Consider phases of game development when planning a programming curriculum unit. This framework provides a learning experience that simulates the real-world. For this reason, divide game development tasks into three phases: pre-production, production, and post-production.
Now, it is important to realize that there is little agreement on how many phases are in game development. Some people say there are five key stages, others outline six main steps, while others describe seven. The differences are in the details. For example, some game developers divide planning, launching, and testing into multiple parts. However, when designing a game development curriculum unit, it is best to keep things simple.
What is the Difference Between a Game Designer and Game Developer?
Before describing phases of game development there is a need to point out that a game designer and game developer are different roles. In the real-world, video games are typically made by multiple people, with each person having a specialized skillset. Since most Grade 1-12 learners are likely to create games independently, in a pair group, or in a very small team they will wear both “hats.”
In other words, your students will be both the game designer and game developer. A game designer uses their creativity to determine what a game will look like and how it will work. Whereas a game developer uses technical expertise to transform the game designer’s ideas into code. Whether using Scratch Jr, Scratch, or Python your students will be able to create and code following the same steps as a STEM professional.
1. Pre-Production Phase of Game Development
The first phase in game development is pre-production. Pre-production is the planning phase of the project. At this point either the solo game developer or the game development team engages in several tasks:
- research similar games and target audience
- brainstorm ideas
- fine-tune the concept to select a theme, setting, storyline, and characters
- document the plan including details about player features and functions
- sketch art elements such as background, objects, and characters to explore creative possiblities
- storyboard the flow of the game
- create a prototype to check if the idea is worth pursing
Pre-Production Phase and Practical Classroom Activities
Students do not have the coding ability or graphic design skills to make video games similar to the one’s they play. They cannot make a version of Mario Kart, EA Sports Games, or Just Dance with the software they will be using such as Scratch Jr, Scratch, or Python. However, teachers can still create an authentic learning experience. Below are activities you can include in your game development unit for kids:
- play example games such as those posted in the Scratch community then reflect on the experience
- study screenshots from vintage video game consoles (nintendo 8 bit, atari, sega genesis) which can be replicated using basic Paint tools
- analyze software sprite and backdrop libraries to understand creative choices
- apply search strategies to locate royalty-free images that can be imported into software
- remix the code of an existing game to understand how it works
- record personal observations about game preferences
- interview peers to learn about their game preferences
- host a class discussion to generate a list of ideas
- form small groups to have students expand and finetune ideas
- provide keywords to trigger thinking about a plot such as escape, attack, or race
- offer a fill-in-the-the blank storyline to focus thinking
In the workplace, basic information about the game is organized in a Game Design Document or GDD for short. Throughout the development process, it provides a road map to follow. It is also an excellent resource to share with investors that will fund the project. To create a legitimate learning experience use the term GDD.
- provide a planning sheet with questions that have students describe the target audience, plot, characters, props, and game play
- older students can create their own GDD using Microsoft Word or Google Docs
Sketch Art Elements
Game development software for kids such as Scratch Jr and Scratch offer a library of sprites and backdrops. However, they also provide a Paint Editor. This is a workspace with tools to edit or create unique characters, props, and backgrounds. As well, there is an import feature to upload images from an external source. If your students are designing their own maze or gameboard it is a good idea to sketch ideas. If not, this task can be replaced with identifying the name of the sprite or backdrop they intend to use.
- provide paper to sketch the backdrop of the game
- include a question on the planning sheet about the existing resources they intend to use
Storyboards are common with games that have multiple levels. They include illustrations of each action placed into frames similar to a graphic novel or cartoon strip. Since beginners are likely to code simple games this task can be modified.
- outline the decision-making steps in a game using a flowchart
- write a description of how the game will work
- sketch using stick figures and symbols to show what will happen during game play
A prototype is basic code that a game developer mocks-up to test an idea when it is in the pre-production phase. This task in its purest form is often not practical in a classroom setting. This is because beginners don’t possess the programming skills to design rough code – they may never have coded before. But the good news is learners can still mock up a working model.
- describe game to a peer or the teacher using sketches and the storyboard to explain idea
- refine initial idea based on feedback
- provide code snippets that will be used in a game and have students analyze how they work
2. Production Phase of Game Development
The second phase in game development is production. Production is the creation phase of the project. It transforms the concepts outlined in pre-production and turns them into source code and creative assets such as artwork and sound. At this point the following tasks are completed:
- design or add backgrounds, characters, and sound
- customize the animation of the characters and props
- create the dialog that characters will say
- code the game components such as game controls, movements, and rules
- test the code to find and fix bugs
- conduct a game test and refine code based upon user experience
Production Phase and Practical Classroom Activities
It is easy to mimic the real-world in the production phase. Students can assume the role of a graphic designer and software engineer. They build their game, mirrioring the behaviour of a person with a STEM career. Here are some activities you can include in your game development unit for kids:
- demonstrate a sample game to explain code
- provide code snippets to guide program development
- offer recommendations or coding challenges to support learners
- explicitly teach debugging strategies
- pair students to test each other’s games to gain feedback
- provide a checklist students can use to monitor progress
- give students a copy of the marking sheet or rubric that will be used to evaluate the game
3. Post-Production Phase of Game Development
The third phase in game development is post-production. Post-production occurs after the game has been released. It typically involves game maintenance such as bug fixing and/or new content. At this point the following tasks are completed:
- identify and fix bugs
- provide software updates to customers
Post-Production Phase and Practical Classroom Activities
Typically, by this stage the curriculum unit is complete. Students have submitted their work and teachers evaluate the quality. No additional update of the game is done. However, teachers can create assessment opportunities that have students reflect on the next phases of development. Below are some suggestions:
- share game and ask players to post comments
- demonstrate the game in a coding presentation and identify areas to enhance the user experience if there was more time
- reflect upon the learning experience in a coding journal and document next steps for development
TechnoRace and Phases of Game Development
No time to plan a game development curriculum unit. No problem. TechnoKids has created a PBL project just for you!
TechnoRace focuses on building a game. In the pre-production phrase, students form a detailed plan of action. They map out their initial vision including the story, characters, setting, target audience, and mechanics. Next, they shift to the production phrase. This includes design, programming, audio, and testing. Finally, when the game is complete, they enter the post-production phase where they reflect on the experience and consider additional bug fixes or new content.