App review by Amanda Bindel, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2020
Kodu Game Lab

Kodu Game Lab

Open-ended game design and programming tool for visual thinkers

Learning rating
Community rating
Based on 13 reviews
Privacy rating
Not yet rated Expert evaluation by Common Sense
Grades
3–12
Subjects & Skills
Science, Creativity, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Engaging way for kids to build playable 3D video games without writing code.

Cons: Lack of direction still may prove too difficult for newcomers, and visual coding is tedious for savvy users.

Bottom Line: The 3D game-making environment and simple, visual logic will definitely grab some students, but others will need support this tool just doesn't provide.

While Kodu Game Lab could be useful in coding classrooms, it may shine brighter as a tool for cultivating 21st century literacy skills and using game-based learning approaches. Students can work in project teams to design and develop games inspired by something covered in class or games that teach content to other students. It also could be a way to have students examine their own executive functioning: How do they approach making a game? What do they do first? How do they organize their steps?

As simple as Kodu makes things, however, it's still possibly a bit too obtuse for the uninitiated, who might begin more successfully with something 2D, like Scratch or Hopscotch. Likewise, for more advanced coders, the visual coding interface may feel bulky and slow, so they might enjoy something like Swift Playgrounds more. Kids who do take to the platform can create engaging games to demonstrate knowledge or share with peers. 

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Kodu Game Lab is a tool for making 3D video games without all the complexity of delving into actual code. Kodu's visual menus let students act as game designers, pointing and clicking to create objects (and worlds) and defining their behaviors in the game through visual "if this, then that" blocks. When finished, students can share their worlds and games online for others to play.

Kodu provides tutorials and curriculum, which includes basic introductory lessons to the platform, science and math activities, and explorations of the game design process. The user community also has created many other tutorials and guides for various subjects. 

When teaching coding, it can be hard to keep students engaged, since it takes a long time before they can create anything substantial. Kodu Game Lab tries to avoid boredom and frustration by letting new programmers do the fun stuff first: Building a colorful 3D world and adding characters and objects only takes minutes. Once the world is in place, students dig deeper by adding programmatic behaviors using a simple "if this, then that" visual language rather than writing actual code.

As an introduction to programming, Kodu does a great job of showing how designing a game (or other piece of software) requires breaking the problem down into individual parts. The colorful block-based code encourages discovery-based learning by toying with a core foundation of computer science: procedural logic. On the other hand, kids don't learn actual code or work with programming logic that they can take beyond the platform. It's better for teaching kids what coding can do (i.e., create cool games and experiences) than what coding really is. 

Overall Rating

Engagement

Clickable menus replace written code, so it's easy to jump in and make games, but the interface might discourage some kids.

Pedagogy

Dragging images of objects into place and selecting instructional code helps kids grasp some of the harder parts of procedural programming and encourages experimentation. 

Support

Tutorials and an online community provide a good foundation, and curriculum is available for teachers. Even with the tutorials, it's still complex enough for newcomers to get lost.


Common Sense reviewer
Amanda Bindel Classroom teacher

Community Rating

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Featured review by
Maha S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Exciting first step to programming games for students of different ages.
I liked the fact that students created various games with amazing backgrounds and they created their own plans for how the game will run, what will make them earn points and how they would lose them. The lesson plans provided are very helpful for beginners on this program, and it allows room for creativity.
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