The kids are always drawing characters and writing, and I was wondering – could we use this to make a game together?
It turns out, we can.
I’d guess in about 30 hours, we’ve put together a small world where:
The player can wander around our world
The kids have both drawn characters that appear in the game
My 7 year old has designed a couple of maps
Together with my 7 year old, we have written some dialogue
I figured out how to build out some simple logic, connecting scenes
First, I looked into various game making tools. I ended up using Stencyl, the first one I tried. I checked it out first because the free version is limited only in that it only allows you to publish your game to the web (as opposed to desktop or mobile versions), and, for me, a big bonus was that it runs in Linux.
I was really impressed, and would recommend it to anyone thinking of doing something similar. There is a small library of assets you can use in your game, adding logic is similar to logic blocks in Scratch.
Other small things – usually when I create something, with a little searching, I can usually find answers pretty easily on Stack Exchange. I found it harder to find answers my issues with Stencyl, and spent more time trying different things – I think, largely due to a smaller development community
It wasn’t until we started that I realized how much effort is required to put together the artwork for a game. It is one thing to scan in a drawing of a character, but another to create drawings of the character from every perspective, such that it is animated as it walks across the screen.
My 7 year old recently acquired a fish bowl with a betta fish.
Apparently, the PLA plastic used in 3D printers doesn’t degrade significantly in a fish tank, so I started looking for aquarium decorations we could print. And I came across a design for a fish feeder: https://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1257953
I started modifying it to accommodate our fish bowls. She asked to help out, so I suggested she do a sketch of her design.
Her design has a timer, and uses a suction cup to attach the feeder to the bowl. I was skeptical, but she found a suction cup and demonstrated it would stick to the curved wall of the bowl.
I then set her up with Tinkercad. Here’s the 3D model she made of her design:
Our fish feeder is still a work in progress, we’ll post pictures of our project when it is complete.
The toy consists of a little bird, and a little bird house. The bird house has four activities for the chick. When the chick is placed over one of the play areas, a sound effect is played – the coolest of which was a washroom. You can kind of get the idea from this YouTube video (skip to 7 minute mark).
In any case, this was inspiration for a project I thought would be fun for she and I to work on together. Although I knew this wouldn’t be slick, I thought the quickest and easiest way to do this would be:
Use a hall effect (magnet) sensor as a contactless sensor
Install a magnet in a stuffed toy (not suitable for small children!)
Take readings from the sensor with an Arduino
Interpret the readings and play a selection of sound effects on a PC
We took a shoebox, and she built a home for a small stuffed toy, a “Teany Ty” she named Jelly. I cut open the the stuffed toy, and installed a couple of magnets, and sewed it back up. I picked up some hall effect (magnet) sensors from Creatron, and wired it up to an Arduino nano, and installed the sensors in key areas of the home.
I wrote a few lines of Python to read the data from the Arduino, and play back the samples. I’d never used Python before, and had heard about the PyGame libraries for years – I thought it would be rock solid, but even within a minute of play, with my setup, I had issues with MP3 sound effects that others had encountered as well. I converted them to WAV files and that went away.
We had fun picking and recording samples, eating and slurping water into the microphone. Freesound was a great place to look for sounds, though it didn’t quite have the breadth that my daughter was looking for (“I want a recording of a tiger walking on dry leaves”).
The sensor/magnet combination I chose wasn’t quite sensitive enough – the tiny magnet in the stuffed toy had to be really close to the sensor to trigger the sound. It does work, and it was a fun build.
A while ago, my daughter and I built an outhouse out of Popsicle sticks and a cereal box. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but she held on to it and kept it alongside her toys. She even brought it to school one day when she had to present a craft she had made.
Lego Friends sets (bakery, amusement park, riding camp, etc) tend to feature something else missing from boys’ sets: a loo. The boys don’t care, the girls’ pragmatism demanded it.
I realized that her Lego Friends sets had washrooms, but her Little Critters house did not. I asked her about it – and what I saw as a fun project was actually addressing a critical need for her Little Critters.
This weekend, we set about modernizing the facilities. We printed out a toilet we found on Thingiverse, and now her Little Critters have a modern toilet.
My daughter has been making some really impressive earrings using Sculpey clay and earring hooks and studs sourced from Michael’s. Lighting them up, like these studs, would take it to the next level. Light up earrings present an interesting challenge, as size and aesthetics constraints conflict with a battery holder, light, and wiring.
We built a simple design we found on YouTube which uses painted googly eyes to hold the battery and a small container with sparkles to diffuse the light. There is room for improvement, but they turned out OK – they look great in a darker room or from a distance, but crude up-close. We may refine them further.
I haven’t worked in 3D at all before, and I was looking for a simple project.
