Simulation Games

Playtesters crowded around the square board, as game developer Henry organized pieces and passed out cards. It was a pivotal moment for the game creator, because it was the first time his game was played.

“We spend like a week working on a game,” Henry said, “These are simple games, they’re prototypes. And now we’re seeing if our games are working so we can fix our mistakes.”

“We’re working out the bugs,” said playtester Russell, who, along with Archer and Miles, analyzed the game and provided Henry with feedback for improvements. (Playtester is an actual job title. In the real world of gaming, game designers “playtest” new games for bugs and design flaws before bringing them to market.)

Although still unnamed, Henry said it’s a “settlement and area control” type of game.

While traditional board games are still the primary type of game created by students in Simulation Games, new technologies have allowed tech-savvy gamers to branch out.

Michael held up a tiny orange figure used in his Star Wars/Fortnite-inspired game. “This is the smallest Obi-Wan ever,” he smiled. He created his mini Obi-Wan and the other Star Wars character game pieces using a 3-D printer in the classroom.

3-D printing specialist, Erol, helps the students to make their figures come “alive” through the 3-D printing process.

“They use Tinker CAD,” a free online design site, he said. Using simple shapes, students build an image of their figure.

Michael used the CAD (computer assisted design) website to create his figures, then, through what seems to me to be a process of technological magic, software instructed the printer to make the shape.

“It uses filaments,” Michael said about the printer. He looked through the printer window as tiny robotic arms spun and molded filaments. “It melts it and gets super thin,” Michael explained. A green and orange figure took shape behind the glass.

In another first for Strategy Games, Laura used programming to create a computer strategy game.

“I’m recreating Settlers of Catan within Minecraft,” she said.

“It’s a game within a game,” added Jackson, who watched as Laura input codes.

Although I didn’t catch most of what the young programmer said, I did learn about command blocks. “I built the images with blocks,” she said.

She demonstrated “fill commands.” “When you place a block…it fills the area around it.” For instance, a wool block strategically placed on the game grid fills the designated area with wool. An activated hay bale block makes the area turn brown with virtual hay.

The commands run the gamut from simple to more complex. “The robber is a complicated command,” she admitted.

Even something simple like the color of a character’s helmet can require a long stream of code. “This is a complicated code that makes a helmet a certain color,” she said, pointing the cursor to a nonsensical (to me!) line of letters, numbers, and characters.

The self-taught coder learned to program “partly by going online and partly through practice,” she said.

Back at the playtesting, the boys helped Henry to streamline his game.

“There’s kind of a little bit of a flaw,” said Russell. “If you roll a number nobody has, then you can’t do anything.”

Henry and the testers explored ways to solve the “bug”. “We could make the dice less random or have a 6-sided dice. Or, I could give players more resources at the beginning,” Henry suggested.

All the playtesters agreed on one thing. After just a few tweaks, Henry’s game is going to be a lot of fun to play!


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