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Download a free PDF sampler of Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

09 October 2016

Book cover: Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps If you'd like a taster of my new book, Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, you can download a free PDF sampler of the book that includes Chapter 1 and the table of contents.

Chapter 1 introduces you to Scratch and how you build projects, and includes the Magic Mirror project. This is a humorous twist on the 'cat goes for a walk' project idea, where the cat walks in front of a Magic Mirror that distorts its reflection. This chapter also explains some of the key ideas that are used in later chapters, including 3D Maze Explorer.

If you want a quick overview of what to expect from the whole book, take a look at this 3-minute video that includes clips from all the projects, including the ScratchJr projects and the Raspberry Pi Camera Module project. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

You can also check out my previous blogs about some of the projects in the book:

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps is available now from shops including these. It has a companion title in my previous book, Scratch Programming in Easy Steps. That book goes into greater depth on how Scratch works and shows you how to build a number of games and projects. The new "Cool" book dives straight into the project instructions, so there is more room to cover more of the fun things you can do with Scratch. I think they work well together, and you can read them in any order.

If you get either book (thank you!) and enjoy it, please consider writing a review on Amazon. It really helps others to find the book. Thank you!

For more information on the book, visit the book's web page here.

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Making 3D anaglyph games in Scratch

04 October 2016

The print edition of my new book Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps comes with a free pair of 3D red/cyan glasses and shows you how to make 3D games with them. The glasses make it possible to show a different image to each eye, so you can create real 3D effects, where things appear to pop out of the screen, or sink back into it.

There are three 3D projects in the book:

The book also includes a simple demo that you can use to experiment with depth, and work out the comfortable distances for viewing.

For best results, you should face the screen flat-on. The effect can be reduced if you tilt your head, or view the screen from an angle.

Extra pairs of glasses are easily available online from a wide range of vendors on Amazon and eBay (search for anaglyph glasses and make sure you get the red/cyan ones). You can even upgrade to plastic-framed ones if you want for a couple of pounds or dollars.

If you don't already have a pair of the glasses around, you won't be able to see the 3D effect in these, but below is a taster of what the projects look like. Note that there has been some colour distortion in the video screengrabbing.

Find out more about the book here, and find links to buy it here.

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Making games in ScratchJr

30 September 2016

ScratchJr is like a younger cousin of Scratch. It's a free app for the iPad or an Android tablet that enables you to experiment with some basic coding. It's designed for younger children than Scratch, so there is not much text in there, and the blocks are simple symbols. If you know Scratch, it won't take long to get started with ScratchJr. But there are quite a few things missing that you might be used to, such as variables, coordinates (go to a particular position), the ability to tell which sprite a sprite is touching, and more. Basically: a lot of the stuff that you use when making games in Scratch! Of course, it's great for younger children because it removes all these things that are hard for them to understand. But for us big kids, the challenge is to come up with some fun games working within what ScratchJr can do.

I previously made a simple game for ScratchJr when it came out, and you can see my first ScratchJr game together with my review here. For Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, I made a game called Super Wheelie. It's a sideways scrolling game, in which you tap your stunt bike to jump over the mushrooms in the road. The game has two levels, and a fun "splash!" sequence when you hit a mushroom and get bounced into the sea. If you get past all the mushrooms, there's a sequence where you roll up to your house. You can see a video of this game below.

As you build this project, you'll learn how you can build games, put your own face into sprites (or "characters" as they are called in ScratchJr), how you can record sound effects and how you can use different scenes for the different levels and sequences. As well as pushing the boundaries a little bit on ScratchJr, it provides a good introduction to the app so that you can start making games of your own, even when you can't get to a computer that runs Scratch.

