The game's previous iteration, developed by University of California - San Diego computer science PhD students Sarah Esper and Stephen Foster, has been in use in dozens of schools throughout the world for more than a year.

The researchers have been using the game as a platform to learn about the best ways to teach children how to code.

The researchers demonstrate that after playing CodeSpells for either four hours over four weeks or 10 hours over seven days, children aged 8 to 12 were able to write code by hand in Java.

"It is the goal of CodeSpells to provide a rich experience of computer science education to students who may not have access to an educator," Esper said.

Researchers now want to make the game more attractive and more fun to play. But they need funds to improve the game's graphics and coding interface. The project has already met and exceeded its USD 50,000 fund-raising goal on Kickstarter.

"We want the game to be educational, but our biggest goal is to make sure it's fun," Foster said.

Foster and Esper have co-founded ThoughtSTEM, along with UC San Diego biochemistry PhD student Lindsey Handley, to teach children aged 8 to 18 how to code, via onsite classes and video games, including CodeSpells and Minecraft.

In its previous iteration, CodeSpells sent players on quests, which helped them master spells, written in Java. This new version is more open-ended much like Minecraft - a so-called sandbox game.

The players are wizards that can modify the world around them at will. They can build mountains and valleys, levitate objects and start fires. They do so by using Blocky, a visual programming language created by Google, or Javascript.

The hope is that players will come up with their own quests. Researchers also hope that as players tinker with the game, they will come up with their own exciting spells and share those.

The goal is to create a vibrant online community, much like the one that has developed around Minecraft.

The game will feature several modes out of the box, but players will be able to create their own modes too. They will have the tools to create everything from modes to survive in the wilderness to modes to balance an eco-system. They can even create multi-player magic-based sports to play with their friends.