Playing to learn: Monsters, magic and JavaScript

JAXenter Editorial Team
Gaming image via Shutterstock

Educational games can often be disappointing but CodeSpells proves otherwise. In a fantasy setting, players take on the role of magicians with the purpose of using JavaScript-based interfaces to playfully learn the fundamentals of programming.

Educational games still have a tough time. Although well-intentioned, they often suffer from bad presentation and can never entirely disguise their educational character. They’re also not that much fun, but several PhD students of University of California want to convince us that CodeSpells is different. As part of a research project that focused on a group of forty girls between ten and twelve years of age, the game conveyed the basic concepts of Java programming.

Apparently, the study was completed with complete success: As the then published study shows, all subjects were disappointed that they were not allowed to continue playing, with many hoping to be allowed to take a copy of the educational game to home. This wish has now been granted and the former “research” version is available for download today.

However, this was not the end of the project. Inspired by the success of their pilot, the creators of the game launched a Kickstarter campaign that gathered up about three times more money than intended, with some 164,000 US dollars being raised.

Be a master magician with JavaScript

A few days after the Kickstarter was backed the beta version of CodeSpells became available. Compared to its predecessor from their research days, the current version has been graphically enhanced, the typical fantasy setting of CodeSpells conceals it’s educational nature. Unlike traditional games, in which the skills of the characters are determined by the developers, players are able to build on a small repertoire of standard spells via a JavaScript-based language with which you can create virtually any effects through a drag-and-drop interface. This is the main point of the game.

The centrepiece of CodeSpells is its creative mode, where players can practice all sorts of mischief in a procedurally creative gaming environment with the help of magic. Thanks to a clean-working physics engine, players can for example use spells to move and disrupt rocks and other objects as they encounter them. You can also telekinetically pull up high walls and construct rudimentary buildings.

Apart from these physical gimmicks, CodeSpells offers a feature that’s rare even in most games today (with exceptions like Minecraft or Red Faction): The game environment is altered by the player. The world’s elements are manipulated in order to change things as you choose. If you want to create a giant wave, you have to rely on water magic.

There are a total of five schools of magic: earth, water, fire, air and life. So far, only earth and water elements have been implemented and the remainder should come soon as part of the regularly occurring game updates.

Ambitious plans

Speaking of updates, the developers of the ambitious project say the their work is far from over. As a next step, Multiplayer Sandbox Mode could be implemented, in which you can create stuff using the same interface as the spells are used in their own game modes.

“Magicians sports” à la Quidditch should be possible with these capabilities as well as Cooperation or Survival Modes. Last but not least, the classic Death Match option could also be achievable. In the foreground of all of this fun is still the idea of playfully teaching the basics of programming.

After the end of the currently held Steam Summer Sale, the game will be released beyond the Kickstarter backers, plus an early access version on Steam. Within the framework of weekly reports, the creators also want to provide information about the progress of CodeSpells from a development perspective in regular intervals.

An insight into the development of the game, including a video of CodeSpells’ development team:

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