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Starting early: Nine sixth graders developing their own game

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I grew up as a huge Capcom fan. I had nearly every game the house of Mega Man released, and I credit Street Fighter II as one of the titles that solidified my place in gaming culture for life.

But it wasn’t enough for me to simply play them; I began designing my own on pencil and paper. After I had what I thought was a solid idea and some concept art, I would stuff my heartfelt creations in a large envelope and send it off to Capcom in hopes of seeing one of my ideas come to life.

I was too young at the time to know that Capcom was legally obligated to not look at my work, so I blindly sent more and more game ideas. Maybe if pursuing a career in development while I was growing up was as widely accepted as it is today, I would have had the foresight to take the necessary steps in making my childhood dream a reality.

Now, post-high school institutes such as DigiPen and Full Sail that are dedicated to molding the future of game development are available to eager students, but why can’t video game education begin much earlier? Extracurricular activities like sports or band start in the sixth grade for most schools, so this could also be a good time to add game development as an option.

Pioneering that exact sentiment is Mr. Bobby Morales of Sun Ridge Middle School in El Paso, Texas.

 

During the day he teaches sixth grade science and social studies, but for a couple hours after school, he helps guide a group of nine imaginative kids through their first foray into video game development. Besides wanting to share his love of video games with the next generation in a unique way, Mr. Morales "wanted to provide middle school students with an opportunity to gain skills not normally acquired in middle school." Unfortunately, that was easier said than done.

The administration at the previous school where Mr. Morales taught made it difficult to create the class due to their lack of motivation and support; they didn’t see it as a viable path of education. Although he tried very hard to get the class going, he was ultimately forced to file away his idea and revisit it later.

When Mr. Morales started teaching at his current school, he chose to introduce his ambitions to a new audience. His second year at Sun Ridge Middle School proved to be the perfect time to yet again pursue the creation of a game-making class. With the full support of the principal, Bobby Morales got the green-light to start recruiting students for his dream program.

Interest was high among students. When sign-ups ended and the class began, Mr. Morales ended up with a dedicated group of nine enthusiastic students. Now, the fun begins….

After much deliberation, the kids decided to make an 8-bit Plants vs. Zombies clone called Students vs Zombie Teachers. How appropriate, don’t you think?

When I was invited to view what they were working on, I was pleasantly surprised to see how devoted and organized they were –all had their own specific roles in the creation of the game. The two girls to sign up were responsible for the story and level design while the boys had the duty of making the character sprites, levels, and coding using a rather deep program called Game Maker 8.1 Lite.

I had a chance to see some of the storyboards the girls were working on, and I’m thoroughly impressed with their imagination. The story they came up with is worthy enough to become a Saturday morning cartoon. Seriously.

What’s the story, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait until the end of the school year when they finish their game. I'll provide updates as they progress, and when Students vs Zombie Teachers is completed, I will be hosting it on Unjadeable for everyone to download and enjoy.


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