App review by Seann Dikkers, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2013
CodeSpells

CodeSpells

Cast spells with JavaScript in a game world where code is magic

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Grades
6–12
Subjects & Skills
Critical Thinking

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Pros: Gamelike environment contextualizes programming.

Cons: Still in development, so expect rough edges.

Bottom Line: CodeSpells isn’t finished and is not quite a game yet, but it’s a creative and clever entryway into coding.

While this game holds a lot of fun possibilities, they won’t be apparent to novices, and students may be confused or unmotivated. This is especially true because there isn’t much else to do beyond tweaking and trying out spells. As a result, students will benefit from closer teacher guidance in the first half-hour so they can get oriented and see the game’s possibilities. After this initial orientation and the completion of the prescribed activities, students can be free to continue with CodeSpells on their own or not. In this way, it can serve as a nice introduction to all students and then an optional extended learning for those looking to dig deeper. And since it’s a sandbox environment, students could also be encouraged to break out into small groups to create and then showcase the coolest spells, providing the class with a peer learning opportunity.

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CodeSpells is a free first-person adventure game where players use computer code and programming to do things within a magical world. The player is a budding magician who roams around a gnome village helping residents by learning, modifying, and casting spells. To do so, the player uses a spell book that displays lines of JavaScript. The work done in the spell book can be tried out immediately in-game for instant feedback and satisfaction. Like magic, the player can levitate a box or teleport to a new coordinate just by changing the code. After working through the initial quests in-game, students will have a nice digital sandbox to play in and do anything their coding minds can conjure.

The game is still in development and was built by two graduate students, so it lacks the polish of similar games. There will likely be some confusion early on, as the game still needs to scale activities and guide the player a bit more. But as the developers add these features, the game will realize its full potential quickly.

A lot of other introductory programming games don't have students work with actual code or common languages; with CodeSpells, students manipulate lines of JavaScript, a very popular and useful language. And since it gives students the game-based context for their programming, they can instantly see how code works in a visual environment. At the very least, CodeSpells will break down barriers to code and help students understand the basic logics of JavaScript and some syntax. For some, it can encourage further learning and provide a platform for learning a programming language. Students also have the unique opportunity to play-test and communicate with budding game designers via email and get a window into the development process.

Overall Rating

Engagement

This game won’t easily convince kids without an interest in coding, but for the already interested or curious, it could be just what they need. Certain players could be hooked for months.

Pedagogy

Players finish a few guided challenges at the beginning that just scratch the surface, and then are left to their own devices in a sandbox that’s ready for experimentation. 

Support

Developers have yet to add a help menu or tutorial, and they still need to scale the quests a bit to guide players early on. This rating should go up as they develop the product for market. 


Common Sense reviewer
Seann Dikkers Researcher

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