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Video Gamestar Mechanic Teaches Kids to Write Their Own Computer Games (Video) 55

In this video, Brian Alspach tells you how Gamestar Mechanic helps turn kids from game players into game authors, which helps them learn a lot about programming and how computers work in easy steps while having a good time. If you're a parent, you'll especially want to read this page on their site, which will help reassure you that these folks know what they're doing, and might even (hint hint) give you the idea of suggesting that your local school should subscribe to Gamestar Mechanic, which several thousand schools already do. The price varies between free and $6 per month, which is a great deal for something that can engage children for many hours every day -- and just might keep a parent or grandparent interested, too.
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Gamestar Mechanic Teaches Kids to Write Their Own Computer Games (Video)

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  • What about Scratch (Score:5, Informative)

    by Teancum ( 67324 ) <robert_horning AT netzero DOT net> on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:42PM (#39368187) Homepage Journal

    Scratch [mit.edu] is a development environment that not only is easy to learn, but is free as in beer and speech (as it is open source under the MIT license and CC-by-SA for most documentation and source code). There are also several variants that have been done by people other than MIT that are interesting as well, as it has been around for many years.

    While this may be a useful tool, shilling for some group trying to make a quick buck doesn't seem right.

    BTW, I agree with people complaining that Slashdot seems to be putting advertisements into the stories themselves. This isn't right and it does diminish what quality is left in the website.

    • by Roblimo ( 357 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @03:34PM (#39369015) Homepage Journal

      Thanks for the lead. A lot of our videos so far have been of people/companies Tim ran into at conferences. If you have ideas for video stories (and we can now do Skype interviews) please email robin@roblimo.com

    • Hell what about the bazillion game SDKs you can download and use for free? Or hooking up with one of the modding communities? with the modern SDKs they are REALLY easy and what's more they have really great and friendly communities that will be glad to show a kid the ropes. That would seem to me a better way to get one's feet wet than something you gotta pay for that probably won't have nearly as rich and strong a community. Unreal, most of the Valve games, hell even some of the older games like Freelancer
    • So is Toon Talk http://www.toontalk.com/ [toontalk.com]
    • by Ihmhi ( 1206036 )

      BTW, I agree with people complaining that Slashdot seems to be putting advertisements into the stories themselves. This isn't right and it does diminish what quality is left in the website.

      You talk as if this is a new thing. The word "slashvertisement" has been around for at least 5 years - and for a reason.

    • BTW, I agree with people complaining that Slashdot seems to be putting advertisements into the stories themselves. This isn't right and it does diminish what quality is left in the website.

      Yes, Your Honor, we come to /. to read the (ahem) fine articles. May I present Exhibit A.

    • >> While this may be a useful tool, shilling for some group trying to make a quick buck doesn't seem right.

      What ever happened to America? Making a product that costs does not "seem right"! So, who is paying developers, rent and heating? Strange, none of the developers working for me is willing to work for free. There always is a cost and somebody pays it. If somebody is developing software through some federal grant then the tax payers are the ones paying. Federal money is not supposed to be used to

      • Completely agree. I don't understand the mentality of people these days expecting software to be free.

        • by Teancum ( 67324 )

          The point here is that this seems like a blatant advertisement for a commercial service where it seems like Slashdot is putting advertisement in as stories themselves. Rather than being objective "journalists" or at least throwing stories up that seem to be "news for nerds" for something really innovative or original, this is rehashing something that has been done elsewhere a whole lot better with source code that you can obtain a license to freely modify and redistribute.

          Keep in mind that the "free" in "f

    • Thanks for the link, I hadn't heard of Scratch before.

      I'm currently teaching my nephew the basics of programming. I had a really hard time finding a good environment suitable for a 10 year old. I finally decided on Robot Karol, mostly because it's available in German, and because it presents a nicely reduced set of commands for beginners. We're going to stick with it for a while, but he's already suggesting a lot of things that Karol can't do. Most of these are multimedia related, like playing sounds or

  • GameMaker? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Joehonkie ( 665142 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @02:56PM (#39368415) Homepage
    So how does this compare to Game Maker, or Stencyl or any of the other items like it? That's not to say it's a bad product, but does it have anything that makes it stand out from the crowd?
    • Well from the looks of it Gamestar is expensive. :)

      (It does have a free version, but the paid version is quite pricey at $4-$6 a month.

