Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Kodu Game Lab

19th January, 2010

Last Saturday at BETT, the educational technology conference, I spent most of the day demoing on the Microsoft stand. One of the things I was demoing was Kodu.

Kodu is a “Game Lab” in the sense that it is an application targeted at schools who want to get children started in development, programming, logic, games development, or computer skills, without needing to learn code syntax and write hundreds of lines.

Developed by Fuse, part of Microsoft Labs, Kodu is built on the XNA framework, and designed to give Key Stage 3-4 students a chance to become creative to build fun games that aid their learning.

You can download Kodu now, for free, from the Fuse website. (You will need .Net Framework 3.5, and XNA Framework 3.1, available free here)

The great thing about Kodu is that it allows you to build extremely complex games very very simply. It lowers the barrier of entry to building a decent game so low that I had some junior school-age children happily building and playing games on it in literally minutes.

There are a number of scenarios it is great for. Obviously starting out in games design and programming, where it is more about the logic and foundations rather than knowing complex code syntax and frameworks.

It also allows teachers to pre-build maps, and then the students to download them and finish them off. For example the student could be challenged to make a robot that autonomously traverses a world the teacher has built.

The Demo

Here’s a quick look at building a game in Kodu. Click through for larger screenshots.

Getting started is really simple. Hitting “Load World” brings up a list of worlds stored on a central server. This is a great way to encourage the sharing and constructive criticism of other student’s maps, or for a teacher to create a map for students to complete.

Even starting with a blank world, it is extremely simple to get something going. Here I’ve just added in some grass from the menu.

Next, I want to create something to actually play with. I can add a flying saucer in with the especially designed pie menu system.

Next I want the saucer to actually do something. To do this, I bring up the programming menu with a single button press.

Kodu’s programs are cause and effect based; so “when” something happens, “do” this action. The pie menu also features here to add items to the actions.

Here is the first program I created; it should be obvious what it does. If I was programming it for Xbox, I could do the same thing with 1 line for a joystick. Powerful, eh?

Next I can get a bit creative, and add a weapon to it fairly easily.

I love how easy it is to create really rather fun games with this. I know I enjoyed standing playing it while it was quiet on the Microsoft stand the other day.

I hope teachers find some great uses for it in the future too.