A couple weekends ago, I had a great time at Hack Tennessee 7. For the uninitiated, a hackathon is an event where developers from all over the area gather to work on projects for fun for a weekend. It was a great time of meeting colleagues, checking out some cool tech, and (as an added bonus) introducing my 14 year-old son to the world of software development. Since he is an avid gamer, he has been curious as to what it would take to build a game. Hack Tennessee seemed like the perfect venue to show him what the industry is like and what it takes to build a (exceedingly) simple game.
I searched for a game project that we could do quickly and to which he could add his own touches. I found the Microsoft Imagine Cup’s “Break Into Code” contest and it seemed to fit the bill nicely. For the challenge, students use a simple block language to build up a brick breaker game. After getting the initial game together, students are free to extend the game as much as they want.
The first step was for my son to start with the stock project and build the block breaker game. It was really simple and very spartan in terms of “splash”.
After he got the first version finished, we began working on what he wanted to make his game look like. We discussed the basic gameplay, the mechanics of how characters in the game would work, and dreamed up some new levels.
To make the experience more true to the whole agile development experience, we drew up what our game “MVP” (minimal viable product) would be, just as if we were a game development company trying to get out a first version of a game. All of the cool ideas of multiple levels, flying dragons, and power-ups had to be jettisoned so that we could focus solely on getting out that first version.
We had a great time finding image assets and tweaking what was a block breaker game to a game where a goblin is firing arrows down at a wizard while the wizard shoots fireballs to break through the wall to finally defeat the goblin. He learned about coding and even that things get frustrating when your framework doesn’t provide some of the things you need (we had to get a little creative and count frames instead of milliseconds for timing). In the end, he wound up with a playable game that met his MVP requirements. It was a great project and I think he came away with a greater understanding of the culture and what it takes to create a game.
As for me, it was my first time to Hack Tennessee. Having just moved to the area, it was a great opportunity to meet other developers in the community and to see just how much talent is here. Nashville is an awesome town for tech and I would highly recommend attending a Hack Tennessee event to anyone interested in software or electronics tinkering.