Write a Raspberry Pi game in Python
If you’re the proud owner of a Raspberry Pi, the visual Scratch language is a great way to start creating your first game. But to unlock more of the power and potential of the hardware, take a look at Python.
If you’d prefer more of a low-tech project, why not check out our guide on how to turn a Raspberry Pi into an XBMC media center?
In this feature we’ll introduce the key concepts of Python, and show you how to get started with the language by walking you through a sample game written in Python. Then it’s over to you to create your own masterpiece.
Getting to know Python
There are two major versions of Python in use. Python 3 is the future, but Python 2 enjoys wider compatibility with existing resources, and it’s this version that’s currently bundled with Raspberry Pi. For this tutorial, we’ll use Python 2.7, the final stable release in the 2.x series: this means we can use the majority of online examples and pre-written code unchanged. When the time comes, moving up to version 3 will be straightforward.
Python also makes a good first language because it represents a simple implementation of object-oriented programming – a concept any aspiring coder must understand – and is relaxed about how variables are created and managed. The net result is a particularly productive programming environment.
Python code is usually run through an interpreter rather than being compiled, but despite this, end results are pretty fast. Python applications can run on all major operating systems, so it’s possible to create a Python game on a Windows PC and have it run on a Mac or Linux box – or, indeed, a Raspberry Pi.
A final great strength of Python is the availability of a wide range of add-on modules that bring extra functionality. One such module is Pygame. As its name suggests, Pygame helps you create games using Python: for example, it greatly improves image handling through its Sprite class, makes it easy to control in-game audio, and even allows your game to work with joysticks. Games such as Call of Duty might be beyond its capabilities, but an Angry Birds clone certainly isn’t.
Native and cross-platform development
If you’re running the recommended Debian Squeeze Linux distribution on your Raspberry Pi, Python and Pygame come preinstalled, so you can start programming right away. You can write Python scripts in a text editor, but we suggest you take advantage of the free Geany integrated development environment (IDE) that’s also installed as part of the operating system. This software offers numerous helpful features for programmers, such as automatic syntax colouring, to make your code simpler to read and debug, and a symbol browser to help keep track of all the classes and variables in your code.