A new dimension

LORETTO – Apart from the occasional “technical hiccup,” Bishop Carroll Catholic student Caleb Hogue, 17, said he was learning how to successfully program his own video game during St. Francis University’s Summer Game Academy.

Although familiar with programming languages such as C++, Java and Visual Basic, Hogue said he and his partner ran into some basic computer problems.

“But that always happens in programming,” Hogue said.

Hogue was one of 11 students who attended a weeklong video game design camp at St. Francis last week. The camp was run by the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology and introduced high school students to the basics of video game design and production.

Many of the students have no prior computer programing or game design experience, said Anthony Ortega, lead instructor of the Summer Game Academy.

“We approached it as newbies, really,” Ortega said.

Students used laptops to access a program called Blender, a free, open-source programming and 3-D modeling tool.

After playing old Nintendo Entertainment System games on Monday, the teams picked which games they wanted to replicate in the Blender program. The students had to take the core game mechanics of their chosen 2-D video game title and re-create the game in 3-D.

Hogue and his partner chose to re-create “The Legend of Zelda” but restyled to be a wild west theme.

David Sheperd, 16, and his team chose the World War II-themed game “Desert Commander” and redesigned the game with a futuristic, science fiction theme.

“The big challenge with it is turning it from a small 2-D game into a 3-D game,” Sheperd, a senior at Carlisle High School, said. “That’s kind of a daunting task.”

Jason Stofko, 17, was working on his team’s version of the “Wheel of Fortune” video game.

“We had to put our own twist on it, so we made it the ‘Wheel of Misfortune,’ where there’s more ‘bankrupts,’ and it’s a lot harder to win the game,” Stofko said.

Stofko, a senior at Greensburg Salem High School, said he is experienced with computer programing, but Sheperd said he had little-to-no experience with it.

Both students said their teams were making significant progress on their games and expected to present a playable version when the camp ended Friday.

“The creativity comes from retheming and working in a team, but the lessons come from re-creating already existing mechanics,” Ortega said.

On Wednesday, students learned how to design and program a health bar that displayed their character’s status in the game.

Some students are more interested in the visuals and character design, while others want to learn the programming basics, Ortega said. The students worked in groups of three and one group of two to design and build their games.

“Our core focus is communication and time management,” Ortega said. “And not just in the video game industry, but a lot of creative or even productive industries, you’re working on a team of multi-disciplined people.”

The students also receive two college credits from Harrisburg University upon successful completion of the course.

Many of the students said they planned to download Blender after finishing their camp and were inspired to design their own games in the future.

For Ortega, the camp is a success not only when the students finish their games but by learning to work as a team to complete a complex, multi-faceted project.

“Communication and understanding how to communicate with different types of people is really core to succeeding as a life skill, and game design is a great way of kind of wrapping that around a popular past time,” Ortega said.

Mirror Staff Writer Zach Geiger is at 946-7535.