Bobby Lockhart talks about the main learning game mechanic | Episode 111

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Bobby Lockhart is an award-winning designer of educational games. He has designed and developed games based on popular Intellectual Properties like Jurassic World and Batman and has created games for institutions like the Notebaert Nature Museum and the Anti-Cruelty Society. His games have been shown at the Bit Bash festival, Alt.Ctrl at GDC, and the Games•Learning•Society conference. He is an expert blogger of game design on, and has given talks at Play*Make*Learn, M-Dev, and the Game Developers’ Conference.

A regular day for Bobby starts around 8, he takes his dog out and gets ready before traveling to the desk he rents at the Indie City Coop that is a coworking space specifically for game developers in Chicago. From 9 to 11 he works on things related to his independent educational games company Important Little Games. At 11 it is 9 am west coast (US) and Bobby works a 9 to 5 job at  CodeCombat. He wraps up and goes back around 7 pm to do home chores and others!

Bobby’s favorite fail comes from when he was working on his own game Codemancer. He was overseeing everything that went into the game which is something he hadn’t experienced before and was shocked by how long everything ended up taking. It was originally meant to take one year and ended up taking up five years! If he was to do this again, he would look to have a partner who could fill the weaknesses shown within the development of Codemancer.

Throughout the development of Codemancer Bobby overcame a lot of challenges because he was in the position where he had the time to solve the problems, he dealt with all the problems that came up. At the time, some experienced colleagues would suggest solutions, and many times it wasn’t until a year later of trying to solve it in different ways that he realized their solutions were actually genius! Of course, it was not only about the solution but about the timing for him, it did take a while to sink in and arrive to why that solution would actually be great.

In terms of a process that Bobby follows, he finds that each of his projects is very different and he often just dives in to develop a prototype. In his opinion, this is a very solid way to share the game in so almost anyone can understand it. The way he gets to this prototype depends on the game and we went deep into what a game design document can be and the good, the bad and many things in between.

In his opinion, every game-based project could benefit from covering the 3 roles of a pedagogical expert, a subject matter expert and a game design expert. Though multiple roles can be covered by one person, it is essential to have these covered. Bobby also believes in the idea that the central mechanic of your learning game must be precisely the thing that you want to teach. If the learning goals are peripheral in any way, then learning that subject will be optional.

Bobby would love to see Scot Osterweil, head of the MIT education arcade, on the podcast. Also Jesse Schell, Dan Norton and Dan White of Filament Games as well as Mimi Ito, learning games researcher. He would recommend the book A Game Design Vocabulary by Anna Anthropy and Naomi Clark, it’s his current favorite introductory game design book!

Bobby would say his superpower is his ability to generate a large number of ideas. He has 10 notebooks from the last 5 years full of game design ideas. Most of them might never see the light…

The game that was most instructive for Bobby was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess because it really laid out the structure of how a learning game should be. Even though it’s not a traditional learning game you never stop learning things in the game.

We can find Bobby on Twitter as @bobbylox and of course on the website of his game and his 9 to 5 CodeCombat.


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