Kid Programming with Kodu Coming to Xbox 360

As I’ve written before, I originally got the programming bug from a desire to build my own text adventure games. with significant influence from my dad. Now that I’m a father myself, I want my kids to have a similar opportunity, even if they never choose to go into the “family business”.


Of course, the technology has moved on significantly since the days of “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”. At CES yesterday, Microsoft announced Kodu which I’ve written about before under it’s original name Boku. Kodu came out of Microsoft Research as a tool for teaching kids how to program. The programming language is very visual and iconic and you use the Xbox controller exclusively for all input. Here’s a screenshot:

To demo Kodu at CES, Robbie Bach brought a 12 year old girl named Sparrow up on stage to demo. I showed the video to my kids this morning and they went gaga for it. They’re a little young – Patrick turns 6 next month and Riley turns 4 later this year – but I think they’ll be able to get the hang of it (with a little help from dad). Below is the video of the CES demo, and there are more Kodu videos at On10 (Matthew MacLaurin on Kodu and Watch Kodu in Action).

Personally, I think this is brilliant. I have been eagerly waiting a change to play this with my kids for over a year, so I’m very excited that they’re bringing this to market. Seriously, Halo Wars just got bumped to the #2 slot on my “Most Anticipated Xbox Games of 2009” list.

I’m most interested in how these creations will be shared online. I couldn’t find any details, but Robbie specifically said “And on Xbox Live they can distribute and share those finished games with other people.” Will there be a charge? (“normal” Community Games cost between $2.50 and $10 a pop) How will parental controls affect shared Kodu games? I guess those details will come closer to release.

Morning Coffee 168 – E3 Edition

Yesterday, was Microsoft’s big reveal for Xbox 360 this coming holiday season. If you’re not a gamer, please move along, nothing to see here. Also note, I work @ Microsoft, but not in the games division so this is only my thoughts on yesterday’s announcements.

  • While several “hard-core” games were showcased – Fallout 3, Resident Evil 5, Fable 2, Gears of War 2 and the surprise announcement that Final Fantasy XIII – the rest of yesterday’s briefing screamed “we’re not just for hard core gamers!”  Call it the Wii effect. Even the title of the main E3 Press Release was Gameplay for Every Passion.
  • Honestly, my favorite announcement from yesterday wasn’t game related at all – it was the announcement of Netflix on Xbox 360. I’ve been hoping for a flat rate subscription plan since Video Marketplace first launched. Soon, I’ll have it.
  • I’m not sure what I think of the New Xbox Experience yet. On the one hand, the whole cartoon avatar thing isn’t really my bag. Plus, isn’t it quite the Mii clone? However, the ability to share photo and video viewing experiences – even with cartoony avatars – and the flashy + engaging navigation mechanism looks like a real improvement. Here’s hoping they improve the performance of navigating hard drive content (games library, gamer pictures, etc).
  • Congrats to my friend Matt who’s been very involved in the development of the new Primetime game show channel. I’m not that interested in “1 vs 100″, but I think the potential of that game model is pretty huge. If they created a Jeopardy game for Primetime, I think my parents would by a 360 right away.
  • Music / party games seem to have been the primary focus of the press briefing. I’m definitely getting Rock Band 2 (AC/DC woot!) and I think my wife would like Lips (she usually sings when we play Rock Band). I want to see how the “wireless interactive microphones: Featuring stylish interactive motion sensors and lights” will work. Guitar Hero World Tour looks cool too, but I’m not re-buying all new music hardware.
  • You’re in the Movies looks like a hoot, plus it doesn’t really look like a game, so much as a “party activity”. For example, while there are minigame winners or losers, “winning” takes a back seat to the final movie result. I’m guessing this will be big with the kids.
  • Speaking of kids, Patrick is really looking forward to Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts. He loves anything related to building, and building fantastic vehicles is a core part of the gameplay. As for Riley, I think she’s getting old enough to enjoy Viva Pinata – she enjoys watching Patrick and I play – though I’m not sure we need the new Viva Pinata.
  • Geometry Wars 2 and Portal: Still Alive, both coming to Xbox Live Arcade. ’nuff said.
  • Not really “new” news, but XNA Community Games launches this fall. I’ve got a creators club membership, so I’m able to experiment with this now – it rocks, though the available games are pretty shall I say “unpolished” at this point.
  • Halo Wars not coming until 2009. 😦
  • No new Bungie news, but their website is counting down to something tomorrow. I guess we’ll find out then.

