School’s Out

Game Design and Programming

School’s Out is a short narrative adventure game following Robin, a teacher who returns to clean out their classroom at the end of a school year, encountering the lives of their students through the objects that were left behind.

School’s Out was featured in the Goethe Institut’s online Standstill exhibition.

Game Design

We wanted to capture the familiarity of a classroom at a time most wouldn’t see it

This project began as a class assignment around the theme of “standstill”. We began by interrogating what it meant for something to be stood still, and became interested in the slow exploration of liminal times and spaces, those which exist between what has already happened and what is yet to come. My team and I decided to explore the strange emptiness and disappearing nostalgia of a classroom between school years.

From there, we talked about what interactions could happen in these spaces, and decided that we wanted to tell a story through small interactions with objects. We began with this fortune teller we’d all seen in our elementary school classrooms:

The player clicks on the fortune teller to open and close it, mimicking how we’d interact with it in real life

Starting with the fortune teller as our inspiration, we wrote lists of things which the player might interact with: notes passed between students, yearbook photos, mechanical pencils. With these lists of potential interactions as our guide, we sketched out our main gameplay loop:

  1. Player explores classroom by clicking to move.
  2. Player clicks on a desk to inspect it, and the screen moves to a zoomed-in view.
  3. Player manipulates and inspects objects on the desk with the mouse
  4. Player returns to the classroom to explore with the back arrow
  5. Repeat

Our next challenge was to design the narrative. We considered how best to use the game space to tell the distinct-yet-intersecting stories of the students.

Early planning document for item locations

For the sake of de-cluttering the students’ desks (and our artist’s wrists) we limited the number of items in each location to four. This would allow each item to be more memorable and relevant to the player as they traveled from desk to desk. From there, we made a document of four salient items relevant to both the student who owned the desk as well as to their relationships with other students: notes passed during class, old assignments, handmade trophies.

The final layout of the room, with an equal number of clickable locations on either side of the door

The writer and I worked closely on the room layout before landing on the above layout. My favorite design contribution of mine was the suggestion to put the entrance to the room in its center, suggesting no particular order for exploration. Early versions of the room had the door to one side, which suggested that the player should explore each desk linearly.

Robin’s thoughts on a love note before seeing the valentine
Robin’s thoughts on a love note after seeing the valentine

We included an adaptive dialogue system. When the player clicks on an object, their character, Robin, gives a short internal monologue of that object. Certain objects give different dialogue depending on if you’ve received information from another object which changes Robin’s insight. If they learn about a failed crush from a note, their thoughts about the love poem found in the trash can change.


School’s Out was made in the Godot Engine, which I chose for its 2D capabilities.

None of my teammates had ever coded extensively, let alone made a game before. As such, when it came to implementing their pieces of the game (dialogue, sound, and art), I needed to craft easy-to-understand, non-technical guidelines so my teammates could implement their pieces quickly.

An example of dialogue implementation

Previous dialogue systems I’d written were for my use alone, and as such they were needlessly complex and difficult to understand. Each dialogue box in Super Animal Racing had three elements: a reference name, a character portrait, and the dialogue itself. I worked with my writer to develop a datatype which would allow her to easily edit the dialogue on her own without me needing to individually program interactions.

Lessons Learned

School’s Out was the first long-term game I’d worked on in a team, and the only team I’d ever worked on where I had the majority of the technical knowledge. I learned how to communicate more effectively with people who don’t share my skill set, and also ask the right questions to those in disciplines I didn’t know about (especially art and music). Working in a team also requires a keen sense of what is and isn’t in scope, so as not to ask too much of any individual teammate.

I also learned the importance of prototyping and testing. Having only a handful of weeks to make the game was stressful, and we focused heavily on completing our initial vision with only a few revisions mostly made for scoping. I wish that we had aimed for a rapidly-developed minimum viable product to use as a test of our game play concepts with real players, as this could have made the final product even better.


Des Cardero, Sound Design

Emily Cheng, Head Writer

Counti S.M., Artist