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The Story of TimeScape’s Creation…

So in about 2019, a friend of mine suggested a fun idea… Make a history video game with a young person as the main character, where you learn what you would learn in class, but while playing a video game instead.

I was interested! I’ve toyed around many times before with making first person experiences for history students, most notably “learning adventures”. A learning adventure is where a student goes through the equivalent of a “Choose your own adventure” or “pick-a-path” book. But the whole thing is done through a pen and paper booklet… Or in the case of my year nine World War I learning adventure that I did for the National Museum, through static webpages.

The idea of an actual video game that you could play in class was very enticing. The intersection of education in videogames has not been a very successful one. There are very few if any videogames that teach enough content knowledge and subject specific skills to warrant being used in class by typical teachers. I have used assassins Creed to teach year seven ancient Greece, but more as an engagement tool than as something that teaches actual content knowledge.

I’ve never made videogame before the and I don’t know how to code. I looked into various platforms and was very lucky to find “RPG Gamemaker MZ”. It’s awesome… You can very easily create “JRPG” (Japanese-style role-playing games) without needing to know how to code. So I settled on this as the game creation platform.

I did want the game to be played in class instead of normal lessons so I had to go directly to the source – the curriculum. I got all the categories of content knowledge and came up with 200 facts and 200 multiple-choice questions to ask, where those facts with the answers. I actually ended up reducing this number to 150. Otherwise the game would go for too long. I needed to take into account how time poor history teachers are (pun not intended), and to try and make the game able to be finished in two or three hours of play, even for someone going slowly. All these questions were written before chatGPT was a thing. Which is hilarious because it would have been infinitely quicker had I had access to this amazing productivity resource. He is the set of content knowledge I used:

I then did the same with skills. The Australian and Victorian curricula are both based on the work of Peter Seixas. I wanted to have 15 skills quests – this fitted nicely with the 150 facts… So I took the skills in the curriculum and developed a simple three level developmental rubrics for them. I then picked 15 of these criteria (basically sub skills), while including a few literacy skills, and came up with these 15, sorted into categories:

Thinking historicallyC1: Recognises cause and effect
Thinking historicallyC2: Identifies continuity and change
Thinking historicallyC3:Explains significance
Using historical languageL1: Uses history key words
Using historical languageL2:  Writes clearly
Using historical languageL3: Uses history concepts
Feeling what it was likeP1: Empathises
Feeling what it was likeP2: Uses historical context to empathise
Feeling what it was likeP3: Explains different perspectives
Investigating sourcesS1: Describing sources
Investigating sourcesS2: Linking knowledge to sources
Investigating sourcesS3: Explaining sources
Placing things in timeT1: Reading timelines
Placing things in timeT2: creating timelines
Placing things in timeT3: Describes timeline patterns

The method for choosing what to include was a bit of a hybrid. I just use my judgement as a history teacher, but also had to think about what would be easy to create simple in-game quests for.

I have loved making maps since I played Dungeons & Dragons as a pre-teen.

I decided to set the game in a small imaginary, but realistic, seaside village in ancient Greece.

So I then very slowly built the map in the game:

It was this point I thought the graphics look to bad so I decided I was going to start again and make the game in GameMaker.

I spent maybe three or four months trying to learn the coding system for this platform. I created all the graphics from scratch or altered ones from online. I didn’t have the time for the energy to learn though, so I ended up going back to RPG maker… But this time I created lots of custom graphics, so now the top down map of the game looks like this:

I also made a version of the map using inkarnate as the map the players see when they are playing the game:

I end up creating a heap of NPCs (nonplayer characters) that the players meet and talk to:

TypeNameStart location
Aunty – wife of SkironChlorisTown
BoyNeleosAnticleia’s House
cemetery workerArionCemetery
dadLazarosCursed Cave
GirlStellaAnticleia’s House
GodApolloMt Olympus
GodPoseidonMt Olympus
GodZeusMt Olympus
GoddessAphroditeMt Olympus
GoddessArtemisMt Olympus
GoddessAthenaMt Olympus
GoddessDemeterMt Olympus
GoddessHeraMt Olympus
GuardianTritonSouth of Anteron
HeraldKrokinosmiddle of Anteron
LitigantHyllosLaw Court
mumSaraCursed Cave
OracleAlcandreSmyrnoss Cave
playerDeliasSouth of Anteron
Pottery sellerKyprisAgora
ResidentAnticleiaAnticleia’s House
villager2GelonSouth of Anteron
WandererChileosWest of Anteron

The narrative is basically that the player is a non-gender specific child called Delias. I tried to make the main character plane so that anybody could imagine it was them… Kind of like how hello Kitty has no mouth. Delias grew up in Anteron but was taken away and raised elsewhere from birth. The player doesn’t know why. As you play the game you have to try and solve the mystery of why you were taken away and what’s happened to your parents.

The main gameplay is to go around and meet people and explore the location. People tell you things – 150 facts. Four characters around the town can quiz you on the facts that you’ve been told. If you get a multiple-choice question right then this fact is converted into knowledge. One of the winning conditions of the game is to have 150 knowledge.

The second main game mechanism is to complete the 15 skill quests. There is a herald character in the middle of town who gives these out to the player. Each skill quest is a short interaction with some questioning to demonstrate skill. So the second winning condition is to have complete 15 skill quests.

At the completion of quests the player sometimes gets a hint about the overall mystery of your parents, and sometimes they are rewarded with one of five unique items. The items don’t really do anything – just for fun. The player also earns money every time they answer question correctly. This money can be used for a few in game activities like paying a toll or paying for a horse ride to a different location.

There are also heaps of Easter egg jokes that players can access if they interact with any of the wild animals wandering around. Players can also be blessed from various holy sites and temples around the area… Although this side quest does not affect the main game.

The game records how long the player has played and how many steps they’ve taken. Teachers can use this to figure out how much time students have spent playing but also if they have been playing the game efficiently or not. I think if students are efficient they should be able to complete the game in less than three hours.

When the player first starts the game, a few different characters shows them these game instructions:

I put together a mini textbook that players can access… It’s a full list of all the content knowledge as well as the teaching of the history/literacy skills. Here it is:

I think I spent about 2.5 years creating this game – all my spare time. It was quite intense but enjoyable. I have found it impossible to figure out how to monetise so that’s why it’s free. I’ve considered doing a year eight history one – set in mediaeval Europe – but I’m hesitant until I find out whether this one is popular and actually used by anybody… LOL

Anyways, I haven’t been very good at publicising yet… I think I used up all of my energy for this project in the actual creation of the game. I have made a trailer for it though:

I also have made a separate video with eight minutes of gameplay from the start of the game:

Let me know what you think!