Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review: Tektoma

Most times, we homeschoolers like to learn right along with our kids. Usually, it is one of the perks of homeschooling. There have been areas, however, where I've felt I either just didn't have room in my brain to learn or knew my kids would be better off getting a jump start with someone else to show them the ropes. Usually this involves something techy. Not that I don't like learning techy things, but my learning curve is rather flat in this area.

Do you have a gamer in your life? Are they interested in programming their own games? Is learning game design low on your list for brain stretching activities or just something of zero interest for you?

Tektoma, created by Tom Marx and Matilda O'Connor as an extension to their offline summer camps, is designed for wanna-be game programmers ages 7-17.

Tektoma offers members:
  • Engaging video tutorials for ages 7-17
  • Tutorials of varying skill levels and topics
  • Learn at your own pace in the comfort of your home
  • Natural progression helps develop technical skills
  • Customize your learning experience
  • Low monthly membership fee gives access to all our resources
  • New curriculums available monthly
The video tutorials of this subscription website make use of the free Game Maker software. Six video tutorials, ranging in length from 1 - 2 1/2 hours, take students step-by-step through creation of a video game. There are also currently six shorter tutorials that teach individual components. To assist with learning, a forum is available to post questions about the tutorials and make requests for new tutorials. You can see a list and description of all the tutorials here. In addition to learning to create games, members are able to both download and share games created with Game Maker.

My son was initially excited about the 3-month subscription I was given for this review. He already enjoys playing video games and the thought of creating them on his own was certainly intriguing. While he started out with vigor, the tutorials were really too long to keep his interest. I think the combination of the attention required and the little details that go into creating a game, made the tutorials not a great fit for my son. His attention span is perfect for playing fast-paced games, but not so great for the detail and time required to create them.

Next, I had my almost-teen give a tutorial a try. She is a bit more techy and has put hours in creating websites. She isn't a big gamer though. She does like them enough to happily try out the site. She got quite a bit farther into the tutorial than my son before she lost interest. She had fun while trying it, but wasn't really motivated to work at it more.

One issue both of my kids had was they made a mistake somewhere during the tutorial and the game didn't work at the next step. Both of them did this in different areas and it was a stopping point for each. They could have easily gone back to watch the tutorial to find their mistake, but the novelty had worn off at that point. My son decided he'd rather play games or Legos and my daughter wandered off as well, likely to work on a website or less techy adventure in drawing or reading. When given the option for help in trouble shooting to complete the tutorial or to try a different one a week or so later, both declined.

My son had the initial interest, but not the attention span. My daughter had the attention span, but marginal interest. The next to try was one with marginal attention and zero interest, and might I add, zero skill- yours truly!

The tutorials are very easy to follow. Each step is explained and shown on screen. You do need to have Game Maker and the tutorial running at the same time. This means you either need to run one from a laptop while you work on another computer, or size the windows and switch back and forth. The latter was doable, but did require a lot of pausing of the tutorial to switch screens to perform the task. This made the time required to complete the already lengthy tutorial longer.

The tutorials are divided up in segments. It would be easy to watch just a few portions, save your game, and come back to it at a later time. This won't satisfy those that need instant gratification of a completed game, but would be a good solution for those with enough interest in the details, but who need shorter tutorial segments.

Tektoma was created in 2009 and is still developing. I liked that request for tutorials can be made on the Discussion Forum. While there doesn't appear to be much recent activity on the forums, previous discussions seemed to have reasonable responses for both help in programming and requests. The online support and interaction is a helpful feature for those that desire to take things a step further.

For our family, this wasn't a great fit. If you have a child interested or just starting out in gaming, Tektoma may be a perfect solution to getting them started with little effort on your part. It is not for the marginally interested nor the marginally attentive, however. The tutorials are easy to follow for those with both the attention and interest. The first 40-minutes of the racing game tutorial is available for preview. This would be an excellent way to determine a fit for your student. The resulting games are not the sophisticated games of today, but the focus isn't on the end result so much as it is the process. Those looking to work with Game Maker software and wanting some hand holding may get quite a bit out of a Tektoma subscription.

Tektoma is available for a $14.95/month or $140/year. This is a very inexpensive option to in-person tech courses, based on our personal participation in similar camps. There is also a 14-day free trial.* Visit the Tektoma website to learn more about the service or to obtain a subscription.

*To take advantage of the free trial, you must become a member and cancel within 14 days.

Visit the TOS Homeschool Crew's blog to read more reviews on this product and others.

Disclaimer: This review was provided as a result in my participation in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine Crew, a team of 100+ homeschooling parents. While the product was provided at no expense to me in order to provide this review, I have not received any other compensation. Furthermore, receipt of the product does not guarantee a positive review. I strive to give a balanced overview of each product, detailing my opinion of both pros and cons and how the product worked for my family. What works for one family may not work for another. I encourage you to read reviews of other Crew members and research sufficiently to determine if any product will be a benefit to your homeschool.

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