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  • Using Game Design to Help Students Learn Technology - what tools should they use?

Rahul K

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Using Game Design to Help Students Learn Technology - what tools should they use?

As a game developer, I can remember many passionate arguments during the initial phases of developing a game revolving around one simple thing – the technologies we planned to use creating it. In a similar manner, many times kids interested in game development end up stymied by this decision – namely – what tools should they use to build the game in the first place? As someone who designs and teaches many courses for teaching kids video game design, I felt like going over some of these options.

In this post, I will go over some of my favorite tools to recommend kids begin developing games with, based on skill level and experience with games and game design. Bear in mind, this list is far from comprehensive, and if you have any suggestions for any tools I should add in another post, please feel free to recommend them in the comments.

No Experience

These tools are what I consider most appropriate for the youngest students interested in game design, who lack any knowledge of what building games entails, though some of them can go beyond this level and be used for older students or those who are exploring programming as well.

Kodu

Kodu is one of the simplest game creation tools available, built by Microsoft, and is available on both PCs and the Xbox 360. While a successor project known as Project Spark was available for the Xbox One, Microsoft canceled the project late last year.

That said, Kodu’s strength is its extremely easy to use programming system – which allows students with no programming experience to easily comprehend the system. It revolves around a simple conditionality system – where kids program simple “if-then” conditional structures, such as “If an object sees a fruit, it will move towards that fruit”.

Pros:

• Very simple to use
• Suitable for young children
• Easy to create 3D environments without worrying about developing art or 3D assets
• Can be used to build collaborative/multiplayer games
• Free

Cons:

• Only works on Xbox 360 and PC
• Hard limitations on what kind of assets or art can be put in the game
• No online multiplayer or split screen multiplayer
• The simple programming system can be somewhat limiting

Scratch

The Scratch programming language, built by MIT, is one of the most famous visual programming languages known – and is widely used in schools already. The Scratch programming language can be readily used to create games. Like Kodu, Scratch focuses heavily on conditional programming, but also includes more iterative aspects allowing students to trigger a series of events on a single condition more easily.

Pros:

• Good language to learn to program with
• Allows custom art assets
• Many children already have experience with Scratch from school
• Free

Cons:

• No mobile support
• Lacks some useful game development features

Minecraft

While Minecraft does not seem like a traditional choice for game design, the game, built by Mojang, has an impressively large community and features that make it a surprisingly good choice for game development. Indeed, Minecraft camps now make up a large percentage of all technology camps done during the summer, and the popularity of the game means that children tend to be extremely familiar with it.
Minecraft features two tools that allow it to be used for game design even without leaving the game – Redstone, and Command Blocks. Redstone is a surprisingly powerful system in Minecraft that resembles electricity and can be used to build logical structures such as logic gates, adders, flip-flops, and other components that would feel right at home in a course on electrical engineering. Command Blocks, on the other hand, allow designers to build “code” into Minecraft that executes on a Redstone trigger, allowing a surprisingly versatile level of control, letting kids build custom game rules into the game of Minecraft.
Furthermore, Minecraft’s impressively large development community has focused on building a large number of high quality “mods” which can be used to extend the game of Minecraft further, though this requires more programming knowledge

Pros:

• Easy to build 3D environments in Minecraft
• Extremely large support community
• Many children are extremely familiar with the game

Cons:

• Advanced work such as custom art or complicated code requires modding, requiring more experience
• Most features not available on Minecraft’s mobile edition

Some Experience

These tools are a step above the previous tools in terms of flexibility and usually allow a wider variety of game types to be built, though most of them still do not require programming in a text, or code form.

Clickteam Fusion 2.5

Clickteam Fusion 2.5, successor to the long-lived Multimedia Fusion line, is an excellent tool for aspiring developers looking to test their skills in game development and art without worrying too much about the programming aspects. While the programming system, called the Event Editor, is conditional much like Kodu and Scratch, it allows for a wide variety of chosen actions and conditions related to the game and is not excessively limiting.

Pros:

• Large variety of games possible to be built
• Allows custom art and programming
• Has support for Mobile, HTML5, PC, Mac, and even limited console support
• Large pre-made library of basic art assets

Cons:

• No support for tiling
• Somewhat expensive for students, especially including exporter costs to mobile or consoles

Stencyl

Stencyl is quite similar to Clickteam Fusion 2.5, and much like it does not require actual code for developing games. Unlike Clickteam Fusion 2.5, Stencyl has superior tiling support, and its programming system is clearly based on the Scratch programming system.

Pros:

• Large variety of games possible to be built
• Allows custom art and programming
• Has support for Mobile, HTML5, PC, & Mac
• Tiling support
• Free

Cons:

• Comes without any graphics, requiring students to either build or find graphics

RPG Maker MV

RPG Maker MV is the latest version in a long line of products in the RPG Maker family. While the RPG Maker name gives it away, the RPG Maker family has precisely one type of game it can realistically build – RPG’s, or Role-Playing Games. This focus means that when it comes to having kids build RPG’s, its hard to find a better option that doesn’t involve programming, as the system handles things such as random encounters, overworlds, portals, cutscene control, and so on, all without requiring programming. The system does include an Event system largely similar to the conditional programming systems seen in other game development tools, but as it's limited to only creating RPG’s, its not as fleshed out as many others.

Pros:

• Comes with large amount of assets for creating an RPG quickly
• Excellent support for RPG creation
• Mobile support

Cons:

• Can only build RPG’s
• Limited support for non-standard battle or control systems
• Somewhat expensive for kids

Moderate Experience

The tools below are expected to be used by students who have a keen interest in game design, are older, or are intending to learn to program in preparation for a future career. All of these engines are neutral on game type, though some may lack 3D support

PyGame

PyGame is one of the most popular game development tools for a reason, using the Python programming language. Python is one of the most intuitive languages to learn programming with, and PyGame is one of the most versatile and user-friendly game engines available. That said, PyGame struggles to support non-desktop systems, so if you’re looking to develop a game for mobile phones, this probably isn’t the best choice.

Pros:

• Features excellent tools, community, and support
• Well documented
• Easy to learn
• Free

Cons:

• Lacks mobile support
• Lacks 3D support

Libgdx

LibGDX, in Java, is a well known and used game development tool used to create cross-platform games. LibGDX has HTML5 support, mobile support, as well as cross-platform desktop support. Java is the current subject of the AP Computer Science test, meaning that students of that age are likely to either be familiar with, or interested in learning Java, making it a popular choice for that age range.

Pros:

• Cross-platform and mobile support
• Well known and established language
• Free

Cons:

• Somewhat sparse documentation

Unreal Engine

The Unreal Engine is one of the most powerful choices to develop with and is used by many professional and well-known games such as Dishonored, Gears of War 4, and Unreal Tournament. The engine is powerful and surprisingly intuitive and comes with a reasonable level of sample art to work with. The programming system allows for both a visual scripting system known as Blueprint, and C++ code to be used as well.

Pros:

• Extraordinarily powerful
• Cross-platform and mobile support
• Free

Cons:

• Somewhat sparse documentation
 

Reposted from https://www.visiontechcamps.com/blog/kids-developing-games-what-kind-of-tools-should-kids-make-games-with/

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