Category Archives: Game Development For Kids

Crayons, Circles And Diamonds Inspire Games At The Fall 2016 Bill Hart Merit Badge Midway

This Saturday I again volunteered at a local merit badge midway to run a workshop for the game design merit badge that I helped to create for the Boy Scouts of America. To earn this merit badge, the scouts not only have to create a game of their own design, but also engage in the process of playtesting and redesign for at least three iterations. Now, the average merit badge takes about ten hours of a scout’s time to complete, and Game Design is no exception.  So, in my three-hour workshop, I help scouts to either get started on the merit badge or to finish it up.  And therein lies a problem: how to deal with a dozen scouts at different stages during the limited time I have with them.

This time, I decided to try something different. Although I did my normal process of doing a “classroom lecture” about the elements of a game, different types of play value, game design terms, and intellectual property protection, I broke up the lecture into four segments for the scouts who were just starting their merit badge, this time I had these scouts do playtesting between the segments for the scouts who had already completed their games. This had the double benefit of breaking up the lecture for the scouts starting their merit badge, while providing playtesters for the scouts who were finishing up. And overall, it worked quite well.

To playtest a game in my workshop, scouts must first contact me with a vision statement, play value description, and initial set of rules for a game they want to make, and if I approve it, they can proceed with making a game to bring in.  Only three scouts did the prerequisites this time, but the rest who attended the workshop got to playtest their games.

Here were the games that we playtested.


Crayon Wars

Vision Statement:  Crayon Wars is a free-for-all party game where players uses crayons as money to defeat the opponent.    The game has play value of challenge because you have to practice to be better. It has stimulation because it is exciting and threat because you are challenging each other and it is fun to play

Set-Up: Each player is given 2 crayons for lives and two crayons for buying stuff.

Progression: Players take turns moving play around the circle to the left

The first player can buy something or skip and save up for later.  Each turn players get 2 crayons for money. You can also attack after the first round.

There are 12 items you can buy

  • plane 2
  • helicopter 3
  • army men 4
  • bazooka 5 strong against planes +1 crayon
  • 5.  jet 5
  • health pack 6 plus 2 health
  • take it 7 2 crayons health taken away
  • tank 8
  • hill 9 stops tank
  • Godzilla’s wife 10 stops Godzilla
  • Godzilla 11 defeats volcanoes
  • volcano 12 +2 crayons every turn

To attack, you pick a token to attack with.  It damages the other player’s token or their health the value of your token and your token will go down in value the amount of damage you did.  You can attack the other players health after attacking all of their resources.

Resolution: The game ends when someone’s health goes to zero.



Vision Statement:  Around is a free-for-all board game for 2 to 4 players in which players roll dice to move along a circular path to reach the end.

Set-Up: Players place their pieces at the Start, receives $50 in play money, and then rolls the dice to determine who goes first.

Progression: The game is played in turns.

  • The player rolls the dice to find out the number of turns to move.
  • After rolling the dice, the player moves that number of spaces anywhere on the game board.
  • Some spaces will take or give money to the player.
  • The player must move the exact number of spaces to reach the Finish.

Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Finish.


Diamond Dreams

Vision Statement: Diamond Dreams is a Minecraft-themed board game for 2 to 4 players in which players try to reach a diamond block that rules everything.

Set-Up: Players place their character in one of four gray boxes around the edge of the board and are given 10 health points.  Players role a die to determine who goes first.

Progression: The game is played in turns.

  • Each player rolls a die to determine the number of spaces to move.
  • The player can move only left, right, or forward.
  • Some spaces have special properties:
    • Lava: Lose 7 health points
    • TNT: Lose 8 hit points
    • Creeper: Lose 5 hit points
    • Hole: Returns player to start
    • Armor: Adds 5 hit points
    • Wolf: Lowers damage done by monsters by half.
  • If the player looses all of their hit points, they return to the start and regain them.

