Microsoft's Kodu Game Lab has been made available in full for the PC, as the company launches the Kodu Cup 2011 competition in the US.
The cup is open to students aged nine to 17, who want to design and build their own games using Kodu. The competition is broken into two age groups (nine to 12 and 13 to 17), with the grand prize winners receiving $5000 for themselves and their school - as well as a trip to the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York.
The free design tool requires no previous programming experience and is based on dragging and dropping images and icons. Further competition information is available at the official website.
The full release of the software includes new features such as an interactive system that guides users through each step of making games - creating terrain, adding characters and programming them. It also includes a community feature that allows users to share games with other PC-based Kodu Game Lab users.
Also available as an Xbox Live Arcade download, Kodu Game Lab is designed to promote learning skills for children and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
"Today's kids have a natural passion for video games and video game design," said Michael Levine, executive director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.
"Microsoft's Kodu Cup is a great way to harness that passion and apply it in a way that helps improve academic achievement, skills and interest in the careers of the future, which are going to fuel our country."
"Our research has shown that Kodu Game Lab appeals equally to girls and boys and helps promote creativity, self-confidence, critical thinking and technology skills," said Lili Cheng, general manager of Microsoft's Future Social Experiences Labs.
"Kids don't feel like they're programming so much as playing, even though they're creating sophisticated worlds, characters and storylines."