Category Archives: Game Development For Kids

Spaceships, Robots, and Zombies at the USC GamePipe Lab Spring 17 Showcase

Last Wednesday I attended the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Lab’s semi-annual Showcase held at the Egg Building just outside the university’s Los Angeles campus, and as always I was impressed by the exceptional work of some of the best and brightest game development students in the country.

For USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professor Mike Zyda and his students in the USC Games program, the Spring 2017 Showcase event is an opportunity to show off a school year’s worth of collaboration, creativity and computer design. It’s also the students’ introduction to a host of industry scouts who may purchase and publish the games, as well as hire program graduates to design, program, and produce the games of the future. I make an effort to attend Showcase every six months to help me set aspirations for my own students at The Los Angeles Film School.

There were so many great games to play, that it is a shame that there was only time for me to play two.


Arkology is a virtual reality real-time strategy game developed as part of virtual reality research at the University of Southern California. The player controls the game using motion control.  At first I had difficulty understanding how to move the units using my virtual reality “hands”, but one I learned to stop over-thinking user interface, I realized how intuitive and simple the controls actually were.

From the Operations Room in the heart of the Ark, the player must strategize, command, and lead his forces to preserve what may be the last of humanity.  As soon as the player becomes familiar with the controls, the enemy begins to attack,  The player is then forced to activate the experimental warp drive to preserve the Ark, but with the premature activation of experimental tech,  the player and the crew of the Ark find themselves in uncharted space.

I found that I really enjoyed how virtual reality immersed me in what was a cross between a board game and a real-time strategy game.  Developed by a six-person team led by Powen Yao, this is a game that I would pick up just to show off my virtual reality gear.


BoltCraft is a cooperative, wave-based, third-person action game where players are members of the Bolton Collective in a fight for a desolated Earth’s resources against the planet’s robotic overlords. Developed by an 11-person team lead by Maison Lietzke and Martha Monica with artistic collaboration with the Laguna College of Art & Design., BoltCraft allows players to customize their robot’s abilities and appearance and deploy helpful minions to defend themselves and their team against an onslaught of enemies.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any screenshots of this game, so you’ll have to take my word fo it that I had fun maneuvering my robot through an urban environment and selecting different abilities and fortification to defend my area against the overlords attempting to take control of it.

As always, the creativity and technical prowess of the USC Games students was impressive, and it was exciting to see how these kids are bending our reality to create a new gaming future.

Dice and Drawbridges Inspire Games Designed By Scouts At Balboa Oaks Spring 17 Merit Badge Midway

Several times a year I volunteer at local merit badge midways to run workshops for the Game Design Merit Badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. On Saturday I led a three-hour workshop at the Balboa Oaks Merit Badge Midway in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, and as with every time I’ve run these workshops, I was impressed with the wide variety of games these young men designed.

My workshops always begin with a Socratic-dialog-heavy talk about the various elements that comprise a game, the different ways we can describe a game’s play value (what makes it fun to play), and how intellectual property rights apply to games. I then do an exercise with the boys in making changes to game rules to see what effects those have on players, using set of Spider-Man tic-tac-toe sets.  (You’d be amazed at the number of variations on tic-tac-toe the scouts have come up with over the past couple of years).  With each of these topics, the scouts satisfy various merit badge requirements.

The more advanced (and most fun) requirements involve the scouts proposing a game concept, and once I approve it, prototyping their game and playtesting it with other scouts.

Here are some of the games the scouts designed last weekend.


Match Em
by Nate Y, Troop 773

This dice game looks deceptively simple, but I found it to be the most engaging game of the day to play.

Vision Statement: A free-for-all dice game where 2-4 players roll dice in an effort to be the first person to collect 3 Match’em cards.

Play Value: Challenge.

Set-Up: 2-4 people can play.

  • Three cards are taken from the deck and laid on the table, face up. Cards will display a picture of 6 dice. The object of the game is to roll your dice until you can match what is displayed on one of the cards.
  • Each player has six dice. Players will roll 1 die to determine who starts the game. Highest roll wins. Players who roll the same number must re-roll against each other until a winner is determined. Once the starting player is determined, turns move clockwise from the starting player.