Resolution: The game ends when one player reaches the Diamond.


Of the three games, I’d say the scouts most enjoyed Diamond Dreams.  It had the best presentation, the most complete rules, and the greater depth of game play.  Of course, earning a Game Design merit badge is not about creating the best game, but learning what it is like to be a game designer — that the game does not end with the initial design, but is refined and polished based on the experience of the players who are playing the game.



Augmenting Reality at the USC GamePipe Lab

Twice a year I attend demo days at the University of Southern California’s GamePipe Showcase to see what game engineering students in the world-renowned USC Games program have accomplished. This semi-annual event features the work of multidisciplinary, collaborative teams of programmers, artists and game designers, who demonstrate to event attendees the games they conceived, designed and built for various platforms, including work from USC’s mobile, networked artificial intelligence, immersive and advanced games courses. The event introduces students to host of industry scouts who may purchase and produce the games for mass audiences, as well as hire program graduates to develop the games of the future.

Last week I attended the Spring Showcase event hosted by USC Viterbi School of Engineering Professor Mike Zyda at the USC GamePipe Laboratory EGG-Building, where the culmination of more than a year’s worth of student teams’s collaboration, creativity and engineering is presented. This time I was particularly interested in augmented and virtual reality projects because these are hot topics in game design right now, USC has been in the forefront of virtual reality development (former GamePipe Lab instructor Laird Malamed is now Chief Operating Officer of Oculus VR, developers of the Oculus Rift VR headset) and I happen to be doing some consulting with a client in those areas.

Here are some of the projects that captured my attention last week.

Dragon Runner

Your camp has been overtaken. Fire and ash overwhelm the camp. The only thing between you and freedom is a few miles of train track…and a huge, menacing dragon!  Dragon Runner VR is a virtual reality game developed using the Samsung VR Gear and Microsoft Kinect, allowing players to step into a 3-D virtual world where they must dodge under bridges, dart around rocks, and skillfully move around their cart as you escape the fireballs.  I managed to get in my day’s exercise by dodging obstacles, crouching to avoid low-hanging barriers, and using my arms to fling fireballs at scaly enemies.

The five-person student team that developed the game have formed a company to make a meaningful impact in the emerging virtual reality and immersive environment platforms. You can learn more about the team and their projects on the Void Dimensions website.


This multiplayer game for mixed reality platforms simulates a traditional beer pong match against an opponent.  Developed by a team of seven for USC’s Advanced Mobile Devices and Game Consoles class using Project Tango, which brings spatial perception to Android devices through  advanced image processing techniques and special vision sensors, TikiPong features trippy visual effects to simulate drunkenness and add gameplay elements that are not found in traditional beer pong.

I found this game to be a lot of fun to play.  Players move their fingers along the left edge of the screen to set the trajectory and force of a ball so that it flies through a floating hoop and into a beer bottle for points.  Seeing your opponent in the game’s background adds to the social and immersive experience of the game.  To find out more about the game and the team that developed it, watch this YouTube video.

ZombieEscape VR

This zombie apocalypse virtual reality game was developed for iOS and Android using Google Cardboard. The story premise is that a global viral pandemic wipes out over 80% of the world population, causing the dead to rise and feed on the living. Players travel automatically through their environment and must shoot zombies coming towards them using three choices of guns : pistol, rifle, fire gun. Players can change weapon by looking down and clicking the menu. Different guns cause levels of damage to zombies. Players can also shoot the power-up packages to recover their health.

I found using the Google Cardboard, which is a VR headset quite literally made from cardboard into which a mobile phone running the game is mounted, to be a much more enjoyable and immersive experience than heavier headsets like the Oculus Rift. Yet while I liked the zombie apocalypse theme, I would have preferred more freedom of movement than this rail shooter game provided.

ZombieEscape VR was developed by a six-person team lead by Saksham Kashyap over a three-month period. You can learn more about the game and the team that developed it by visiting its website.


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.