Kodu Game Lab is a free, kid-friendly visual programming language released by Microsoft that teaches kids the fundamentals of programming in an entertaining manner. The software and platform has many similarities to previous game creation suites, such as Klik N Play, and current immersive, programmable worlds, such as LittleBigPlanet. You can download it for free at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/en/details.aspx?displaylang=en&FamilyID=fd5aad91-95c7-4f29-9898-b7517c915448.
Kodu is great for kids and beginner programmers because unlike code-based programming languages, it’s all graphical oriented. There aren’t any arduous lines of code, and therefore, there aren’t any boggling syntax errors. Instead, the only “debugging” that’s required is to run the game and to see if the objects behave as intended.
So how does Kodu teach kids how to program if they aren’t learning C or Java? Simple—it teaches kids how to think like programmers. Kids can plot out objects into ta free form environment and then set up rules for how they interact with each other. For example, you can have a character and assign it to be controlled by player 1. You can choose the way in which it is allowed to move and the events which occur when it collides with another object, a button is pressed, etc.
To introduce a gameplay factor, you can assign certain events to points and keep tabs on progress in other ways. In this way, kids both create the worlds that the games take place and the rules by which the games are played.
The rule creation follows simple arguments and logic that programmers will recognize. Conditions can be made using “if then” statements and statuses can be checked, similar to “while” loops. Objects also have sensory attributers, such as sight, hearing and awareness of time, which helps programmers govern behaviors and dictate rules within the environment.
For example, a simple game could be created by introducing two controllable characters. The world could then be populated by rocks, which can be picked up by the characters when they come within a certain range. And then, to score points, the characters would have to deposit them in baskets. This is a rudimentary game that anyone can create using the menu of options and rules. The key here is to think critically about how to craft rules and events that produce the desired outcomes.
To prove how easy Kodu is, Microsoft had a demo of the project at CES 2009, where a 12-year old girl created a game and then proceeded to dominate Microsoft Entertainment and Devices executive Robbie Bach at it.
Overall, Kodu is a great way to stretch the logical faculties of young minds as well as exercise their imaginations. This could mean that the next generation of computer programmers and game designers will have a huge leg up on our generation, which cut our teeth on turtle graphics and qBasic. If you’re interested in getting your kid into programming, try Kodu.