholar John Sharp names the work of Nathalie and I as one of his chief examples of game creators working under an art-making rubric.

A Notre Dame blog reports on “Games are not Good for You” – my keynote at the Games, Learning, and Society conference last month.

In Purple Pawn, A thoughtful review of Figment, my new card-game-in-a-book, called “Figment: Irony in a Paperback.”

A featured article in the Macarthur Foundation’s site about digital media and learning focuses on Gamestar Mechanic.

This Australian blog about digital arts references two Local No. 12 games (Backchatter and the Metagame) in a post about playful engagement.

Ayiti, an award-winning game about poverty in Haiti that Gamelab created with Global kids, has been translated into Chinese! Read about it here on the Global Kids website.

The MacArthur Foundation has posted a short piece on the history of Gamestar Mechanic, written by brilliant game journalist Heather Chaplin (who interviewed me recently for an NPR story on the recent Medal of Honor / Taliban controversy).

Despite the worries in my sentimental recent post about the launch of Gamestar, I’m happy to be getting my rightful props as the instigator with Jim Gee of the original idea for the game. E-Line Media, the current shepherds of the project who sometimes don’t get their due for their work on the game, get great coverage as well.

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.

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