Yes the title is a reference to the famous line from the classic 80's movie Wargames. It's amazing to think just how far we have come in terms of video games since then. True, games themselves have evolved dramatically into blockbuster scale franchises and open-world infinite canvasses but there's something more amazing happening too. With the rise of accessible and more engaging coding applications as well as dedicated game design platforms, a lot of kids are now creating games for themselves.
Last year I put a great little game design project together in Year 5 with the Pixel Press Floors app. This amazing app allows students to draw the level for a platform game on paper, scan it into the app and watch it come to life. It really is amazing to see this happen and the level can then be customised with a range of design elements such as various characters and enemies.
Students can instantly test run their games and go through the iteration process, ironing out the kinks and balancing the level of challenge within their game. The paper template actually allows for three levels (Floors) to be sequenced - quite the challenge for the more confident game designers.
If you've never tried it, go do that now and thank me later.
So when I was contacted about a new product that Pixel Press were launching via Kickstarter, I was naturally curious. Bloxels takes the Floors concept one stage further by adding a physical toy to interact with and build the game from. The 13x13 gameboard comes with sets of coloured cubes, each of which represents different elements within a level (ground, water, enemies, collectibles etc.)
I was sold instantly and backed the project to the sum of five sets.
(First time I ever backed something on Kickstarter if truth be told!)
The waiting game began but just over a week ago, this little box of awesomeness arrived:
To say I wasn't dissapointed would be an understatement. I never realised quite how versatile this new toy would be until I began to delve into it. You see Bloxels is much more than just a level design platform since the cubes can be used to design characters, objects and even elements of the terrain.
In fact the scale of the creative possibilities didn't hit me until I saw this infographic, highlighting the way the art feeds into the rooms which feed into the overall game. It really gets quite huge...
There's so much more going on once you dig into Bloxels. You want differentiation and challenge for more able students? No problem - you can get more able students using the app to develop animations for your characters.
Concerned that you can't relate this to your Computer Science curriculum? Don't be. True it doesn't involve any actual coding but key concepts like debugging are still prevalant as students go through the iteration process. It's what i like to call "under the hood" programming since you can have students ellicit the code that is working behind the scenes.
Another great touch is the inclusion of the Code Board mode wherein you can customise the nature of each element:
Looking for cross curricular opportunities? Bloxels has you covered in a variety of ways. Since you can design your own characters and stages, it can easily be themed around a topic focus - it could be an Ancient Egyptian game for example:
Further cross-curricular links can be made to both Maths and English with ease. The 13x13 boards open up possible links to mathematical concepts like permieter and area ("design a character with an area of 60 square unites" for example) whilst the inclusion of the white story blocks means thar literacy skills can be harnessed as the story of the game develops.
Having busted open my Bloxels delivery, I knew I neede to test it out but I wanted to keep it as a surprise for the students so I brought the kits home to let my own two little playtesters take a shot. My girls are only 3 and 5 but both got the concept of using the blocks to make a character very quickly and soon "Cat vs Monkey" was beginning to take form...
I then started to look at the actual level design with my eldest, Jessica, and though she was initially confused by the colour assignment for block types, a quick scan of a partial level and a test play seemed to ellicit the penny-drop moment I hoped for.
PS the next night I was charged with "Dad please can we make Elsa?" so it looks like a Frozen themed game might be on the half-term cards!
So how am I going to use Bloxels in my teaching?
In school, my plan is to drop the Pixel Press project to Year 4 this year (my new Sphero project is taking up a lot of time in Year 5.) I'm not dropping Floors in favour of Bloxels but rather I plan to use them concurrently with Bloxels providing the kinaesthetic option for the SEN and less able students (but still with tonnes of extension potential.) As I only have 5 sets right now, I think around six kids will work with the sets themselves. This will empower them massively as the rest of the classes will covet their cubes no doubt!
More able students will use the app without the cubes - it's so great that you can also use this tool without the physical sets! The students are in the middle of a project on Great Britain so I'm thinking of something with a little British flavour to make it cross-curricular. Here's a a couple of samples I mocked up...
Finally I will have a small group of high ability kids using Floors instead as the precison required with the drawing needs a careful hand and attention to detail. They'll work independently with QR links to tutorials and tips to help them remain as self sufficient as possible.
I can't wait to see what they all come up with.
Have I piqued your interest? Want to know more?
Take a look at this clip from Pixel Press about Bloxels in the classroom:
Hit the Bloxels Edu page here to find lesson plans, resources and more as well as find out about educational packages on offer.