Building Games with Kids

I love writing code. I don't just do it for work, I also do it on my off time. There's something really satisfying about taking an idea and trying to make it come to life with just my words written out on screen.

The thing that first got me into programming as an second grader with a simple DOS computer was the hope to create a video game as fun as the ones I enjoyed playing. I'd sit there with my BASIC handbook and a notebook, trying to work out how I could get started at building a game. I distinctly remember trying to work out a top-down Jurassic Park game about running away from velociraptors. Somehow though, for the first thirty-odd years of my life, I had never managed to create a game more complicated than "guess the number".

Aside from those early BASIC attempts, I had pretty much given up on programming as a skill until I started learning how to build websites with Dreamweaver in high school. The magic of seeing something on the screen and changing it on the fly got me back into programming again - being able to see my changes on the screen and immediately have something meaningful was additictive and set the course for my career. I started with simple PHP websites, then picked up Ruby on Rails and other skills for building even more complex websites... but never got back to that dream of building my own game.

Where before I lacked the skills to build a game, now I didn't feel like any of my ideas were really any good, or if they were, that they were acheivable - now I had a confidence gap.

Over the last few years, I've been slowly overcoming that confidence gap thanks to trying to get my kids into programming. This started with a Scratch book for kids (highly recommended) and expanded as I started looking into what's next. I want them to have the ability to do what I never could as a kid - come up with a game idea and get it onto a device they actually play games on. In the days of Sega Genesis, that might have been rather challenging, but these days, you can buy a handheld console and get games onto them relatively easily.

I pre-ordered a few Playdates and did some investigation into other beginner friendly platforms. Pico8 and Tic80 are two platforms for building intentionally limited games for "fantasy consoles" - imaginary gaming systems that never existed but have some of the old school limitations like 16 colors and low screen resolutions. Our first Tic80 game we managed to play together by hooking a computer to our TV and some Playstation USB controllers in. I'm hoping to get a handheld device capable of playing Tic80 games, such as the Gameshell or an Anberic Handheld

More recently we have received our Playdates . Playdate has a great little indie game making community behind it. This little device is even more limited than the Tic80, but is super fast to get a new game onto - I had the test Pulp game uploaded within the first hour of plugging it in. I'm really looking forward to more brainstorming with the kiddos what our first game should be! Based on early ideation sounds like it's probably going to be something about mermaids - we'll see how well that translates to a black and white screen!