Sploder Arcade Creator
My wife is also a teacher in Japan. As part of her job, she teaches IT class to fourth, fifth and sixth graders twice a month and is often looking for unique ways to engage the students. What better way than through game design?
She turned me on to a web based game developer called Sploder. Her students have been building games in the ‘Arcade Creator’ for a few weeks. Apparently her students LOVED it and made some pretty unique games. So, I thought I’d give it a try.
It’s amazingly simple and limited, but I actually find that refreshing after drowning in more complex editing programs for the past few years. It’s a great way for a seasoned designer to step back and focus on optimizing a ‘fun and playable’ type of game in a not-so-adaptable medium. I’ve found it rather challenging.
There aren’t many tutorials for it so far. Thus, I reverted to the ‘tinker and test’ method of learning a new program. Luckily the editor makes it simple to push play and quickly test what you’ve created for iteration and debugging. The actual gameplay and physics are clunky, but it’s beautiful because everyone who uses the Arcade Creator is limited to the same set of odd assets and wonky characters. It’s more what you do with them and how you arrange them to make an engaging game that’s important.
It works a lot like Mario Maker. Obviously the assets are changed enough to avoid a lawsuit, but the grid palette and drag-and-drop system are pretty much the same. Immediately, I found it necessary to learn what all the items do to form some kind of cohesive game narrative.
The three motifs: Forest, Cave, or Tech
Let’s start with the classic: Forest. The landscapes are pretty much what you’d expect. Grass, trees, dirt. But I immediately gravitated towards water, spouts, lava, spiked platforms, and mushroom/flower triggers. These made awesome assets for a fun side scroller. Any time death is imminent, I find my gamer juices flow faster.
So, I played around with the mushroom triggers to control the death-bringing assets. The mushrooms are timed, so you can create some killer puzzles. The wonky physics make it even more killer-literally.
The link logic system is simple, but becomes complex because it’s visual: right there in your level palette. If the puzzles become too comfortable lex, the screen becomes a mess of blue link lines. It makes deletion and editing quite cumbersome. After creating three or four simple puzzles, I noticed I was using mushrooms rather often. So, I strung them together and called the game “Mushroom Kingdom.”
Now, there are a ridiculous number of weird items. Things like coins and necklaces, blue orbs and red apples, blue hearts and silver coins. The learning process was lengthy enough for me, that I knew my audience would be lost unless each stage slowly introduced them. The narrative required situations to use the items, and NPCs to the explain the finer points. For example, there’s a carrot. Sometimes I can pick it up, but sometimes I can’t. So I placed an evil rabbit that will give me information if I collect them. He can’t do it himself because you have to be injured in order to get them. They give you back a tiny bit of health, but the sadistic rabbit wants to watch me suffer and hurt myself on purpose. Sweet, delicious suffering. As you collect carrots, he teaches you about mushroom triggers, flowers, collectibles, health, magic, energy and upgrades.
The best thing I learned from on my time in Sploder is that a small set of assets can be used to create a very engaging game. Also, I got some great practice for designing a gradual leveled tutorial right into my game story. With each new screen and success, they played increases their knowledge and uses what they’ve learned to overcome more difficult challenges. I haven’t had time to play around with the cave and tech environments yet. But I hear there’s new monsters and teleports!
After playing with Sploder for a week, my wife informed me that it’s a kid’s program. So I asked how her kids handled the link logic. Apparently none of them figured it out yet. I guess I’ll have to teach her so she can pass the knowledge along. I’ll be interested to see their final IT projects. I can’t stay a kid forever, but I wish these tools were available to me back in the 80’s. Now it’s time for me to get back to a more adult program.