You’re never writing actual code, however. For some, who dream of getting lost in a Matrix-like stream of letters and numbers, this will be a disappointment. But there are good reasons behind the approach. Visual representations are more approachable for beginners and help to illustrate the larger, more fundamental principles that underpin modern programming. All “event” pieces, for instance, are light blue and usually signal the start of a chain reaction. So if you want something to happen as soon as the app launches, or when you press down on the joypad, you need to start with one of these pieces. It’s a bold, intuitive piece of signposting that slips into your subconscious with greater ease than garbled words, slashes and dashes.
The challenges slowly increase in difficulty, introducing new ideas only when the previous one has been firmly established and repeated. A text box in the upper left-hand corner explains the logic behind each step, while a yellow dot points to the puzzle piece you need to grab next. If you’re impatient, it’s possible to ignore the explanations completely and just grab the blocks you need to proceed. At this point, though, Kano’s teachings devolve into a game of paint-by-numbers, with little educational value but nonetheless impressive results.
Taking the time to read and digest each step is advantageous. Only by understanding a block’s function, and its relationship with everything else it’s connected to, can you later manipulate it for yourself. Even if you don’t, there’s an immense satisfaction that comes from building something and truly understanding its inner workings. It’s like an old grandfather clock — simple and mundane at first glance, perhaps, but magical if you’ve been inside and figured out how all of the cogs fit together.
All of your handiwork, of course, takes physical form through the light board. One challenge teaches you how to create a stop motion animation, which might sound simple but is actually highly expressive given you can draw almost anything on each of the frames. There’s a real sense of ownership that makes you want to hold the light board up and show it to a friend, just like you did as a child with crayon drawings. Another challenge ends with a music visualiser that ebbs and flows as you clap, talk or play music nearby. The utility is basic, but takes on new meaning when you’ve crafted it from scratch and set your favorite Spotify playlist humming in the background.
There’s a real sense of ownership that makes you want to hold the light board up and show it to a friend.
Kano’s team has managed to strike a tricky balance between complexity and accomplishment. Most of the projects can be completed within half an hour and contain less than a dozen steps. Higher-level projects will leave you with a rainbow-colored grid that sparkles when you clap or snap your fingers; or a tiny video game character that dashes across the screen as you push the Pixel Kit’s joystick left and right. It’s an addictive breadcrumb trail fueled by a basic leveling system that grants you experience points after each activity, encouraging you to save a project and immediately start the next.
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