Video gamers get worked

Students create original games; Parks, Culbert work to establish DigiPen online program

Posted: Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Local eighth- to 12th-grade students were racking their brains out last week during the first half of the two-week video gaming workshop held at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Kim Andree / Juneau Empire
Kim Andree / Juneau Empire

"The purpose of this program is to give (students) the beginning knowledge of building video games," Culbert said. "It's serious programming work. ... Games are fun to play. Making them is difficult. Making them fun is very, very difficult. So we're trying to give them the experience."

Last week, according to Culbert, students used Project Fun Editor to create basic games, such as pong, cage, bricks and side-scrollers. This week, they will design and create entirely original games, using the tools they learned from last week.

"So they'll design their own game, create their own artwork and come up with the right code to make their game do what it needs to do," Culbert said. "We have a sequence of five games we step them through, and each game has more advanced concepts, deeper level of skills and thinking, more advanced problem solving that needs to happen to make it successful. They can then, when they design their own game, pull any of those or any parts of those back in."

According to Culbert, individual projects will range from role-playing games (RPGs), to a monkey-shooting-bananas game. Other proposals included dice-shooting and a maze-style game. One student is even doing a tribute to the Legend of Zelda.

"I'm really looking forward to seeing what's coming out next week in some of the games and designs," Culbert said. "We're just helping them understanding what tools they know already."

Although it sounds simple enough, many of the students in the workshop said scripting is like another language.

"I'd been working on modifying games before, but never quite to something like programming," said eighth grader Liam Macaulay. "I'm learning about this coding business, which is very weird. It's like an odd sort of language they make for the projects, for gaming."

Macaulay showed just how tricky game-making can be with his brick game, where the ball bounces upward off a paddle and into an array of bricks that dissappear once hit. However, his game has a slight quirk: When the ball is caught just right between the paddle and the side of the screen, it keeps bouncing and doesn't stop.

"Everyone has coined it the 'The Liam,'" Macaulay said the of quirk. "It's just colliding with the paddle in sort of pointless motion, where it's going side to side.

"Murphy's Law comes into place quite often here. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and it usually happens to me. I'm the one with most of the scripting errors."

But despite the difficultly in learning C and C++ scripting, students seem to keep coming back for more.

"They're very engaged. We're very tired," said Culbert, who has students showing anywhere from a half-an-hour to an hour early every day. "It's been a long week of pushing very hard. The brains are kind of over-full."

Rebecca Parks, Science Technology Engineer Math (STEM) education specialist for the Juneau Economic Development Council, explained this attraction.

"Gaming is an ideal hook for students," Parks said. "Many students unmotivated by traditional curriculum can really shine in a camp like this. Plus, in today's flat world, these skills prepare students for careers they can pursue anywhere."

Parks said the workshop was made possible by a grant from the Department of Defense and the Juneau Economic Development Council's Springboard program, a technology transfer program. Springboard also has funding to work on STEM education, she said.

"It's just nice to see the things we talk about coming to fruition," Parks said. "It's actually summer and seeing kids engaged in this. I can't wait to see what they come up with next week when they get to exercise a little more creative freedom."

Right now, the DigiPen Institue has about 15 sites in Redmond, Wash., and around the country that are teaching workshops similar to this one.

"We are hoping to be back again next summer," Culbert said. "We're talking with the school district and the Juneau Economic Development Council about ways of helping these students enroll in our online training program that would go for the entire year."

"We're still in total initials steps," Parks said, "but it's one of those things, it's not currently available in Juneau, so we need to find a way to open up opportunties to kids who are here so they can stay here and still have access to them."

If the online program is established in Juneau, Alaska will be the second place in the world to do the online training, said Culbert.

"And the nice thing about tech, especially programming and Web design, is that it doesn't need you to be necessarily where the client is," Culbert said.

Justin Bernaldo, a 2008 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, said he enjoyed the workshop, especially for the chance to talk with Culbert about the DigiPen Institute.

"It made me think about if I want to join the institute," Bernaldo said. "I've been looking at it since back when I was in the eighth grade or before. Now that Juneau has a program like this and since someone from the actual university came here, it just really made me happy just to ask him questions about it."

For more information on this or the online program, contact Parks at 523-2334 or

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at or 523-2272.

Web link

To view examples of the types of games these students have worked on this week, visit

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