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Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: Tektoma---Game Tutorials for Kids

As a member of the TOS Homeschool Crew, I received a free 3 month subscription to Tektoma's tutorial website for kids in exchange for reviewing it on my blog. I received no other compensation. My review reflects my family's personal experience with this product.

OK, our family is a bunch of computer geeks. Not solid, knowledgeable, save the bacon when your motherboard fries geeks, just geeky enough to have a "healthy" interest in how computers work and to spend a bunch of time making ours work. So when we got the opportunity to try out a site devoted to teaching your kids how to make games using GameMaker software, my 9-year-old was all over it. And still is.

Tektoma provides a series of videos that will show your children (ages 7-17) step-by-step how to create their own 2-D video games using the free to download GameMaker software by YoYo Games. The free version of this software apparently lacks some of the capabilities of the paid version, but is sufficient for the completing the Tektoma tutorials (and it's definitely not crippleware).

In addition to several short tutorials covering specific topics, there are 5 complete game tutorials:
  • How to Make a Racing Game
  • How to Make an Arcade Game
  • How to Make a Memory Game
  • How to Make a Platform Game
  • How to Make a Fantasy Adventure Game (RPG)
These tutorials are about 1 to 2-1/2 hours in length, divided neatly up into shorter, organized segments, making it easy to pick up where you left off. While the video time may only be a couple of hours, the time actually spent building the game could be much greater depending upon how much you decide to "make it yours." All told, there are a little over 10 hours of video tutorials on the site. There are also options to share games on the site that you have created or play games created by others.

The videos are nicely done, with a voice explaining the next step and the video displaying exactly what you will see on your screen, with highlights to show you where exactly to look. It is a bit awkward to watch the videos on the computer screen, pause, switch to the GameMaker software, do that step and then switch back to the video, but after a while my 9-year-old got the hang of it.

9-year-old David has had no trouble at all creating a couple of games using the subscription. The graphics quality of the games is not what we have come to expect in the year 2009 (it's more like the games we were playing in the early 90's), but that has more to do with GameMaker and fancy graphics can easily take your attention away from the immediate lesson at hand, mainly the nuts and bolts of creating the game. Tektoma will not teach your child to write code, GameMaker was designed so that you can create games without knowing how to write code.

So, if it doesn't teach code what good is it? Tektoma has value in the area of critical thinking and giving your child a background in understanding about how a computer program works through object programming. If your ultimate goal is computer programming, though, this is just a first step, but it's a solid first step. Think of it as a course in understanding the very basics of object programming, including:
  • what's an object, what's a sprite?
  • thinking out routines for those objects (thinking logically)
  • with immediate feedback (the computer plays out exactly what you tell it to do, mistakes and all)
  • learning about different object attributes (some objects are solid and can't be passed through while others are background, some move, how they move, etc.)
And when they've finished making their game, they can export it as an .exe file and email to the Grandparents. Or Dad at work.

While I like the service, the site is a little hard to navigate. You might expect, for instance, that your profile page would show you when your subscription expires, maybe even with a little reminder to renew? Not so, though it does show when you signed up, so keep track of how many months you've paid for. But this is fairly minor and does not affect your child's ability to use the tutorials.

Tektoma is available for a monthly subscription of $14.95/month or $140/year, but you can sign up for a free 14 day trial to try it out.

For reviews by other homeschoolers, visit the TOS Homeschool Crew Blog:

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