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Super Scratch Programming Adventure!

Publisher: No Starch Press

Super Scratch Programming Adventure! is a fully illustrated guide to the free programming application called Scratch. The book is fully illustrated with screencaps in every step, and large, simple text boxes. PC, Mac, and even Linux users can download a version of Scratch. Though specific system requirements arenít available, you can probably rest assured that you can run it. The guidelines for requirements mention "Most computers have enough memory to run Scratch, but older computers may run Scratch slowly." You can download an older version of Scratch if you run into problems. There are also 50 different languages to choose from, which makes Scratch very portable and global.

Of course, Scratch is the kind of thing you're encouraged to work through and learn on your own, but this kind of guided learning is very useful if you don't know where to start. The book takes you through creating a fully functioning game: controls, health bars and sound effects all included. In addition to the basic programming parts of Scratch, you also get an intro to interacting with the Picoboard: a small board filled with light and sound sensors and other physical interaction options. This gives an extra opportunity to learn about how sensors work and how a game might interact with a controller.

The only real problem I encountered was that it was tough to find the sprites and backgrounds that the book listed for examples, even though I downloaded what was supposed to be the book materials. You can substitute, but it does make it a little more difficult to follow along when your examples call for an astronaut costume and you settle on substituting a giant crab. Well, maybe itís more fun that way, since you are encouraged to make your own sprites and costumes. But I do see this as a big problem for kids who want to independently use the book to learn Scratch. Thereís nothing more frustrating than wanting to follow along with the book and make sure you did it right, and then run into a roadblock like that.

Since the Scratch program is seen as an "intro to programming" it tends to get put into the "for children" box. This doesnít have to be the case. Anyone can use it to experiment with program building. Some of the examples of uses in the book include high school students in Michigan using Scratch to build a physics simulator and students at a university using Scratch to rapidly prototype games and test them with the public. Perhaps it doesnít help that this book is branded with cartoon characters and comics in order to entice young people into trying it. But really, you should give it a chance, no matter what your age is. The comics are actually pretty smart, and easy to read. They do get you into the subject. For example, in the first comic, the heroes get "frozen" and in order to unfreeze them, you must complete a lesson that shows you how to animate a sprite. But if you donít want to bother with the comics, you can skip over them to go to the actual lessons.

Scratch may be also be unattractive to people who want to dabble in creating their own programs because there is a bit of elitism around the subject. No, youíre not going to create a mainstream game or app with Scratch, and no, youíre not learning any code. So no, you canít really call yourself a programmer, even if you make something awesome with Scratch. But thatís not really the point. For the younger crowd, itís about learning the basic concepts behind programming. You create loops, if/then statements, variables, all of that. Youíre just not learning the specific semantics and terms of an actual programming language. For the older audience, youíre just getting a chance to quickly dabble in programming without devoting all your spare time to learning a language. Hey, you could even do one of those cute, nerdy video game marriage proposals! And yes, at the end of the day, you can say "I made this," and really, thatís the most satisfying thing anyone can say.

-Fights with Fire, GameVortex Communications
AKA Christin Deville

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