School kids can design video games on PCs with Microsoft's latest Kodu tool

Microsoft is launching its Kodu video game design tools to the PC in the hopes of igniting interest in computer programming among children ages nine and up.

Developed by Microsoft Research, Kodu launched last spring on the Xbox 360 as a learning tool that taught the basics of game development. Kids could use it to build game characters and the worlds where they live. They can easily morph the terrain of a game level and create logic loops that show the consequences of what happens after a trigger event. Matt MacLaurin, a director of the Redmond FUSE (Future Social Experiences) Lab and creator of Kodu, said in an interview that Kodu has been downloaded more than 200,000 times for use with the Xbox 360.

Now the PC version has been launched in a beta test. MacLaurin is more optimistic that schools will be able to adopt the PC version on a larger scale, since they don’t need an Xbox 360 anymore and because they can now export their data to share it with anyone. The PC version can be used with a mouse and keyboard, while the original version worked with a game controller.

MacLaurin said the tools introduce kids to programming, design, and math skills. And it does so in a way that doesn’t put kids to sleep. Anyone can create a game within minutes of trying it out.

Kodu users have been able to share their creations on Xbox Live Community Games Channel. MacLarin got the idea for Kodu from his daughter. When she was three years old, she watched MacLaurin’s wife browse her Facebook page. He realized that most kids interacted passively with computer content, not knowing they can create their own worlds. It took a couple of years to create Kodu. Almost a year after its release, 60 educational institutions are using it to introduce children to programming.

In Victoria, Australia, Kodu has been introduced in a pilot program at 26 schools. MacLarin estimates kids have created hundreds of thousands of games with Kodu. Fan sites such as share information among creators.

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