Thus marks the end of the Third Annual "Healthy Hackathon", Khan Academy's weekend-long celebration, which featured awesome improvements to our CS platform, awesome (and hilarious) fundraising efforts, and awesome (and hilarious) music videos, to name but a few of the fantastic hacks.
P.S.: If you hate words and just want to play KhanQuest, click here.
What separates the "Healthy Hackathon" from your typical hackathon is, well, everything about it. I'm not a big fan of the "competitive" hackathon, where hundreds of hackers stay up all night drinking Red Bull, racing to slap together the best crowd pleaser and "win" (see: the Cash-omatic). But I digress!
In more concrete terms, what sets Khan Academy's Healthy Hackathon apart is that:
It's an opportunity to go off in a new direction among friends and work on something exciting that you'd otherwise defer or put off. That can lead to software that ships and software that doesn't, both of which are totally fine. In fact, one of the guiding principles of the hackathon is that your "hack" doesn't have to involve code.
You can read more on Ben Kamens' blog (note: his post describes the Second Annual "Healthy Hackathon", but I'll update the link soon).
This year, my colleague Zach Gotsch rallied a few of us together on Thursday evening around a simple idea: take Khan Academy's core learning mechanics and philosophies, and wrap them within a fantasy video game (think Pokemon meets Final Fantasy meets Harry Potter). The team consisted of myself, Zach, Joel Burget, Desmond Brand, Jack Toole, and Michelle Todd, with a special shoutout to Elizabeth Lin for lending her (unreal) design skills.
It's totally imperfect, and we love it.
The core plot line: our beloved Salman Khan has been kidnapped by an evil warlock (I think?), and it's your job as the trusty delivery boy/girl (who happens to look like some sort of mage) to save him, learning the requisite magic along the way.
Here's an extended screencast (with commentary):
(Confession: I had to crop out ~30 seconds of me struggling with a basic geometry problem around 3:10.)
The mapping between game and Khan Academy mechanic actually worked out pretty well:
To bake in some of Khan Academy's learning philosophies, we also added a few minor tweaks:
At the end of the weekend, the game was playable through the first few levels, complete with monster encounters, a variety of spells, dialog, and more.
However, there was plenty that we didn't get around to implementing. Be sure to check out Joel's blog post for a better discussion of (existing) bugs and flaws, as well as the challenges we faced.
After settling on a browser-based game, we went all-in on React (Khan Academy is one of the larger production users (see, e.g., Perseus), so we all had some experience with it) and built the entire game under the Flux architecture. Flux was entirely new to me and very fun to learn (hackathons are always a great time to experiment, especially when they're not made 'competitive')—here's hoping I can use it again the near future.
One of my more demoable contributions was the implementation of fun HTML5 Canvas-based effects to simulate snowfall, rainfall, fog, and spell casting (see below, or the embedded video above for the weather effects), the code for which can be found here.
Beyond that, I also took care of a grab-bag of UI implementations (e.g., the spellbook and transition animations), game mechanics (e.g., the 'unused spells grow in strength' behavior), and core features (e.g., Perseus exercise rendering via the Khan Academy API).
As I mentioned, the game is now online here. It's still in the incredibly rough form we left it in when we demoed, and in all likelihood, that won't change. You'll run into bugs and console errors; but hey, even the healthiest of hackathons inspire last-minute fixes and monkey-patching!
Jokes aside, I consider this my best hackathon experience yet—one that I'll look back on very fondly. And amidst the explanations of yak shaving and extended metaphors for software development, we pumped out some (reasonably) good code and a (reasonably) fun game. Three cheers for healthy hacking!
P.S.: In parting, I leave you with a hilarious GIF from an early rendition of the game.
Posted on July 20, 2014.