      • Re:GameMaker? (Score:4, Informative)

        by JorgeSchmt ( 905156 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @05:23PM (#39370377)
        I work on programming Gamestar Mechanic and wanted to clarify: Gamestar has free and premium versions (and free versions are free and not time bounded, i.e. not just free trials). Premium versions for consumers are $5.95. In schools, a free version for classroom use is also available (also not time bounded and account for about 85% of the educational use) and premium versions are deeply discounted (i.e. $8.95 for an entire class per month) for educational use.
    • by rwreed ( 470734 )

      One of the big differences is the "quests", which not only teach you about using the tool, but more importantly teach you about game design (or at least level design) and how to make your game interesting/fun. The free quest covers things like setting goals for the players and using space in the levels to control difficulty.

      I've only gone through the free quest. It was interesting, and I'm interested in seeing more, but I wasn't interested in paying a monthly fee. If there was a one-time, reasonable cost

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Thursday March 15, 2012 @03:10PM (#39368611)

    Yeah, they could pay you $6 per student a month. Or they could just download Alice [alice.org] (which is much better and teaches actual OOP) for free.

    But thank you for your Slashvertisement.

    • by narcc ( 412956 )

      Or they could just download Alice (which is much better

      Tell me more

      and teaches actual OOP)

      I thought you said it was better?

      • Or they could just download Alice (which is much better

        Tell me more

        and teaches actual OOP)

        I thought you said it was better?

        Yeah, we know, and if you're not coding in assembly you're just a hipster dilettante.

        • by narcc ( 412956 )

          To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it

          You seem to be under the false impression that OOP makes development easier/faster/less error prone. Abstraction should offer at least some benefits, you know. All OOP has done is add unnecessary complexity, increase development time and costs, all while adding performance-killing overhead -- that's the opposite of what you want from abstraction.

    • by tgv ( 254536 )

      Interesting. I'm going to check it out.

  • After reading this...just wondering.
  • by QuasiSteve ( 2042606 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @03:52PM (#39369263)

    Can't say you'd miss much from the video this time around, other than that it becomes clear that it is a relatively simple 2D tile-based environment (at least, that which is shown).

    Title: Gamestar Mechanics Teaches Kids to Make Video Games
    Description: "Level up" from player to designer

    [00:00] <TITLE>
    The Shashdot logo with "News for nerds. Stuff that matters" zooms out from the top-right to the bottom-left corner.
    A view of the interviewee, Brian Alspach, fades in. He is standing in front of a booth backdrop that reads "... just play games when you can make them?" and "...me Generation" and "...th game design studios"

    [00:01] Brian>
    I'm Brian Alspach I'm the Executive Vice President at E-Line Media, makers of Gamestar Mechanic.

    [00:06] Brian>
    At E-Line we like to make educational games, games that connect things that kids are really interested in [...]

    [00:12] <TITLE>
    A view of a few children behind laptops.

    [00:12] Brian>
    and passionate about with real learning.

    [00:14] Brian>
    So in Gamestar you start out playing a fun game where you're learning to design and make games.

    [00:20] <TITLE>
    Back to the view of Brian talking in front of the booth backdrop.

    [00:20] Brian>
    But then you get a chance to actually make games of your own, and really reinforce critical thinking skills, systems thinking skills, design literacies.
    So really excited about doing something like that where we take what kids really like to do and connect it with what they can do.

    [00:33] <TITLE>
    The view changes to Brian sitting behind a laptop on a desk with a view of the laptop's screen.

    [00:33] Brian>
    It's really designed for kids age 8 to 14 as their first experience in game design.

    [00:38] Brian>
    We're gonna go ahead and get started.
    I'm gonna log into my account, I'll show you guys a few things.

    [00:43] Brian>
    Most kids in games start out in our Quest.

    [00:46] <TITLE>
    The view changes to a screen capture of the Gamestar Mechanic website showing the Quest.

    [00:46] Brian>
    The Quest is an adventure game story where you are playing the kind of game you'll eventually be able to make.
    You play through this fun adventure game, and as you're doing it, you're learning the principles of game design.

    [01:00] <TITLE>
    The view changes back to Brian sitting behind the laptop.

    [01:00] Brian>
    You're also earning all of the tools and the assets you'll eventually be able to use when you make your own games.

    [01:06] Brian>
    We start you off playing the kind of games you'll make and then eventually we'll put you in missions - and this is the very first level you're seeing here - we're sort of teaching you how to move around, but you're also learning about how the enemies, the avatars, the goals, having locks and keys here as a first goal and trying to reach the end of the game as a second goal.
    How all of that works together to make a vido game system that's fun and challenging for a player.

