Scratch Game Jam Recap

Digital Harbor Foundation hosted a Scratch Game Jam on Friday October 30 and Saturday October 31. The event was open to all current Maker Foundations youth and Members, and I’m excited to announce that we had 17 youth attend!

One of the best parts about the Game Jam was the combination of youth, as we had quite a range of game development skills. The focus was primarily on using Scratch, a free web-based introductory game engine/platform that is excellent for learning programming fundamentals as well as game mechanics. Scratch is the platform that we use in Maker Foundations, and I’m pleased to write that several of our Maker Foundations youth were confident enough to participate in the Game Jam with just one week of Scratch instruction and practice!

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The Game Jam was modeled as a hackathon with youth working on a new project during the event. When everyone arrived on Friday, Jean Carlos and I provided a brief overview of the schedule of events and handed out some suggested roles for a collaborative game studio as well as a guideline of some things to consider including in each project. We made sure to keep the actual event open ended with lots of room for creativity and exploration while also encouraging the youth to form development studios with shared roles and responsibilities.

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One of my favorite parts about the whole event was that Maker Foundations youth and Members formed teams together!  The blending of Scratch and game development skill levels resulted in a richer and more creative experience for all involved. Throughout the event we constantly heard youth encouraging each other and offering tips and tricks to solve problems. Since the event was hosted in the MegaLab with the tables set up similarly to the arrangement during the Baltimore Hackathon, open collaboration and sharing was encouraged throughout. Youth often took breaks to walk around and play each other’s games, offering positive feedback and sharing insights.

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Two of our attending Members have done significant game development work in Scratch and decided to use the focused time of the Game Jam to level up their Unity development skills. Unity is a free professional grade game engine that is quickly becoming the industry standard platform, and it was great to see two of our youth working through a game together with the aim of creating a playable demo while focusing on solidifying their knowledge of game mechanics and development. Having these two working on a game in Unity was a fantastic motivator for the youth developing in Scratch, as that is one of the possible game development pathways that we encourage youth to take.

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We finished the event with a youth showcase where all the participants shared their projects, reflected on their development process, and demonstrated the game with a quick play-through. Many of the youth were sad to go when the event concluded, and we heard several participants mention that the one thing they would change about the Game Jam is that it should run longer next time!

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Here is a link to the Scratch Game Jam 2015 Studio so that you can play all the projects from the weekend: Game Jam Fall 2015.

Customize Your Makey Makey

If you are anything like me, you love your Makey Makey. I am just constantly finding new things to do with them and exploring what new conductive element I can use as a trigger. The youth at DHF are also super creative when it comes to Makey Makey’s.

One of our youth, Sierra, came up with the idea to turn an abandoned piano that was left in our space when we moved in into a digital jukebox, a modern take on the classic diner staple. Her idea was to use the piano keys as mechanical switches that would activate the Makey Makey and send the song selection to a raspberry pi running the jukebox interface. One obstacle she ran into was that the Makey Makey only transmits arrow keys, space bar, and W,A,S,D,F,G by default.

Because the Makey Makey source code is open source, we can modify our Makey Makey to generate any key strokes we need (Hooray for open source!). In our case, we needed the Makey Makey to generate the numbers 0-9.

One of my favorite tools for programming Arduino compatible devices (like the Makey Makey) is Codebender.cc. It’s a Google Chrome extension that runs in your browser so there is very little software you need to install on the local computer. Just the extension and some drivers.

Head over to Adafruit’s blog to learn more about Codebender and once you’ve signed up for a free account, just clone my code for the Makey Makey: https://codebender.cc/sketch:109797

You can change your mappings by editing the settings.h file. Note: You can only assign one key press to each input of the Makey Makey. This means you couldn’t do something fancy like “CTRL+P” 🙁

While you are at it, put some pants on your Makey Makey.

And one more thing, Codebender now works on Google Chromebooks!