Category Archives: Game Education
Each school year we host a student from China or Korea who is attending a nearby high school. This type of arrangement is called “homestay”, in which a foreign student lives in an American home. What the students get out of it is an opportunity to immerse themselves in American language and culture, and what we get out of it is an opportunity to enlarge our family for most of the year and learn a bit more about Asian culture.
This year we are hosting Daisey, an 11th grader from Shanghai. She arrived from China about a week ago, and we were pleased with how well she speaks English, which makes being her host parents a much easier task. A few days ago she asked me to bring her to Walmart so that she could buy some school supplies: notebooks, pens, book covers, and all the usual gear needed for school.
As I looked at the “Back To School” signage, I thought not only about the many times I’ve had to prepare for a new school year, but also about how often I’ve had to prepare for a new job, a new project, and new responsibilities. Occasionally I’ve taken a class for learning a new programming language or a workshop for improving my soft skills, but more often I’m learning by reading industry articles on the internet or meeting other professionals at a conference or meet-up.
The single most important lesson I’ve learned is the need to be constantly learning. Things change very fast in the game industry, and if you don’t keep up, you’ll find yourself ‘way behind, and that may make it hard to find a new job later on. Believe me, it is far better to school yourself to stay current in the industry, than to get schooled by a colleague or competitor who knows more than you do.
Here are a short list of some of the things I recommend for game developers to keep current:
- Read Gamasutra daily to find out about game industry news and trends.
- Read books on game development (don’t just rely on internet articles).
- Attend local meet-ups for game developers.
- Attend a conference such as Game Developers Conference, E3, SXSW, or SIGGraph.
- Take online tutorials or classes at brick-and-mortar schools to learn new development tools.
- Learn a foreign language — the game industry is global, and knowing another language like Chinese, Japanese, Russian or German will open up more career possibilities for you.
Keeping current does take an effort, but if a 16-year-old Chinese girl can make the effort to live halfway around the world to secure a better fortune for herself, you can make the effort to spend a little time each day or week securing your own future in the game industry.
Last week’s Sci Fest event was a bittersweet one for me: bitter for being Sci Tech Academy’s final session for this summer, and sweet for the ambitious video games created by our campers. While many of them had previous experience programming in Scratch and Twine, even the novice coders put in the effort to ensure that our summer would proudly end on a high note. It was an effort that paid off in games that were technically and creatively impressive, while featuring premises and goals that reinforced the camp’s value of Heritage, using the Jewish communities’s rich history of scientific and technological innovation to make the world a better place.
Here’s a run down of the game’s these innovative campers created.
Lower Camp (Grades 3-6)
A Day in the Life of a 6 Points Sci Tech Camper, by Noah & Ari
It’s your first day at 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy, and your goal is to make 5 friends. However, if you do anything against the camp rules, a counselor may expel you from camp! In this story-based game developed in Twine, Noah and Ari take players on a tour of the camp, from the dorms to the dining hall to the workshop, each with opportunities to either make a new friend or get into trouble. Early playtesting with the other campers in the Video Game Design workshop revealed that the correct and incorrect choices were a bit to obvious, so we added choices in the latter half of the game where some of the opportunities to make friends involved the risk of getting into trouble, and that seemed to fix the gameplay problem.
Chore Rush, by Lyra
The premise of this adventure game developed in Twine was that Mom has asked you to complete all your chores before she returns home. It seems like a simple enough demand at first, but if you dilly-dally, monsters will come out of the closet and from under the bed to devour you for your laziness. The climax at the end of the game’s 41 passages involves your mother returning home and devouring you if your chores weren’t done in time (I required Lyra make it clear in the story that it really was a monster disguised as your mom, as a lethal real mom would send a bad message to our campers.) What made this game stand out was Lyra’s macabre and imaginative drawings of all the monsters you encounter.
