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Tips and Resources for Making Video and Computer Games

Video and computer games are a popular hobby. They can also be a great way to learn more about programming, math, and other areas of science and engineering. If you like to play video games, you may find it just as fun and rewarding (not to mention educational, something parents and teachers can get behind) to design and create your own games. Even if you've never programmed before, you can make a video game! The Science Buddies guide to Kid-Friendly Programming Languages lists several free programming environments that are easy to use and perfect for beginners. Experienced programmers will also find links there to advanced game-programming languages. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced amateur game-maker, the programming languages guide and the resources below will help you make the games of your dreams.

Can I use video and computer games in a science fair project?

Absolutely! You can use a Science Buddies Video & Computer Game Project Idea, or come up with one of your own. There are two basic types of gaming-related science projects: computer science projects and sociology projects. See Table 1 below for more details.

Type of Gaming-Related Science Project* Typical Science Fair Category Aspect(s) of Gaming Covered Project Idea Examples
How video and computer games are made Computer Science; occasionally Human Behavior
  • Game design and programming
  • Computer graphics
  • Computer audio
The usefulness and impact of video and computer games Human Behavior / Sociology
  • Human behavior during game play
  • The effects of social or educational content in games
  • The usefulness of simulations in training and experimentation
  • Ergonomics
Table 1. Different types of science projects can be created using video and computer games.

*Note: Projects that involve only level design are not accepted as science fair projects. (But other types of competitions do accept them.) To be entered in a science or engineering fair, a project must involve either some form of programming, creation of gaming hardware (like building a joystick), or observing/measuring and analyzing how games impact people or society.

How can I make a good game?

Making a video game is just like creating any other piece of art: you need a vision or idea to work from. But the actual creation process requires planning to make sure that all the parts of the game, like graphics, sound, and the actions players can make, work well together. Following the steps of The Engineering Design Process will help make sure you create a well thought-out, successful, and fun product.

It is also important to spend some time thinking about what will make your video game fun. This is a critical part of designing your game. One entertaining way to learn more about game design and the mechanics used to make different types of games exciting is to explore the free version of Gamestar Mechanic. As part of this website, you can play through their quests and become an apprentice game designer in their game-world before you even start programming.

Here are some additional resources for helping you learn how to document your game projects and think about what makes a good game:

Where can I publish my video game?

Congratulations, you've gone through all the fun and hard work of creating a game! The only thing missing are some players. Sharing your game with friends and family is a great way to get feedback and have others enjoy all your effort. If you would also like to reach a wider audience, Table 2 below lists some options. These galleries and forums are also good places to look at what other people are making, and talk with other game-makers when you get stuck.

Resource Programming Language Supported Gallery (a place to show your game and see other peoples') Forum (a place to ask questions and get programming help)
Alice Homepage from Carnegie Mellon University Alice Alice animations can be captured and turned in to movie files for posting on video sites like YouTube. More information can be found in the Alice forum. http://www.alice.org/community/
GameMaker Homepage from YoYo Games GameMaker To see the games already in the gallery visit http://sandbox.yoyogames.com/browse; create a login under the Share tab to add your games to the gallery. http://forums.yoyogames.com/
Activate! from PetLab GameMaker http://activategames.org/arcade  
Gamestar Mechanic Homepage from E-line Media Gamestar Mechanic Login at http://gamestarmechanic.com/?cid=scibud and visit the Gallery to see and share games.
AMD's Game Zone in Whyville.net Gamestar Mechanic Login at http://www.whyville.net/smmk/nice and navigate to the Game Zone to see and share games.
Kudo Software Kudo Game Lab You can share and view other people's games from within the Kudo software.
Pygame Homepage Pygame Login at http://www.pygame.org/login/ to see and share games. http://www.pygame.org/wiki/info
Scratch Homepage from MIT Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/studios/ http://scratch.mit.edu/discuss/
Table 2. Many kid-friendly programming languages have free online forums and galleries for sharing video game-making advice and completed games.

*Important Note: Your personal data is extremely valuable, particularly on the Internet, and can be used against you if someone else gets a hold of it. Keep it protected. Never give your real name, address, phone number, the name of your school, or a picture of yourself to anyone online. Email addresses, user account names, and screen names should not be your real name, the name of your school, or some combination of the two. For more Internet Safety tips, visit the Science Buddies Internet Safety Guide.

My parent(s)/teacher(s) do not believe video games can ever be educational. Can you convince them otherwise?

Sorry, you will have to do your own convincing. Maybe you can even think of a science project that will help with that or program a persuasive animation! However, our list of Resources for STEM Education Through Video Game and Animation Creation may contain interesting information for you, your parent(s), or your teacher(s) to read.