Hack The Future 17

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We hosted a successful Hack The Future 17(!) youth learning hackathon with over 70 young future hackers learning and making projects. Here are some pictures from the event:

Special thanks to Trevor and Ethan, two participants-turned-mentors who’ve been mentoring with us for years now and whose help was invaluable to the future hackers.

Some kids come to every Hack The Future they can and work on improving their games each time, but the majority of participants are first-timers. Teaching Unity to mostly beginners at Hack The Future gives us mentors a lot of ideas for how to improve the tutorials we use at weekly Gamebridge Unityversity at Noisebridge Hackerspace. It also suggests ways to improve Code Hero to gamify some of the early learning curve of Unity editing and coding.

The game engine we teach is called Unity and it represents a holy grail of sorts for teaching young gamers how to code in the same engine that their favorite games like Pokemon Go are made with by professionals. For some who have been introduced to code with kid-friendly tools like Scratch, Unity is the natural path to graduate from making playful animations for friends to developing real games with prospects for publishing and selling on app stores.

Unity uses the C# programming language for scripting. While a single day workshop just scratches the surface of the C# language, first-time Unity developers get to immediately see how example scripts work and those with some programming experience see how their programming skills transfer to C# and the Unity API.

The Trigger Tutorial

Participants begin the first-person character and trigger tutorial by making a first person world with a cube for ground and a prefab character dropped into the scene. The first C# script participants learn is Teleport.cs. They attach it to game objects and set their colliders to trigger a message called OnTriggerEnter which the Teleport script receives. Teleport responds by using Application.LoadLevel to send the player back to the start when they fall or to another level by reaching an exit portal depending on how they set two variables.

Once they have a world with portals to different levels, the participants learn how to expand it however they like by building more terrain and placing all kinds of objects and scripts to make moving platforms, chasing monsters, pickup coins, shoot projectiles, place blocks and tell narrative story dialogue.

At the end, nearly every participant presents their game on stage and everyone gets the sense of accomplishment that comes from having made a game their friends can actually play. This is what makes game jams and hackathons so great, and it is rewarding to see future hackers’ eyes light up when they realize how the power they have to create anything they can imagine.

Better late than never

I have been offline for too long and I am officially back. I somehow missed the WordPress train and built all my prior web sites on Drupal. While I loved the power of modules, it was sometimes overkill that made my content creation slow and unstable, and other times it was underpowered compared to web frameworks for making performant and elegant apps. My Drupal blog updates were infrequent, and my Drupal apps overloaded my servers.

I have replaced Drupal with WordPress to be maintainable. My web presence will be default alive from now on and my updates will be frequent. My apps will be developed in other web frameworks.