As with the Brio/Duplo wagon, I was thinking about what was within my ability, and not commercially available. I decided I would try to build a custom tire valve stem cap with my daughters’ school logo (a polar bear).
Looking at freely available 3D modelling tools, I checked out Blender and OpenSCAD. OpenSCAD seemed to be simple for someone starting out with designs built out of basic shapes.
I converted the bitmap logo I had to a vector drawing using Inkscape‘s “Trace Bitmap” feature. Following an Instructables tutorial, I exported the bear’s outline and features to a DXF file, which can be imported into OpenSCAD. I encountered number of difficulties (it has been a while since I completed the design – I can’t remember which issues, specifically, I encountered). I tried again, with great results, using the Inkscape OpenSCAD export plug-in.
I merged the bear with a cap designed by Dan Ujvari, and printed it at the Toronto Public Library’s innovation lab. I used a black permanent marker to highlight the bear’s details after printing.
It was interesting to learn that even with a simple project as this one, there are limitations to 3D printing. It was almost impossible to remove the support material on the reverse side, as the bear is narrower than the cap. If I were to refine the design, I would make the bear the same width as the cap. I definitely have more to learn about successfully designing an object around the limitations of current 3D printers.
I have been excited about the potential for 3D printing for quite some time.
Shortly after our local library acquired a couple 3D printers, I took the mandatory course, where we were taught the two primary rules of printing at the library:
Rule #1) Don’t touch the heating element
Rule #2) Don’t print guns
Course completed, I started to think about applications. What can’t you just buy, what makes sense to print?
The idea of combining Duplo and Brio seemed like a great idea – I was thinking of an elaborate track with bridges over bridges, and Duplo seemed almost perfect for the job. What I really wanted was a piece with a wooden train (Brio) top, and Duplo bottom.
A quick search revealed that I wasn’t the first person to think about this, someone had already designed a Duplo/Brio bridge support system. Looking into this further, and loading these parts into 3D printing software revealed that each segment would take about 2 hours to print – the maximum time allowed on the library’s printer. Given that a simple bridge would require at least four segments, I looked for alternate ideas and stumbled across the Duplo/Brio wagon.
I downloaded the file, went to the library, and printed it out. 83 minutes later, my train was completed. I attached the wheels to the body with paper clips, and glued fridge magnets to the ends for the couplings. I was quite pleased with the end product (see photo). The library charged just under $5 for the printing time, which is about what a train car costs from a local toy store.
Taking this idea further, I thought I may try to design my own toy 3D printed TTC subway or street car for wooden train tracks. I have occasionally seen them available commercially, but they are generally hard to come by.
After lunch, the girls and I hopped on the subway and headed to the Canada Day events hosted at Queen’s Park. We ended up having a great time – there were free bouncy castles, live music, hula hoops, and more.
But I thought the coolest activity was the build and test your own air rocket, hosted by Makerkids.
The children were given pipe insulation for the rocket’s body, and duck tape, scissors, cardboard, streamers, and everything else you would need to complete an air rocket.
With occasional help from Rachel, Tegan built her rocket.
The Makerkids team had several launching stations setup on University Avenue, which appeared to be similar to the Make design.
As scotch tape was used for some of the cosmetic touches, I warned Tegan that the rocket may not survive its first test flight intact. She decided to launch it anyway.
Shortly after breakfast on July 1st, Tegan picked up a recently discarded brown cardboard box sitting beside our recycle bin. She had a vision in mind: she wanted to build a rocket ship. She needed some assistance – the cardboard box was too thick to cut with her scissors. So she created a design.
First, I was assigned the window. With a utility knife, I cut a circle out of the box. A clear plastic lid, also sourced from the recycle bin, was installed. Tegan then made the fins from the box’s former flaps, and installed them using packing tape.
Next came the nose cone. Rachel was a proponent of using the two remaining box flaps, and building an A-frame, triangular nose cone. Tegan had her heart set on a true conical design, but couldn’t quite figure out how to achieve it with the materials at hand. In the end, we taped 9 sheets of construction paper together, and rolled the now super-sized sheet into a cone, and installed it on the top of the rocket.
Together, the girls painted the rocket red. To this day, it sits in a corner of their room.
Although this book is targeted at older children, and my children aren’t particularly interested in robotics, we still had fun completing a couple of the simpler projects at home.
First, we built a mechanical hand with cardboard, drinking straws, string, and a glue gun. This was a great craft, because my six year old could complete all the assembly steps (given guidance) and the completed project was unanticipated, functional and fun.
Next, we built a drawing robot, which consisted of a plastic cup, tape, an electric motor with an added weight (like a mobile phone or pager vibrator), batteries, and markers. This craft required more assistance – I connected the batteries, and the weight to the motor. My six year old assembled the cup and the markers, and shot video footage.
Here’s what the output looked like:
My personal brain dump, Opinions, Projects, Toronto