BRIARCLIFF MANOR, N.Y. – Briarcliff Middle Schooler Caleb Schumacher likes all the surprises he finds when he hits a new level in a video game. But the 11-year-old said he absolutely loves making his own surprises for others to find.
Caleb is one of several kids learning how to create their own video games at the Briarcliff Manor Public Library. Coordinator Amy Kaplan chose a program that works as an introduction to creating video games for middle school students and herself called Scratch. Scratch is a programming language designed and shared through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that teaches the basic building blocks of constructing a video game that can be shared on the web.
“The way the program works is there are these logical building blocks, and it takes you through step by step,” Kaplan said. “So for instance, every time I tap the space bar, the character is going to move forward 10 steps. It all looks so simple, but what’s not so simple is taking all of those tools and making a sophisticated game that’s also fun to play. That’s what the program is about.”
The games have more in common with the ones found in a 1970s or ‘80s arcade than the ones on the modern Wii, Xbox 360 or Playstation 3. Knowing that, Kaplan asked the students to develop the games as if they were creating them for preschoolers. When the program concludes in December, Kaplan said the kids should be able to share their games online.
Through five weeks of the class, students say they are having a blast.
“I’m not great at it yet, but it’s really fun,” Caleb said. “In a video game that you’re playing, you get to a new level and there’s something new. But when you make it, there’s nothing there until you make it. Playing them is fun for those hidden surprises, but I’d rather make one.”
Rachel Rosen, 11, said she might pursue computer programming or engineering in her future.
“My brother wants to be an engineer, and he’s been teaching me. And I really like learning about it, and I want to be an engineer like him. This is a lot like it,” Rachel said. “I really like computers, and I like playing video games. And I thought that this is both of them, so why not give it a try?”
Although the Scratch tutorial provides step-by-step instructions, taking control of every aspect of a game can be tough, she said.
“It looks really simple,” she said. “But when you start trying to figure it out, it’s kind of complicated.”
That it’s complicated can also make it more fun, 13-year-old Ben Shi said.
“I wanted to learn how to make a game, and there’s a lot that goes into it,” he said. “It’s more complex, the more you do. It’s more fun because the characters can do more things, and you can do more with them.”