Today I'll be taking a little detour from writing reviews on big budget PC games and instead talk about a little educational game called Algo-Bot. As the title suggests, this game teaches basic and advanced lessons in programming logic. This title is not yet released, but thanks to the public relations at the Belgian company, Fishing Cactus, I managed to get my hands on the alpha. I've played through several levels, and so far I can tell that Fishing Cactus has a good thing going.
The object of Algo-Bot is to get a little robot named Algo through a maze using as few moves as possible. Players do not command Algo in real time, however. Instead the player puts a series of commands in a bar at the bottom of the screen, telling the robot to move forward, turn left or right, and interact with or use an object. When all of these commands are laid out, hit the “play” button and watch the robot carry out its mission. If the job is done right, you celebrate and move on to the next level. If not, you'll likely laugh yourself silly as you watch the little robot bump repeatedly against a wall.
Algo-Bot starts out simple and then progressively teaches players more complex ideas, such as functions, variables, set theory, loops and conditions which help save players space on the instruction bar, letting them get to their objective faster and more efficiently.
Algo-Bot hooks players in at the start and keeps them thinking of new ways to complete a level. Trying to find patterns in your instructions is key to getting Algo to his destination faster, thereby improving your score. Functions, for example, can help a great deal, as it allows players to perform multiple commands but only take up one space on the main bar. If the map allows for it, the player can even reuse that same function multiple times. This programming logic helps Algo-Bot excel in making the player think hard and carefully without infringing upon his or her fun. In short, the game teaches you without you even realizing you're being taught, which is the end-goal of any educational game.
Algo-Bot is in its alpha stages, however, so it could still use a little polish. There are some misspellings and missing words in the text, and terms in the in-game encyclopedia don't match up with their definitions. Currently the game doesn't tell you what levels you've already completed, so it's hard to find where you left off in the last play session. Finally, Algo-Bot could use some fine touches that would really help it stand out, such as mouse-over effects on the click-able buttons, and giving the robot a little victory dance when he completes his objective.
Fishing Cactus plans to use this game to help reach high school, college, and post-graduates who want to learn programming. It will launch on Kickstarter with twelve different pledge levels ranging from $5 to $10,000. For $15 you get a downloadable copy of the game on PC ($10 for early bird) and an Algo-Bot papercraft. For a $30 pledge ($20 on early bird) you get the game, papercraft, early access to the alpha, and your name in the credits! If funded, the final version of the game will be between $15 and $20 for desktop and $7 for mobile platform. I'd highly recommend pledging to this cause, as Algo-Bot has found my favor and will likely find the favor of the schools who try it out.
You can learn more about "Algo-Bot" and even contribute on its Kickstarter Web Page.