Morning Coffee 167

  • If you’re a gamer, you’re probably already well aware that E3 is this week. The Too Human demo has already been released. I have a friend who’s been working on “something” that will be announced today (I think).
  • Live Mesh folks pushed out an update Friday. Among the new features is the ability to sync folders among peers but NOT up to the cloud. This is cool because it means I can sync my many many GB of pictures and music on my home machine backed up with Carbonite. This means I can sync them without blowing thru my 5GB Mesh storage limit.
  • It looks like there’s a new F# drop – as usual there is no announcement or details as to what’s new. Release notes guys, look into it.  Update: Don Syme blogged the release, and it’s pretty minor. a .NET FX 3.5 SP1 bug fix, a fix for Mono, and they removed WebRequest.GetResponseAsync to make F# work on Silverlight. And the release notes are in the readme. My bad.
  • Speaking of F#, it was “partially inspired” by OCaml, so when I see papers related to OCaml, I immediately wonder if I an apply the described techniques to F#. “Catch me if you can, Towards type-safe, hierarchical, lightweight, polymorphic and efficient error management in OCaml” is one such paper. (via LtU)
  • Speaking of functional programming, Matthew Podwysocki posted a bunch of FP links as well as a Code Gallery Sample on FP in C#. Good stuff.
  • As per Scott Guthrie, it looks like there’s a new ASP.NET MVC drop coming this week.
  • Based on posts by Ted Neward, Dare Obasanjo and Steve Vinoski, Google Protocol Buffers sounds like it’s going to be a dud. Note, I haven’t looked at it depth personally, I’m just passing on opinions of some folks I read and trust.
  • Speaking of Dare, both he and James Hamilton take a look at Cassandra and come away impressed. I wonder how easy it is to code against from Python and/or .NET?
  • Bart de Smet has a cool sample of calling out to PowerShell from IronRuby via the backtick command. Pretty cool, but it would even cooler to show how to call out to PS and return .NET objects to Ruby (though that would probably not be spec compliant for the backtick command).
  • Here’s a MS code name I had never heard before – Zermatt. It’s “a framework for implementing claims-based identity in your applications.” (via Steve Gilham)

Morning Coffee 157

  • My Xbox 360 started flashing the dreaded Red Ring of Death on Friday. <sigh> I’m not going to have much time to play in the next week, so it’s not the end of the universe, but I did have to dig an old DVD player out of the garage for interim duty.
  • My Caps really stepped in it over the weekend dropping two games they had to have and by most reports (aka according to my dad) that they dominated most of the way. Caps Playoff Math isn’t as dire as say Clinton’s Nomination Math, but they are three games back of the Hurricanes with twelve to play.
  • Ted Neward has a pretty good F# overview article in the most recent MSDN Magazine. I say pretty good because I wonder if someone with no functional programming experience will “get it”. As much as I like F# and functional programming, I think some of the basic concepts don’t pass Don Box’s two beer test.
  • Speaking of Ted, somehow his feed fell off my radar (bad DevHawk!) and I missed several great posts like Modular Toolchains (note to Ted, check out A Research C# Compiler), Why we need both static and dynamic in the same language (note to self, check out Cobra) and The Fallacies Remain…. (recently, I’m the guy shouting about risks).
  • Speaking of MSDN Magazine, have you seen their new site redesign? I can’t find any announcement of it, but man the site looks great.
  • If you missed MIX, the sessions are all online already. That was fast.
  • John Lam blogs about the availability of the Dynamic Silverlight bits. Apparently, Dynamic Silverlight includes more recent bits than the Silverlight 2 SDK, which does includes binaries and tools for IronPython, IronRuby and Managed JScript (quickstart). So you can get started with dynamic languages on Silverlight using the SL SDK alone, but I expect that the Dynamic Silverlight bits will be updated more regularly than the SDK.

Morning Coffee 149