Thursday, August 6, 2009

Day 6: Kodu Game Lab (with a shout out to "Polarity World" and "Kodu Portal"

So, I'd been meaning to take the leap into Kodu Game Lab for a while and managed to spend a couple of hours of quality time with it over the last day and a half.

The idea is simple: Provide a visual programming language and a sandbox and let nascent game designers go crazy. The UI: controlled by an Xbox controller (and I imagine I can type prompts in using my USB keyboard, but I haven't tried yet).

The initial experience is not for the faint of heart. The Kodu team include a few basic sample lessons, but none of them are compelling interactive tutorials. You need to WANT to master the system and learn by breaking down existing levels and mods and basically learning by tinkering.

That said, there is a lot of help text available to the user and it's reasonably easy to try things out, debug them, and then iterate.

There are thousands of strikes against Kodu in terms of user experience content creators and content consumers alike. And I'll get to a few of them in this note.

However, there is also some very exciting potential contained here.
  • As a co-op puzzle/brain teaser, this game was fun to play with my wife. We had fun navigating the various menus and trying to figure out ways to make our little guys do useful things.
  • Although the Kodu staff's creations weren't incredibly interesting or informative, they were enough to get other folks going. I downloaded a bunch of shared levels (see my notes on the sharing process below) and found a couple so far that were inspiring.
Polarity World and Kodu: Portal were two shining examples of where this tool can go -- and also exposed some of its key limitations.

  • Designers committed to the iterative process (both were v. 10) can make interesting content within the constraints of the Kodu system. Both games suffered through initial usability hurdles (failure to learn key commands; failure to be able to retrieve hints) but showed promise after the initial struggle.
  • Polarity World introduced game play based on magnetic forces and how they interacted with various positively and negatively charged magnets. Kodu: Portal was a clever take on the well-known and loved Portal. And yes, you got to eat cake at the end.
  • Finding quality content is hard. The sharing process is tedious (you need to join a session and hope that people with cool content are there and willing to share) and slow. Moreover, there is no way to discover quality content: There are no metrics associated with each download (e.g., # of favorite tags; # of download tags) so there is no way to sift through content and find the good stuff quickly.
  • Leaving feedback is difficult/impossible. I would have loved to sent notes and comments to the developers of Polarity World and Kodu: Portal, but I can't figure out how. I think I can tell the gamertags of the primary authors, but there is no within-platform way of me connecting with them.
  • There is no way to "package" a finished product. Games must always be played in what feels like debug mode instead of a release build. There are no save points (failure means starting over) and there are limitations to the amount of content you can have in a level without seriously bogging it down. Having a game in separate modules wouldn't really work, either, as I don't believe the game state from one module can be transferred to another module. I'm not sure whether this kind of game play mode will ever be accessible to more casual consumers who are used to having foolproof products (where pressing the select button won't take you to a debug screen).
So, where does this leave me? I'm still super excited about playing around with Kodu some more. For all the complaining I've done about various other games and their tutorials that include hint billboards that are disconnected from game play situations, I guess I have an opportunity to put my money where my mouth is and design a learn-as-you-play experience that I would be satisfied with. I'm a little worried about the ability of the tech to support some of the kinds of things I'd like to do (given some of the wonkiness of the tutorial hints in the Polarity World and Kodu: Portal games)... But I guess this is just a constraint that I need to work within.

I'm thinking that my September project might be Kodu related. Maybe I'll spend 30 days on constructing a series of learn-as-you-play experiences. At the very least, I'd like to spend half the month doing this -- and maybe half the month working with some other game content creation tool. I've dug up a few candidates and I guess I'll need to start fooling around with them, too.


Anonymous said...

check out - most of the "quality" designers post stuff there and are open to comments.

Also, check this other kodu game out:

xx99 said...

You should also try some of the games by At0mict0ast, cybercub, oOoOoOmonkey, tavishhill2003, and xx99 (myself).

There's a wide variety there but these are great examples of what can be done with Kodu.

And thanks for the shout-outs! Portal is one of my favorites and I helped build Polarity.

JD said...

Wow this is really cool to see my game up on the blogs. I am interested in any ideas or comments for Polarity World. Go ahead and email me at just put Polarity World in the subject.


Jason Schklar said...

Hey guys:

Thanks a bunch for leaving comments. I'm definitely going to check out the links you posted and

Love the community aspect that you guys are helping to build and I look forward to diving in once I'm back in Seattle full time and have my 360 in front of me.

xx99: great stuff on Polarity. I'm in a real puzzle-game phase right now and this caught me at the exact right time.

JD: I'll be in touch in early September. Let me know if you come out with a new rev before then.