Retrogaming event and Asteroids workshop

In Wilmette we've occasionally implemented an approach to workshops that combines a certain type of project with an existing affinity group such as our Anime Club or Game Design Club. Most recently we offered a program that included a retro gaming competition on the front end, followed by a game design workshop in which participants could make their own version of the seminal video game "Asteroids!"

The idea for this approach came out of a meeting of our Game Design Club as they were looking to host an event for ALA's National Gaming Day, one that had not just a gaming but also a game-design aspect. Some pictures of the tournament and open play event can be see at According to the Club's planning for this event, it was my job to acquire the retro consoles and games (thank you Ebay).

Since I led the workshop I don't have any photos to share of that piece, but here's how it went.

After some debate, the Game Design Club members decided to use Asteroids as the focus of the workshop because, well, we'd already used other widely familiar games as the basis for our prior workshops (most recently Janet's version of Duck Hunt in November). They also felt that Asteroids could be implemented in either a very simple version or a substantially more complex version depending upon the goals and prior experience of the workshop participants - which included beginners as well as our workshop regulars. Club Member Stephen B. provided the original Scratch design for the project, which I modified slightly and then used to produce handouts which displayed scripts for some of the essential game mechanics.

The scope of the project was simple enough that it allowed for a high degree of differentiation, with some participants focusing a great deal on creating original backgrounds and sprites, with others going for the "authentic" look and feel of the original while struggling to add extra levels, additional asteroid sprites, fire power, etc.

This was a smaller group than we normally get so I was able provide more substantial attention to each participant, despite the fact that none of our teen mentors was available that afternoon. Everyone was *at least* able to build a working version of the game, while some devoted time to adding extra features, some to customizing sprites and backgrounds, and in the case of one participant, moving on to start a separate "Tank" project.

I believe that this approach -- offering a single open-ended collaborative project allowing for a high degree of customization -- can be very effective where you are dealing with a community of learners with well-defined common interests, as this gives rise to a dialectic of collaboration and individual creativity that enhances the learning experience for all.

As I reflect upon Cynthia's post of December 9, I have a much greater appreciation for the fact that although we don't have much of an existing network of support for training of staff (our Youth Services and Adult Services departments have --respectively-- just four full-time librarians), we do have a growing community of some amazing teens who are both fully committed to Scratch, and to mentoring other youth who themselves might continue with Scratch to become teen mentors someday in the future.

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Comment by keithbraafladt on December 29, 2009 at 5:13pm
Holiday wishes to you Brian. This sure is a nice idea and it sounds like it works well in practice. I'm pretty interested in the notion of small workshops - we often aim for numbers and get fewer participants than expect... what if we aimed for a model of 5 or 6 participants, and maybe offered more often?
I'm also really interested in the retrogames model... focusing on a set of specific games and building a design context around each of these ( asteriods, tetris, space invaders, frogger...etcetera) each with projects and documentation built around the particular game and associated art, math and history involved - beautiful work Brian!
Comment by Jen on December 21, 2009 at 11:25am
Now that's operationalizing art in public spaces in a really cool way! thanks for posting.
Comment by Brian Myers on December 20, 2009 at 4:29pm
I should also mention that the Asteroids piece was initially designed by Game Design Club members Stephen and Colin and myself on the El one night as we went to PEOPLE PLAY GAMES in Wrigleyville ( to select Atari and N64 cartridges for the retro tournament. Never before have CTA passengers witnessed such a geek show. We basically just passed my MacBook back and forth as we debated the best approach to this project. Despite their personal accomplishments and strong familiarity with the Scratch design environment, both of these guys exhibited substantial sensitivity toward and awareness of the perspective and needs of younger kids new to Scratch. Both of them (but particularly Stephen) have contributed substantially to the workshops we've offered as part of this grant.
Comment by Brian Myers on December 20, 2009 at 3:51pm
Not complicated, really. The version described in the handouts utilized sin and cosine to create acceleration and deceleration; but for those new to Scratch the shooter's motion could be created using just the "motion" and "turn" blocks. I diagrammed sin and cosine on the chalkboard for Benjamin and Matt; For Nicholas and the other two kids I just demonstrated how to use the motion blocks to control speed and direction. I'll post this handout as soon as it is presentable. I'll also find out if any of them posted their projects.
Comment by Janet Piehl on December 20, 2009 at 2:41pm
Sounds like a cool program, Brian. I'd like to know more about how you were able to adapt one project to different levels. Good idea! Did you walks some or all of them all through something, or did you let them work on their own?
Comment by Jen on December 17, 2009 at 1:27pm
Thanks for such a thoughtful and helpful reflection - did any of the projects get posted to the Scratch site?

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