New SimCity will gives kids the tools to learn and create their own content

We've been reading about the One Laptop Per Child XO laptop quite a bit lately. And not without reason -- it's quite an ambitious project, carved from the goodness of Quanta's heart. Too bad about all those price jumps the $100 notebook took.

Recently computer game publishing giant Electronic Arts decided to donate the original version of SimCity to the OLPC project. John Gilmore of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advisor for the OLPC project, is credited for the idea of including SimCity with XO. He is not the first, however, to try to get SimCity from the claws of EA for educational purposes.

The man now responsible for porting SimCity to the OLPC's Sugar user interface is Don Hopkins. Hopkins originally ported the game for Unix more than 10 years ago. Unfortunately when the distribution contract between EA and DUX expired, EA wouldn't let Hopkins continue to the develop and distribute the game for educational uses.

"Sugar is based on Python, and uses the GTK toolkit, Cairo renderinglibrary, Pango international text layout library, and Hippo drawingcanvas, and many others useful modules. Once SimCity is integrated withPython, it will be great fun to create a kid-friendly multi-player userinterface that's totally integrated with the OLPC's unique hardwaredesign (like the hires mono/color LCD screen, which flips over intobook mode with a game controller pad) and Sugar's advanced features,like scalable graphics, journaling, mesh networking, messaging,collaboration, and (most importantly) applying Seymour Papert'sphilosophy of 'Constructionist Education' to SimCity," Hopkins wrote on his website.

Hopkins talks about what he's doing for the OLPC version of the game on his website. He talks about the call for tools to let the kids develop their own tools to learn programming and languages. All very cool and great ideas on the part of everyone involved.

While we're pretty cool with Don's work and ambitions, we have to wonder why it took prodding from a high-publicity project to get EA to donate the game to be used for educational purposes. EA's slipping reputation as a publisher, maybe? Most of the circles I frequent regard EA as a stumbling beast, barely able to stay on its own legs as it pushes out title after title full of buggy PC games.

All in all, it's pretty cool that the OLPC is getting SimCity. Having spent countless hours attempting to master pretty much every version past the original, I imagine all the kids that benefit from having access to an XO will also find the game an entertaining challenge, not to mention the advantage of being able to learn how the game works and develop their own tools and games.

"Nowadays, security guys break the Mac every single day. Every single day, they come out with a total exploit, your machine can be taken over totally. I dare anybody to do that once a month on the Windows machine." -- Bill Gates
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