Project Update: Deciding on Genre

As a game designer with a focus on the educational, one of the important things to consider is how to best present content, not only in terms of the educational aspects, but in terms of density and continuity, and how believably I can work in the elements to the game.

One thing I’m inspired by with Defender of Azekal, even though I’ve never played it, is the concept of the game “Typing of the Dead”. I can’t vouch for its quality, but I wanted a game that’s intense and rapid-paced, which is why I added the typing element; a four-item list was actually my original concept, but that was both less practical than my final decision, and limited me in terms of genre.

Defender of Azekal is going to be an action RPG inspired by the Shining series (both Shining Force and Shining in the Darkness), which seems like an odd choice for an educational game, but I made some conscious decisions when deciding on the genre.

First, I looked at pacing. I was actually inspired by an Extra Credits video that discussed the JRPG, and how turn-based combat felt stale and uninspired in the modern day. This bounced around in my head for a while until I recalled a friend of mine talking about skill-based JRPG’s; the sort where timing matters when pushing buttons. Mother 3 (the Earthbound series, for Americans who only know Super Smash Brothers) was the example he cited, in which pushing the menu options in time with the music granted certain bonuses. With Defender of Azekal, and any educational game, I feel that it’s important to go even more skill-based, which is why I decided on the typing-based system with character performance directly related to input quality.

Second, I looked at the ability to transmit knowledge. I wanted something that had both high-intensity learning and low-intensity learning, and a JRPG actually presents a decent opportunity for this-Defender of Azekal will be a heavily dialogue based game, so there will be a constant reading component, but this will not even feel like an educational element. The combat, which is typically the “fun” part of a game (even though classic turn-based gameplay is typically more cerebral than thrilling), is actually the high-density learning environment. This couples the intensity of learning with the intensity of gameplay. I’m not a terribly astute scholar in the field of educational games-I’m intentionally ignoring the written scholarship on the matter in favor of following traditional game design theory my own way to see where I wind up-but I know from experience and study that the parts of games that stick with people are the parts in which action happens.

Third, I looked at feasibility. The young adult demographic are not typically drawn to JRPG-styled games, and Defender of Azekal will have to get past some marketing issues to reach those audiences, but there are some things about the genre that work better than others. For starters, it’s relatively low budget to produce for; as a student I don’t have the assets to create ten thousand models and a fifteen-hour campaign in a war-torn nation with a multiplayer component like Call of Duty or Battlefield would have, but I can both create a game that is feasible for an educator to adapt as well as one that feels polished within the JRPG framework, which is part of the reason I’m working with Stencyl and intentionally eschewing complex coding, since it would be easy to recreate Defender of Azekal with a core component of mathematics based on my current system.

Another important issue is continuity. This perhaps goes more in the “make a polished, working game” category, but it’s important to create a game that feels as if it’s finished and was built around a core of education, which is why I’m building my own game from scratch, rather than creating one from a kit or using a tool like RPG Maker that, while customizable, doesn’t allow the same ground-up control. I want to make the game feel natural, which means designing around what I want to do. I’m not making a JRPG with a trillion items, where the player has spells and special abilities, and has to navigate through menus every turn; I’m making a JRPG where the player can do all the necessary selections in combat using their mouse in a couple seconds, then get straight to the typing. It has to be fast, sleek, and fluid.

Next week, I’ll discuss why I use Stencyl as opposed to a number of other possible solutions.

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