Program your own video games with these mobile apps

Oct 30, 2014

These five apps can tutor middle and high school students about everything from coding to design to implementation that goes into creating games.

Gone are the days when playing video games were viewed as a juvenile distraction. There are tangible learning benefits to games. Further, those with the skills to build games can are highly coveted and can earn significant income with minimal experience. These five apps can tutor middle and high school students about everything from coding to design to implementation that goes into creating games.

Udacity (iOS Android, Free)

While the most important programming language for building games is C++, students will need a firm foundation in general coding first. Udacity contains courses on Java, Python, HTML, and more. Java is the most useful for building games for Android and PC platforms. Nevertheless, the mobile application has courses for building Android apps, making your own version of the popular 2048 game, and HTML5 game development. Students might not stick to making games, but having a solid grasp on programming languages can lead to better career opportunities after high school and college.

Pixel Press Floors: Draw Your Own Video Game (iOS, Free)

The free Pixel Press Floors: Draw Your Own Video Game app, compatible with iPhone and iPad, uses an intrinsically dynamic method for building games. Students can create directly on the app or draw a game level using ‘glyphs’ on graph paper, snap a picture with their iPad, and upload their layout. This app packs a serious amount of fun into the experience, emphasizing the importance of game design, building prototypes, and testing to improve game logic.

Codea (iOS, $9.99)

Available for iPad, Codea teaches students the Lua programming language so they can build games and simulations. The boilerplate text reduces the learning curve and permits hands-on experience. Like Pixel Press Floors, Codea emphasizes prototyping and includes examples, a forum and in-line reference documentation that corresponds with the elements of programming games. The app can even render 3D graphics, functional game physics, and the option to import custom files. Once complete, students can export their game to Xcode, Apple’s program for iOS and OS X software development.

AGD: Lenses (Android, Free)

If you ask your student or child why she or he is dead set on building a video game, you can expect a pretty basic response. This Android app is a companion to The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses by Jesse Schell, a professor who teaches at the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University, features a deck of 100 essential questions any game developer should ask during the process. Samples have students consider a wide range of topics, from in-game surprises to how the game’s program separates short and long-term goals. The app itself doesn’t include any answers to the questions, but creates a much needed dialogue between aspiring developers.

Game Dev Story (iOS $4.99, Android $2.50)

Game Dev Story is a meta-simulation game that shows what it takes to build and promote a winning company in the video game industry. While it won’t teach students higher level material like programming, it shows a whimsical peek into the talented people gaming companies hire, faux reviews, and more. Game Dev Story is perfect for when students need to take a break from designing their own game creations. Students will develop organizational, task-management and reasoning skills by taking the helm as CEO.

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Stephen Danos

Stephen Danos is the Associate Editor for,, and Appolicious. He has contributed to articles published on TechCrunchThe Chicago Sun TimesThe Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere.

He received his BA in English from the University of Iowa and MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Playhouse State (H_NGM_N Books, 2012) and Gravitational (The New Megaphone, forthcoming).

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