We mentioned Python a short while back as an easy introduction to programming, but if you want something that’s aimed more at the young ‘uns and practically guarantees a gentle tutorial for game coding, take a look at Scratch.

Developed at MIT for mysterious educational purposes, Scratch is an animator, simulator and game creator. If you’ve tried out The Sims Carnival,‭ ‬you’ll find Scratch to be similar fare in several ways:‭ ‬it has an easy,‭ ‬visual‭ “‬programming interface‭” (‬those special quotes mean that the words aren’t nearly as scary as they sound), a friendly premise and a broad community of other game creators that you can upload and share your creations with.

Projects are easy to make and come packaged in a very friendly environment.

Projects are easy to make and come packaged in a very friendly environment.

And yet it adds a few extra points which are worth looking at too. So what’s interesting about Scratch? Let us count the ways.

(1) As mentioned above, Scratch is an educational tool — with plenty of focus on the education. Everything about its design seems to be geared towards helping people learn: code components, for example, are built block-by-block as “puzzle pieces” which only fit together in certain ways. This reinforces basic programming principles by showing users which parts of the code can logically interact with each other, and in what order.

(2) Scratch also makes great use of colour. All control structures (such as while loops and if statements) are coloured in orange, motion code is in blue and variables are in red so that you can quickly identify these components based purely on their hue. On top of that, you’ll be able to see your code while you play the game, and components will flash every time they’re used in the program so that you can have a better understanding of how events work. Ahh, the miracles of modern science!

(3) Finally, perhaps moreso than with any other beginner’s tool, Scratch elaborates itself through demonstration. When stepping on over to the File > Open dialog, users are presented with a lovely “examples” button that takes them straight to a folder with nearly a hundred samples of games, animations, simulations and stories that are ready-built and looking to teach you something.

Check out the examples folder: it'll be your most important teacher.

Check out the examples folder: it'll be your most important teacher.

So, is Scratch brilliant? Well, yes and no.

Scratch’s primary drawback is that it isn’t too powerful. At all. Most of the games on display are primitive (and buggy), and, in particular, the way that they address matters such as object creation and collision detection between sprites is … well, somewhat strange.

But given how determined Scratch is to make the user experience simple and colourful, it still seems to possess great value as an introductory guide to programming, particularly for children. While this may not be the tool for you, it could easily be useful for somebody you know, or maybe even a local school that doesn’t yet know about it.

If you’re still looking for that beginner’s tool to convince you,‭ ‬then just take a look at Scratch and see for yourself just how friendly it is.‭ It’s free, it’s solid and it has a lot of pretty colours. Check the Website here.

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