Have you always wanted to create a Flash game but found it too daunting? Microsoft’s Popfly site now lets you create Silverlight games using templates and pre-created images following a sort of wizard approach to game design. There are some working games on the site that you can start from, including a racing game and an Asteroids type game, and then modify with new behaviors or new animations to get the game you want.
The Popfly game creator is currently in alpha, and the intent is to make it easy enough for a child to use. To tell the truth, though, I’ve spent about 20 minutes on the site so far and still can’t quite figure out what is going on. All the same, it’s a great idea, and may be the sort of gateway tool that leads kids to want to use Visual Studio and Blend to create more sophisticated games until they are eventually fully hooked developers — if that is the sort of life you want for your children, of course.
Update 5/3/08: after three hours on Popfly yesterday afternoon, my seven year old son has created his own Silverlight game, while my daughter is learning the intricacies of Microsoft Blend 2.5 in order to create her own animations (the Popfly XAML editor is mostly disabled in this alpha version). I’m proud of their appetite for learning, but am nonplussed at the prospect for their future careers. I’d prefer that they become doctors or lawyers — or even philosophy professors — someday, rather than software developers like their old man. Then again, maybe in the world of tomorrow everyone will know how to work with Visual Studio 2020 and there will be no need for people like me who specialize in software programming. Software development might become an ancillary skill, like typing, which everyone is simply expected to know. Or maybe our computers will have learned to program themselves by that time.
It is an internal peculiarity of the software development professional that he constantly demands new tools and frameworks that will make programming simpler — the simpler the better — which in a sense is a demand to make his own skills obsolete. His consolation is found in Fred Brooks’s essay No Silver Bullet, which promises that there are essential complexities in software development that cannot be solved through tools or processes. The software developer is consequently an inherently conservative person who not only recognizes but also depends on the essential frailty of humanity and our inability to perfect ourselves. But what if this isn’t true? What if Brooks is wrong, and the tools eventually become simple enough that even a seven year old is able to build reliable business applications? That will be a bright day for the middle-manager who has to constantly deal with developers who want to tell him what cannot be done, thus limiting his personal and career potential. It might also be a beautiful day for humanity in general, but a dark, dark day for the professional software developer who will go the way of the powder monkey, the nomenclator, the ornatrix, the armpit plucker of ancient Rome, and of course the dodo.