Overview Articles on Game Design and Programming

  • Become a Games Artist
    Interview with several game artists about how to create art that makes it into commercially- successful games. It discusses concept art, set art, and the need to become talented as an artist first and a tech-tool user second. How you work as a team and need strong communications skills, and how to apply for a job.
  • How to Become a Video Game Designer
    A quick overview of the video game design, the importance of problem-solving skills, the various careers from graphics and animation to programming and design. The article links to many schools where students can pursue a formal video game design curriculum.

Exemplary Programs for Middle and High Schoolers

  • The Quest to Learn School is built on game-design principles
    Quest to Learn, a new independent school in New York City, is based on the ideas of Katie Salen, a highly-regarded game designer. The program emphasizes hands-on problem solving to create both physical and electronic games and other projects. The school employs a full-time game designer.
  • Be The Game began in 2005 as the Institute of Urban Game Design for freshmen and sophomores at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, DC. It has since expanded as a major STEM initiative across the Washington DC region with sites in Florida and Texas as well. Spend some time exploring their Website to see the depth and range of their program. There's an interesting pdf presentation here on STEM Game Design that details student roles as mentors and designers in their 2007 program. The GMU iTest homepage is here.
  • Carnegie Mellon's National High School Game Academy
    is a 6-week program designed to introduce high schools to the skills they would need to be successful in the growing computer game industry. Here's a 2-page article, Game Maker that describes the experience by Rachel Tadeu, one of the program's "graduates."
  • Academy of Game Design & Programming
    This online college prep high school and homeshool site offers sixteen 1-credit courses in their Academy of Game Design.
  • Park Forest Middle School (State College, PA) offers links to a wide variety of resources used in their program.
  • Harrisburg University's High School Gaming Academy
    Harrisburg University offers a 3-week summer gaming academy for grades 10 through 12 as well as a summer LEGO Robotics program. More detail about the gaming academy is available here.

Examples and Tutorials on Game Design and Programming

  • Alice Tutorial for a Salt Lake City School District high school class. The directions are limited but helpful. It uses the built-in Alice tutorial, so make sure you download Alice WITH the large tutorial!
  • Activate! is an AMD-sponsored game design challenge
    Activate! uses the YoYoGames Game Maker software, and it provides facilitator and game design tutorials. Suitable for introductory game design, it is in use worldwide, even in Beijing middle schools. The Website offers upload and sharing of created games.
  • 3D Graphics 101 has graphics and programming tutorials
    See 3D Game Builder below. Most tutorials are for Windows only.
  • Scratch for Second Life
    There are many tutorials for Scratch, but this site demonstrates how Scratch can be used to program object behaviors in Second Life!
  • Just Google to find tutorials on any of the game-related software below. Try the productname +game +tutorial.
  • Shall We Learn Scratch Programming:a free e-book by Jessica Chaing
    This book can be read on the Web or downloaded as a PDF file. It contains step-by-step directions to develop the skills to create and program a Scratch project. It's one of the best references on the Web for Scratch construction and programming. (free account needed to download PDF e-book)

Game Engines and Development Software Links (most free or open source)

