How do you make programming fun? How do you make it fun enough for kids to want to spend hours learning how to make loops and if/then statements? Simple you give them simple visual commands that let them control robots on the Xbox — or at least this is the thesis of Microsoft Research’s Kodu (formerly Boku).
Kodu (Boku) made a splash at Techfest two years ago and gave a demo at Ignite Seattle (Radar post). Since that time the levels and characters have gotten much sexier and the controls simpler, but more powerful. I sat down with the Matt MacLaurin, creator of Kodu (get it? Code-You) at MSR’s Techfest last night. He told me that we can expect Kodu to be released on the Xbox this Spring (it’s in select schools right now on the PC, but there’s no word about a broader release).
It takes just 8 lines of “code” (see the image to the right) to create a game. Matt and his team have replicated most game types you would expect including Races, RPGs, Shooters (with cool missiles), Strategy and Puzzle. They’ve also included Sample Levels that teach a specific lesson (like how to change color, create loops, etc.).
Embedded into the game are the notions of sharing and openness. Any level can be tweaked. In fact the first option after finishing a level is “Edit This Game”. I saw a working version where levels can also be shared amongst gamer friends via a form of P2P. When you are online you can choose to share all of your levels. Each level could fit on a floppy disk (not that your kid will know what that is). Embedded in each level is the creator and all subsequent editors. Kodu will track changes and try to determine who has made the most significant modifications to the level. When you start playing make sure you share with the Kodu team. They want to track how far levels are spread to create kind of a genealogy.
I took a lot of pictures and video of the game last night. You can see the video after the jump and the pictures on Flickr.
Visual programming environments are on the rise and something that every techie parent will want to keep an eye on. Kodu seems like the most accessible to me. It effectively hides the programming with “fun”. I’m looking forward to its release.
We’re featuring MIT’s visual programming language Scratch at ETech this year. Use et09ffd code for 40% off the admission price.
This is 10 minutes of Kodu game play: