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Creating a Roadmap: Storyboarding as an Element of Game Design

By the end of the lesson, students will have a visual map of their game and they should be able to actively discuss the narrative arc of their game from start to finish.

While many students would love to jump right in and start creating video games right away, elements of game design dictate that some planning go on prior to the building of the game. Many successful video games have a narrative arc to them, or at least a logical sequence that the user will experience. The game designer, therefore, must plan for this or risk the user giving up on the game. Just like the first steps of the Writing Process, the first steps of game design can be done as a brainstorming endeavor through the use of storyboarding that combine simple artwork with "main idea" writing. A teacher should consider using the storyboard project as a "ticket" for students to move into the next phase of building their video game. This provides an incentive for thoughtful work in the early stages of game design.

Warm Up

It's important to have discussions about the elements of game design with students before they start building games. Topics such as degrees of difficulty, narrative theme, platform versus top-down, and other areas are perfect points for group discussions. The teacher should take notes on emerging themes and keep those themes handy in the room before the storyboarding begins. Refer to this sheet during the game development process.

Mentor Text

While students may have done some storyboarding before for other kinds of projects (such as movies or digital stories or stories), it is important that students be shown some models of gaming storyboards as mentor texts. It is worthwhile for the teacher to share their own storyboard ideas, and be ready to "walk through" the thinking process, including false starts and known areas of concern in the game pre-building stage.

Creating the Storyboard

This independent work period includes creative time for students to think through their game. Students may be required to do a minimal number of "levels" to their game or ensure that the storyboard follows a narrative arc to the game's backstory. While artwork itself should not be judged in storyboards, students should be ready to explain and defend their work.

Sharing out

In small or large group settings, students should be able to "talk through" their storyboard with other students, answering questions and considering advice from their peers on changes to the game design. Students should be reminded that a storyboard is a map, but it can be changed during the development stage if better ideas emerge or if insurmountable difficulties come along.

Reflective Practice

Periodic check-ins with students during the construction of a game and a post-game reflection around the use of storyboarding will often generate interesting discussions. Having students write about how their final game did or did not reflect the original storyboard (and why or why not) can be a beneficial activity, as it provides a reflective stance from the student.

Final Thoughts

Many students will try to argue that they don't need a storyboard to begin their game design. They have it "in their head." Don't buy it. By using a final storyboard as a "ticket" to begin creating a game, students must work hard and be thoughtful about the logical, sequential development of ideas. Most students will keep their storyboard right next to their keyboard, using it as a roadmap for their game. Even if the final game has gone off in another direction — which happens as the young game developers learn something from a peer or discover some new element or trick from the game development platform — the storyboard provides both a point of focus and a tangible object for both the teacher and the student to refer to in discussions about the work being done.

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