Learning Stencyl 3.x Game Development. If you are considering using Stencyl in class or if you are just learning the program, I recommend the book.
Last year I tried to use Stencyl to program some Flash games for a graduate project. It promised to be a flexible tool for making many types of games and several examples were offered that proved even teenagers could use it. Like Scratch, App Inventor and GameMaker, it simplified the task of coding by using blocks that snap in place.
Unfortunately I was so confused by the application that I gave up. I had some success with App Inventor prior to this, but Stencyl made no sense...until I came back to it this summer.
In version 2.0 they introduced Events as an element of programming. Previously everything was done as Behaviors and I couldn't make those work. This summer I gave it another try and the Events made sense to me. I'm sure I'm programming very inefficiently at times, since I completely ignore Behaviors (which I guess are reusable sets of Events), but I am able to make games. I'm happy.
I got lost for many enjoyable hours this summer while creating this Flash version of What's It to Ya?. I felt like a kid exploring my old Commodore VIC20 thirty years ago.
But my own interests aside, the big question I need to answer is whether or not I would use this in the classroom. I will be working with some digital media courses at the high school and middle school levels this year. I know many of the students will want to make games. Is Stencyl going to make that possible?
The short answer for me is not yet. I simply have not figured out how to introduce students to complex programming tools like this. In the past, when I taught very simple computer programming, I would provide some projects to get them started. In this case, though, much of the learning would have to be done on their own. After a few weeks of exploring they will be beyond my own skill level. Knowing the students that we generally get in these classes, their desire to make video games will far exceed their logical reasoning and patience for learning about, building and debugging programs. I hope I'm wrong, but my guess is that many will not be disciplined enough to proceed on their own.
(As an example of complexity, the What's It to Ya? game I programmed was very simple in the fact that it had just a few Scenes and movable objects. I didn't have to concern myself with things colliding or animated characters. Still, figuring out how to calculate the scores for a round really taxed my brain. I admit I'm out of practice on programming in general, but even once I figured out how I'd do it with other languages I had a very hard time putting it into Stencyl. After a few frustrating hours I had to admit that I only know of two or three students I have taught in 18 years who would have worked that hard to learn something new.)
If a few students are capable and moving ahead in the class I would start with Gamestar Mechanic at the middle school level instead of Stencyl.
At the high school level...I'm still undecided. Scratch seems like a good starting point for actual programming, but most examples I have seen make it look like it's aimed at a younger audience. I need more experience with GameMaker to be able to help them or to decide if it clearly is easier to learn than Stencyl is.
A quick search for Stencyl in the classroom has turned up a few leads about how other teachers are putting it to use. I also just came across CodeHS this morning, which calls for all students to learn programming. Obviously teachers are accomplishing good things with tools like these, so I have some research to do. I want to offer students the possibility of making games, but at this time I am far from being ready to offer this to all students in my computer classes.
If you have suggestions for where I can find more ideas to get started, I'll be glad to hear them.