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Recently, Chris and I assembled a group of kids from our Explorers range (8-12) and started working on learning enough to design their own video game using Bitsy, a web-based graphic interface to allow for simple little games. The kids got stuck in immediately, creating their own sprites, avatars and rooms and playing around with the options. For that first session, we left them to explore the possibilities more or less as they wanted, providing support for what they came up with rather than guiding them into a predetermined goal. Inevitably, we saw some brilliant new 8-bit worlds springing up before our very eyes.

   

Left to right: Cole absolutely smashed it by abandoning the original intended use and instead co-opting the sprite, tile and item design features to animate a dancing monster, Charlie created a charming little dog running through a maze, and James created a swampy green world full of dinosaurs, carnivore food and waving palm fronds. Despite the inherent limitations in having a 16x16 square per element, the kids all came up with excellent ways to work within the constraints of the medium, and we started seeing true artistry in the minimalist graphics created by our Explorers.

The next week, we raised the stakes after I designed a more complex game using Borksy to build additional functionality such as the ability to demand certain items or certain numbers of items were collected prior to moving to a next room, using the “exit from dialog” feature and eventually also “ending from dialog”. We stuck a helpful piece of paper to the wall that contained the lines we were using, and put the game I’d made, Botward’s Adventure, on the big telly next to it. We were ready to go.

What we weren’t ready for, again, was how brilliant the kids are at grasping a medium, expanding the scope and using the technology in new, previously unimagined ways.

Here, you can try the most elaborate game, designed by Oliver, which took months to perfect into a virtually impassable, elaborate game that explored various ways to use Bitsy that we didn’t even know were possible.

Overall, a very successful journey into the world of game design with our Explorers group!