Teaching with GameMaker
For the last 3 weeks I did a little section on GameMaker Studio 1.4 in my Programming I and Programming 4 classes just to break up the semester. I did this a few years ago with GameMaker 8.1. When I did it with GM8 the tutorials were so bad I had to stop the lesson. This time there is an excellent set of tutorials available on the Yoyogames website. As usual there had to be some issues. I had 15 kids total. All were using their own laptops or a school laptop.
Install issues. Out of the 15 there were 2 major install issues. I am still not sure what went haywire but it took multiple un-installs and reinstalls, a bit of registry cleaning, and some deletion of GM files in strange places to get it working on these two computers. The laptops were not abnormal in brand or setup. After 2 years of doing BYOD in programming I am getting used to weird things happening for no apparent reason. It is part of the method. We did get GM running on the 2 reluctant laptops but the exact issue was never really determined.
Crash issues. Two kids (not the same with the install issues) had GM crash occasionally. They would hit the run button and blink, GM would close. This was not consistent which makes it pretty much impossible to trouble shoot. I was not able to do any real trouble shooting on this since the kids needed their laptops and could not leave them with me for testing. GM saves when it runs so if the kids had not saved manually prior to trying to run the game their work was gone. They learned to save manually.
Student interest issues. I pretty much had three levels of interest. A couple of kids would not be excited about programming if I brought a puppy into class every day. They did the minimum and suffered the whole time. About eight of the fifteen kids were in the “This is kind of cool but what do I need to get a good grade?” category. Typical of high school main stream kids in any class. Four of the fifteen did above and beyond and were willing to tinker on their own. Not geek kids but they just liked making their own games. They would have been more than willing to dive into it deeper. One kid went into overdrive. He did one of those “Opps, it is 2:00 in the morning and I have done none of my homework for tomorrow!” moments. He got into the line coding and some of the fancier features just from tinkering. He is planning to be a CS major somewhere next year. Six foot 2, 235 lb football playing programming geek. He crushes the stereotype.
Overall impressions. The install issues and the occasional crashing puts GameMaker in the “think twice before using” category. In is just so tempting though. A drag-and-drop like environment yet a full coding environment. It is an incredible attractor for most of the kids, they can actually see themselves making a real game. In order to get a better feel for what is there I need to get into the coding environment. I will do that in my slack time. I actually think GameMaker is a good gamble. I would be hesitant to use it as primary language/application in the curriculum due to the install and crashing issues but to get some kids a little motivation it scores big. Of course the fact that it is free means nothing is lost if it things really go bad.
I will do GameMaker again as a break. It is just too cool to avoid.