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Raspberry Pi Arcade

Want to design, build, and play your own arcade? Students build, code, and play arcade games in this hands-on project. They pick a game type and then use code to bring it to life and change the characters, levels, or scoring to make it their own. They can create a stand-alone console using a Raspberry Pi and craft unique controllers using Makey Makeys. Finally, they test, decorate, and combine their creations into an awesome arcade. It's not just about tech, it's about unleashing creativity, collaborating, and mastering new skills. Ready to level up? Let's play!


 
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Resources


Everything we used with the kids, like links to games, controller instructions, and pictures of games.




 

Raspberry Pi


The credit-card-sized Raspberry Pi is a versatile tool that can transform into media

Logo for Raspberry Pi

centers, weather stations, robot controllers, and even, in our case, gaming consoles. While not essential for this project, it offers unique learning opportunities. For me, the biggest advantage is it lets students work with inputs and outputs. Unlike the tablets, phones, and laptops students use all the time, they have to connect a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and power to a Pi, which is a fun challenge for them. They also have to work within the Pi's processing limitations, adding another layer of problem-solving to the mix. If you don’t connect a Pi to the network, it runs as a stand-alone computer, forcing students to type in code rather than copying and pasting it.


If you're interested in getting your hands on a Pi, online retailers like Amazon and the official website offer them, as do many electronics stores. I would suggest getting a starter kit bundle. This would include essential accessories like power supply, microSD card, HDMI cable, and a case.


Creating the Games


Choosing a game to create is like picking an essay topic – it sets the stage for their creative journey. To spark ideas, I offer a variety of pre-built Scratch games, from mazes to jumping games. After testing them out, students pick one game for the arcade. But before diving in, they need to consider three key factors: fun, difficulty, and coding complexity. For beginners, I provide Scratch tutorials, while more advanced students might remix an existing game. Remember, ambition is great, but starting with a solid base and adding complexity later if time allows is key. Whether they build from scratch or remix, students make their game their own by customizing characters, backgrounds, levels, challenges, sounds, and scoring systems – anything to make it fun and engaging.


Controllers


Coding the game is just the beginning. The next step is to build a one-of-a-kind controller that brings the game to life. Kids have many options that include: 


  • Switches: Perfect for simple button presses, adding a satisfying clicky feel.

  • Tilt sensors: Motion-controlled gameplay with tilt-sensitive controllers.

  • Hula hoop controllers: Whole body control with these unique, interactive hoops.

  • Play-doh creations: Build arrow keys or a simple jump button.

Logo for Makey Makey

We used Makey Makeys, a simple tool that turns everyday objects into a controller, letting you control games, instruments, and more with just a touch.

I gave the students a list of Makey Makey tutorials work from. With Makey Makeys It’s useful to have on hand art supplies and other materials such as play-doh, paper clips, clothes pins, and aluminum foil. Other options for building controllers include Circuit Playground Express, conductive paint, play-doh circuits, or even repurposed keyboards and mice.


Testing


From beginning to end, the project took about two weeks of 45-minute classes.

In order to test their games, kids transition from creator to detective. First, they need to create instructions for their game that are clear and easy to follow. Then the testing starts: other kids in the class play the game while the people who made it watch. They shouldn't tell the students how to play; instead, they should watch to see if anyone is confused, frustrated, or bored. When the game is over, they should talk to the players about it and ask how they can make the instructions or the game better. After that, the makers go back to the drawing board to work on making the game better based on what people said. Then more tests. Kids should always be looking for suggestions to make sure that their games are not only fun to play, but also challenging and leave people wanting more.


Arcade Time


Finally, it's showtime! Invite another class to play the games. Give each incoming player 10 tokens, with the opportunity to earn more by telling the teacher a joke. I used small cubes as tokens but anything would work. I also gave each designer a cup to collect tokens from players and we tallied them up after the arcade to see who got the most. This was also a great time to talk about what worked and didn't work.


Here are some ways students can enhance their games for maximum appeal:


  • Start with a bold, colorful sign that grabs attention by announcing the game's name.

  • Keep prices clear and visible, offering special deals to attract players.

  • Decorate controllers to match the game's theme, leaving a lasting impression.

  • Provide concise, easy-to-understand instructions for everyone to follow.

  • Enhance the atmosphere with themed props and posters, drawing players in and keeping them engaged.

To amplify the fun, celebrate high scores with cheers and foster friendly competition. Reward participation and skill mastery with prizes, and adjust game lengths to maintain interest. Surprise players with time-limited deals to add excitement, and organize mini-tournaments to showcase skills. With these strategies, your arcade will pulsate with unforgettable fun and excitement for all involved. Remember, the key is to prioritize fun and engagement, ensuring an unforgettable experience for players and designers alike.



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