Like my previous book Scratch Programming in Easy Steps, Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps finishes with a handful of short projects you can dive into and tinker with. One of those is another ScratchJr game, called "Baby, I'm a Starfish". In the game you tap a starfish to move it, and have to get it safely to the top of the screen. If it hits another fish or sea creature, it goes back to the bottom. It's a simple but fun (maybe sometimes frustrating!) game. Here's a video. It took me a few goes to get to the top this time, and I did edit out some of the failed attempts!

To find out how to build these projects and get started with coding on your tablet in ScratchJr, check out Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps. It's available at Amazon (UK), Amazon (US), and from the publisher. You can also support your local book shop by ordering it there. Just tell them the ISBN is 978-1840787146.

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Making stop motion videos on the Raspberry Pi

28 September 2016

For my new book Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, I thought it would be fun to do something that uses the Raspberry Pi Camera Module. The project I built was a stop motion studio, that enables you to make a film by taking a series of slightly different photos and then playing them back at speed. My Scratch stop motion project has the ability to edit the film by inserting or removing frames and to add speech bubbles. That means you don't have to get the shooting right first time, and you can add a story.

If you've seen Morph or Shaun the Sheep on the telly, you're familiar with how great the end results can be. So, ahem! By way of contrast, here's my film! I think the motion and expressions work quite well, but I hurried the middle bit where (spoiler alert!) the apple starts disappearing, and it might have been better to use an object that could have legs and walk rather than shuffle. But the nice thing is that you can personify pretty much anything by giving it a face and making it move, as this film shows. I'm excited to see what readers can make using this project!

Find out more about the book here. I believe it's being stocked in WH Smiths, and it can be ordered at any book shop. You can also order online from Amazon, the publisher and other outlets here.

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Discover some a-maze-ing Scratch projects!

16 September 2016

Whenever we're on holiday, if there's a maize maze or a hedge maze nearby, we always take a look. Mazes fascinate me.

So when it came to planning projects for Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, I thought it would be interesting to include some maze games. In my previous book Scratch Programming in Easy Steps, there's a chapter of seven short projects at the end and one of those was a really simple script to enable you to move a dot through a maze without being able to walk through walls. Although it's a short project, it was really popular, so I know many readers share my interest in mazes.

As a result, there are three maze projects in Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps. The first is Maze Maker, which will generate a random maze for you based on a grid you provide it. You can save an image of the Stage, and reload it as a sprite or background, so you can use the mazes generated by this project in pretty much any game. This project was an opportunity to show how you can make more complex programs, and it uses a technique I previously used for my Minecraft Maze Maker, which appeared in Raspberry Pi For Dummies and Raspberry Pi Projects. Here's a video of it in action, drawing a brain shaped maze:

Then, there's a game called Circuit Breaker, which uses mazes generated in Maze Maker. In this game, you have to track down as many bugs in the circuit as you can in two minutes. The time pressure makes it quite a tense game, because you often have to move on instinct rather than trying to trace the entire route before moving. As with all the projects in the book, I've included suggestions for how you can expand on them and one of my favourite ideas for customising this game is to award bonus time when you catch a bug. I'm sure you can think of other things you can do with this project. Here's a video of it in action:

The third maze project is a 3D Maze Explorer, which enables you to walk through a maze. You move by turning left or right and then walking forwards or backwards. The arrow in the top left is a compass that points north. The maze can be randomly generated, using the Scratch Maze Maker project, or you can design it yourself. The book shows you how to get the script working with both types of maze. It also shows you how to add collectables (cakes, in fact!) to your hand-designed mazes, and you can adapt the script to add them to random mazes too. Here's a video that shows me playing the game. At times it might be a little bit confusing because you can't see which keys I pressed and I've gone through it quite fast, but the game feels natural when you're playing it. It starts by scanning in one of the random mazes.

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps is hot off the presses and in the shops now! My previous book Scratch Programming in Easy Steps is also available, and the two complement each other nicely, with "Cool" showing you how to build specific cool projects, and "Programming" going into greater depth on how the Scratch programming language works.

