Young programmer turns love of gaming into a Google Summer of Code project

Young programmer turns love of gaming into a Google Summer of Code project

Rudra Nil Basu has several educational games in development on the GCompris software platform.

Young programmer turns love of gaming into a Google Summer of Code project
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Recently I installed the GCompris educational software suite on a friend's Linux laptop. While researching information about the application, I found out about Rudra Nil Basu, a young programmer from India, who has blogged about his contributions to GCompris. Based on his work, he was selected to be a Google Summer of Code (GSoC) participant and will receive a stipend to continue working to improve GCompris.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Rudra some questions about how he's translating his passion for game development into making learning fun for young children and supporting open source software and source code sharing. Some questions and answers have been lightly edited for clarity.

Don Watkins: What is your history with software development and open source?

Rudra Nil Basu: I am a third-year computer science undergraduate from West Bengal, India. I was first introduced to programming about eight years ago and I've spent a large part of the last four years attending online and offline hackathons, making video games, contributing to open source projects, and hanging out with fellow programmers. All of these activities helped to increase my interest in computer science.

I came to know about open source during my freshman year while attending an open source event at my college. The idea of making the original source code freely available and allowing anyone to modify it fascinated me. I decided to delve deeper into it and started learning Git. I started out by making a few of my personal projects available for contribution while contributing to other larger projects, which turned out to be a great learning experience for me.

While looking for more exciting projects to work on, I came across KDE's GCompris and decided to work on it. The overwhelming support from the community allowed me to get familiar with the codebase in no time. I have continued contributing to Gcompris and applied for Google Summer of Code for my project.

I am also the head of our college's open source community, where we create awareness about open source and encourage newcomers to take part in open source contributions.

GCompris challenges the game designer inside of me.

DW: How did your interest in game development attract you to GCompris?

RNB: My interest in game development played a huge role in getting interested in GCompris. While the technical aspects are an important part of developing a game, it is the design decisions that determine whether anyone plays it or not. GCompris is a project that focuses on making educational activities for children aged two to 10, and a lot of these activities are games. From a game designer's point of view, it is an interesting challenge, since a game has to be easy enough that children of the prescribed age can pick it up and find it easy to operate while maintaining the proper difficulty curve to make sure that they understand the concepts that are being taught. This challenge got me specifically interested in GCompris.

DW: What was it about the GCompris project that interested you?

RNB: Besides the fact that GCompris challenges the game designer inside of me, another reason why I am specifically interested in this project is that in India we have a lot of quality discussions about how the education system can be improved to make learning much more fun for children. One way is to provide practical demonstrations of what they are being taught, which unfortunately is not always feasible in the real world. That is where simulations come into play. A lot of the activities in GCompris are simulations of real-world problems that the users can relate to in real life.

GCompris has successfully created a great learning environment for children. I strongly believe in what GCompris stands for, and I am really excited to take it one step forward.

DW: What are your aspirations for the Google Summer of Code?

RNB: For Google Summer of Code, my plans are to complete three activities:

  1. The first activity is to teach children how a submarine works, explaining its various components like the rudders, engines, and air tanks.
  2. The second activity is a family tree activity, which aims at teaching users how they are related to their other family members.
  3. The third activity provides a real-time simulation of electric circuits, aimed at explaining how the different components in a circuit work and how they can be used.

I've started these activities, and by the end of Google Summer of Code, I aim to complete them and add them in GCompris

Game development is not taken as seriously as a profession. I'd like to change that.

DW: How is GCompris licensed?

RNB: GCompris is licensed under the GPLv3 license.

DW: Do you have plans to write more educational games?

RNB: Sure. Currently, I am working on an ordering activity, which is aimed at teaching children about arranging numbers and letters in ascending and descending order. Post GSoC, I want to create a much more generic version of it, which will be aimed at teaching children to order items by their length, area, or weight, making sure we don't restrict the activity to just numbers and alphabets.

DW: What are your plans for the future?

RNB: That is quite a tough question that I have been thinking a lot about lately. I will be sticking with open source in the future for sure. I would also love to convert game development from a hobby to my profession. Here, game development is not taken as seriously compared to other professions, and I would like to change that.

DW: Anything else that you would like to share?

RNB: I would like to thank my mentors and my family members for the incredible support they have provided me; without them, none of these things would have been possible. It will be one of the most exciting summers in my experience, if not the most exciting summer, and I am looking forward to it.

About the author

Don Watkins - Educator, education technology specialist,  entrepreneur, open source advocate. M.A. in Educational Psychology, MSED in Educational Leadership, Linux system administrator, CCNA, virtualization using Virtual Box. Follow me at @Don_Watkins .