Microsoft is looking for ways to get gamers of all ages interested in creating games. Whether you're a gifted 11-year old or a 65-year old that's always wanted to give development a shot, Kodu might be your first step towards becoming the next great game designer. This simplified programming environment allows Xbox 360 gamers to construct games. With its easy-to-understand tools and surprising versatility, Kodu looks like a perfect primer for modern game creation. While it's not going to teach anyone how to be a C# wizard, it does teach some of the logic and reasoning behind code. At GDC 2009, I checked out a demo of Kodu and was impressed with what I saw.
Kodu lets players kick things off with "starter worlds". From here, objects and terrain can be edited. When players become more adept at using the terrain-editing tools, they can let their imaginations run wild. After the level is up to a user's standards, different objects can be placed throughout it. The levels I saw showed a lot of variety, which surprised me considering how simple the tools are.
Where things start to get really interesting is when characters are added in. To appeal to younger gamers, Kodu has several cute characters to use, including tugboats, blimps, clouds, flying fish, drums, and a sputnik-looking construct. When characters are added, their actions and behavior can be manipulated. This is done with a series of lists and radial menus. Characters can react to different objects and colors. The reactions are also varied, including different movements, attacks, and other behaviors. Naturally, there are a number of character actions that players can map to an Xbox 360 gamepad.
As an example, I was shown a forest level that was littered with apples. The character in this level was a hungry flying saucer. Reactions are put together in an equation-like format. Patching together character behavior would look something like this: see/apple + move/toward, bump/apple + eat. The result would have the flying saucer seek out all the apples in a level. When it hit an apple, it would eat it. It's rudimentary in a sense, but I was fascinated how this simple equation lead to a scene in a 3D-game world.
To keep with the example above (also known as "The Flying Saucer of Doom III: Apples Beware!!! Okay, that's not true), scoring conditions can be set. Players can choose different goals and rewards for the games they make. If the designer wanted the player's goal to be 100 points with each devoured apple awarding 10 points, he or she could make it so.
As players build more complicated levels full of different characters, they can opt to leave the debugging tools in. This helps them understand different types of behavior, learning what the characters see, what they react to, and why they're doing what they're doing.
Kodu designers are able to share their creations with their friends. This includes transferring levels, collaborating, and more. Online will likely be an important feature of Kodu going forward. Potentially, additional tools and options will be available via downloadable content. Think of it as Hooked on Phonics level one; through DLC, more complicated levels can be experienced.
Alhough some of us just want to blow up the bad guy, or save the princess, or hit the winning homerun, a lot of people are interested in game design, but don't really know where to get started. Kodu allows players to learn the logic behind code -- learning different variables, rules, and conflicts. It gives players the power to express complex game dynamics in short lines of icon-based programming. It doesn't teach code (yet), but it gives players the context behind the code. Through a simple interface with surprisingly robusttools, I was able to see shooters, platformers, and Breakout clone. I'm impressed with Kodu's potential and really interested to see if it takes off as an educational tool. Who knows, Kodu just might help create the next Tim Schafer or Lorne Lanning.
For more information on Kodu, be sure to check the video presentation above.
Are you guys interested in Kodu? Is it something you can see yourself experimenting with?