A couple of days ago I blogged about doing some STEM work at Teentech. I talked to school children about the role of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths in the games industry, and to finish I gave the pupils a game to play.

I used Stencylworks to create the game because I needed to become more familiar with Stencylworks as I will be asking students to use it next semester. I also had to create a game for around twelve players, but I knew I would only have four computers, so they would either have to take turns, or have to play together. I didn’t think that competitive play on the same keyboard sounded very practical, so I decided to make a co-operative game and pit the players against a timer. I wanted to find a way to make sure the players had to cooperate and couldn’t leave anyone behind. It also had to be very simple – something that the player could understand immediately and wouldn’t take me very long to make. I came up with a concept in which three players, each with their own colour, are able to interact with their environment in different ways according to their colour. The red guys trips the red switch but not the blue switch. To extend that mechanic, I created some coloured platforms that only become solid if that player of the say colour is in the vicinity. This mechanic worked both to give access to certain areas to certain players, and also to limit access to other area from players (the blue guy can’t travel through blue blocks, but the red guy can if the blue guy is out of the way).

With limited time I borrowed some art assets from Megaman and the whole process took just a few days. Here is the result:

The yellow guy has to jump on the yellow switch to let the blue guy out

I created nine levels, each introducing new concepts. My favourite level involved a puzzle in which the three players had to help each other do tasks in a very specific order – however my play testers discovered that you can get yourself into a state where it’s impossible to recover and highlighted the need for a reset level button!

Yellow and blue need help from red if they’re going to get to the exit!

I was pretty pleased with the game given the time I had to make it, and even more pleased with the reaction of the players, who all seemed to really enjoy playing a game together and cooperating. I think the success largely came from the constraints and limitations that I knew I would face. If I had a lab full of PCs I would probably have made just another side scrolling shooter, for example, but the fact that I had to design something that would work with certain limitations led to a more unique experience, and I learned to embrace constraints, because working within constraints can lead to more innovative and overall better outcome.

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