  • Three cards are taken from the deck and laid on the table, face up. Cards will display a picture of 6 dice. The object of the game is to roll your dice until you can match what is displayed on one of the cards.
  • Each player will take turns rolling their dice once. After a player rolls their dice, any matching numbers can be placed next to the card they want to obtain. Those dice are now “locked in” to the card. Any non-matching numbers will be taken back to re-roll on their next turn. Multiple players can work on the same card as other players. The first person to match all 6 dice on card wins that card and they take it from the table. All dice that were locked on that card will be returned to the players and a new card will be pulled from the deck to replace it. The first player to obtain 3 cards wins the game.
  • Take back rule: At the beginning of their turn, a player has the option to take back all their dice and re-roll them. This can be helpful if a player wants to work on a new card or attempt to steal a card that another player is currently working on. This must be done at the beginning of the player’s turn. No dice can be taken back after the player has rolled on their turn.

Resolution: The first player to collect 3 Match Em cards wins.

Resources: Dice, Match Em cards


Medieval Quests
by Grayson R, Troop 351

This was the most visually impressive game at the workshop.  Grayson R of Troop 1 created this board game to teach players about knights, kings, queens, people, weapons, foods, customs and other information of the medieval time period.

Vision Statement: A medieval board game in which 2-4 players answer questions related to Medieval times in a race to reach a castle.

Play Value: Novelty.

Set-Up: 2-4 people can play.

  • Each player takes a game piece and puts  it at the starting point, on the brown tile.
  • Place dragon cards and treasure cards in card holder.
  • The youngest player goes first.


  • Each Player takes drawing a white dragon card and reading the question to the player on his/her left (the answer is located underneath the question).

  • If the question is answered correctly, then the player who answered the questions correctly will move the amount of spaces indicated in the parenthesis after the answer.

  • If the question is answered incorrectly, the player will remain where they are and not move forward.

  • If a player lands on a red tile, a red treasure card will be drawn and the directions followed.

  • The person to the player’s left has the next turn.

Resolution: The first player to get to the castle will win the game.

Resources: 40 dragon cards (white), 12 red treasure cards (red)


The Battlefield: Airsoft
by Tristan R, Troop 351

Many scouts prefer to make board games in these workshops because the visual element of the board is fun to build and makes gameplay easy to understand.  Most of these board games tend to be simple races, but Tristan built one with combat elements.

Vision Statement: A free-for-all board game with an air soft theme in which the objective is the be the last player standing.

.Play Value: Challenge and Threat.  It is Challenge because the players will be able to get more advanced airsoft weapons and armor at different places in the game which will help them to defeat their opponents easier.  It is is Threat because the players will be able to get better weapons and armor and have the threat of being eliminated.


  • Each player (4 player game) begins the game with 10 Life Cards.

  • Each player begins on the Start space.


  • Each player rolls the dice during that player’s turn and moves that many spaces.

  • If a player lands on a Weapons Space, he draws a Weapon card.  The Weapon card will list the Range, Damage, Accuracy and Capacity of that weapon.  The player may use that weapon on that turn or can save it for another turn.

  • If a player lands on an Armor Space, he draws an Armor card.  The Armor card will list the Safety Value for that Armor (example = “Can be redeemed for +1 Life”).  This card can be saved to be used during a battle where another player is using a Weapon card against them.

  • If a player lands on a Cover Space, he is protected from any battle or weapon and can not be damaged.

  • If a player is damaged by a weapon, he must give up the correct number of Life Cards that the particular Weapon Card states unless he has an Armor Card that protects him from giving up any Life Cards.

  • If a player lands on a Loss of Life Space, he must turn in the number of Life Cards listed on that space.


  • Players are eliminated when they have lost all their Life Cards.
  • The game continues until only one player is left standing with Life Cards.

Resources: Lives, Dice (movement points), Range, Damage, Accuracy, Capacity and Safety Value.


The Knight’s Templar
by Dylan M, Troop 1003

Video games are the most difficult type of games to do at these merit badge workshops because of the limited time to make improvements to your game after making your playtest observations. But Dylan M. of Troop 1003 managed to earn his Game Design merit badge with this platformer.

Vision Statement: A single-player electronic 2D platformer set in a medieval kingdom in which the protagonist must defeat enemies to save his kingdom.

Play Value: Challenge.


  • Player starts at the left edge of the level with 4 Lives, 10 Health and 0 Score.


  • Controls: arrow keys (left, right= move left, right, up=jump).
  • Enemies: All enemies die upon collision.  However, unless the player jumps on them from above, collision also takes away 1 Health from player.
  • Scoring:
    • Killing an enemy: 5 points.
    • Collecting gold: 2 points.

Resolution: The game ends when player gets all the 4 keys and unlocks door, which completes level.

Resources: Score, Keys, Health, Lives


As always, the scouts were very inventive, given the limited resources and time they had available.  Even better, they were not only proud of the games they made, they really enjoyed playing other scout’s games.  After all, as I explained to them, creating fun experiences for others to enjoy is what game design is all about.