Microgames at Urban Ambush

August 2016

A week long game programming workshop at Watermans

We spent the first week of August teaching eighteen 8-12 year olds basic game programming as part of the Urban Ambush program at Watermans. We were using open source and free software: Processing, Piskel and Audacity. As the course was a summer school we mixed up the coding with physical game making and kinect games (In particular they got through about 56 levels of FRU). The kids worked in pairs with ten small netbook computers and each group made their own game with our help. On the last day we created a Video Game Arcade and let the kids on the other Watermans' courses come and play the games and give feedback. Finally friends and families came in to see the results.

The week was extremely challenging as the group was the biggest we have taught, but was also great fun. The kids were extremely inventive and it was great to see them so excited about creating their own game. Most of the kids had done a bit of Scratch coding at school. Only one or two had done coding like this before, so it was a big step - they certainly now have a better idea of what it takes to code games; it is not easy - there are a lot of different skills involved. Many of them said they were interested in becoming game programmers / designers / artists in the future.

Day 1

On the first day we introduced them to the Processing coding environment and taught them basic graphic programming, just trying to get across the ideas of RGB colours and x,y coordinates. All the results were put into a grid for the final show which looked like this. We also talked about the history of video games and physical games where you use your body or a special controller to play.

Day 2

On the second day Nicola taught them how to create sprites for their games. We used Piskel software which is great for creating a small sequence animation. Here is a cool sprite by Matthew: a giant slug creature.

Day 3

On the third day we showed the kids some basic games which we had written in Processing. We got each one to choose a template game and then add in their own sprites, and start to think about how to make their own adaptations. The kids were great at this; as they have all played a lot of games they had a natural sense of what makes a good game. We started to implement their own ideas - helping them with graphics and code including timers and hi-scores if they needed them.

Day 4

We taught them how to add sound into their games. They each brought in sounds from home that they wanted to include. Some had soundtracks. Others recorded their own sounds and edited them in Audacity. We also ran a coding surgery on this day to get the games ready to play.

Day 5

This was the play-testing day - with the kids testing the games looking for any glitches in the code, before they were open to the public. Older kids from the other workshops going on a Watermans came along and played the games giving advice. They must have enjoyed them because they were very hard to get out of the room. We payed them a return visit later in the day and saw their awesome theatre sets. Finally the friends and parents came in to see the results. We dimmed the lights and included a couple of large scale projections.

The sounds of all the games whirring away and people pressing cursor keys was great and took Tim back to the golden age of video arcades in the 80s and encouraged him to kinect dance around the room. The excitement and sense of achievement of the kids was great to see.

The Games

The Future by Adavya

The Future is filled with robots, thunderstorms, batteries and bombs! Adavya was a bit of a micro-genius with lots of different elements to his game. The bombs were tiny but got bigger as the game progressed. It included not one but two bosses and some neat sound effects. Adavya was one of the more advanced coders. He even ran his own coding surgery on day 4 and helped spot a couple of glitches in other kids' games.

Extreme racer by Josh and Daniel

This was a really original game - a sort of simulator. The colours and sounds were really evocative and it was just fun to go back and forth. Josh was also the master of the FRU game, where you use your body to guide a pixie across the levels. He must have bust about 30 levels with various other kids.

Bob 4.0 by Avi and Alex

These two worked really hard and created a challenging game. You had to dodge left and right avoiding the obstacles for as long as possible. They came up with the idea on their own and we gave them a couple of obstacles and let them create the others. They really worked on getting the speed and difficulty of the game right producing what was a really playable game.

Cookie Catch by Isobel

Isobel came up with the great idea of catching the falling balls rather than dodging them. Her sprite held a couple of baskets and we worked to make them catch the cookies. Each person playing had 100 seconds to catch as many as possible. The sprite moved up the screen as the game progressed and the cookies got smaller, making it harder to catch the cookies. Isobel did a great job.

IntoTownBusSimulator by Daniel

Daniel created the most intricate game - a full on bus simulator. There were 22 background screens all of which Daniel drew in a marathon graphics session with shops, trees, landscape, motorways and garages. And then we used a realistic bus graphic which accelerated and decelerated along the roads. The idea for the sequel is to add virtual people to the bus stops. This game has great potential.

Pong (with a twist) by Jack and Jasper

Being a bit older than the other kids these two had a clear idea of what they wanted to make and used their own code and graphics to create a Suicide themed Pong variant. As the ball hit the different targets (Joker, Harley Quin and the other thing) the game settings changed. The gameplay may have been simple but the changing graphics were a cool surprise.

Vegetable Dodge by Wenjia

This game had loads of carrots attacking you and then when that got bad the evil tomato boss appeared and it was even worse to deal with. The difficulty ramped up and the game became pretty exciting. There is a rumour that there is a Parsnip level but nobody has got past the tomatoes yet. Wenjia was one of the youngest coders - he has a future as a game designer.

Axeril by Devon

Devon missed the coding day but did some great soldier sprites on the first day - so we used those and turned them into a shooting game which added a new element to the video arcade. People commented the game was amazing and the little man was great.

DodgelaneJoe by Joe

Joe used an idea from Bob 4.0 and added his own graphics and obstacles to make his game. Joe was a bit older and showed great interest in setting up the computers - more the hardware side than the software. So on day 4 we let Joe set up and run a selection of kinect physics games with the other kids bashing the gravity driven virtual balls around on a faster machine.

Flappy Fish by Hugo and Wentao

This was a clever twist on flappy bird with a front on view of the back end of a fish trying to swim between the 3d pipes. They had to work hard to get the difficulty level about right as the fish was pretty springy. They made a great game which was very sensitive to play - one mistake and you were dead.

Attack on Planet Drago by Ryan and Inigo

This was the most played game - the boys really bombed on with their sprites and worked out early on how to add new levels. Having made it multi-level they then went into overdrive on day 4 and we made it a two player game. Both players had to work together avoiding the aliens and helping each other when frozen. The two player aspect made it great fun to play. This game was SHAMAZING!

Thanks

So that was Microgames. Thanks to the staff at Watermans and to James and the other Youth Workers for keeping the kids in check when they got over excited. Hearing the kids racing up the stairs after each break to get back to their game making was really gratifying. The play testing and professional attitude of the kids to presenting their games and getting feedback from older kids was delightful. This enthusiasm for their own and each others games highlighted the importance of collaborative making and creative coding. Games are a perfect vehicle to teach basic programming. Everyone loves video games.

You can download all 11 Microgames here in zip format. You must install Processing to run the programs which is free to use. You can use any version of Processing. We've taken out the sound from the games (including MrScruff!) to guarantee the programs run on all machines. (Note : sound is treated in different ways in different versions of Processing. We were using Processing 2 and the Sonia Sound library).

Microgames download.zip (Silent versions) - these will run with all versions of Processing.

All the games are started by pressing the Space Bar. Good luck!

Genetic Moo 2017