23 February 2020
My five year old has been taking some online programming classes that teach fundamentals using block programming. He’s using this awesome iPad app ScratchJr that focuses on movement and animation. It has some really neat fundamental concepts and sneaks in some clever stuff like interprocess messaging.
Block programming is all about seeing what you’re doing. You aren’t looking up method names in a wiki somehwere, you’re dragging and dropping legos to make things happen. ScratchJr got me interested in where he should go next, and I quickly found Microsoft’s MakeCode project. This is an awesome browser-based programming experience that’s extensible and super-well supported. They even have a game-development-centric version called MakeCode Arcade.
What started as a casual looksee quickly spiraled out into a weeklong game jam that in the end yielded this fun little shooter game, Princess’ Last Stand! Editing pixel art, mixing sounds, editing little 8-bit tunes?! What a playground! I had a super-fun time putting together this quick little game. After a few rounds of practice, you should be able to beat the game in about two minutes. Give it a try below: WASD to move, space to shoot, and E to use your super-weapon, “Truth’s Light!”.
Turns out, it doesn’t stop in the simulator in your browser, you can also run these apps on some tailor-built microcontrollers. Adafruit makes this great little board called the Pygamer that actually connects a COM port through Chrome straight to MakeCode Arcade, letting you download your into the machine super-easily.
Even if you’ve just got a passing interest, head over to MakeCode Arcade and take some of their tutorials for a spin! They’re pretty great, and it’s really fun to play with. Little things like your xbox controller just working with the simulator, to the easy sharibility and GitHub integration make it a super-tidy package. What can you throw together in a couple evenings?