Learning to be a Game Maker #1

Having conceded that Mr9 is a better game player, there is only one thing to do. Start making games with him. I was inspired by a comment that James Gee made about kids. He says that kids can do amazing things with technology, when they have others helping them – especially parents and peers.

So I’ve spent a while sifting though the various offerings around game makers, and chosen to work with him using Atmosphir.

So here’s the first couple of days.

We’re spending an hour building games at a time.

  • Rule one – Dad does not touch the computer. 
  • Rule two – Mr 9 does not touch the computer when Dad’s explaining stuff.
  • Rule three – Breaking either rule is cause for the other party to rage quit.

There’s a bit of a back story here, he started playing Starcraft 2 a month ago – so you might call this background reading. The cunning plan here is to teach him why maths at school has some relevance to life – which he’s not seeing right now.

Day One

This was spent looking over Atmosphir, and playing some of the demonstration games others have made. This wasn’t random, I was interested in asking uni-structural questions, to establish what he knew already about how games are put together.  What I was doing is working out what he saw as worth doing and what was boring (as he puts it). At this point he’s not seeing any connection between playing and making – but happy to play and point out things that he thought were mattered.

Day Two

So tonight we sat down to make a game. He’d already had a gazillion ideas, but let’s face it this is programming 101, not Blizzard, so maybe some of the boss levels and chains were a little ambitious.

Interestingly, he wanted to include a story. The justification was that unless you want to run around collecting gems and jumping – games should have a story. Fair enough, sorry about that Mario.

So we jump in and start messing with it. So a bit more uni-structural questioning, which was never going to compete. Within about 10 minutes he’d figured the entire interface and well able to drop in objects, orbit, camera zoom and figure out how the game demands building in layers. I asked if he had any graph paper. He looked at me. What? … so I described it. “Oh, like our maths book. We could use that to plan, it’s printed wrong”. It turned out he thought his maths book was some sort of reject exercise book, printed horizontally and vertically. So we establish that the grid on the screen is a 3D version of graph paper – and that the world is made of squares in the game. “No, these are cubes, they are 3D squares, he informed me”.

So we draw out a simple linear run, jump, dodge path in a straight line, check point, timer and end. We establish the ground is is layer 10, that 10+ is skywards and -10 is underground. 30 mins later, and some near rage quits – we hit test game … and it runs like a dream. He’s then full of ideas about what to do next, so spent some time just stuffing about with the various tools, which I think is important – that the achievement is not the ‘end’ but a mid-point in learning something. We talked a bit about how we can map a game out, and he suggested we take some basic Warcraft quest and make a map of it.

This of course was a crafty way of playing some WoW on a school night …but that is the next step – to start making some relational plans for Day 3.

One thought on “Learning to be a Game Maker #1

  1. Oops – obviously read your second post before this one re: Gee😉

    Looking forward to hearing more of your experiences with Atmosphir! I last taught gaming with kids in 2006 so we used Game Maker.. but that was high school computing so one major goal was actually to learn programming principles! Game Maker perfect for that. Margaret Meijer’s tutorials are greeeeeat http://ictmindtools.net/gamemaker/

    I know a lot of teachers use Scratch… but Atmosphir is a bit of a new kid I think! Keep the posts coming!

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