Clean-Up Parkour, by Isaac
None of the campers in our two prior sessions attempted to make platformer games in Scratch, but this one, by Isaac, included a collecting mechanic. The player earns points by cleaning up the environment by jumping to gather trash, but if you fall into a chasm, you lose health. Unlike Game Maker, Scratch doesn’t have a hard-coded acceleration variable (for simulating gravity, so we simply had the player avatar’s velocity continually decrease after jumping, until it came into contact with the color black from below.
Duel Tournament, by Levi
Levi was a big Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, and so he created a collectible card game that payed homage to the Japanese manga series. However, one of the things that I emphasize in the workshop is to respect other creators’ copyright and trademarks, so Levi had to devise a game that was inspired by Yu-Gi-Oh! but did not copy it. The game he described in his 49 passage story wound up being very complex, and if we had more time, we would have simplified the rules so that the player could make clearer choices about which cards to play.
Galaxy Miner, by Sam
This action game developed in Scratch takes inspiration from the classic video game Asteroid. Players maneuver their ship to earn points by destroying asteroids to collect their iron, all while avoiding a space chicken (don’t ask). Shooting the chicken earns you prestige points, but colliding into it costs you health, which you can replenish by collecting boxes of Valentine candy. However, Sam didn’t stop there. He included a shop for purchasing upgrades to your ship and weaponry.
Murder-Kidnap Investigation, by Jaxon
Tina has been kidnapped — or was it murder? — and your job is to investigate what happened. Jason’s intricate mystery told in 46 passages was a big hit with campers, especially for its surprise twist at the end. This proved to be one of our better-written Twine games this Session, although one change I would have liked Jaxon to have made was displaying the player’s choices vertically rather than horizontally. However, some authors need to have their own stylistic flourishes, and most players had had no problems navigating through the game.
Ocean Dive, by Mateo
Cleaning up the environment was a favorite topic for our campers this session, as this underwater action game demonstrates. In this action game developed in Scratch, players maneuver a diver to collect soggy trash while avoiding a deadly diver-eating shark. This was Mateo’s first Scratch game, and with a little programming assistance from my teaching assistant, Eddie, it came out quite well. The tricky part proved to be finding the right sizes for the diver, trash, and shark, as well as the proper movement speeds for each, to make the game appropriately challenging.
Upper Camp (Grades 7-9)
Braille Jump, by Noah
This was undoubtedly the most innovative game developed sover the entire summer. In this one or two player platforming game developed in Scratch, players maneuver a pair of potatoes through 48 levels of watermelons that form Braille letters. Along the way, players are told to go to the accompanying Twine game that provides colorful dialog between the two potatoes. Workshop playtesters seemed to really enjoy the jumping aspect of the game, but the back-and-forth between the Twine portion was a bit confusing to players at Sci Fest.
No U, by Stuart
The only game development environments I taught in my workshop are Scratch and Twine, but Stuart said he had expertise in Kodu Game Lab, a 3D simulation environment, and I allowed him to use it so long as he didn’t expect programming assistance from me. Not only did he prove to be a self-sufficient developer, he created the most technically impressive game to come out of this summer. Players learn facts about Mars while piloting a rover over the Martian landscape, looking for fallen meteors and other objects. Later on in the game, which consists of three levels, the player encounters a swarm of angry Martians to avoid. My one contribution to this game was the recommendation that each level ramps up appropriately in difficulty, and the end result was quite impressive, considering the amount of time Stuart had to develop the game.
Zombie Rush, by Cooper and Ben
This zombie survival game developed in Scratch was, in my estimation, the most polished game presented at Sci Fest. With programming by Cooper and original artwork by Ben, it was one of the few games to have complete title, help (both beginning and in-game) and endgame screens, as well as music. The player shoots zombies for points, while collecting ammo for offense and parts to construct a house for defense. My one concern during the conceptualization phase was that the game didn’t promote a positive, real-world message, but the pair addressed that by adding in victims that you could risk your life to save.
I was enormously proud of what the campers accomplished during the ten days each had to complete their game, and the games they presented at our final Sci Fest were a great send-off for my summer teaching a 6 Points Sci-Tech Academy.