Speedy 'Turtles:' Seattle dad creates kids game on computer code

SEATTLE -- Want to see a turtle move fast? Just head to Kickstarter.

The online fundraising website has been the home of Robot Turtles, a board game that teaches the basics of computer coding to kids as young as 3 years old.

The game's fundraising campaign went online in early September with the hope of raising $25,000 in about three weeks; as of Thursday night, it had raised more than $570,000 from supporters across the world.

"I was watching the numbers tick upward and I was thinking, 'is this normal? I don't think this is normal,'" said creator Dan Shapiro, laughing about the first few hours after his campaign went live. "The fact that (the game) resonated was just a charge unlike anything I've ever experienced."

Shapiro, a Wallingford father of two and Google employee, created "Turtles" this summer while on sabbatical from his job to write a book. He found, however, that he was spending more time pursuing the idea of a kids' board game when he wanted to spend more time with his 4-year old twins.

"I kind of challenged myself, and I was like, 'what if we could make writing code a part of the experience of being a young child just like engineering is with Legos and just like art is with drawing?'" Shapiro asked. "Doing that is only going to help kids grow and thrive."

The game started with a concept, a laser printer, and a pair of scissors. Shapiro gradually created a prototype, produced a video, and put it online with the hope of raising enough money to make 1,000 games.

He hit his goal within the first five hours.

Shapiro drew his inspiration for the game from a programming language called Logo, which he learned at age 7 and uses turtle graphics. In his version of the board game, kids direct turtles through a maze and to a jewel by using cards and giving directions to their parents. It's the same way, Shapiro says, that an adult might program a PC.

"I don't want my kids to know how to program because I hope they'll be programmers. I want my kids to program because I hope they'll be artists or architects or journalists or businesspeople. When our kids grow up, they're going to be in a world surrounded by computers," he said. "Growing up in a world surrounded by computers and not knowing how to program is like growing up in a foreign country when you don't know how to speak the language."

Shapiro's Kickstarter campaign ends at 5 p.m. Friday. After that, the game will be produced in Michigan, translated into 25 languages, and shipped as far away as India and beyond.

"It is unbelievable," he said. "An entire world full of people is watching this project that I've built."