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Game Design for Kids

Updated on August 28, 2012

How Your Child Can Make the Next Big Hit

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 and design 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. I've made another lens to go with this one to show you the art programs you'll need to help your kid design games. Check out my page on Free Art Programs. I'm also going to make another lens to go with these detailing good audio/music programs to use. (I'll put the link to that page in this one once I'm finished with it, so check back in a bit!).

In the three lenses, I will however 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 :)

What do you think about Video Games?

Do you think video games are good for kids?

Design and Compilation

Before you do anything else, you'll need to get a program that can put all the parts together into a working game.

The Main Programs You'll Need 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.

game maker logo
game maker logo

GameMaker

Operating Systems:

  • Windows
  • Mac (Beta)
Release Platforms:

  • Windows (in Windows version)
  • Mac (in Mac version)
  • Windows, Mac, HTML5, iOS, Android (Studio version)
Pricing:

  • 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.

Besides the Lite version of GameMaker, there's a full version out for Windows OS that costs $39, a beta version out for Mac OS that costs $19, and a full Studio version that costs $99. The main differences are that the Mac version cannot perform full-screen anti-aliasing (make the graphics look smooth and neat instead of pixelated in full-screen mode), and only the studio version offers features like built-in physics support (for games like Angry Birds), importing external JavaScript libraries (cuts down on performance issues), and exporting to iOS, HTML5, and Android. Also, note that GameMaker saves games as stand-alone files. The Windows version can only make games that will work on Windows, the Mac version can only make games that work on Macs, and the Studio version can make games that work on both.

GameMaker in Action

Learning Materials for GameMaker

GameMaker is a powerful tool that has been around for a long time. In fact, there are classes and summer camps all over the country that offer to teach you how to use it. However those courses can end up costing hundreds of dollars. Once you've hit a bump in the road in your game creation and design, and the forums and other online options just aren't giving you the answers you need, it's time to seek out help from a professional. Here are some great written alternatives to taking a full class on GameMaker. Plus, if you and your child are making games as a fun hobby together, getting one of these books will be excellent for allowing you to go through it and problem solve together (as opposed to paying twice the tuition fees of a course!)

The Game Maker's Apprentice: Game Development for Beginners
The Game Maker's Apprentice: Game Development for Beginners

About this book:

Written by GameMaker's head developer himself along with a hugely successful professional game designer, this book goes into all the gritty details that you could possibly want. It is the perfect guide for anyone looking to use the program at its fullest potential.

Contents of this book include:

- Installing and setting up GameMaker

- Creating characters, objects, enemies, and save points

- Making different levels

- Adding animations, music, and sound effects

- The design and development of an Action game

- In-depth analysis of game mechanics and game design

- How to make Multi-player games

- Creating enemies with artificial intelligence

And a whole lot more!

 
The Game Maker's Companion (Technology in Action)
The Game Maker's Companion (Technology in Action)

About this book:

This is the sequel to the stupendously popular "The Game Maker's Apprentice." It picks up where the last book left off and goes into even further detail on all the things you need to know to make an industry standard game.

Contents of this book include:

- 3D game creation

- Making in-game cutscenes

- Adding special effects to characters, enemies, and menu items

- How to use other free tools to expedite game development and bring your creation to a new level

- Details on how to craft a compelling interactive story in your game

- Creating games for many more genres, including Fighting games

- Adding expansive power-ups and stat boosters to characters

Much, much more!

(P.S. Don't let the price tag below fool you. The Kindle edition is only $17.59)

 

Favorite Kind of Video Game

What genre of video games do you or your child enjoy the most?

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stencyl logo
stencyl logo

Stencyl

Operating Systems:

  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux
Release Platforms:

  • Flash
  • iOS (iOS Pro version)
  • Windows or Mac (in Pro version)
  • Soon: HTML5 and Android (iOS Pro version)
Pricing:

  • 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 :)

Stencyl in Action - StencylWorks - Make Flash Games in a Flash

Places Where You can Freely Submit a Game

...and get THOUSANDS of people to play it!


Kongregate

In 2007 Jim Greer, the founder of Kongregate, explained that his vision for the site was for it to be the YouTube of online games. If you haven't heard of it before, I highly suggest you go check it out now. There are over 60,000 games on there available entirely for free, submitted by professional development companies and average Joe indie game designers alike. The best part of it is that it is completely driven by the community. The success of a game is determined by the average of the ratings it gets (on a scale of one to five stars). Also, what really sets Kong apart is that you earn points, level up, and get achievements on the site from playing and rating games. These achievements are called "Badges" and you earn them by completing certain tasks within games.

As a game designer, it's always been my goal to have one of my games get "badged." I haven't had it happen yet, but I know plenty of people who have, some when they were only 15 years old!

There's only one stipulation to Kong though: you have to be 13 or older to sign up. This is a legal requirement they have to enforce because of the chat rooms, forums, and sometimes game content that can be found on the site. They do have tons of moderators working full time to keep everything PG, but every now and then something might slip by, so if your child is checking out Kongregate and they're under 13, you might want to check up on them every once in a while ;)

Also, from a developer stand-point, if you're looking to get a little revenue from a game, this is definitely the best choice, because Kong gives up to 50% of all ad revenue generated from a game to the developer.

One more nice thing about Kongregate is that they have a section of the forums entirely devoted to Stencyl. You can check it out here.


Newgrounds

The motto here is "Everything by Everyone" and they certainly do their best to make that true. Members of the site can upload anything that's a movie (if it's made in Flash), game, music, and art. Like Kongregate, they have their own points and achievements system worked into games. Also know that the 13 and older rule applies here as well.

Whenever you submit anything here, be aware that it has to pass through a probationary phase. During this period, it won't really go live or show a rating until a certain number of people have voted on it (without flagging it as spam).

Newgrounds does have a very strong and tight-knit community built around it that's really a great group to be a part of. When looking at different sites to host games on you have to take into account what type of community you'd like to be an active member in. Different groups of people have different tastes, opinions, likes and dislikes.

Sploder
Sploder

Sploder

Where Games Come True

You can't do too much with this one in the way of publishing your game on multiple sites or getting really in-depth with the game creation process, but it's definitely a great way to get started, especially for young children. At the Sploder website you can make a great variety of games and you do have a large amount of capabilities to work with all from inside your internet browser. This is an excellent alternative for you who don't want to have to download/install anything. And although you can't publish games to places like Kongregate and Newgrounds, you are able to host your creations on the Sploder website for the world to see.

If you're not sure about your child's or your own interest level and abilities to make games, this is a great way to start out taking baby steps.

Comments, Questions, Suggestions? - Do you think your child would be interested in making video games? Let me know what you think about it.

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      CathrnMan 4 years ago

      Thanks for these great recommendations. Video games get such a bad rap but good games teach kids (or all players really) resourcefulness and perseverance, among other things.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you so much. Looking for info to get my 11 year old nephew started and this was so helpful.

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      mysweetjane lm 5 years ago

      what a great informative lens!

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      orandze lm 5 years ago

      @ImmatureEntrepr: Thank you very much!

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      ImmatureEntrepr 5 years ago

      What an amazing lens! Squid Angel blessings for you. :)