The youngest video game designer.
June 2, 2012 4:04 PM   Subscribe

My eleven year old daughter is showing interest in designing video games. What tools are out there for her to get her feet wet in placing elements on screen and creating interactions? Paid is fine as long as it's not exorbitant.

Other than the obvious Minecraft/Warcraft, I've fed her a steady diet of various indie hits and oddities from Steam (Limbo, Swords & Sworcery, Portal, Braid, World of Goo, etc.). So she has a definite feel for side-scrolling platformers but also has a strong bend towards conceiving characters, creating stories, quests and goals, etc.

Thanks much all! Hoping to nurture this in a positive fashion.
posted by erebora to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
There are several game design IDEs that she could use. I TA'd a class that took random first year students with no experience, and had them build a game using (free)Game Maker, and I felt that it had a good drag and drop interface that could be extended into great complex games with the script-behind options. It's also got a strong internet community for her to ask questions and see other people's work.
posted by jacalata at 4:11 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Do you have a PS3? She could get really into creating Little Big Planet levels. Possibly quite a bit more advanced, but they just recently released a level editor for Portal 2. I haven't used it, but I've heard it's pretty easy, and that the community has been creating tons and tons of levels for it. I'd bet there are lots of tutorials on youtube.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [4 favorites]

Check out Scratch, an MIT Media Lab project creating a programming environment for kids, somewhere between play and education. One slick thing about the site is it's easy to share and remix other kids' work.
posted by Nelson at 4:13 PM on June 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

RPG Maker is a classic I played with around her age. Haven't tried any of the versions in the last ~ten years, but it might be a good place to start.
posted by zvs at 4:17 PM on June 2, 2012

Portal has a built in level designer, now.

If you want to do something specifically story related, I think that Ren'Py would be a decent introduction to basic programming of interactive fiction, but be aware that there are a lot of 'adult/porn' visual novels, so you're probably going to want to keep her away from the website itself, which i imagine is going to make it more difficult..
posted by empath at 4:29 PM on June 2, 2012

Gamestar Mechanic is a web-based game that teaches game design and allows players to design their own games.
posted by smirkette at 4:46 PM on June 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is what I do for a living -- I make a tool for learning game design and systems thinking, and encourage the use of lots of other tools for learning programming, digital literacies, and all the other cool stuff that comes of geeking out on games.

I think that you're starting in a good place, with games that let you mod, make your own levels, customize. The mentioned Little Big Planet and Portal 2 do it, but many games that came out in the last few years have released their editor, so the chances of finding one in a genre she likes is good.

Gamestar Mechanic is a game, with a world and story told through manga-style motion comics, that is also a game-making tool that doesn't require programming. You play through 2D game levels, and encounter levels that you can't beat; you have to redesign them using a drag-and-drop editor in order to progress. As you beat levels, you earn the tools used in them to make your own games which you can then publish online. The levels are arranged around game design concepts, and the game was made to teach design and systems thinking skills. It has a substantial free version and the paid version is about $6/mo. So it sounds like it fits your criteria very well. Disclaimer: this is the tool that I work on, so (take that with a grain of salt, and if you have questions, I can advise).

Scratch, mentioned by Nelson, is really good for teaching basic programming concepts. I think it's on par with Gamestar Mechanic -- where Gamestar teaches game design, Scratch teaches programming/computational thinking. It can be difficult to make a satisfying game in it which feels polished, but it's great for quickly getting interactions onscreen, for seeing whether her interest goes deeper, and you can really customize your work.

There are, then, a bunch of tools focused around specific genres. I include Ren'Py (visual novels) and RPG Maker (JRPGs) among them, along with Knytt Stories (platformer lonely games), Atmosphir (3D adventure/platformers).

Game Maker is a big step up in what it requires of you -- she'll probably need to spend some quality time with tutorials, the couple of books that are out, or peruse the community a fair bit. As with Scratch, you have lots of room to make what you want, but you really have to make it yourself, and that can take a while. Game Maker is a great way to edge over from drag-and-drop to real programming, though.

TL;DR: the recommendations here are good; check out Gamestar Mechanic as an intro, think about game design as distinct from programming; and look or ask for tools in a genre, because there are lots out there.
posted by peripatetron errant at 4:51 PM on June 2, 2012 [16 favorites]

The folks at Echo Bazaar/Fallen London made a narrative engineering/RPG maker thingie that they've talked about on their blog. I don't have the link right now, but maybe email them and ask? They are SO nice.
posted by spunweb at 5:04 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If she's interested in creating interactive fiction, Inform 7 is a free download that's a really easy way to get started with that. You write "code" that's styled like English (e.g. "The office is a room. The blue box is a container in the office. After taking the blue box, say 'Nice box!'")
posted by anotherthink at 5:35 PM on June 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks so much everyone! Lots of great looking things I wasn't aware of. I'll test drive some of these and then see what she gloms onto.
posted by erebora at 6:14 PM on June 2, 2012

A friend of mine has been playing around with LÖVE, and it seems pretty rad for 2d stuff.
posted by brennen at 6:16 PM on June 2, 2012

2nding scratch, i use it with my middle school students and it is a great intro to game design, easy enough to start but does take the right kind of patience.
posted by dstopps at 6:26 PM on June 2, 2012

I've been playing around with the free version of Stencyl and it's pretty easy to get started. It only took me an hour or two to build a jumping game where a sprite navigates to a target to get to the next level.

There is a lot of physics baked in, so it's a snap to make things that move and interact with other things. Plus, there is a ready-made set characters and world building elements for her to play with immediately, but she'll be able to swap in her if she feels like it.

Most importantly, if she's interested there is an option to write and tweak code herself, though that can remain behind the curtain until she is ready.

Stencyl makes flash games and iOS games. The free version has a mandatory Stencyl flash screen. The paid version has no flash screen and she'll have to option to publish to the iTunes store if she's interested.
posted by Alison at 7:11 PM on June 2, 2012

2nding Atmosphir. I find Game Maker to be rather obfuscated.

Also, Unity is a real game engine and it's free. There are myriad tutorials, forums and support documentation online.
posted by gnutron at 8:36 PM on June 2, 2012

My 12-year-old took a one week video game design camp over Spring Break. They used Game Maker and he absolutely loved it. He has been building games ever since. A friend who is a software developer says that Game Maker is a great intro to programming.
posted by LarryC at 10:00 PM on June 2, 2012

The Alice project might be worth looking in to.

There is also a great video series, Extra Credits, which focuses on the game design and what makes a great video game, which might be of interest.
posted by pknodle at 12:43 AM on June 3, 2012

If she has a Nintendo DS get a copy of WarioWare DIY. You can make mini games. It uses simple switches to design the mechanics of the game. It's surprisingly complex and educational.
posted by hot_monster at 2:49 PM on June 3, 2012

« Older Who knew Mott The Hoople even put out that many...   |   what's sets us apart inside and outside of the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.