Whilst on campus this week, if there’s only one thing on my mind besides Windows, that would be Boku. Codename “Boku”, final name tentative (yes they are aware it’s not pleasant in Turkish), is a Microsoft Research project aimed at making it easy and fun for young kids to learn, understand and apply computer programming skills in the form of games.
Most videos of Boku shown so far has been quick montages with menus flashing faster than a loud nightclub, so below is a short 7-minute video I recorded with Stephen Coy (of Windows Vista screensavers and Psychedelic visualizations fame) who works on Boku to give a slower demonstration of how one could build a constructive game in Boku.
I’ve been excited about this since it was first announced at Microsoft Research’s TechFest in 2006 so it’s been more than 2 years in the making. Whilst you might think two years is an awful long time to build a game, but it’s only worked on by four people and two contract artists. Development wise, what else is really interesting is that the game is built with the publically available XNA Games Studio so in fact any hobby programmer could have built this.
Now anyone who’s peeked at video games in the past 6 months would start drawing comparisons between Little Big Planet on the Playstation 3, and so did I. The Boku team is obviously aware of this and does not hide the fact that they love Little Big Planet. At the same time, they point out that Little Big Planet’s cool and compelling gameplay is based on their impressive physics engine, whilst Boku is about programmable behaviors and does not have a comparable physics engine.
As a result of building a XNA Game Studio game, they are able to publish to both XBOX360 and PC. Currently it is envisioned it could appear on XBOX via the Live Arcade, subject to alignments of the planets. On the PC, there isn’t yet a distribution plan but since the game is currently floating around just 200MB, most of which is audio assets, it shouldn’t be too hard to distribute. They will be working to distributing to schools first then the public. Check the website for release date announcements soon.
Speaking as something who dabbles in code but never learned programming properly, I can see the value in this game even if I were to just deconstruct and edit other people’s levels.