In 10 Minutes, Microsoft Made Me An Xbox 360 Game [GDC 2009]

On Monday, I told readers of this blog that someone at GDC made me a game in 10 minutes. I announced that I would reveal the game “tomorrow,” and then, like the best game companies, I delayed my announcement. Now I’ll tell.


The person who made a game for me in 10 minutes on Monday was Matt MacLaurin at Microsoft. He’s the man in charge of Kodu, a piece of development software designed to enable kids to make games for the Xbox 360. Kodu replaces the need to write lines of code with the opportunity to write what look like rebuses — picture-based sentences — to engineer simple games using pre-set 3D characters. It’s all orchestrated by the Xbox 360 controller.

I told MacLaurin that I had thought of a game mechanic a few months ago that I didn’t think I’d seen in any games. I had no interest in quitting my job as a reporter to make it, but I wondered if Kodu would enable me to see if it’s fun.

My game mechanic idea: What if the player had four enemies to fight, and, when the first enemy was killed, the other three enemies would collectively gain the health that that killed enemy had started with? And what if that logic continued until there was only one powerful enemy left? Would that feel like the player had turned his group of enemies into one tough boss?

MacLaurin picked up the controller, and I checked my watch.

Ten minutes later he had made and tested several iterations of the game. He had surmounted one big obstacle, too. Working around Kodu’s lack of an instruction for how a character should handle death, he had scripted the enemies to redistribute their health points when a certain amount were depleted. It worked. What we had was a player-controlled UFO shooting against four flying blue enemies. Eliminating one caused the others to turn yellow and be tougher (he made them faster too). Whittling them down to two turned them purple; getting them down to one made the final enemy red. The later clashes were harder than the earlier ones.

The game was ok. I learned that my gameplay idea wasn’t immediately fun. But for MacLaurin to be able to do that in 10 minutes was impressive. I understood every line of picture-based code he inputted and probably could have constructed a similar batch of code with Kodu in an hour or so. Imagine the flights of fancy any of us could test with this.

Kodu will ship as a downloadable product to the Xbox 360 this spring, priced and offered in the style of a Community Game, complete with a free demo.

Look for another Kodu post above this one, that explains how the software’s picture language works.