I'm a professional game developer from Wakefield, England, working as a senior programmer for Rebellion North.
I'm a married father of five and I a also sometimes do Retroburn stuff.
Martin 'Bytrix' Caine
Father. C++ Games Programmer. Cyclist. Guitarist.
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Sunday, August 19th 2018 / GameDev

Girls Make Games

Yesterday my nine year old Daughter Willow took part in a Girls Make Games workshop in Manchester and she loved it.

The workshop was designed for young girls from around the age of seven or eight up to fifteen. It gave them an introduction to game design and development and the girls created their first game using Stencyl.

I was lucky enough to catch an early tweet about the event from Caoimhe Roddy and signed up Willow for the free workshop immediately. That was almost a month ago.

Since I was going to be taking Willow to this event Laura also planned some things to do with our four boys in Manchester, so we all caught the train through together and they went off to some museums while we were at the workshop.

We arrived at FutureWorks and it was great to see Caoimhe had a good turnout for the workshop. I think there were eighteen girls that came. After some introductions the girls were shown to the computer lab where they each had their own PC set up with Stencyl ready to use.

The girls were each given a design sheet to write down their ideas for a game and sketch out a level. Willow needed a bit of prompting to get her ideas flowing but she decided on a game featuring a mermaid cat who is in a house catching mice and flies, creating havoc in the process. She sketched out this concept of her first level:

Then Caoimhe talked the girls through creating a scene in Stencyl, using some assets downloaded from the Girls Makes Games website, adding in backgrounds, tilesets, and animated characters. Willow's first level came out pretty close to her sketch. One of the two pre-drawn characters was also a cat, but it didn't have a mermaids tail.

I was quite impressed with the setup of Stencyl and how easy it was for Willow to understand how the animations worked for the characters, and how to go about painting tiles on to her level to create a basic platformer experience.

It was also interesting seeing the girls reactions when their games 'broke' for example when the player character could jump but wouldn't return to the ground. We had to ensure we set a value for gravity in the scene's physics settings for that:

We also encountered a collision issue because the collision box for the cat was far too large. I figured out how to edit it though and helped Willow adjust the collision boxes for each animated character. This allowed her cat character (called Mermaid) to jump through thin gaps in the level.

The girls were then taught how to use 'behaviours' in Stencyl which are basically chunks of pre-written code with a specific purpose. One behaviour allows keyboard control of a character, and allows the designer to set jump velocity, movement velocity and other settings. Another might allow the player to detect collisions and kill the player or the enemy character.

The more Willow added to her scene, the more game-like it was becoming. She'd also gone off and designed a second level and made is to completing level 1 would transition to level 2 (the instructions were just to restart the level on completion).

When the girls were all done, they were given a wrist-band USB stick with a copy of their game and the Stencyl installer on, so they could continue work on their games at home (would have been good to also put the Mac installer on there, as we had to download it for one of the machines Willow uses). They each also got a little goodie bag stuffed with things from women who work in games like stickers, postcards, pins, badges, and a little 3D printed lightning bolt.

The organisers put in a nice little hand-written card which I thought was a great personal touch to the whole experience:

The girls all got a certificate for completing the workshop, and it looks like they were all very happy at the end! Willow's certificate will be going in a frame and it has definitely given her more ideas she wants to put in to her game now.

Willow had a lot of fun at the workshop, and enjoyed learning Stencyl and making her game (titled Mermaid, after her mermaid cat character). She's eager to extend her game and wants to make something closer to her original design (I'll need to draw up some sprites for her I think).

You can play the game Willow made during the workshop right here:

Today we installed Stencyl on Willow's computer and I showed her how to grab some new assets from the StencylForge. She made three more levels and hooked them in to the gameplay flow so you can progress through all the levels.

We've already encountered a number of issues with Stencyl which were fairly easy to workaround, but I wouldn't be confident in less technical parents fixing the problems for their kids. We had to install the 64bit JRE on Willow's machine and ensure we passed the command line to Stencyl to use more memory once she'd added in a bunch of graphics and more levels. She also had a strange issue requiring it to be run as administrator but I fixed that too.

Here's her updated version of Mermaid with five levels:

Next I'll help her add a start screen, some transition screens between levels, and an end-of-game screen. We'll also look in to sound effects, visual effects, music, and possibly make the enemies die if you jump on them.

I think I'm going to have to make a few games in Stencyl myself now just to learn it and stay ahead of her so I can help her learn new aspects (especially events and behaviours which are a little more complicated).

Huge thanks to Caoimhe and the other volunteers, all those that contributed to the goodie bags, and everyone involved in the Girls Make Games initiative :)

If you found this post helpful please leave a comment below:
Stephen Caine / 2018-08-20 04:50:28
Well done Willow, this looks really good and played it through fine. I look forward to playing your finished game. xxx Grandad.