KUALA LUMPUR: Software giant Microsoft Malaysia wants to nurture fledgling game developers from as young as nine through its game design competition, known as the Kodu Kup.
According to its education director Farad Alhusaini, computer games are no longer just for entertainment; they are now also an important educational tool that can spark a culture of creativity and innovation in our youngsters.
For this reason, Microsoft is putting its resources firmly behind the Kodu Kup competition. "Kodu is a fantastic avenue to inspire students to understand the fundamentals and principles of computing and software development," Farad said.
The inaugural competition, which kicked off yesterday, pits students from six schools - Tunku Kurshiah College, SK Taman Putra Perdana, SMK Taman Bukit Maluri, SMK USJ 12, SJK (C) Ladang Harcroft and SJK (C) Chio Nan - against each other.
Participants must develop a computer game using Kodu Game Lab - a simple and visual programming language develop by Microsoft Research.
The program offers a straightforward, fun and easy to use a visual interface, where the users only need to click and string together intuitive icons that define the rules of their game world.
Then, they use a mouse and keyboard - or even better, a gamepad - to navigate the program. No complex programming language to learn and absolutely zero lines of code needed, explained Farad.
"The result is that anyone aged from seven to 70 can create a game in minutes," he said.
The Kodu Kup competition is a preliminary step to the bigger event that is Microsoft's Imagine Cup. The Imagine Cup is a global competition sponsored by the software giant to encourage university students to develop technology that helps solve the world's problems.
This year, the Imagine Cup final was held in Warsaw, Poland. The Malaysian team did the country proud by beating more than 60 other international teams to make it to the final, in the Software Design category.
"Malaysia needs to start looking among its younger generations to find talented students who will succeed even more in such competitions in the future," Farad said.
"This is where the Kodu Kup competition comes in, he said. "The primary target of most computer games are youngsters, so why not give them the chance to be in the driver's seat - i.e. to create such games, instead of merely playing them."
The Kodu Kup competition will run till Aug 20 and is also open to teachers. Student participants will be judged on creativity, game design, and the fun factor of their games.
Teachers who enter the contest, must showcase how Kodu Game Lab can be used effectively in the classroom, not only to stimulate critical thinking but also how it can help develop problem-solving and logic skills in students.
The aim here is to let teachers inspire and excite their students to learn and experiment, as well as to bring back the "cool" factor in education, according to Farad.
Results of the Kodu Cup competition will be announced on Aug 27. The winning student and teacher will each receive a trophy, a notebook PC, an XBox 360 gaming console, as well as various Microsoft software and hardware.
The competition is supported by Yayasan Inovasi Malaysia (YIM), a foundation under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.
Prior to the launch of the competition, the participating teachers and students had to undergo two-day training sessions with Kodu Game Lab specialists from Microsoft and ideaslab. ideaslab is an organisation based in Victoria, Australia, which serves as a hub for national and international research into learning and teaching technology.