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The building blocks of game design - MCV

The building blocks of game design

The Bloxels team on how it plans to make game creation accessible to children
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The team at Pixel Press has just surpassed its $40,000 goal on Kickstarter with 16 days to go for its upcoming Bloxels set, which encourages users to build their own games from physical blocks.

Primarily targeted at children between the ages of eight and 12, users can create the layout of a level on the game board using different coloured blocks representing loot, keys, doors and enemies, and then capture it on camera. The level can then be customised in the app, tested, and made ready to play on an iOS, Android and Kindle tablet or smartphone.

It’s a concept born out of the most basic level of game design. Pixel Press chief technology officer Rob Bennett says as children, members of the team would often draw out levels for games when they weren’t playing them, at a time when designing and programming them was almost completely out of reach.

“We realised there was a need to allow these ideas to come to life,” he says.

“We learned a lot through the process of creating Floors and Adventure Time Game Wizard, the games that brought the Pixel Press tech to fruition. Being able to draw their own levels was successful, but we wanted to make game design and creation as accessible as possible. Bloxels was the next logical step in our journey, using coloured building blocks to design levels, create worlds and share experiences.”

The technology works by using a camera to detect the game board, while the software creates a grid to overlay, detecting each interval and coloured block in the grid space. Once these are determined, the information is fed into the game engine, built on Unity, that powers Bloxels. Despite initially being used for top-down dungeon crawler type games – Pixel Press is itself working on a free game called B.R.A.V.E Squad – the board and colour recognition data format is undefined, allowing for further game types to be developed in future.

“We have plans for lots of other types of games after the initial release,” says Bennett. “We have experimented internally with FPS, Third Person 3D adventure, 2D maze, side-scrollers and even a music loop generator.”

Bennett and Pixel Press hope this project will bring video game creation to the masses, while making it and fun and collaborative process along the way. He says that introducing the idea to children that their creations can come to life in the digital world is extremely rewarding to see.

As a small introduction to simple game and level design for children, it’s an interesting concept at an educational level.

“There are amazing products coming out that are encouraging development and programming at a young age. Bloxels is very much a part of those,” says Bennett. “The links between STEM and Design Thinking process implications that Bloxels has had among kids is compelling to watch.

“The abstract concept of using colours and blocks to design a digital worlds has already been seen among many kids that we've had the pleasure of working with throughout the development of the product. Robin, Bloxels' co-founder even sat down with his two-year old and spent some time exploring the board. I have spent time with pre-schoolers and my own five-year old son, watching them literally get to grips with the process of level design with the board is really interesting.”

You can find more information about Bloxels on the Kickstarter page or the Pixel Press website.

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