A couple of months ago I heard about a new game that was in development called Atmosphir. This game is a first person shooter game similar to Mario Bros. What sets it apart from other games is that all the levels in the game are created by the users. When I heard about this I thought it might have some potential for education so I signed up to be a beta tester. This week, after having completely forgot about signing up, I received an email from the developers of this game accepting my invite.
Now, for a few years now some commercial games have come on the market that allow users to make their own mods. What is different about Atmosphir is the whole game is a mod. When you download and install the game you are asked to go to their website and create a user account. When you load the game it asks you to login with your username and password. You are then presented with a few options. You can play, create, or modify your character. When you choose the play option you are presented with a display that looks kind of like YouTube where you can choose from among other user created versions of the game sorted by ratings, most played, etc.
When you choose create you are brought to an editor screen with a blank grid. You can choose among many different objects to build your level. My 4 year old and I spent a good afternoon engaged in this world building and game play. The game engine itself is nice. You get a rich 3D environment, smooth graphics, and complex movement. The biggest downfall I can see is there are no options for users to build or import their own objects. If there were such an option I could see this program being ideal for building educational games. For my purposes this limitation is a huge downfall. However, this project is in private beta and possibly this kind of feedback could make it into later edits of the game.
In its current version it is still a nice constructivist toy. You can build much in the same way you can build with legos. There are quite a few user created levels that exhibit high ammount of creativity. It could also be used to teach about game theory to an extent.
My hopes with this program were that it might have the same potential for engaging students in programming and game creation that Scratch or GameMaker have. While my hopes have been slightly let down at the moment I will continue to watch the development of this game and how it influences other game developers.
A new version of Scratch that works in Second Life came out over the summer. I have yet to play around with it but it looks promising. However, Second Life is not free and presents some unique challenges for use in K-12. I also intend on taking a look at later this fall as it also looks like it might have some potential for education.
Do you know of any other free programs for game creation or free games that allow users to make mods of their game?