Munching on a cookie the size of his face, Kyle Derksen casually jumped over lava while evading bombs.
Derksen was testing his own game, “Techno Planet,” at the inaugural Kids as Video Game Makers awards ceremony at the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco. Heather Madison, education manager at the Museum, said that her goal with this contest and other initiatives like it was to move children from media consumers to producers. Derksen and other children made their games in Bloxels, a game-building and sharing app that resembles low-resolution games of the past. Pixel Press, the parent company to Bloxels, hosted the competition. Set during the annual Game Developers Conference, the contest challenged young players to display their creativity and game developing ambition during a two-week creation period.
Three winners’ games emerged ahead of 50 other entrants: Kyle Derksen, username Derksen Boys, creator of “Techno Planet,” winner of the 11-14 age group; Jared Painter, username alphaJared, creator of “Galactic Hunter 2,” winner of the 7-10 age group; and Rhys Delaney, username famousR, creator of “Baby Rush,” winner of the 6 and under group. Each won a framed piece of artwork from his game, a t-shirt and $250.
The three are veteran gamemakers. Painter’s “Galactic Hunter 2” is the second in a series inspired by the classic “Space Invaders.” He plans to make an Atari-style game next, and he hopes that Bloxels will add boss fight features in future updates. The “Galactic Hunter” games focus on a tribe of benevolent blue aliens who must wrest their home planet from an invading group of malicious red aliens.
“I started making these particular games because of the interface,” Painter said. “I was looking up video game making apps because that’s what I do all the time. Bloxels looks amazing, so I started creating and kept doing it.”
For Derksen, creating games on Bloxels is a family affair. He and his brother Drew collaborated on “Techno Planet,” with his brother creating several animations for the game. In the game, players embody, as Derksen called it, “someone who went to Techno Planet, lost a bunch of gold and needs to go find it.”
Bloxels snaps the games’ landscapes to an XY grid, and Delaney didn’t realize that games could occupy more than one square. He fit every aspect of “Baby Rush” into a single square frame, which Bloxels founder Robin Rath said he had never seen before. Delaney’s game asks the player to scale a green mountain as fast as possible while collecting as many coins as possible and avoiding deadly babies.
Entrants in the contest were given two weeks to build the games. Judges evaluated entries in five categories: creativity, level design challenge and fun factor, unique use of tool set, storytelling and surprise. Games received a score of one and five in each category.
At the event, judge Ryan Harwell, manager of digital development and developer relations at Cartoon Network, said to Derksen, “You tortured me with Techno Planet, but it was well-designed, so I wanted to keep going.” Derksen’s game had over 30 areas full of lethal lava players had to pass through.
Madison particularly liked Bloxels because of its immersive appeal.
“All different types of kids get lost in the game for hours, which is a good thing at a museum where they don’t visit repeatedly,” she said. “We want to maximize enjoyment and learning during each individual trip here. Bloxels is a combination of tangible and digital play, and it provides an easier entrée into coding and game design than a blank computer screen.”
Rath also spoke to the small crowd: “Kids are telling their own stories through videogames because it’s accessible to them,” he said. “Anyone can now play these three games, so we’re empowering kids to share their stories with each other, too.”
The contest is part of Bloxels’ ongoing product development. A forthcoming “featured content” space will showcase these three games on Bloxels’ Infinity Wall, an infinite XY-grid where players can find and trade—with virtual coins only—with other players for game designs and characters. For instance, players can find Derksen’s game at (-13, -19).
“We want to make rock stars out of our best creators and provide reciprocal feedback to them,” Rath said. “We want to encourage them to create more and even better games.”