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CES 2009: A closer look at Kodu

Justin McElroy

We don't know about you, but we weren't quite sure what to make of junior game creation platform Kodu when Microsoft showed it off at its CES keynote. Sure, it looked interesting, but scary smart 12-year-old demonstrator Sparrow was so adept at building levels with the software, we couldn't tell if it was as easy as Microsoft was making it out to be.

The answer, judging from the brief demonstration we saw today, is a tentative "Yes."

Gallery: Kodu Game Creator | 3 Photos

In Kodu, you'll first build a world for your game to take place in, fully customizable with a series of brushes that let you easily add hills, blocks, water, whatever you like. You'll then populate that world, choosing from a selection of 20 different objects/characters, each with their own characteristics and abilities.

You'll then issue them commands built around sentences, creating basic orders for units and instructions as to how they should behave in the world. Commands range from movement paths to how they should react to other objects they encounter.

Matthew MacLaurin, part of the four-member Kodu team, demonstrated by showing us a frog character, which he gave the command to scan for and attack our saucer. Our saucer was instructed to move with the left stick on our controller and to fire in the direction we pushed the right stick. With just that batch of instructions, MacLaurin was able to orchestrate a simple battle scene in a couple of minutes.

Characters can have different sets of commands they switch between called "Pages." MacLaurin illustrates the point conceptually with Pac-Man's ghosts. Their "Page 1" commands would be to chase Pac-Man, their "Page 2" commands, activated by Pac-Man eating a power pellet, would be to avoid him.

It sounds simple, and there's good reason why. Kodu, which MacLaurin describes as "programming as a fourth-grade art class," has been created with kids in mind. The game has been already been tested by kids for about a year. Though it will ship on XNA first, Kodu is up and running on PCs, which MacLaurin says makes the program ideal for classroom applications.

To help them learn the ins and outs, Kodu newbies will be able to tear apart one of the 20 levels that will ship with the game.

We're captivated by the program and its simplicity, but are bummed that level sharing and online play won't be available initially. What remains to be seen is how excited we'd be to share our creations once Kodu arrives on XNA for an undisclosed price this spring.

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