Computer Game Making For Kids
Why Should We Teach Kids How to Make Computer Games?
I wrote this lens to link to a variety of effective ways for kids to learn how to create computer games. Your first question might be, why?
Whatever you think of playing computer games, making computer games is a creative effort on par with composing music or writing novels. All creative efforts require a substantial degree of intuition, logic, problem solving, and fun.
Kids can learn a lot through any effort where they create something from scratch, be it writing, music, or a computer game. I think computer games are a great way of getting kids interested in creating, because most kids these days love to play computer games. So they're motivated to start with, especially since they've all had those, "I can do better than this" thoughts when playing computer games.
Teaching kids to create computer games is a way to let them stretch their creativity and intelligence. There are no bounds for computer games, they can be come as complex as the creator wants, involving many advanced topics in computer science, math, physics, art, etc.
Game Writing Tools
The first step in writing a computer game is picking a tool to use when writing the game. By tool I mean a computer program or language that in some way makes writing the game a bit easier than it could be otherwise.
For kids who have never done this before, I'd recommend visual tools. Visual tools allow dragging and dropping to create anything from simple to complex games. The complexity of game creation isn't any less with a visual tool, but the details are more hidden.
As an analogy, think of writing a computer game like building a car. You could build every single component in the car from scratch, creating your own spark plugs, etc. Or you could purchase prebuilt parts that hid some of the details you don't want to worry about, and allowed you to concentrate on putting them together to make the car you want.
Visual tools generally provide libraries of prebuilt components you can choose from when creating a game, allowing you to focus on game creation.
Where To Start?
Okay, you've picked a game making tool and want to get started. Most everyone's first instinct is to start the tool and start clicking away.
That is a great way to learn the tool, but when it comes time to write a game, a bit of planning first will go a long way toward making the process easier.
The first thing to do is to write down a bunch of ideas about the game. What is the theme? Who are the main characters? What's the goal? What will game play be like? Is it like an existing game?
All of this gives you a good idea what the game is going to be like. The more questions you ask about the game early, the better the game will be later.
At this stage, anything goes. Write down anything and everything you think should go into the game.
Then, take some individual pieces of the game and see if you can figure out how to do those pieces in the tool you've picked.
For example, let's say that you've decided you're making a game where the player flies a plane across the screen shooting aliens. You might see if you can get the image of a plane to move in the right ways when you press the arrow keys. Don't worry about anything else yet, you're not writing the game, you're learning the tool. Do lots of small bits like this to see if any of your ideas need rethought.
Go ahead and start writing the game when you feel confident you know how to do all the pieces, or at least enough to get a shell of the game running.
Suitable Books For Beginners
These books all deal with making computer games from either a kid's perspective, or at a basic level accessible to kids.
The book cowritten by the author of Game Maker. A great resource if Game Maker is your tool of choice.
This book describes RPG Maker 2. While this isn't the newest version of RPG Maker available, the book might be helpful if the docs and tutorials available aren't enough. Start with the docs and tutorials first, though.
Finishing The Game
Most people don't finish their games.
The common reason for this is that most people start out wanting to make a game that's way too advanced for the tool they have, and way too big for one person to do in less than a couple of years.
The best approach for your first game is to take your list of ideas, and cut out everything that isn't absolutely necessary for the game. Yes, you'll probably end up with a game that isn't quite what you had imagined, but you'll finish the game.
Once you've finished a game, each game you write after that will become more sophisticated and larger as you gain experience. But if you start too big on your first game, you'll probably give up before you get the experience to finish it.
Books For More Advanced Use
These books all focus on game programming using a typed in language, so are a bit more complex than those for visual tools. But after you've exhausted the possibilities of the visual tools, this would be the way to go.
A significant investment of time is needed to master these techniques!
This book uses C++, which is freely available for all machines. More advanced than the one that uses BlitzPlus.
A good introduction to 3D game programming. Again, more advanced than the others.
This book uses BlitzPlus, and is the most accessible of the advanced books.
More About Me
If you enjoyed this lens, you might also enjoy Who Is Jay Shaffstall?, my lens about myself, which also contains links to other lenses and blogs I've written.
Feel free to share your own thoughts on teaching kids to make computer games. If you have personal experiences, I'd love to hear them, too!