This game console can teach kids how to code their own games. We put it to the test.
Most kids are spoilt for choice these days when it comes to digital gaming. There are games on the Smartphone, tablet, laptop, and numerous games consoles, to name just a few. Recently, we have also seen handheld game consoles become quite popular, from small retro handhelds to play the classics to the Nintendo Switch.
All of these game consoles have their place for entertainment, and to beat boredom, but you are limited to the games available.
The GameGo Programmable Game Console from TinkerGen goes one step further and provides the means for kids to design, program, and play their own games.
A little online research tells us that TinkerGen was founded in 2017 with the aim to provide STEM education products to primary and secondary schools. TinkerGen is related to Seeed Studio which was founded in 2008 to provide open source hardware and manufacturing services for innovators. They are based in Shenzhen China.
Thanks to our friends at Pakronics, we were sent a GameGo to put it to the test and see how easy it is to code your own games.
OPENING THE BOX
Sliding out the blow moulded tray from inside the colourful giftbox reveals the game console, a 45cm long USB cable for charging and data transfer, and a small guide that folds out to an A4 sized guidebook.
The aqua coloured silicone surround is soft to touch and makes the GameGo comfortable to hold. The silicone appears thick enough to provide cushioning if it accidentally dropped, but the attached bright yellow silicone lanyard would help avoid accidental drops if properly worn anyway.
The front panel has eight push buttons and two 3mm waterclear LEDs. Some of the switches are clearly labelled.
The top of the GameGo has a 3.5mm headphone socket, micro B USB socket and a pushbutton for power.
The rear of the device is slightly transparent so you can just make out the circuitry inside as well as a small rechargeable battery.
With the rubber case removed, you can clearly see the circuit board sandwiched between two acrylic panels, held in place with metal spacers.
The front of the white circuit board supports the 1.8” LCD screen, push button tactile switches, waterclear LEDs, and a buzzer.
The electronics on the back of the board are mostly surface mount components, and the large IC is a STM32F401RET6 ARM Cortex M4 microcontroller.
The battery is 3.7V 400mAh Li-Po that is held onto the circuit board with double-sided tape.
MCU: STM32F401RET6 ARM Cortex M4
DISPLAY: 1.8” TFT Colour Display
VIEWING AREA: 160 x 128 pixels
POWER: Built-in 400mAh Li-ion Battery or 5V Micro USB
OUTPUTS: 3.5mm Headphone Jack
DIMENSIONS: 82mm tall x 58mm wide x 21mm thick
Holding the power button down for a few seconds turns the GameGo on.
We were pleased to see that there was enough power in the battery and a preloaded game to use the GameGo straight out-of-the-box. The menu lists a game called Raptor Run.
With a quick press of button A, the game starts. By pressing any button, the raptor jumps over the obstacles travelling its way. The game ends when you are not quick enough and the raptor collides with the obstacle. It’s quite an addictive game, and very similar to the running dinosaur game that appears on Google Chrome when you’re offline.
The volume or screen brightness can be adjusted by pressing the menu button.
UPLOADING MORE GAMES
Now it’s time to use the GameGo for what it is designed for. i.e. to program your own games.
A quick look at the GameGo guidebook points us to the MakeCode Arcade, which is a code editor developed by Microsoft.
We head over to https://arcade.makecode.com
We scroll down to find a game called Falling Duck, and select the Open Example button.
This loads a game simulator. We can clearly see a virtual game console to the left and code blocks to the right. These code blocks would be familiar to anyone who has coded using Scratch before.
From here, you can play the Falling Duck game on the simulator by using the corresponding keys on your computer keyboard or using your mouse to select the buttons of the virtual game console.
A few menu options underneath the console simulator includes one to show the keyboard shortcuts, another to take a screenshot of the game, and the one on the far right launches the game in full screen.
To transfer the Falling Duck game onto the GameGo, we connect the supplied USB cable between the GameGo and the computer.
We then press the power button to turn the GameGo on, which presents us with a TinkerGen F4 drive disk screen.
Note: If the F4 screen doesn’t appear, try pressing the reset button.
Press the Download button in the lower left of the screen. On the pop-up screen, select TinkerGen GameGo from the list of hardware options.
After about 30 seconds, the game is downloaded onto the GameGo and automatically starts playing.
You can now disconnect the USB cable and start playing the Falling Duck game using the GameGo. Brilliant!
To try different games, it’s just a matter of going back to the MakeCode home screen and choosing a different game to download. From a quick glance, it looks like hundreds of games to choose from.
Now that we have the hang of transferring and playing games, let’s see how you can design your own games.
We noticed on the main MakeCode screen there are some options for Tutorials so we selected the Chase the Pizza tutorial, and then started the blocks tutorial.
This brings up our code editor screen and then guides us step by step to make our own Chase the Pizza game. It clearly describes what code blocks to drag to the script area and what settings we need to make.
We get to design our own sprite character, in which case we made a D for DIYODE, and there are hundreds of pre-designed sprites to choose from also.
After 18 easy steps, we have a fully functional game. Brilliant!
You can then download the game to the GameGo just like we did in the previous step.
There is also the option to save the file to your computer, which you can share with friends with a GameGo or to download to your GameGo at a later time.
The MakeCode interface also includes links to some programming courses for beginners and intermediate users.
There are three computer science courses designed by Microsoft for beginners to intermediate, which include resources for teachers. There are also two free programming courses designed by TinkerGen that use a series of wizard lessons to teach kids to code. You do need to sign up to get access to the resources, but there is no charge.
If you scroll further down the MakeCode page, there are also links to tutorials on how to make game videos. Your child could become a successful YouTube influencer perhaps?
We were quite surprised about the potential for this small gaming device. We’re all for teaching kids about electronics and to code, so we would recommend this GameGo for any child who is curious about coding. The synergy between the GameGo hardware and the Microsoft MakeCode turns any games designed and played onscreen into something tangible. It’s a thrill to see a game you designed onscreen being in a handheld game.
The GameGo is lightweight and fits easily and comfortably into small hands. Being rechargeable makes it a great entertainment device for those long drives, and the lanyard should help avoid it from being left behind.
The volume adjustment and headphone output will also be appreciated by others who don’t want to listen to the gaming sounds.
The Microsoft MakeCode Arcade is equally as impressive as the GameGo and really turns the GameGo from a “toy” into a powerful learning aid. And, MakeCode isn't limited to just the GameGo. It works with other hardware, such as the BBC micro:bit, LEGO Mindstorms, Adafruit's Circuit Playground Express, Chibi Chip, and Cue robot. It even supports Minecraft.
So, if your child or student is into video games and enjoy their screentime, then why not make it educational with the GameGo? They might even become a successful programmer, graphic designer, or game developer in their future.
Gamego is available now from Pakronics: https://pakronics.com.au
- GameGo - Makecode Arcade Compatible Game Console SS114992268 $86.90