game authoring software for young kids?
March 4, 2007 2:09 PM   Subscribe

My son, who is 10, has been asking me all kinds of questions about creating mods for existing games and writing his own games. I am not a programmer, but I did show him kid's programming language and we're trying to figure it out. Any recommendations for either simple, fun game creation languages or packages that will run on our aging pIII windows machine? There's a lot out there, and I just don't know where to start.

Some kind of meta-tool that let one create simple flash games would be cool as well.
posted by mecran01 to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I had a summer job teaching kids his age how to make games with something called fusion. I picked it up in a day and a half and had three full 2d games running in under a week. It's easy, but I'm not sure where you get it.
posted by magikker at 2:15 PM on March 4, 2007

a friend said this is easy
posted by magikker at 2:17 PM on March 4, 2007

This previous question touches on pretty much every language aimed at kids I've heard of.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:31 PM on March 4, 2007

I was about 10 when I started getting into things like that. ASU had a "Center for Academic Percocity" (I kid you not) that was a series of classes based around the premise of allowing 4th-6th graders achieve a high level of exposure to programming, game building, and web stuff. My first class was on game programming, and while the first half was great and we used a program called Kilk & Play to build games, the second half devolved into a map making session for an ultra-violent game called Rise Of The Triad.

Either way, I started on BASIC and quickly developed an interest towards HTML. HTML lead to Flash, and thus ActionScript, and then PHP, MySQL integration, advanced CSS, JavaScript and all that jazz.

Magikker: A quick Google for "fusion game maker" yielded this.

That said, get him interested in simple things. It's hard to know where to start, especially since certain elements might be difficult to grasp, but perhaps consider Lego Mindstorms? (eBay for cheaper.)

It's simply-programmable robots with a lot of resources online, an easy to visualize programming system (that's all ladder logic, but still helpful for grasping concepts) and it interacts with things in the real world. Maybe as a parallel, that could be fun.
posted by disillusioned at 2:32 PM on March 4, 2007

When I was 10, I was programming in BASIC (on the Amstrad CPC), and I think I had been for several years. If he's a smart kid who's keen to learn, I don't think he needs a "kid's programming language", he probably just needs a simple language that can be used to do interesting things, like draw graphics to make games.

So, BASIC of some form may well be the way to go, and I've actually had some fun with BlitzBasic lately. It's simple, but very easy to use to play with graphics, sprites, 3D graphics, all the things you've expect on modern computers.

There are those who will tell you, "BASIC teaches bad programming techniques!".

Well, maybe it did when it relied on line numbers and GOTO statements. Modern BASICs generally don't.
And at the end of the day, it hasn't affected me. I'm not a programmer by trade, but I do program as part of my job, and as a hobby. I doubt I'd be writing statistical analyses in R, and creating PHP/SQL based websites for my wife today, if the only languages I had available to me when I was 8 were C and Pascal. Give BASIC a go, it's served generations of amateurs well.
posted by Jimbob at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: This previous question touches on pretty much every language aimed at kids I've heard of.

Yeah, that's a good link, except it doesn't really focus on game creation, it's more of a pure programming emphasis, and there are many links but not a lot of evaluation of those languages. Many of the educational sites will write reviews of some program that's 10 years old and won't run on current operating systems.
posted by mecran01 at 3:11 PM on March 4, 2007

Best answer: Not directly related to game creation (more programming learning) but I remember growing up some great programming-style games like p-robots (pascal), c-robots (c) and j-robots (java). Basically they let you program a robot in a turn based deathmatch style arena - the robots can be as simple or complex as his skill level can make, he can modify existing robots, etc. From what I remember it was quite a bit of fun - you could probably both do it together.
posted by true at 3:28 PM on March 4, 2007

I asked a similar question (for a different age group) not too long ago.

Based on the recommendations in that thread, my students are working with Game Maker from to great success. If you help him with the excellent tutorials on the Game Maker site, you should be up and running pretty quickly.

I also purchased a few copies of Unreal Tournament 2003. I have yet to wrap my head around the game editor that comes with this game, so I have not yet introduced it to my students. (but copies are dirt cheap on ebay - about five bucks each)

Good Luck.
posted by davey_darling at 3:33 PM on March 4, 2007

I agree with everybody polka's Mindstorms and Robocode comments. Also, Core Wars.
posted by krisjohn at 3:43 PM on March 4, 2007

Would he be interested in level creation / level mapping? I remember playing around with that "back in the day" -- Quake, Star Wars, Doom, etc -- it is all of the fun of "design" without the low-level stuff. no links for you, but it has gotta be easy enough to google.
posted by misterbrandt at 3:54 PM on March 4, 2007

I used to play around with the (original) Unreal Tournament map editor when I was younger. It was surprisingly fun and easy to use.
posted by panic at 4:00 PM on March 4, 2007

Take a look at Pygame too. Nice thing is Python is a general-purpose programming language, so if he gets the programming bug he can branch out into other stuff. But it might be too advanced for a 10yo, especially without a computer-programmer mentor. Maybe wait a couple of years.

