Although the grand plan had originally been to work on interiors and transitions at this point in the project, I think the decision to consolidate the work on storytelling has proved to be a good one. We have been asking a lot of the children, showing them something new every session, and they have been very obliging in their attempts to apply the learning to their games; but often the scenarios they were generating to learn about the Conversation Writer were not really integral to their overall game plan, so it was important to give them the chance this week to take stock and make the tools work to their own ends. We have found this need to step back and let the dust settle in other projects, and it's not something to be anxious about - but often as busy teachers we worry that we have to press on regardless and tick things off the list.
After a quick recap and reminder of the techniques covered so far, the children became very focussed on developing their storylines and characters during the session, and there was a real feeling of things coming together. They have thought longer about who their characters are and why they are in their games, how they might speak and how they might react in different situations. Many are now getting excited about the power of the plot item and how it can be harnessed to tell more of the story, drive mini-quests and add interest to the game experience. Some are even beginning to think about their area design and how it can be used to support their game. My feeling is that the children have learned more about design and storytelling by having this time to engage more deeply, and I am sure their work will be the richer for it.
Declan showed me how he had hidden the items the player would have to look for in shoals of flowers, making them tricky to see, and also how he had placed a ring of glow stones around a special tree in the middle of his village, called The Tree of Life, to draw attention to its importance. Thianna had an issue with the terrain painting tool that she couldn't resolve and decided that the strange effects could be explained as part of the evil doings of Rowell the wicked druidess, a major character in her game. Morgan wrote a detailed explanation of the plight of her game world into the pages of a book that the player would have to track down - "This is the Book of Secrets of the Village With No Name," she explained. And one simple line of dialogue in Chloe's game stated, "O.....K.....," capturing very succinctly all the feelings of caution and uncertainty of her player at that point. Many of the children tried to bring out personality or feelings in their use of dialogue over the session and I am looking forward to some detailed analysis after the project. Several children also used the conditions feature that we had showed them previously, managing to sequence the dialogue and attach a condition without any support or with only a brief check for reassurance that they were doing the right thing.
The session was characterised by a strong sense of purpose, with the great majority of pupils really focussed on developing dialogue and quests. And throughout, the children taught each other, listening in to the general exchange of comments and offering the benefit of their own experience whenever they heard something mentioned that they knew how to tackle. There was a steady flow of answers to queries or children reaching across to demonstrate something on a neighbour's screen. As often as not, Keiron and I were only required for crashes and really sticky problems and it was an absolute joy to see how naturally the offers of support kept coming.
We could have pressed on with transitions - one or two are certainly very keen to move on with this - but I think we witnessed something really valuable in this session. If we had rushed into the next technical aspect before the children's creative thinking had time to catch up and harness the potential of the tools we have given them to date, I am sure we would not have seen the richness of sharing and development that took place. We might well have left them treading on a thin crust of understanding, both technically and in terms of their story development, resulting in less sophisticated games and a poorer experience of learning.
If, by the end of the project, the children can create one really convincing area, with engaging activities for the player, a real sense of quest and character and an area design that supports and intrigues, I will feel we have given them a really good learning experience. To be able to go through a door into another part of their world will be a bonus, but I feel it's worth sacrificing if the end result is deeper and richer for that loss.