November 30, 2012 5:00 PM | Staff
Have you picked up a Raspberry Pi yet? Perhaps you had a fiddle with it and then buried it in a drawer -- or maybe it's become part of your development set-up. Either way, it's hard to deny that this little-computer-that-could is a huge breakthrough for game development, especially where kids learning to code are concerned.
And now there's even more reason for both small and big kids alike to pay attention to the device, as Minecraft studio Mojang announced a special free edition of the ultra-popular indie game for the Raspberry Pi.
Minecraft: Pi Edition will be completely free to download, and will feature a version of the Pocket Edition with support for multiple programming languages.
"The Raspberry Pi project resonates very strongly with the Mojang spirit," claims Mojang's chief architect Daniel Frisk in a Gamasutra interview. "The emphasis on creativity versus passive consumption, the do-it-yourself spirit and the pricing makes it available for all kinds of exploration and tinkering for curious people of all ages.
"Also [there's] the coolness of having a credit card-sized computer running Minecraft," he adds.
With the Pi edition of Minecraft, users will be able to access the external world manipulation API, making it possible to alter the game's world with a variety of coding methods.
"[The API] is exposed as a textual protocol on a network port. This makes it very easy to manipulate the game world from any programming language with network support," notes Frisk. "We will have integrations for Python and Java with the release and expect the community to provide several more upon."
"With the API it's easy to write programs that manipulate the game world," he continues -- examples include "building an epic pyramid worthy of any pharaoh with just a couple of lines," and "writing games that run inside of Minecraft - one of our demos is a remake of the classic Snake."
"It's also possible to add new game modes," he says. "I'm prototyping a maze game where the goal is to get out first and trigger the floor of the maze to be removed causing the trapped players to fall into lava."
There's another side to the API too. Pulling data from Minecraft will be incredibly easy, and so creating real-life maps of your worlds will be possible - or, as Frisk suggests, you can "print your builds on a 3D printer if you happen to have one of those."
This all sounds very entertaining to be sure, but can Minecraft Pi, and the Raspberry Pi itself for that matter, actually help young people to get into coding, or is it more of a toy to fiddle about with on the cheap?
"Most programmers of the current generation were children during the home computer revolution," Frisk answers. "In those days most computers booted up to a Basic interpreter, so what was a kid to do? Program of course."
"These days most hardware is appliance-based, it's not accessible on any other level than as a consumer. The remaining platforms -- Windows, Mac OS X -- that are widely available are closing fast and heading in the direction of a very controlled experience."
The Raspberry Pi, says Frisk, helps to encourage these young people to tinker and explore with coding, much in the same way that people used to on older home computers, and in turn foster the right mindset for future programmers.
"The reality is that very few things can be thought to you by somebody else, you have to do the learning and have the passion yourself," he adds. "The community surrounding the project is at least as important as the hardware. The positive can-do attitude of people that explore, help each other and learn together is much more powerful than any academic course."
[Mike Rose wrote this article original for sister site Gamasutra.]