  • The Inform 7 Text-Game Engine may be the easiest beginner system
    Inform 7 supports the creation of interactive fiction and text-based "adventure" games like Zork. The system includes great tutorials and examples within the game editor, and a programming language is included that is tailored to text-based gaming. Completed games may be placed in a Webpage within which the game may be disseminated and played. This open-source project is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux.
  • Game Maker is an easy-to-learn 2D game design and programming environment. Game Maker is available for Windows in both a free "lite" version and a $28 "pro" version (Mac only in $20 pro). The primary difference between the two is that the free version has a simplified "drag-and-drop" programming interface, while the pro version has an actual programming language to give the designer more control. The Website has a well-used sharing system to publish student games and to see and learn from what others have done. (Used in State College Middle School program)
  • Sandbox 3D Game Maker from Platinum Arts
    Sandbox is ideal for making 3D quest games in which you traverse a region encountering characters who can give you tasks and hints, collect objects, and overcome obstacles to reach a goal. It contains a simple terrain and object editor and a way to enter dialog and other game elements.
  • Agentsheets 3 from Univ. of Colorado, Boulder
    Agentsheets is a new approach to game design that has been found successful with ages 11-21 and has been adopted by the Girlstart Summer Camp. Available for Windows and Mac for about $50 per student (10-day free trial). Teacher materials available at no additional cost. Two notable differences in this program is that it offers a scaleable game design built on an "agent-based" modeling system and it uses a "conversational programming" control model. Finished games may be exported and shared as Java applets.
  • 001 Game Creator is an easy-to-use system for kids
    The Website has variety of tutorials and sample games. 2D games are programmed using a graphical programming environment for beginners and a text environment for advanced students. The free version is advertiser supported, and a paid premium version is avialable. Windows only.
  • 3D Game Builder (PlayStation Portable emulator)
    Rich game development learning environment (Windows only) provides 13-lesson tutorial. Uses Microsoft Visual C++ and standard Logitech game controller. Prerequisites for game development include modules for 3D wireframe construction and 3D geometry are found at 3D Graphics 101 (each has multi-lesson tutorials).
  • MissionMaker is a European game education system
    MissionMaker and related 3D animation software appears to be easy to use but is rather expensive.
  • 3D Game Builder from Brazil
    (Not related to software of same name above) 3D Game Builder is available in English and Portugeuse, but the tutorial is Portuguese only. The system appears to have all the required modules for interesting game development, and 3D models can be imported from popular modeling systems like Blender.
  • Panda3D Game Engine
    Panda3D is an open source game engine developed by the Disney Corporation (for commercial games) and the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (for education). It can natively use Python and C++ to program game behavior. Panda3D has development environments (SDK) and runtime environments (for players) for Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, and more. You must already know programming to use Panda3D.
  • Irrlicht Engine is a high-performance game engine with a large group of serious developers. It is demanding and complex, but it can produce high-quality products. You may need to compile the software for your operating system (Windows version probably supplied).
  • Alice is a 3D programming and animation environment developed at Carnegie Mellon to introduce middle and high school students to programming. It is even used as an introduction to object-oriented programming at the college level (for example, Univ. of Alabama computer science). There are separate versions of Alice for middle school and high school, and the software runs on Windows and Mac OS X. The Web-embedded sharing may not work, so sharing of the programs may be difficult.
  • Scratch is a 2D programming and animation environment well suited to middle school. It can be used as an introduction to programming, animation, and gaming (though elements such as scorekeeping and display are weak. MIT offers a sharing site that allows Web-embedded sharing of about one million student-submitted projects (not all games).
  • Squeak eToys development system
    MIT's Scratch is built on the Squeak platform, and eToys is used around the world to introduce programming and animation to young students. Best for middle school, it has a particularly sophisticated approach to game variables.
  • Love is a framework to program 2D games using the simple Lua programming language.
  • Phun: a 2-D Physics Sandbox
    The best program to build a mechanical game like pinball, but it doesn't handle text output or scoring well. It's like a motorized version of LEGO or an Erector Set. The rules of physics are already built into the system, and a 3-D commercial version called Algodoo is available at: http://algodoo.com
  • NetLogo is a simulation and modeling system
    NetLogo can be used to build single-player games, and HUBnet can be used to build multiplayer networked games. NetLogo excels at agent-based modeling in which multiple objects behave independently. The program is without par in the scientific modeling of emergent behavior. The interface is somewhat fixed, so the resulting product may not look as gamelike as other products.

