Making Adventure Games in the Classroom

My love of games started outside the classroom when I first discovered wannabe pirates and world-dominating evil tentacles in adventure games. Adventure games are generally story-based games where you take the role of a character on a quest. They almost always focus on puzzles rather than combat or reflex-driven gameplay, which makes them particularly accessible to new gamers. When I talk to educators who are more familiar with current mainstream videogames like Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty, I often recommend taking a look at adventure games to see a different side of gaming. Their potential for critical thinking and playful narrative makes these games perfect for experimentsin the classroom.

I’ve talked about several tools and approaches for making games throughout this series:

This time, I’d like to take a look at a more specialized free program for making adventure games: Adventure Game Studio. Adventure games are particularly great for humanities experiments like creative storytelling, adapting a classic work from an unexpected perspective, presenting a historical environment, or exploring morality and philosophy through play.

Adventure Game Studio’s graphical interface makes it fairly simple to add any elements common to adventure games, including objects, rooms, characters and conversations. The visual side is easiest to handle, as you can highlight areas that characters can walk in or interact with. A lot of the interface is already defined based on classic adventure game models of using verbs like push, pull, open, close, and so on to interact with objects. It also handles an inventory system and creates all the options for saving and loading and other game-management tools. There are several templates that make it easy to get started. The screenshot below shows the basic editor interface, which is built around adding rooms and defining their elements.

Working with Adventure Game Studio gets more complicated once you look under the hood. Some scripting is required, although a lot of the framework is generated by the system. The scripting is a simplified language with syntax that works a lot like JavaScript with lots of built-in functions for common adventure game  needs. This offers a good starting point for discussing procedural literacy and basic programming in an accessible context: variables, objects, strings and functions are all integrated clearly. There’s also tools for playing with animation.

There’s a great collection of Adventure Game Studio resources on the community wiki. The project has gone open source, with experiments underway for porting the engine to different platforms. One particularly cool port brings Adventure Game Studio to the Playstation Portable (PSP). There are lots of games from the community available to play for inspiration. I particularly recommend Vince Twelve’s dual-narrative experiment What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed, Crystal Shard’s beautiful fantasy A Tale of Two Kingdoms, and the many enhanced retro games by ADG Interactive.

Have you tried making games with Adventure Game Studio? Share your experiences in the comments!

[CC BY 2.0 Photo by Flick User Scarygami]

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