Xbox game lets children become programmers

The idea behind Kodu, which will be released on the Xbox Live Community Games channel this spring, is to let people program and play their own games.

Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, said development of Kodu was created to help children learn how to program, but evolved into a way they could create their own games. Though, obviously, anyone could use it, it's geared toward children.

Kodu is built around a game-friendly programming language that is simple and icon-based. Players can choose from 20 different game characters – including flying saucers, submarines, and a Pac Man-like Kodu main character – then use an interactive terrain editor, a bridge and path builder, and other tools to create their own game world. Players also have the option of using pre-loaded worlds.

The program was developed over the past two years in Microsoft Research by principal program manager designer Matt MacLaurin. All he wanted, starting out, was a game his then-four-year-old daughter "could use to both have fun and learn something about programming."

So Microsoft Research partnered with Girls Inc. and the University of Santa Barbara on researching the influence educational games have on math and science comprehension.

Players begin by choosing from a set of almost 200 visual building blocks and then use an image-based creator menu to build a world based on physical action and reaction – when a character performs an action, the game world reacts to it. Gamers have the ability to use hearing, vision and time to control their character's behavior.

Kodu can be played on PCs or on Xbox 360 and has apparently gotten the thumbs up from children, parents and teachers alike.