Gamewagon CEO John Lilley is helping junior schools across London to teach children valuable computer science skills using video games as a fun focus.
“When I was at school I was lucky enough to learn to code. I was part of the personal computer revolution and cut my teeth writing code on the ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro.
This is something that kids today have missed out on, they are great users of technology but do they know how to create their own apps or programs?”
Said Mr Lilley. Kids love video games and using coding programs like scratch to introduce programming concepts like variables, loops, conditional statements and algorithms gives students a foundation of knowledge that will carry them forward without fear.
Gamewagon developed the Junior Game Creators after school clubs to support the national curriculum by giving primary school children the confidence and enthusiasm for computer science. John Lilley went on to say;
“In the same way that learning to read opens up a wider opportunity to learn. So does learning to code. I did not become a computer programmer but the creative thinking skills I learnt in my school days helped me understand what was possible [with technology] and drove my thirst to use applications effectively in business.”
To learn more visit the Junior Game Creators web site – www.juniorgamecreators.co.uk
Two years ago, when Gamewagon took its first steps into the world of children’s parties, there was nothing quite like us on the market. We made a decision very early that we would adhere to the PEGI rating system with regards to which games we would allow our young guests to play. It’s important to note however, that there was no law, regulation or guideline to say that we should – the VSC’s code of practice and accompanying legislature, only applied to the sale of games, not what we do. This decision was our own and one that felt right and important at the time and continues to inform the way we operate – ensuring that games are enjoyed in a safe and responsible way by all ages.
This sense of responsibility is what led us to get in touch with the VSC earlier this year to see how we could help make sure we’re not the only organisation that considers the age appropriateness of video games. After some discussion Gamewagon and the VSC have drawn up an amendment to their industry-wide code of practice to include guidelines and rules that govern the use of video games at events of all sizes – from exhibitions to kids parties. You can find the full text here http://www.videostandards.org.uk/VSC/downloads.html under “VSC Code of Practice” Section 4.
The Video Standards Council is an organisation that few may have heard of but many will recognise. Originally founded in 1989 to “oversee and promote high standards” in the then new technology of home video, its members range from the nationwide supermarket chains to the small independent game shop. Since expanding into video games, one of the VSC’s most important roles is in administering the PEGI age rating system – reviewing all new games and deciding who the appropriate audience is – which it does under the name Game Rating Authority. As of July 2012, this age rating system became legally enforceable for the sale of games i.e. it is against the law to sell age restricted games to children.
To summarise the main points:
– We must make sure that anyone playing any video game is as old or older than the PEGI age rating.
– We will take all reasonable steps to prevent children from being able to view gameplay on age restricted games.
– We will comply with all child protection legislation and procedures.
Of course, Gamewagon has been following these guidelines since day one, for our near 2,000 parties to date. This is not new to us. We wrote these guidelines with the VSC to try and ensure that we are not the only ones looking out for young gamers and their parents. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously and as the UK’s biggest children’s gaming events organiser, we hope we can lead the way for others to follow.
We’re heading in to the home stretch for kids before a glorious six or so weeks of freedom. Looking for some good incentives / rewards to encourage them to get their heads down before the summer holidays? Here’s a look ahead to the best family games coming out between Easter and summer, perhaps you can reward yourself as well as them!
Mario Kart 8 | Wii U | Out: 31st May
This is the big one. It’s always a big deal when Nintendo releases a new Mario Kart. The speedy series has a near universal appeal from the youngest to the oldest gamers. This time around we can expect to see transforming karts, new characters and gorgeous HD graphics. You will need a Wii U to play it but we bet you’ll be hard pressed to find a better reason to upgrade to the the new system. With four-player competition, accessible controls and infinite re-play value, Mario Kart 8 could very well be the family game of the year.
SingOn | PlayStation 3 | Out: Spring 2014
Sony’s own SingStar has long held the karaoke crown for game consoles. Now it may be time to pass the mic. Following a similar digital system to SingStar, SingOn uses a downloaded app to the PlayStation 3 to deliver the music. Plug in any USB mics, pick your song from thousands on the online store and away you go. With SingStar, the songs could get pricey fast but SingOn seems to have a great solution to this; instead of purchasing individual songs, would-be popstars only have to lay down £2.99 for three hours access to the whole library. This could be a great option for those that only break in to song at parties, giving you a great selection for less. They’re even adding a live auto-tune feature for the more musically challenged.
Trials Fusion | XBOX 360/XBOX One/PS4/PC | Out: April 16
After the massive success of fiendishly addictive bike-balance games, Trials HD and Trials Evolution, Finnish developers, RedLynx, are almost set to unleash Trials Fusion on the world. Promising the same, finely tuned gameplay as its predecessor, Fusion adds tricks, track creation and multi-player action (although we’re not sure what form that will take yet). As a download only game the price will likely be a little lower but if it’s anything like the last, you’ll still be in for hours and hours playtime.
Invizimals may have been a game that your kids have liked but not really clicked with. Now however with the Invizimals The Alliance on Vita and Invizimals Lost Kingdoms on PlayStation 3 the franchise has really started something that could grab their attention. So get ready as we did not see it coming (pardon the pun!!)
There are many components to this franchise and it takes a while for all the pieces to click together. Not only is there the ability battle between Vita and PS3 but there is also a cartoon coming to the UK soon as well as a line of toys and collectable Panini stickers. Look out wallet!
Testing out the two games, as well as seeing the cartoons and the toys at a recent launch event for the game it was interesting to see how uncomplicated the offering felt. It all clicks when you see a child pause the TV show and use a Vita to scan the QR code which then granted him access to the on-screen character in his game.
Then later on while exploring in the garden they use the Vita to scan a particular part of greenery to capture another hard to find Invizimal he had been searching for.