    [01:31] Brian>
    So as you play through these games and you're learning, you're also earning all of those avatars and characters and blocks you'll be able to use in your game.
    At any time you can switch over to the design experience in your workshop and make your own game.
    It's all drag-and-drop parameterized-based design.

    [01:49] Brian>
    So I'm gonna make a really simple game right now.
    I'm gonna start by adding an avatar - that'll be the guy I'll control - and every game needs to have a goal in it, so I'm gonna add a goal block.

    [02:00] <TITLE>
    The view zooms in on the laptop screen

    [02:00] Brian>
    Then I'm just gonna throw a few more blocks in here just so we have something else going on in our game environment.
    Just like that, I have a really simple game.
    It's not a very good game, but it's simple - I've got my Avatar over to his goal block.
    Now that

    • Wait.. is this actually a Timothy interview? I assumed, but there doesn't seem to be any credit and, come to think of it, it didn't really sound like him (there's a lot of background noise in the part where the interviewer actually speaks, though).

      If it's not Timothy - sorry dude-whose-name-wasn't-noted!

  • For the iPad, programming in Lua, $10 on the app store.

  • by the agent man ( 784483 ) on Thursday March 15, 2012 @05:16PM (#39370283)

    Instead of the monthly armchair conjecture how about some real data? Yes, many of us have played with some tool and found it more of less usable or interesting resulting the obligatory "you should use X because I did too or at least somebody told me that it is cool" but who has actually run some large scale study with thousands of students to see:

    1) if they can learn game design

    2) what they learn and if what they learn transfers in any way to topics of relevance to schools, e.g., STEM

    3) if teachers in a wide range of environments from inner city schools to Native American communities can actually teach it

    Short answer: WE HAVE and as far as I can tell (feel free to contradict me) NOBODY ELSE. The study includes levels of motivation, breakdown by gender and ethnicity, computational thinking pattern analysis of the game and simulations produced, exploration of transfer between game design and STEM. And, perhaps most importantly, most of the schools participating (all over the USA) tried it with non self selecting students. In other words, not the geeky Friday afternoon computer club boys. ALL the kids. See some results here:

    http://scalablegamedesign.cs.colorado.edu/wiki/Publications [colorado.edu]

    • Gamestar guy here.. we've found a bunch of studies on gaming and game design and its correlation to STEM skills and higher order thinking skill development. In fact, Gamestar Mechanic began with a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to explore whether a game could teach game design concepts and help kids acquire critical and systems thinking skills. On our site, we have available for download two PHD dissertations written about Gamestar and how skills learned in game design transfer into positive life and
      • Looks like nice work but these were not large scale studies by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, at least according to one of these documents, the gamestar aim is not to teach programming per se but to teach design. That is completely OK, but it also suggests a very different investigation of transfer. Can I design a game about ecologies and will I learn something about ecology in the process? Fundamentally, this sounds mostly like a constructivist model of pedagogy which does make a lot of sense to

    • by Teancum ( 67324 )

      That is part of why I mentioned Scratch at the beginning of this discussion. Scratch has literally tens of thousands (more like in the hundreds of thousands at the moment) of software submissions that can be broken down by age, gender, and geographic location (ethnicity isn't being recorded to the best of my knowledge). In terms of the ages of the kids, it ranges from 3rd graders to college graduates developing software with those tools (with the sweet spot being mostly middle school kids with some high s

      • Yes, but there is a big difference. Just about 100% of these users are self selected. In our study we have just about 0% self selected. It is not clear what one can learn from interpreting motivation or learning gains, especially without pre/post tests, from a self selected group. For all we know these users may already be interested or even experienced in programming. The real question is how well students who do not ever plan to show up on the Friday afternoon club or any other after school program, in ot
  • It's awesome, it's free( as in freedom and as in beer ), and runs on linux, windows and mac.

  • Thanks for the lead. A lot of our videos so far have been of people/companies Tim ran into at conferences. If you have ideas for video stories (and we can now do Skype interviews) please email dansguardian@gmail.com
  • My children (girls, aged 5 and 6) love Little Big Planet and I think it's brilliant. Not only does it involve the game mechanics of traps/baddies/checkpoints and scoring points it also has really good logic (switches,sensors) controllable components (pistons,winches,motors) and really good physics: dense metals can crush you, light cardboard doesn't, helium balloons float, cogs/gears really will turn each other when you place them with their teeth interlocking with no "cheating" going on inside the game eng

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith