Space Station: Universe

Vital Stats
Created By: Team SSU
Design Time: 8 weeks (Completed May 2011)
Artists: Sydney Groth, Joel Scott
Designer: Culver Redd
Committee Members: Aaron Miller, Guy Cox, Tom Bryant

Space Station: Universe is a serious game designed to build an interactive virtual community for enabling and enhancing the learning of astronomy. This game was designed and detailed in the thesis/design document I submitted in Spring 2011 for Albion College Honors.

* This was my first experience designing any kind of game, and on top of that this was my first experience designing to satisfy a serious goal.

* Because Space Station: Universe had a serious goal, I was able to expand my content and design research skills, as well as experience the difficulty of balancing player enjoyment with serious goals.

* The project began trying to simply teach astronomy concepts, but expanded into community-building, which in retrospect was a great deal more powerful and happened to line up well with a vision for the future shared by other designers of games for learning. 

* I worked with concept artists to add a visual sense of my vision for the project, which gave me a great deal of practice in articulating elements of my design to team members filling non-designer roles.


Space Station: Universe was my first exploration into game design. Of any kind. While I did not build a game for my undergraduate thesis, I did have the experience of fleshing out a vague concept and serious goal into a design document for a serious game. Moreover, as this was my first foray into the world of serious game design, this project was also an opportunity for me to plumb the depths of that world even before studying the subject in graduate school.

The design for Space Station: Universe grew primarily from the game's serious goal, which was to teach astronomy concepts to a broad set of age levels. While I had seen math and physics learning games before, I was immensely frustrated that very few strayed from the MathBlaster formula of adding skills tests on top of mechanics that had nothing to do with those tests, and so I attempted to take the approach of building a set of mini-games that could present challenges to players that would by nature force them to learn a specific lesson about astronomy in order to succeed. As my ideas crystallized, I began to build a world to encapsulate these games and saw that Space Station: Universe would best be realized as an MMORPG. The RPG elements would provide a framework of prerequisite and advancement that would give structure to the progression from one astronomy concept to the next, while the MMO status of the game would allow players to help and guide each other toward understanding the concepts necessary to complete the mini-games.

As I began to design the game and see it as an MMORPG, an additional goal emerged: to be a hub for an astronomy-interest-driven community of students, teachers, and hobbyists. I began to see the mini-games as just one small part in a broader system of community. To reflect this, I began to discuss featuers outside of mini-games such as virtual classrooms in which teachers could speak to gatherings of students, and tools for creation of  user-generated content that could expand the breadth of experiences available to the inhabitants of the game world. In retrospect, I believe this goal of community was more ambitious than I knew, yet also more important. It could better satisfy my serious goals, as a motivated student or hobbyist is far more likely to go out into the world and learn or do far more than what a set of pre-designed mini-games could offer. But more importantly, my desire for ability of the community to build upon itself and grow in self-directed ways intuitively reflected my desire for a future of games-driven education reform that I have since heard discussed at length in the serious games community.

Beyond the experience of actually writing and revising and clarifying my design, I also built a foundation for other skills that are important tools for game designers and serious game creators. Because I had little artistic knowledge, I contracted with two freelance artists to produce pieces of 2D and 3D concept art. This in turn meant I had to work with them over a lengthy period of time to communicate, clarify, and iterate on my vision of the artistic style of the game. Additionally, because my game contained not just any serious goal, but one in which I knew there were viable competitors already well-established in the market, I began to build my knowledge of how to conduct content research, perform competitive analysis, and incorporate the results of that research into my game.

Download The PDF


This excerpt from my thesis details how characters in Space Station: Universe grow and advance in-game as players complete their goals.


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