"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." (Robert A. Heinlein)

Saturday, 22 December 2012

What about Alice? (Alice 3.1)

Among the many things changed since a left i.ph for Blogspot I noticed how some old posts I had almost forgot have been somewhat “revived” in visitors interest once moved on the new platform. One of the posts is more or less regularly tapped is the one about Alice a Java-based educational software meant to teach kids programming. I so got curious and went back to Alice home page in order to see if any upgrade was available.

Alice 3.1

Installing Alice 3.1 is simple matter of starting the self-installing script downloaded.
sudo Alice3Installer-Online-3.1.58.0.0-linux.sh
the installation wizard guides through a very simple installation process where, apart from various “I agree” and “Forward”, the only real option available is the choice of the installation path.
once installation is complete Alice can be started from command-line
/usr/local/Alice3/alice3.sh
the program starts by asking you to create a new project by choosing among a list of available terrain textures
As the project has been created Alice shows the code editing view from where the user can write programs by simply dragging and editing the graphical representation of objets properties and language control structures.
By clicking in the “Setup Scene” button Alice shows a scene editing view from where actors can be added to the scene and graphically adjusted both in position and pose.
The character library has been greatly improved since version 3. The library is organized in “classes” based on locomotion style (bipeds, quadrupeds, fliers and swimmers) this allow programmer to reuse animation code among same class characters. Human characters , like in version 3, are based on famous Maxis game “The Sims 2”. A good number of characters, mostly fantasy themed, is also available in other classes.

Conclusions

Alice is a great educational tool, and the 3.1 version is greatly improved and, as far I could notice, much more reliable than the version I tested years ago. Being an educational software doesn't mean it's a child-toy. The drag-and-drop interface Alice use is the best graphical representation of a program I ever seen and is still available a Netbeans plug-in for more “grown up” programmers.