With both Invizimals games launching on 28th March we are looking forward to seeing how quickly it reaches that critical mass of becoming the characters of choice for imaginary playground games. We are looking to see if they will work for our Gamewagon kids video game parties where Skylanders really struggled. We focus on social interaction and four player games and we hope more developers continue to support social gaming in creative ways such as Invizimals.
Below is a video from our friends from Family Gamer TV so you can learn a little more from the Invizimals Launch Party;
Online retail giant, Amazon, have just launched the Amazon Fire TV in the US for $99. It’s a very slim black box, not much bigger than a smartphone, and plugs straight in to your HDTV. Once connected to the internet it offers access to loads and loads of the biggest TV and film streaming services like Netflix and Amazon’s own Prime Instant Video (just launched in the UK and free for Amazon Prime members). It’s a safe bet they’ll be offering the likes of BBC iPlayer and 4OD when it crosses the Atlantic too.
There’s certainly no shortage of ways to get TV and film at the moment with many families enjoying on demand video via their set-top box and games console, or using one of Apple or Google’s similar devices. Amazon is looking to distinguish themselves in a few big ways though.
On the video front, they’re able to offer a bigger selection of services by basing the system on Android (the same software then runs loads of non-Apple smartphones). The remote control is unique as well as boasting a microphone in the top for voice control. Ask for Doctor Who and it’ll show you the ever-changing Time Lord. How well this feature works though, remains to be seen. We have been less than impressed with most voice control systems even those in the new generation of Playstation and Xbox.
But the biggest surprise is how much Amazon seems to be pushing the Fire TV as a mini-games console. We’ve seen the Ouya and the Mad Catz M.O.J.O. try to offer smaller, mobile-style games on the big screen in recent years with little success. Amazon is taking a slightly different approach, hiring some big name games talent into its Amazon Game Studios and buying existing game development studios with a view to having them create exclusive content for the Fire TV. They’ve also announced a number of existing games playable on the box too, Minecraft being the biggest.
Early reports on the controller are promising, likening the fully featured gamepad to the superlative XBOX 360 controller. It needs to be bought separately but because the Fire TV runs on Android, you should be able to use most other Bluetooth devices like the PlayStation 3 controller. Coupled with the impressive power in the technical specs and a special, kid-friendly mode called FreeTime, the Fire TV could at last be an affordable, attractive miniature games console for the family.
It’s yet to be seen whether the Fire TV will be able to compete with Google and Apple in the video space or succeed where others have failed as a micro-console but with the money and might of a huge company like Amazon, it certainly stands a very good chance.
You and your wallet may have survived the Skylander phenomenon that linked collectable characters with a video game. Well get ready for Mixels from Lego.
Lego Mixels are a range of unique characters that belong to one of nine tribes, each with a distinct colour and style to differentiate them. Made from Lego parts they can all be combined to create a mix (combining Mixels of different tribes), max (combining Mixels of the same tribe), and murp (when a mix goes horribly wrong).
Lego Mixels is a quite unique approach as the cartoon shorts (Cartoon Network) and the toys were developed in unison, with both debuting at the same time.
Supporting them on the video gaming front is the Lego Mixels App, “Calling All Mixels”, which allows you to play with your Mixels in a virtual environment as you mix, max and murp them together to defend against the evil Nixels.
Lego could have a huge hit on their hands with the Mixels; and at only £3 per character, they’re a little less of a hit for parents too!
We are often asked about the suitability of our video game birthday parties and entertainment for girls. My own daughter is a FIFA fanatic but also has grown up playing Jak & Daxter, Mario Kart, and Super Mario Bros on consoles and not just Singstar and dance mats. There is no doubt in my mind that girls love video games of all genre as much as the boys. We see them every week playing together and having an absolute blast.
However, it is interesting when you take a view from afar and start to consider what kind of female characters exist inside the games that she historically played. There is no doubt there is a huge bias towards male characters but we talked about it and it was not something she was really aware of, or that ruined her fun at the time.
Our friend Andy at Family Guy TV recently posed a similar point to Activision at the New York Toy fair. Skylanders has been an amazing phenomenon but the character set has been predominantly biased towards male characters. Although the development team felt they were gender neutral!
We have recently seen Angry Birds Stella announced, which is a version of the game targeted specifically at girls (judging from her colour and types of toys being sold). While boys will likely enjoy playing this as well it will be interesting to see if Skylanders goes a similar route.
With the Swap Force figures seemingly all being male, does Skylanders 4 need to re-address the balance? What video games do your daughters play? Do they have any favourite female video game characters?
We will take a close up look at some of the favourite female Skylanders in preparation for announcements on the new game. Here is Sky who packs a fiery punch.
Andy at Family Gamer TV alerted us that Microsoft has lowered the retail price of the Xbox One in the UK. If you were thinking of buying one, this may be enough to tip you over the edge and today you’ll be able to get it for £399 instead of £429. Worldwide, Microsoft is also introducing a Titanfall (new shoot’em up game PEGI 16) bundle you get the Xbox One, a digital copy of the multiplayer shooter, and a free month of Xbox Live Gold all for the same price as the console alone. Not a bad deal so soon after the launch of the new Next Gen console.
We are still watching the developments with both the PS4 and Xbox One and still absolutely adore the Nintendo WiiU for fun family friendly multiplayer games. The current pricing of the Next Gen consoles according to Amazon are as follows; Xbox One – £399, PS4 – £349 and WiiU – £217.
Given that the WiiU will allow you to continue to use your Wii controllers and still play your back catalogue of Wii games it is tough to beat in the frugality stakes. Parents of kids from 3 to 9 years could do far worse than the WiiU. Older children may find that the peer pressure to much to resist the Sony and Microsoft offerings.
We will aim to keep you posted on further developments in the battle of the consoles.