Apr 30, 2014
Robert Lockhart and Important Little Games recently launched a Kickstarter for their game Codemancer, which is obliquely designed to teach players – particularly kids – to learn how coding works. It’s an ambitious objective for a game, and I spoke to Lockhart about why he’s making this game, why he chose Kickstarter, and how important Android is for this multiplatform project.
Android Rundown: What was the impetus behind creating Codemancer? Why is it so important to teach people how to code?
Robert Lockhart: Programming is a form of literacy. There was a time when reading was optional, because books were rare (pre-Gutenberg). Then the written word became more common, and now of course it’s hard to imagine getting through life without being able to read. Well, we’re getting to the point where software is as ubiquitous as books became after the printing press was invented, and yet most of us, essentially, cannot read code.
With the coding the game teaches, how are you trying to make it applicable to situations outside of the game?
The design goals of the rune language that the player uses to write spells were: 1) That syntax errors will be impossible – things that don’t work together simply won’t fit 2) That it looks mystical and runic, rather than code-y and 3) That it translates easily to a real-world programming language.
I think that Codemancer actually does a better job than most learn-to-code games at #3. The syntax is pretty similar to what you’d see in a language like lua or python, but the tokens, the units of meaning within the language, are altered to feel more fantastical, and also to eliminate the need for reading a natural language like english. The truth is that most spells would translate 1-to-1 to a real-world language simply by replacing certain symbols with the appropriate words.
The target for the game is children, but will this be a game enjoyable by adults as well?
I worry about that a lot – I’m definitely going for a tone that is inspired by young adult fiction like Harry Potter, Mistborn, Sabriel, and TV shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender. One of the great things about that flavor, if I can get it right, is that it appeals to both kids and adults. I just hope I get it right.
Why use crowdfunding to help fund the project? How will it help the project come to life?
Crowdfunding is really about accelerating the project. I plan to make Codemancer whether or not it gets funded, but without the support of backers, it would probably take me five years or more. With the help of people who care about the project and think it should exist, I can simply pay my artists, sound designer, composer, etc. instead of saving up for a few months, then paying for more assets, then repeating.
Why is Android important for you to release Codemancer on?
There are a lot of reasons to release on Android tablets. One of the most important to me is that my Mom has one, and I like to be able to show her the games I make. Also, Android tablets are the most common kind of computer to be used in school 1-to-1 programs, where each student is given a computing device that they can use however they like. I’d really like whole groups of kids to play the game and swap spells with each other.
Thanks to Robert for his time. Codemancer is now on Kickstarter.