Microsoft used its presentation at the Consumer Electronics Game Show yesterday to reveal Kodu, an easy-to-use game-creation package that will be released on the Xbox Live Community Games Channel in the spring.
Kodu can be operated with just an Xbox 360 controller, and to demonstrate its ease of use, a 12 year-old joined Xbox boss Robbie Bach on stage to demo it.
A graphical interface allows you to put together "action-reaction" programming commands based on simple concepts "like vision, hearing and time". You'll be able to piece together game-style "playgrounds" from 200 or so building blocks, or tinker with preloaded levels.
Going by photos from the presentation, the interface seems to use circular selection menus, and to represent commands and rules as strings of icons.
GameSpot's CES report said the young demonstrator manipulated it with "blinding speed". Looking, apparently, "like a simplified version of such programming tools as the Unreal Engine 3, the tool lets players tinker with wire frames, edit event timing, tweak colors, and speed up or slow down gameplay," GameSpot said.
Kodu is intended to serve as an introduction to the basic principles of game design, and to "prevent common programming mistakes", according to lead designer Matt MacLaurin. It will sit alongside the more sophisticated XNA programming environment as a way to create games for the 360 Community Games Channel.
It was designed by Microsoft Research as a tool for children, although the marketing men have had the genius idea of selling it as the Brain Training of user-generated content. "Kodu is the newest game to keep minds of all ages sharp by developing logic, problem-solving and creative thinking skills," said the press release, feeling very pleased with itself.
As yet it's unclear what the limitations are on the games you can create with Kodu, or what (if any) the cost of the package will be, but we'll be watching it with great interest.