Gamestar Mechanic: A Lesson in Game Design

Gamestar Mechanic

On September 29, 2010, you may have heard a giant sigh of relief resonate from the East Coast of the United States. After four years, two funding cycles by the MacArthur Foundation, three organizations involved in the development (Gamelab, Institute of Play and E-Line Media), a revival of the project and immeasurable hard work and persistence of all involved, Gamestar Mechanic finally launches. This title not only puts players into a uniquely crafted world, but also allows them to create platformer-style games within the game to share with others.

The beta version of Gamestar Mechanic was presented earlier this year at the 2010 Games for Change Festival during the AMD sponsored event “The Power of Design: Youth Making Social Issue Games.” During the workshop, Eric Nunez and Mike Edwards from Parsons The New School for Design discussed six different game design platforms for kids: Scratch, Game Maker, Kodu Game Lab, 7Scenes, LittleBIGPlanet and Gamestar Mechanic.

What sets Gamestar Mechanic apart from other game design platforms is the whole “meta-game” aspect. The progression of the story gradually introduces different game design topics and gameplay mechanics to players over time. While going through the levels, players are given different items to make games with. The scaling complexity of the story and gameplay elements mirror the types of games that kids can make, as they learn more about actual game development.

The official website also has an extensive area for parents and educators to help engage with children. You can also find safety and time management information as well as advice on how to start a child on the path to becoming a professional game designer.

But as exciting as Gamestar Mechanic is, it almost didn’t get published. It’s an unfortunate coincidence that a game that teaches children how to make games, actually teaches an important lesson about the challenges in real world game development.  In 2009, GameLab, the company that originally started the project, closed their doors, three years into the development of Gamestar Mechanic. If it wasn’t for the hard work and determination of the original developers (in addition to Institute of Play and E-Line Media reviving it), this project could have died before it launched. Gamestar Mechanic teaches us that unforeseen problems, production expenses, staffing issues and funding are some of the real challenges in making games, not just designing, coding and play testing.

The official Gamestar Mechanic website:

A brief history of Gamestar Mechanic’s development and all its ups and downs from Eric Zimmerman’s blog:


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