Always learning how to make games good for learning.
Past Projects: #1 Shichikashuku
The first game I made was a short game called “Shichikashuku”, in which players explore a middle school as a new student, trying to uncover the location of the lost English books, and making friends with other students along the way.
It was an adventure game at heart. While it used the basic assets of RPG Maker, it had no combat to speak of. There was a Level Up mechanic, but it served more as a symbol of how far you were in the game than anything else. Getting to Level 65 effectively meant that you’d done everything the game had to offer. Additionally, it was nearly impossible to get a game over. Only by walking through a bunch of easily avoidable poison pits in a secret area. Accidentally, one of my students did this.
The game was built in 2-3 months, more or less. Since I was new to RPG Maker however, I reckon I could remake it again in a few weeks. It was made for my graduating students (the equivalent of the American 9th graders) who had been taking English for 3 years. The level of the dialogue is high, but even the 7th graders could figure it out if they spent enough time. Most of my students loved it and long after students had beaten the game, we had requests to play it again.
Admittedly, since the game featured characters and areas that represented the people and places in my town of Shichikashuku, the game appealed greatly to this audience. While it could be a decent game to someone unfamiliar with this town, I don’t imagine it having widespread appeal.
Past Projects: #2 New Horizons
The second game was ambitious. In fact, it’s far from complete in the current form.
Here’s a picture of the world map:
And here’s a picture of what’s complete:
The game is titled “New Horizons”, based off of the New Horizon textbook. It tells the story of Ichiro, a Japanese-speaking teenage boy from a floating island cut off from the rest of the world. When their island crashes down, Ichiro and the rest of the village learn that the world is much bigger than they imagined and only speaks English. Venturing out to find the reason the island fell, Ichiro and his friend Sakura explore questions of change, belonging, and what it means to be truly free.
Unlike the first game, the game actually has difficulty. Players engage in “conversation battles”, wherein they have to choose correct responses to questions. Correct answers heal them and wrong answers hurt. By talking to other characters, completing quests, and going through battles gaining experience and money, players get stronger, able to more easily take on more difficult conversations. Additionally, after a certain point in the story, players gain access to abilities that let them explore the environment more freely.
In regards to ambition, the basic concept wasn’t too difficult to get off the ground. Conversation battles were implemented within a week of inception, and even though they had to be individually created, the gameplay worked. Having the main characters speak Japanese also wasn’t too difficult, and provided a good opportunity to work on my Japanese writing ability. Beyond that, nothing was so complex that it was unreasonable.
There ended up being two problems.
On the one hand, the timeframe was too short. Or maybe it wasn’t. I knew I could complete a decent amount in a year. But completing the whole game without burning out was difficult. I had also planned for 24 chapters, doing every one included with all 3 New Horizon textbooks. But now, as I sit with 7 done, and 12 planned, I look at the original 24 and realize it’s not realistic without at least someone else writing or making areas with me.
If I can finish the first 12 and polish up the game, I think it will be a worthy product for any Junior High School English classroom. In fact, I do plan to finish this one up. It might just take another year. And also won’t include much more than what is visible on that second map picture.
On the other hand, the more time I spent with game development, reading and practicing, the more I realize that the concept is flawed at its core. What’s flawed? Essentially, there’s no reason to level up in the long run. It just increases Max HP. In a real RPG, leveling up increases stats and gives the player new abilities. What can the player do with these? They can go back to the first areas and one-shot those pesky slimes. In New Horizons, all the player can do is do the same encounters without as much risk of losing. I guess that’s something. But it’s not the same kind of progress.
The game needed to be fun to explore. Is it? Actually, I’ll find that out next week when my students can play. My guess is that it is, but that it wouldn’t be if the game was 30 hours long.
So where does this leave me: I’m still working on New Horizons. I think it’ll be a decent game when it’s finished. But as it stands, it’s not the great game I want it to be. And instead of being a 30 hour monster of a game, I think it’ll be a 3-5 hour fun stint that beats a traditional English class any day of the week.
All The While…
None of this happens in a void, of course. I continue my day job, teaching students. When I have free time at school, occasionally I work on the game in secret. Or in the open, depending on who’s around.
Sure, I teach Junior High School students who benefit from my game development. But I also teach Elementary School students. And with them, there’s a much bigger opportunity to make a game that benefits them. And this is where my thoughts are heading.
I want to make something short. Not only is this good advice for beginner game developers, but it’s also important for making educational materials. With 81 students in total (admittedly, a super small number compared to pretty much all my peers), students will likely benefit much more if I make a variety of small games.
Keeping ambition in check? That’s tough.
I could just make a game testing colors or numbers. Make some kind of dungeon where the player needs to solve color-related puzzles to advance. Pump out a game every week or so. This wouldn’t be too difficult, and I think players would still enjoy them.
Strip the fluff. Little story. Just fun educational activities.
But I have a hard time. My ambition gets to me. I really want to do the above. But instead, I’m working on another large game.
Project: #3 English Warrior
Generic title much? Well, that’s the theme here. I want to make a simple RPG where there’s combat, items, and traditional JRPG gameplay. But the kicker? Completing English exercises makes the player stronger, granting upgraded stats and new combat abilities.
With New Horizons, English was the obstacle to get over. I don’t know how I feel about that. In English Warrior, doing things in English only helps you. It doesn’t spring up on you; you choose when you want to deal with it. In this sense, it’s leagues better than New Horizons.
Let me give an example of how English is problematic when used as an obstacle. If you have a boss blocking the road, you might get frustrated with it if you can’t win. If you have an optional boss next to the road, maybe you’ll fight it and lose, but you can come back to it later, so the whole experience isn’t too annoying. Take it one step further: the optional boss is guarding a new area to explore. Even though the first boss blocking the path is also guarding some new place to explore, because it’s required, it’s frustrating to lose. But when the area is optional, when you finally complete the optional boss, there’s a huge reward.
Going back to English, if English is an obstacle, it can become frustrating. If it’s a difficult challenge the player chooses, then it’s not so bad if it’s difficult. That’s the underlying philosophy of the game.
So the base game will be difficult. I’d dare say “impossible”, if you don’t use the English training centers. But if you do, the player now has access to a wealth of abilities and can breeze through the combat with ease. Players will now want to challenge themselves to English and be rewarded greatly for it.
At present, I’ve made the opening cutscene, the first two small areas, and populated them with enemies and NPCs. Just the bare minimums: Shops, Inns, Smiles to fight. I’ve also set up the first English training center, and decided that there will be large ones and small ones. My goal is to complete the first section of the game (“The Woods”) and see where to go from there. Once The Woods are complete, the game will be essentially complete. See: ambition in check. After that, it would be polish, adding three or four more areas full of challenges.
My goal with this game is to have The Woods completed by April. So, roughly a month. After that, I’ll have people play and see how they react. Then I’ll edit The Woods, and with that understanding, move to expand the game.
Bonus Project? 日本語クエスト
Due to the simple nature of English Warrior, my other goal is to remake the same game in Japanese! So for all ya’ll out there who might want to play a game for learning Japanese, I might have one coming your way. J