« Previous | Main | Next »

CBBC Game Workshop at Games Britannia

Post categories:

Jon Howard Jon Howard | 16:00 UK time, Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Dozens of children standing in front of some adults wearing BBC badges.

CBBC Game Workshop 2 Attendees

I'm Jon Howard, Development Manager for Games in Children's Future Media.

As part of my role I run the Children's Future Media Games Stream which is responsible for developing all of the games on CBBC and CBeebies websites - overseeing agency builds as well as making many hugely successful in-house games.

Making games for children demands a huge amount of specific knowledge about how kids use computers, appropriate cognitive load and how to maximise engagement. The most important factor of all is fun, and making sure that fun is at the core of all BBC Children's games.

We spend a lot of time working with children while testing our games to ensure we maximise their input into our development processes. When invited to get involved at Games Britannia we jumped at the chance to let the kids lead on the game development front while we facilitated.

Games Britannia is a schools video game festival featuring 5 days of hands-on interactive workshops and lectures from leading figures in the games industry.

2011's Next Gen report by gaming guru Ian Livingstone and visual effects veteran Alex Hope called for programming skills to replace business software training in ICT classes.

If the UK is to be a hub for the video games industry, more focus needs to be put on how to write software than how to use it. This is at the heart of what Games Britannia is trying to achieve. The great and the good of the UK games industry, from Namco and Sumo to Bafta Games and UKIE, were drawn to such a noble cause.

Girls poring over paper prototypes at a table

paper prototyping at the workshop

Most of the kids who signed up for the CBBC game workshop were Key Stage 1 (5 to 7 year olds) with some Key Stage 2 (7 to 10). Our aim was for each team of children to build a working game that they could access online from their home computers after the workshop.

It was felt that programming would be too advanced given the available time. However game design is a discipline that we could cover which would allow a great deal of creative freedom. We wanted the attendees to feel inspired that they could create as well as consume.

To enable this, we developed a two hour workshop session that would allow multiple teams of children to first examine the constraints around a game, develop an idea, frame a game name and description, then to design a lead character, paper prototype and finally construct a scene into a game.

girls poring over a laptop in a classroom, watched by an adult

Team Two builds and tests their game

A character animation system was built that would allow a paper template design to be easily transferred and automatically animated into a game.

An optimised line-intersection physics system was developed which plugged into our game engine and level editor.

This gave the kids an environment for easily putting 'platform' games together. Platformers are still hugely popular and the most played game type on the CBBC website.

Into this system we added some great looking characters and themed assets - a wonderful array of digital building blocks.

Screenshot of eerie forest landscape with vampire, witch, spider, and unicorn

Screenshot of Creepy Land by Team Nine

We were able to keep the explanations of how the systems worked to a minimum by keeping the palette of available mechanics simple. All non-player characters had one of just two collision behaviours - either they sent the user back to the start point or the user was flung high into the air. These two behaviours allowed for some very sophisticated challenges to be implemented by the kids. It was amazing how quickly game design techniques were understood by such a young audience. Very advanced conversations quickly sprung up across the different teams about how to construct a puzzle or a problem that would be challenging to the end user.

The unbridled joy on the faces of the participants extended from the kids to the BBC team who came along to help. The team - a discipline mixture covering game developers, designers, producers, project managers, and researchers - all volunteered to take part feeling that here was an opportunity to get at the heart of what makes our core audience tick. The audience insight gained from engaging with kid's creativity in the game space will surely help drive future games on BBC Children's.

It was amazing to observe the wide palette of influences that children draw from in a creative situation. Typically a veteran gamer would have a very parochial view of what makes a game, but here ideas flowed that didn't seem shackled by convention - and that is great to experience.

While at the Games Britannia event, Children's FM and CBBC hosted an expo stand allowing children and teachers to connect first hand with our product and teams. This provided a great opportunity to interface with our audience and talk openly about core ideas, likes and dislikes.

In a room fill of schoolchildren, two boys tap away at laptops.

Qualifying for the Jet Boat Barney world record attempt

For added fun, we ran a qualifying session for the right to play new Blue Peter game Jet Boat Barney live on the main stage to set a new gaming world record. A hugely successful endeavour - we now have a world record holder!

The Jet Boat Barney game was built (in-house) to represent Blue Peter presenter Barney Harwood's impressive entrance to MediaCity for the show's first recording in Salford.

It needed to be easy and quick to play, require some skill, have gradation for world record separation, and lots of fun. The game is going to be launched online later in the Summer.

Jon Howard is Development Manager, Games, Children's Future Media

Related link:


  • Comment number 1.

    It is amazing how quickly children can grasp the basic concepts of a game system and use them to construct inventive puzzles. I was also running a workshop at Games Britannia, about my Quest system for creating text adventure games - and had a very similar experience. In only two hours it was incredible how far the participants got. Freed from having to worry about graphics, they were able to be very creative with the objects that appeared in their own game worlds.

    I've written a bit more about the workshop here: https://www.textadventures.co.uk/blog/2012/07/04/quest-at-games-britannia/

    It is clear to me that kids will eagerly grasp the opportunity to start programming, if presented in a way that lets them get started creating something quickly which they can share.

  • Comment number 2.

    My daughter was at this workshop. She came back beaming. Granny, Grandad, Aunty, Uncle, cousins, brother, neighbours and classmates have all played the game she made. Very inspirational. We love CBBC!

  • Comment number 3.

    I visited the event at the weekend when Games Britannia was open to the general public and had a fantastic time, so much so I created this video of the event and interviewed SEGA regarding their latest title SEGA & Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed.


  • Comment number 4.

    What value is there in teaching children to make games? Shouldn't we encourage the nation's youth to learn key skills? ones that have real economic benefit?

  • Comment number 5.

    Yes, we should encourage youngsters to learn key skills. And I think working as a team, collaborating creatively, problem solving, user testing and computer skills are key skills with real career benefits that were all involved in the workshops.

    Actual game development requires skills in maths, physics, art, creative writing and multi-media technologies. If game development retains a child's interest sufficiently for them to learn about vectors, trigonometry, calculus, gravity, collision theory, art history, language constructs, dialogue, sound editing, programming, just to name a few of the elements involved, then they have still learned those things. Whether they go on to have a career in the games industry, aeronautical engineering, journalism or teaching.

  • Comment number 6.

    Gaming is about problem solving, imagination, hand eye co-ordination and story telling. 84.1 % of the UK are plugged into the internet.
    These sorts of great sessions inspire kids to be part of the now, which may help them later in our ever growing digital future.

  • Comment number 7.

    BBC should share some of their gaming best practice with places like South Africa - it seems the schools there can't even get the basics like textbooks right, let alone have their broadcaster research on how best to engage kids using technology.

    @Sue Bingham - gaming can be very useful to teach the key skills you speak of - everything from maths and co-ord to reading.

  • Comment number 8.

    @Michelle Summers - interesting article about the textbooks in South Africa... somehow I doubt the BBC sharing any of their best practice with the authorities there would result in any sort of improved delivery in terms of education there. In any case, if you've seen some of the local SABC broadcaster's educational programming attempts, you'll be quite shocked at how far off the mark they are when compared to BBC.

  • Comment number 9.

    I think once tech tools like the ipad are rolled out in schools gaming is inevitably going to form part the learning process. Think it's great that BBC is investing in this area.

    @Michelle Summers - somehow I doubt games would feature very high on the agenda in South Africa.. they've got far bigger problems with their education system there!

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.