Archive for February, 2010

Creative Games and Programming Languages for Kids

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

My kids love games with level editors or the ability to build vehicles – they spend hours and hours on them! I think it’s cool that they like doing that because it’s training up their little brains as game designers, or maybe engineers.


Here are some of their recent favourites:

Lego Indiana Jones 2 (Xbox 360)

This game has a proper level editor and they have been making all kinds of fantastic creative levels for each other to play (usually full of boulders). Hours and hours of fun. Plus the actual game rocks too.

Banjo Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts (Xbox 360)

This game has to win the award for the most hours played. They have put an insane amount of time into building all kinds of ground, air and water-based vehicles in the game’s easy-to-use workshop. They’ve made 100s. I totally recommend this game for 5 year-olds upwards.

Spore (PC)

Conan bought this with his Christmas money. They’ve both been creating wacky creatures and then exploring their galaxies – there are a lot of options. Make sure to patch it if you buy a boxed copy.

Trials HD (Xbox 360)

Apart from the fact that this game is just brilliant, funny and addictive, it also has a level editor. They spent quite a while making fiendish tracks full of exploding barrels and other nutty stuff. You can buy an expansion pack for hardly any MS points and it comes with more things to use in the editor like giant fans.

Viva Piñata

In this game you clear out a wasteland and make a lovely garden populated with cute little creatures that you have to care for and stop from fighting each other. It’s highly addictive and they really enjoyed it. I’m sure if I let them have a Facebook account they’d also get addicted to Farmville, but I’m not going to let them go on Facebook for a few years yet!

Any more?

If you can recommend any more great creative games for kids, please let me know!


So what about programming languages for kids? Well we’ve tried out a few recently with varying levels of success:

BlitzMax (PC)

I began to teach my eldest son, Conan, who is 8, BlitzMax. He understood the basics and was able to fiddle with some simple code to get different things happening, but he never really carried it on. Perhaps I need to encourage him more, or perhaps it’s just that games these days are way more fun and appealing (and readily available) than when I was a kid and took up programming, and so BlitzMax may feel a bit techy and boring by comparison.

Game Maker (PC)

We went through the tutorial game together and again Conan understood it easily. I was impressed by the application and the variety of options that it offered – it’s very flexible. It’s probably a lot easier to get into than BlitMax. However, once again, Conan hasn’t really carried on with it, possibly for the same reasons as mentioned above.

Kodu (Xbox 360)

At first we tried this on the PC but the interface seemed awkward. It was originally released on the Indie channel of XBLA so we downloaded it and tried it out. It was much better on Xbox, the controls made sense and everything seemed smoother. There are loads of pre-made levels you can fiddle with plus built-in media. Both my boys had great fun with it. My youngest son, Callum, who has just turned 6, was able to use it easily and make quite advanced levels using the mainly visual interface. I recommend that you at least check out the demo. They “played” this on their own without any encouragement from me so it was the most successful of the three languages.

Please let me know your experiences with teaching your children how to program. Thanks!

10 tips for getting past “the wall”

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Photo by: (licensed under Creative Commons)

Quite often I see posts on Indiegamer about people who have nearly finished making their game but then they’ve hit “the wall” and seem to have lost all motivation to continue. Their story is often all too familiar: been making a game for two years, been doing all the work on their own, recently come to the realisation that there is still a ton of stuff to do before it can be released.

I’ve hit the wall a few times myself, so here are some tips that might help you to climb over or break through your own wall:

1) Should you really be finishing this game anyway? Sometimes you might just be flogging a dead horse. Perhaps the best thing to do is ditch the game and begin work on a new one (or give up making games completely, gasp!). There’s no shame in changing projects when you know that the game won’t be financially viable, or you’ve had a much better idea (providing that you don’t have a “better” idea every week and never finish anything) – you’ll have still learned something e.g. how not to do it and how to make your next game faster and better.

I ditched Iron Fist and made my first match-3 game and it led onto to a fantastic career in casual games.

2) Make a To Do list of all the remaining tasks and bugs. Don’t forget to include publishing tasks, which can add up to weeks or months’ worth of work. Then add time estimates to all those tasks. This way you’ll get a decent idea of how long the game may actually take to complete. You may then decide to cut features and only include the high priority tasks in order to bring the launch date nearer, or you may decide that it’s not worth investing any more of your time in the project.

One good thing about having a prioritised To Do list is that you have a clear path about how to proceed and can get satisfaction from knowing what to do each day and crossing off completed tasks. The game doesn’t feel so massive once it’s split into discrete chunks.

3) Get the game play tested (privately or publicly). If the play testers think the game sucks, then maybe you should ditch it unless you really believe that you can still make it great without too many changes. If they think it’s great, then hopefully this will motivate you to finish it and make it even better – especially if they keep asking you when it will be ready.

4) Tell everyone a launch date. Once you commit to something publicly, you are much more likely to complete it in order to not look like a fool (or a “sayer” but not a “doer”).

5) Get some other team members on board who can help finish it and so you can motivate each other (like going for a jog or to the gym with a partner). Of course getting reliable team members is a whole can of worms in itself…

6) Get a publisher or portal interested so you know that you have at least one outlet for sales.

7) Visualise the goal! Remind yourself why you started making the game. Was it just to have fun? If so, and you’ve stopped having fun, then make another game and have fun again, it’s that simple! If it’s to be financially successful, then see the finished game in your mind looking great and selling bucketloads – and figure out the shortest route to get there.

8 ) Take a break. Maybe totally away from the computer (go and do something healthy). Or maybe by playing games that inspire you to get back to making your own game. Sometimes taking a break allows you to come back to your game with fresh eyes so that you can make better decisions.

9) Make a mini-game for a few days. This may get your creative juices going again so that you can get back to your original game with enhanced vigor. It may even make you realise that you need to ditch your game in order to make a better game.

Tips 8 and 9 may work for some people, but part of me still thinks that they are procrastination techniques when you should really just …

10) Finish it! Professionals are finishers, and hobbyists/wannabes are not – sorry if that sounds harsh but it’s true. Stop messing around, just knuckle down and finish it. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s a real slog, but you just have to push on through and finish it to savor the sweet joy of launching a game. If you want it bad enough, you’ll do it. So, what are you waiting for? Close your browser and get to it!

I’ve just upgraded to WordPress 2.9.1

Monday, February 15th, 2010

The upgrade was seamless, which was a relief seeing as my old version of WordPress was pretty ancient. Anyway, please keep an eye out for any oddities and let me know if anything is weird (I know that the photopress plugin is a bit broken, so when you click on images they get overwritten by the sidebar).

I also added a Most Popular section to the sidebar, which I’m very pleased with. At some point I want to add a recent posts list too (or popular recent posts). I could even add a Recommended section as the most popular aren’t necessarily the best ones (imho). However, this will just make the sidebar ultra long so maybe a smart way to do it would maybe be with some kind of tabbed control – although I’ve got no idea how to do that as HTML/php is not my forté (perhaps one of you has heard of a plugin for such a thing?)

Other changes are; I renamed Categories to Topics which is a tip I learned from Tim Feriss (excellent blog if you’ve never checked it out – also I recommend his book), and I moved my Twitter status down a bit so that people don’t click on it and exit the blog.

Now I’ve got to get used to the new WordPress look and capabilities. Anything really cool I should know about?