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Making music and art in Scratch

09 September 2016

We've come a long way in bringing coding back into schools in the last few years, but I think there's potential to more closely incorporate it in other aspects of the curriculum. In the same way that writing and maths are used in most other subjects, as ways of expressing ideas, coding can be too. In the arts, the computer can be a great tool for creation, with randomness and serendipity adding to the creative process. (If you're interested in random art, check out my review of Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings). Computers can also provide a way for people to express themselves through music or art, even if they are not talented with an instrument or pencil.

In my new book Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, a follow-up to Scratch Programming in Easy Steps (both available now), I've included two music projects and an art project.

The first music project is a drum machine that you can customise with your own sounds (in Scratch 2.0) and use to program your own rhythms. Each row represents a different sound, and each column represents a beat. If the spot at a particular point is turned on (blue), that sound will play on that beat. Here's a video of it in action:

I've also provided some synthesised note samples for download that you can use to turn this Scratch project into a melody machine, so you can use the same program to play evolving tunes, like this:

The second music project is a random tune generator, called Scratch Cat Maestro. I used the C Major Pentatonic scale for this, but you can use any scale. The tune is only 32 notes long, but I used the pattern AABA to repeat bits, so it feels like there is some structure and it's not just a stream of random blips. It ends on the root note, so it feels complete. Some tunes come out better than others, obviously. Here's a demo:

For both books, I wrote a chapter at the end with a few short and sweet programs that readers can quickly dip into. Both books had a random art project in this section. In Scratch Programming in Easy Steps, the project is called Abstract Artist and created line-based patterns. For Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps, the art project is called Going Dotty and creates hypnotic circle patterns.

I have a keen interest in electronic music today, and first started experimenting with it by programming an Amstrad CPC464 in BASIC. I hope that these Scratch projects will show readers new ways of making music and art on the computer, and will inspire them to experiment with customising these projects, or designing their own.

For more information, visit the homepages for Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps and Scratch Programming in Easy Steps. You can order Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps here, and Scratch Programming in Easy Steps here, with further links to buy my books here.

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Revealed: the free gift with Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps

10 August 2016

I can now reveal the free gift that comes with the print edition of Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps: it's a pair of 3D glasses. They're the red/cyan coloured lens type (called "anaglyph"), and the book has three projects that show you how to use them to make 3D effects with images that pop out of the screen or sink into it. There's a game called 12 Angry Aliens, where you have to zap the aliens that rush towards you; a 3D art package that enables you to position shapes at different depths, and a game called Space Mine 3D that shows off the depth you can achieve with a nice tunnel effect. You can see all the projects here, although the videos for the 3D projects will make more sense if you have a pair of 3D glasses. If you are buying the ebook, lose your glasses or want another pair, anaglyph glasses are available cheaply online from Amazon and eBay.

Cool Scratch Projects in Easy Steps is now expected to be available 12th August, rather than the end of the month, so you can get started on the projects over the summer holidays. You can get a special launch price by ordering direct from the publisher, and be one of the first to get your hands on a copy of the book!

Here are some photos of the book being printed.

Cool Scratch Projects book at the printers

Cool Scratch Projects book at the printers

Cool Scratch Projects book at the printers

Cool Scratch Projects book at the printers

And here's the first photo of the first copy the publisher received! It's nearly here! I'm getting excited...

Cool Scratch Projects book at the printers

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Books by Sean McManus

Scratch Programming in Easy 


Scratch Programming in Easy Steps

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Raspberry Pi For Dummies

Learn to program with the Scratch programming language, widely used in schools and colleges.

Set up your Pi, master Linux, learn Scratch and Python, and create your own electronics projects.

Super Skills: How to 


Super Skills: How to Code

Web Design in Easy Steps

Web Design in Easy Steps

Learn how to code with this great new book, which guides you through 10 easy lessons to build up your coding skills.

Learn the layout, design and navigation techniques that make a great website. Then build your own using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

More books

©Sean McManus.