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The Tools Your Kid Needs to Start Making Awesome Video Games
Introduce Your Child to a Fun and Exciting Hobby
There are three things that you can count on in life: death, taxes, and that your kids will love playing games. No matter whether they enjoy Baseball, Monopoly, Super Mario Bros, or just rolling in the mud, children love playing games. And most of them love to make up their own games. If your child is a huge fan of video games like I was as a kid, you might want to let them know that they can actually make their own video games. You might be thinking that it takes a college degree, thousands of dollars, and a hard-earned job in a company to work on making games. That may have been true twenty years ago, but today things are drastically different. There are programs and tools out there now that offer people of all ages the chance to learn everything from programming in multiple languages, creating graphic and audio assets, and designing everything in order to create the next big hit, all for under $100 (or if you're resourceful enough and you're child is a quick enough learner, you could even do it for free).
Here, I'm going to outline a couple of the more popular programs used for video game creation to get you and your child started on a fun and exciting hobby. Both of the programs I'm going to talk about will either be available completely for free or have a free or "lite" option.
For each program I will provide a difficulty rating for each piece of software from 1 to 10, 1 being something anyone could pick up and learn at any time in their life and 10 being something only a professional with extensive education in the program could use effectively.
Now you may be wondering "Who is this person, and what do they know about making video games?" Well, I'm no pro, but I have taught myself to code, create music, and make graphics all for free. I've since used all those skills to make eight of my own games. My latest development even won a competition (click here to play it!). I've also worked with several mobile game developers in creating assets for their games, and I run a website on game design tools and tips for kids. So I hope you can find something useful out of this, and if you have any thoughts or suggestions, or even if you'd just like to talk about video games, please feel free to message me or leave a comment at the bottom of this page :)
Two Programs You Can Use to Make Games
There are a ton of options floating around out there on the internet for people to use to start making their own video games, but there are two programs in particular that were made with young developers in mind: GameMaker and Stencyl. These programs excel at making it incredibly easy to jump in and start making games. With massive communities built around each, there are plenty or resources online if you get stuck. Now lets go over the main features of each and see why they're so reputable, powerful, and perfect for kids to use to learn the art of making games.
- Mac (Beta)
- Windows (in Windows version)
- Mac (in Mac version)
- Windows, Mac, HTML5, iOS, Android (Studio version)
- Lite: Free
- Windows: $39
- Mac (beta): $19
- Studio: $99
Difficulty Rating: 4/10
This software was first released in 1999. Since it's been around for over a decade, the community and support for it has grown immensely. Because of that, if you ever get stuck in trying to use it or if you want to showcase your latest development, there's a large, supportive, and encouraging audience ready to help. Nothing vouches for a programs credibility and stability quite like a good user base.
GameMaker comes in a few different versions, and although most of them are quite inexpensive as far as these programs usually go, there's only one that's entirely free, and that's the "Lite" version. If you're new to it, be sure to try it out before you commit to buying. For some the learning curve can be a little on the steep side, but I assure you that once you get used to it, it can be a great and powerful tool that will allow you to do almost anything. There are also classes and summer camps out there that take children to use the program for every step from creating your first asset to compiling a full game. These types of classes usually last one to two weeks and cost between $200 and $300. However, as I mentioned before, if you and your child are resourceful enough and are willing to put in the time and effort, everything you need to know can be learned for free.
GameMaker in Action
- iOS (iOS Pro version)
- Windows or Mac (in Pro version)
- Soon: HTML5 and Android (iOS Pro version)
- Regular: Free
- Pro: $79 / year
- iOS Pro: $149 / year
- Studio: $199 / year
Difficulty Rating: 3/10
Stencyl is a program that allows you to make Flash games quickly and easily. The main catch of it is that you don't have to write a single line of code. It was made with artists and musicians in mind, as well as other people who don't have the time, skill, or resources to learn to program themselves. However, what makes it an extremely powerful learning tool, is that you can use code if you want. The building block interface that Stencyl uses allows the creator to get a basic but firm understanding of how the code works in relation to what's showing up on the screen. Then all that's left is to learn the syntax of the programming language, or in other words, how to write the code out so that the computer will understand it, which isn't all that difficult once you understand how it works. Taking it one step further though, to generate its code, Stencyl uses two already established programming engines, Flixel and Box2D. Therefore, if you do decide to tackle the coding aspect, you're still not jumping head on into the deep end. Instead, you're working your way slowly into the waters of computer languages.
Besides allowing the user to slowly step into the world of programming (or avoid it altogether), Stencyl offers a wide variety of tools and resources for users to pull from in order to create their own game. On StencylForge, the online marketplace that can download directly into the program, users can freely download and use blocks of code and art assets for their games. Although it's not entirely recommended to use these pre-made assets for one's entire game (since you're not really learning anything that way), it is an excellent source for those who just can find or make exactly what they need for any particular aspect of the game.
Also, although Stencyl just came out in 2011, with the support of the Flash game portal giant, Kongregate, it was able to grow its user base immensely over a very short amount of time. This means that, like GameMaker, Stencyl comes packed with a free to access community that are kind, friendly, and willing to help anyone with any step along the way to making a game.
Finally, since the program was made to produce Flash games, that means that when your child's creation is finished, you can upload it to sites like Kongregate, Newgrounds, and many others for the whole world to play. Then you can post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ and show off to all your friends and family :)