Mindstorms sounds like a great idea to me. Programming is fun, but programming things that move around in the real world is even more fun.
posted by hattifattener at 4:25 PM on March 4, 2007

Blender is primarily a 3D modeling/rendering environment, but it's got a fairly nifty game engine built it (introductory tutorial here). The price is also right (free).
posted by anaelith at 4:29 PM on March 4, 2007

I realise that it isn't exactly what you asked for, but I have to second the Mindstorms suggestion. I (late-20s) bought a set last year. Holy crap, I would have killed for it as a kid. Seriously. Next birthday present?
posted by blag at 4:49 PM on March 4, 2007

I'm a little surprised that nobody has mentioned Squeak so far. It's designed for exactly this purpose -- introducing new people, especially children, to programming. It's a little more sophisticated and modern than straight BASIC (it introduces the concept of objects that pass messages to each other from the very beginning, which I think is a huge advantage). It's all free and open source.

It uses the Smalltalk language, and there's a pretty straightforward migration path from it to modern OO languages like Java and Ruby.

There is a ton of information around about learning Squeak/Smalltalk, and introducing it to young programmers. One site is Squeakland, although there are other tutorials if you don't like their focus.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:41 PM on March 4, 2007

It's not quite a game development system and might be a little advanced for a first forray into programming, but I've wanted to play with breve for quite a while. You can program little agents that obey various interaction rules, follow laws of physics, even evolve. It's also is made to display in 3d very easily. Actually, it's kind of similar to mindstorms in a way, except all of the legos are in the computer. And you can make things that fly.
posted by Schismatic at 7:43 PM on March 4, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, these are some amazing options. I had forgotten about Squeak--I may learn it myself before tackling Ruby. Breve looks wonderful (for myself), and the various robowars could be a blast if they are well implemented. Gamemaker has shown up in several of my searches and might be the closest thing to what we are both looking for, and I came across a review of gamemaker 3d by Dark Basic, that is also pretty impressive. Most of this is stuff that I would have loved, back in the day of owning a Vic-20 and experimenting with random Poke values to make our games implode in freakish ways. The multiple references to mindstorms make me want to figure out a way to justify spending that much on a single present. Also, the whole skynet thing.
posted by mecran01 at 9:04 PM on March 4, 2007

I'm stunned that no one has mentioned Logo. BASIC and Logo were both languages I'd gotten quite good at.

There's also iShell (semi-self-link), a more user-friendly alternative to things like Flash and Director. It's all two-dimensional, but it'll introduce him to a lot of universal programming and design concepts in a very nonthreatening way.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:05 PM on March 4, 2007

Heh. Didn't finish my thought there.

BASIC and Logo were both languages I'd gotten quite good at by the time I was 10.
posted by roll truck roll at 11:06 PM on March 4, 2007

Have a look at Scratch, which is custom designed for kids. It's build on Squeak/SmallTalk.
posted by PenDevil at 12:44 AM on March 5, 2007

I'd start out with Logo. BASIC is nice if he's already nerdily inclined and willing to learn "actual" "control structures" (as much as you can call them in BASIC), but Logo is much friendlier to most people starting out. I knew some people that made some pretty cool stuff with it too... one guy that made a 2 1/2-D Quiddich game within 3 or 4 hours.

As he gets older, python linked to SDL with some type of simple abstraction library would be good, but he should have someone to teach it to him.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:48 AM on March 5, 2007

You write plugins for World of Warcraft in LUA, which is a nice simple language to learn as well.
posted by chunking express at 8:41 AM on March 5, 2007

The Torque platform sold at is old enough to run well on an old P3. It's a nice middle-ground in that you can do a lot of things just in the in-game editor, more in the "torquescript" language (which is somewhat c-like in syntax) and anything past that can be done in the C++ code, which you get as part of the $100 license.

They also have a 2D module that we have not used professionally but might be more to his liking, or at least more conducive to simple game-making.
posted by phearlez at 11:25 AM on March 5, 2007

I would suggest BASIC if it still has any practical use.

Mindstorms is excellent for introducing kids to programming. I used to teach a robotics class which used that as the primary tool, and kids loved it because, well, it's Legos and it's easy.

If your son is interested in creating RPGs, I recommend RPG Maker XP, which is cheap, comes with lots of pre-made sprite and tilesets and has a point and click scripting language which is pretty easy to grasp. Also, it's done with Ruby, so if he wants to graduate to changing the engine itself, he can do so, or you can practice your Ruby skills on it.
posted by Durhey at 11:31 AM on March 5, 2007

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