Creative Games and Programming Languages for Kids

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.

Conan

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 PiƱata

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!

PROGRAMMING LANGUAGES:

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!

12 Responses to “Creative Games and Programming Languages for Kids”

  1. kuranes Says:

    A very good one is scratch: http://scratch.mit.edu/

  2. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Thanks! Downloading now. Looks good.

  3. Igor Ostrovsky Says:

    Check out http://robozzle.com/

    It is a programming game with a very simple concept, but a lot of depth.

  4. Doiron Says:

    Hi Jake,
    I highly recommend Trackmania United Forever: basically it’s a time attack driving game with track editing puzzles… there are lots of modes, an insane amount of content (official and user generated), seven totally different car and scenery types, world leaderboards. Most of the modes involve track editing in order to reach the finish line or better times, and it easily becames incredibly addictive. It’s a dream game for children who love constructions and toy cars, and you can create some impressive tracks with it which they can then share and try together while trying to beat their respective times.

    That’s a good overview:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvbWdiKA2Os
    http://www.tm-tube.com/video/7386/oldschool-2

    For something which requires some guidance but is undoubtely fascinanting, there’s Future Pinball: it’s basically a pinball engineering software capable of replicating any kind of real table out there, but you can have fun with you children by creating simple and totally original layouts by adding flippers, bumpers, ramps and what not with the visual editor… eventually even decorate the tables with pictures made by them. Also, this amazing piece of code it’s freeware.

    Homepage: http://www.futurepinball.com/

  5. skn3 Says:

    Little Big planet. Probably the most creative/detailed level editor on any game/platform.

  6. Doiron Says:

    I forgot to add Scirra Construct: it’s a freeware visual game creator reminiscent of Games Factory and Multimedia Fusion, graphically advanced and with a robust interface.

  7. matibee Says:

    Try the physics sim “Phun” http://www.phunland.com/wiki/Home

    It’s a full 2d physics sandbox with motors, joints and verlet water etc. My kids have spent hours on it. Kayleigh was probably the same age as Conan when she started. She needed a little help understanding what motors are and how they’re attached etc but curiosity soon took over.

    I have a 13, almost 14, year old son who will not program or make games at all. There’s simply no mystery in it for them like there was for us Jake. They were brought up with PS2′s and PS3′s, DS’s, PSP’s etc and they’re not interested unless it’s ‘awesome looking’ multiplayer 3d with masses and masses of content.

    It would have been the same story if my dad had made household appliances.. full of tech and opportunities to experiment but I wouldn’t have joined in with him in trying to make the next revolutionary vacuum cleaner. Appliances were everywhere, simply made by people doing a job, and they were there to be used and abused. No mystique, no magic. I’d rather practice endo’s on my bmx because that was cool.

    You see Jake – we’re the washing machine repair men of our generation! :D

  8. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Hey great suggestions thanks everyone, I appreciate your comments!

    Matibee: you may have a point, thinking of myself as a washing machine repair man just doesn’t seem to have that glamorous feel ;-p

  9. Grey Alien Games Says:

    Some other excellent suggestions from Blitz Forum members include:

    - Story Telling Alice (http://alice.org/)
    - The Games Factory (I discovered there is a version 2 now) : http://www.clickteam.com/eng/tgf2.php
    - Scirra Construct : http://www.scirra.com/
    - Blitz+ and Blitz3D (supposedly easier than BlitzMax) : http://www.blitzbasic.com/
    - CeeBot : http://www.ceebot.com/ceebot/utilisation-e.php
    - Colobot : http://www.ceebot.com/colobot/index-e.php
    - RobotMind : http://www.robomind.net/en/index.html
    - Klik N Play (by the creator of AMOS and STOS!) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klik
    - Logo (I used this on BBC Micros around 1983, wonder if there is a version still available?) : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logo_%28programming_language%29

  10. busybody Says:

    The game I recommend:

    stranded II

    made with Blitz 3D

    http://www.strandedonline.de/s2_download.php

  11. Sharon Hanlon Says:

    RPG Maker (XP). I’ve been using this for about 2 years, and my son, then 6, took an immediate interest. He makes some really complicated, and cool environments with the level editor, creates events with people and animals walking around. He can add dialogue for NPCs and teleport between maps, but I’ve never taught him anything more advanced about eventing.

    He’s on/off with it – when I get into development with new tilesets and maps, he’ll get a copy and start making his own. Super Mario on Wii is demanding his time more at the moment though.

  12. Grey Alien Games Says:

    @busybody: thanks!

    @Sharon: Ah I wondered when someone was going to recommend RPG Maker. I’ve never tried but have heard of several commercial games being made with it.