I've been involved with the Mission US project for a long time now and it always amazes me how amazingly innovative it is. The concept of gaming as an educational tool is still relatively new and there's few games who do it well. The strength of Mission US, in my opinion, is that it delivers educational material that can otherwise be very dry and engages kids while learning them. Not only that, they take a critical approach to history and are able to analyze it through their own lens. They can discuss their decisions and their perspectives with their classmates and they learn to do so with an open mind. No run of the game is the same, and each student makes choices that are true to their own analysis of the situation. They bring their own perspectives and approach the events in history as someone standing there at that particular time - not as an outsider looking in. They can do this all socially and collaboratively with their classmates rather than via an essay or report as is traditionally done.
Mission US launched with it's first mission, For Crown or Colony, back in 2010. But production began in 2008. It is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project is produced by WNET Thirteen and developed by Electric Funstuff. There are a variety of partners that help make this project happen with their historical and educational resources. For a complete list check out the partners page.
The game was always intended to be public so that teachers from around the country (U.S.A.) could use the material to supplement their curriculum to engage kids in a different way. The project has become a great example of how gaming could be used effectively in education.
My role with the Mission US project has changed since it's inception. But I've always enjoyed creating the characters that make this game come to life. It's a challenge to design characters based on the needs of the game and on historical references. Some of the characters that you encounter in the game are historical figures and it's imperative that they look and feel like the real person. Even the fictitious characters carry with them a historical weight in terms of their appearance, their voice and their role which enables kids to really engage with them. Collaborating with the historians at ASHP teaches me more and more about history and I'm constantly stimulated creatively and intellectually by this project. I am thankful to be a part of it.
When I first started with the project I was a young illustrator and learned my process as I went along. You can read more about my role(s) on the project here, but I'd like to really dive in and take you through my process to give you a sense of the art work that goes into a project of this magnitude and significance. It's an ongoing project and it helps for me to stop and take stock of my own processes and art work and figure out how we can better it for the next mission.
Mission 1 is where it all started and when I began to dip my toes in character design. I owe a lot of this to James Cukr, who was the Art Director for this mission and taught me a lot about illustration and how to take your sketches and turn them into digital artwork in Illustrator. He really kickstarted the visual design for this project and I continued on where he left off.
Over the years, each mission has been different than the next and the artwork has changed. For Mission 2, I lead the entire game art design, including all characters and locations. In Mission 3, we introduced 3D locations and game environments. I continued to work as the lead character designer. This third mission had more cut scenes as the storyline expanded several years. Mission 4 will be similar to Mission 3 with a mix of vector characters which I am leading and 3D game environments. This next mission will also have a UI overhaul, moving away from the generic UI that we've seen to something that matches the style of that era as the game takes place in 1907 New York City. As a result, the map pins will also have an overhaul. Stay tuned for Mission 4 to come out later this year or early next.