Community Education: Video game programming
An elementary school playground is not where you expect to find a group of students who are learning how to program computer games.
Video game programming -- and game playing for that matter -- conjures images of dark basements and bedrooms, of hours in the dark hunched in front of a glowing screen. Not fresh air and sunshine. Not a game of tag on slides and swingsets.
None of the nine kids in the class seems to mind the break, though. The fourth- through ninth graders spent much of their early afternoon Monday in front of laptops in the North Trail Elementary School media center. And there will be plenty more hours of programming as the community education class runs its course through Thursday.
By the time they're done, the kids should all have a better idea what goes into making a video game. And each should have his own game to take home.
Katherine Englund, who is leading this session of the video game design class for a company called Computer Explorers, said it is one of the most popular classes she teaches.
"They really enjoy this class because it's computers and video games," she said.
All of the nine students in this particular session are boys. All enjoy playing video games, and a few have tried their hands at programming. Jacob Kost, a 14-year-old student in Monday's class, makes graphics for a web site called feshrine.net, a repository of information about the role playing game Fire Emblem. His friend Cully Furlong, 13, served as the main programmer for his Lego robotics team. Both play a lot of video games, and both thought it would be fun to find out what kind of work went into making their favorite games run.
Turns out, it's a lot. Students spent the early part of Monday's class learning the basics on a simple game called Turbo Betty. They learned the effect changing just one small rule can have on the rest of the game -- and how to fix the problems that sometimes popped up when they tried to make the game do what they wanted.
Englund said some students who come in excited about a career making video games leave looking for other, less labor-intensive ways to make a living in the game field.
Once they learn the basics, students design their own games from the storyboard on up. There's only one rule: no violence.
"You can do a lot without shooting and killing," Englund said.
When the class is over, students can bring in portable drives and bring their games home with them.
The class isn't just about making games, though. Englund said learning to create the games helps students exercise their minds in other ways.
"You really have to use your deeper thinking or your high-level thinking skills," Englund said. "You have to have the big-picture view."
So far, at least, the class seems to be going over well. Student Andrew Bade, 10, said he was excited to bring home a game he'd never played before.
"I think it's pretty cool," added Christian Brollier, 13. "What I like about it is how we can move our character around, make it do what we want."
At least, he can do that once he gets back inside.