Graphics and Animation Software used in Games (free or open source)

  • Wings 3D is a 3D modeling program that is relatively simple and easy to use. It is "mesh" or "subdivision" modeler rather than a constructive solid geometry modeler. Designers may create 3D models in Wings 3d and upload them into a program like Blender for animation. Tutorials and community help may be limited for Wings 3D. Available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
  • Blender is a complex system for high-quality 3D animation. It has many, many features that may be challenging for a beginner to learn. While it is not as powerful or easy to use as some commercial products, it has become a global standard for independent animation artists. There are many Blender tutorials and active user groups to help you learn. Available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
  • GIMP Image Editing and Painting Software
    Used to create textures and backgrounds for games. Similar to Photoshop, GIMP is a powerful, complex program available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

Academic References for Gaming in Education

Robotics in Education

  • FIRST Robotics is the best-known K-12 robotics organization. Founded in 1989 by renowned inventor Dean Kamen, FIRST expects to reach 250,000 students in nearly 23,000 teams through 68,000 adult mentors/volunteers.
  • Team Igutech: A LEGO Robotics Team (Lehigh Valley, PA)
    Team Igutech is a middle school team who've won regional FIRST LEGO Robotics competitions. The team works at the home of their mentor, and they are composed of students from two or three school districts. The team started with eight 6th graders in 2009.
  • Mindstorms: LEGO Robotics for education
    The LEGO Mindstorms NXT environment allows students to build any kind of robotic device using LEGO motors, gears, pulleys, and sensors. The creations are controlled through the NXT controller that is programmed using LABview graphical programming software on Windows or Macintosh. LEGO Mindstorms robots are often used at the elementary and middle school level. Several programming languages are compatible with the NXT controller.
  • Minnesota's FIRST LEGO Mentor's Manual (90-page pdf)
    Detailed photos of hundreds of LEGO robots from Minnesota's FIRST Robotics clubs and competition.
  • TETRIX Robotics by K-12 science provider Pitsco
    TETRIX makes robotic kits using metal components designed for robotics that are stronger, though perhaps not as flexibly creative, as LEGO robotics. The same LEGO Mindstorms NXT controller is used to program TETRIX robots, and TETRIX competitions are recognized by NASA and FIRST Robotics. Often used at the high school level.
  • NASA: The Robotics Alliance Project
    NASA has promoted robotics education for K-12 for many years, and they support initiatives such as FIRST Robotics. Their Website is an authoritative information center for educational robotics.
  • CMU's Robotics Academy provides information, classes, curricula, and training to support K-12 robotics. Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in both educational robotics as well as being THE leader in robotics engineering.
  • The VEX Robotics Design System is also supported by FIRST Robotics, NSAS, and the CMU Robotics Academy. VEX is appropriate for high school level.
  • Robocup: International Robotics Competition
    No robotics listing would be complete without mention of Robocup.

Educational Games

  • a href="http://www.fas.org/immuneattack/">Immune Attack from Federation of American Scientists
    Middle and high school students must save a sick patient by retraining her ineffective immune cells. Students pilot their nanobot through the body, learning about biology and immunology along the way. This game is Windows only. It is an ongoing research project, and teachers using the game in their classes are encouraged to provide feedback and participate in the ongoing study.
  • a href="">Food Force
  • a href="">Civ (Civilization)
  • a href="">SimCity
  • a href="">Portal


We're confronted by insurmountable opportunity!
-- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

About Game Design Arcade

Description: Computer or "video" games not only deeply engage school-age children, but the video game industry has become larger than the motion picture industry. Game design concepts may help educators make school curriculum more engaging, and game design skills may offer well-paid employment for many thousands of young designers, artists and programmers. Robotics gives movement, perception, and agency to computer technology. Robotics is in the vanguard of artificial intelligence research and application, and it will become a huge job market in the next decade.

This page contains links to game design sites, programs, curricula, and educational robotics. The targeted areas are game design and robotics for middle school, high school, and educators.

portrait of avatar
"Wayne Warrigal," my Second Life avatar ~photo by sgarrigan


Pac Man image
~photo by brokenarts

Boys Playing Video Game
~photo by anitapatterson

gobstopper robot
~photo by krazydad / jbum