Champlain College Summer Academy Teaches Teens Game-Building Skills | Kids VT | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Champlain College Summer Academy Teaches Teens Game-Building Skills 

Published August 3, 2015 at 2:08 p.m.

click to enlarge Showcasing games built during the Game Academy's first session - CHAMPLAIN COLLEGE
  • Champlain College
  • Showcasing games built during the Game Academy's first session
Seventeen-year-old Tom Lunday lives in San Francisco — the heart of the tech world — but he traveled all the way to Burlington this summer to learn about video game development. Tom was one of 78 high school students who participated in the Champlain Game Academy at Champlain College in July.  

“There’s actually not a whole lot of great game design programs out on the West Coast that fit my need for more of a cooperative environment,” the teen explained.

At 9 a.m. last Tuesday morning, Tom and his three collaborators were already hard at work developing their final project. They divided up their responsibilities and monitored their progress using professional project-development software projected onto a screen above their work area. “

I find there’s almost something magic about when they get together and start making games,” said Dean Lawson, the program’s director. “Some of them, they’ve been waiting their whole lives to do this and we’ve given them the knowledge and opportunity to try it out. For a lot of them, they’re blown away by it.”

The Champlain Game Academy started three years ago with 20 students. Since then, it’s quadrupled in size and now offers two sessions per summer. The ambitious goal of the camp is to create a miniature version of the college’s four-year game development program in just two weeks.

Students attending the academy delve right in, learning industry software and the different skills required to create a successful video game. Everyone leaves with a basic familiarity with the 3D-modeling software Maya, which enables users to make realistic objects; the 3D game engine Unity, which handles graphics, sound and the physics of motion; and a working knowledge of the programming language C Sharp. But the academy isn’t just selling skills; it’s selling the opportunity to explore.

According to Lawson, “You come, you try all the things. So everybody has to do art, everybody has to do game design, everybody has to do programming whether they have any interest in it or not. They try it out because very often they find surprising things like, ‘I’m an artist, but I enjoy programming as well.’”

Or sometimes they discover that, even though they’re good at it, they don’t enjoy programming much at all. Last Tuesday, Tom Lunday, who was assigned the role of coder for his group, grimly sorted through pages of code, attempting to debug it. Although he loves game development, he acknowledged that coding can be tedious. “That’s the nature of programming and why I could never be a programmer full time,” he said.

This article was originally published in Seven Days' monthly parenting magazine, Kids VT.

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