3 educational, game making tools

Game Maker, Kodu, Little Big Planet

Historically, computer mastery was only in the realm of those interested and dedicated enough to learn how to use these complex machines. As technology progressed and became cheaper and more ubiquitous, computers became more accessible. Today it seems like anyone can create music, movies and art on their computers.

Creating digital games still seems like a hobby or profession best left to those who have the willingness to learn advanced coding skills. But now, a handful of new tools have opened the doors and made way for a new generation of young game designers. In the past we covered the release of such titles like Gamestar Mechanic, a game creation tool integrated into an adventure game that has a large community and materials for educators. Most of these new applications are free and are hosted on websites packed with tutorials and active communities. As education makes a push for more “21st century skills”, the creators of these tools also added exercises for easy integration in any classroom or informal learning setting. Those attending the 8th Annual Games for Change Festival have the opportunity to explore the idea further at the “Inspiring Digital Kids Through Game Design” day-long workshop sponsored by AMD (AMD workshop at the 2010 Festival). Today we’ll discuss three more game making tools that allow anyone, from children to adults, to make high quality games.

Game Maker
The idea of “drag & drop” computing is the norm for most young computer users. Long gone are the days of “command lines” and understanding confusing file systems. As most computer operating systems and programs are adapting this new way of thinking and navigating, so has game creation.

Game Maker’s entire tool set is based on dragging and dropping commands. You simply code all the game’s actions and functions by dragging and dropping them onto characters and objects. Would-be game designers can even add their own art and music into the game. After following a few of the website’s tutorials, you’ll be making side scrollers, shooting and even 3D games in no time. Game Maker has been recently included in the National Video Game STEM Challenge through the “Activate!” project by PETLab at Parsons. Activate! encourages young game makers to develop games that help solve local and world issues.

Get started with a free copy of Game Maker, here.

For many, the idea of coding is still abstract. But lines of incomprehensible code can become the makings of a blockbuster game. To create a stronger connection and demonstrate how code affects game design, Microsoft introduced Kodu. The platform was created specifically for game development and can be launched on PCs and the Xbox 360.

Kodu takes the intangible concepts of game design and expresses them in a more physical manner. “Coding” is done through a visual, branching selection tool and designers create their games by thinking in more “natural” terms and choosing options that affect what characters see and hear. Young developers can physically mold their game’s landscape and affect how things react in real time. These design choices make development on Kodu a more creative and expressive experience.

To encourage children ages 9 – 17 to get into game design, Microsoft recently announced The Kodu Cup. Learn more about the competition here.

Little Big Planet 2
If there’s any indication that the idea of “game-based learning” is gaining more traction, we just need to see how the commercial gaming industry is getting involved. Little Big Planet for the Playstation 3 was one of the system’s first runaway hits. This open ended game creation and community-sharing game proved that Sony’s new console had the power and the community to propel A-list games like this into new arenas. With the introduction of Sony’s new gesture-based game controller “Move” and the launch of Little Big Planet 2, Sony decided to take the game into the classroom.

Together with the game creators, Media Molecule, Sony will be introducing a downloadable “Teachers Pack” for Little Big Planet 2. Using the game’s robust game making tools and realistic physics engine, teachers will be accessing and creating levels that address STEM subjects, and are in line with national standards. The combination of a powerful multimedia device and an advanced motion sensing controller can provide educators with new tools to engage their students in the 21st century.

For more information about Sony’s shift into the classroom, read this interview with Sony Computer Entertainment of Europe’s Senior VP Ray Maguire.

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