December 22, 2015 at 11:45am
Dane Lisser

The Game Plan

The end of a semester is a time for students to reflect on lessons learned and academic achievements. Recently, a group of Millikin University undergraduates in a new course, titled Advanced Game Writing and Analysis, turned their lessons and ideas into achievements by engaging in the art of game design. The students created over 30 games, half of which were debuted on Dec. 14 to the Millikin campus community.

The event on Dec. 14 was considered a final exam as 10 student-designers asked guests to participate in a wide range of games, including standard card games, dice games, strategy board games, social games and deck-building games.

Millikin Advanced Game Writing

Perhaps one of the largest growing fields for so-called "professional writing," game-writing encompasses anything from writing dialogue for a video game to crafting detailed rule books for the latest deck-building game. Led by Dr. Jeffrey Kirchoff, Millikin assistant professor of English, the Millikin students spent the semester becoming acclimated to all levels of game writing, from conception of an idea to the ultimate production and playing of a game.

"The course simulates what it would be like working in the gaming industry, such as coming up with an idea, pitching it to a company, and then working with a creative board to design the actual game," Dr. Kirchoff said. "Students crafted pitches early in the semester and then pitched their ideas to a creative board made up of English Department and Staley Library faculty members. The creative board decided which games would go into production." 

Various topics were covered throughout the course, such as defining a game, the player experience, brainstorming game ideas, game mechanics, rule writing, market research and video game development.

Millikin Advanced Game Writing

Matthew Gremo, a junior English secondary teaching major from Decatur, Ill., said, "This is something that I've always wanted to do and having a course filtered around game design is a great experience."

Gremo designed a board game called "Inks & Vices" that was centered on historic authors. "The transferrable skills of learning how to do problem solving and understanding trial and error are huge parts of designing games, and it carries over to every other aspect of education," Gremo said.

We encourage students to take their work beyond the classroom and that's what this course is all about.

Each student was tasked with producing four complete games: one collaboratively designed board game, a card game, a dice game and a video game. The students tested their games throughout the semester.

Tess Adamonis, a senior English writing major from Homewood, Ill., showcased her game called "Finding Mr. Right," which included the tag line, "Search the monster-infested house to find the man of your dreams." Alice Dembinski, a senior communication major from Indianola, Iowa, helped Adamonis with the development of the game.

"It was really interesting to see how much we had to do during the class," Adamonis said. "I want to go into the publishing industry and I feel that game publishing is something I would definitely consider because of this class."

The students also learned video game development by using a program called Scratch, an online multimedia authoring tool that creates games and animations.

"The students created 37 total games," Dr. Kirchoff said. "There were a wide range of games and I encouraged the students to work with different genres. The games that were chosen for the event were the most polished and most ready to be published."

Millikin Advanced Game Writing

In addition to having their games published, a handful of students are planning to pitch their ideas at Gen Con, the largest tabletop-game convention in the United States, which features hundreds of game companies, award-winning authors and artists, and more than 15,000 events. Gen Con 2016 is scheduled to take place Aug. 4-7 in Indianapolis, Ind.

"From a Performance Learning aspect, I think by publicizing their games and letting people play their games is a big leap," Dr. Kirchoff said. "We encourage students to take their work beyond the classroom and that's what this course is all about."