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Game on! Student Demand Creates Game Design Pathway at VRHS

“They started with a blank screen,” said Cynthia Shaw, online learning coach, after a team of Vista Ridge High School students presented a video game they have been designing this semester.

The students are enrolled in the advanced game design class, which is largely self-taught. “It’s been a really good experience for them,” said Shaw, who provides guidance for the students. The team used online tutorials and Google searches for problem solving and technique development.

The challenges of working as a team were prevalent in the design process. “Sometimes we really needed to push the team to have the high-level effort,” said Shane Santos, twelfth grade student.
Colton Herndon, twelfth-grader, discusses plans to attend DU for game design theory April 26. Cynthia Shaw, Vista Ridge HIgh School online learning coach, discusses her advanced game design course April 26.
The workload was determined by the team, which included time on weekends. Problem-solving skills, supervision, and time-management skills had to be developed. “We learned how to push ourselves,” said Ethan Strong, tenth-grader.

During the fall semester, the group discovered that a game they had spent a large amount of time developing was too ambitious, so they needed to adapt and start over. “As a team we were being drained,” said Shawn Ringler, eleventh gradestudent and project lead. “It eventually turned into a creative hole. We literally could not create anything more around it.”

“That was a real world challenge that design companies are occasionally forced to confront,” said Shaw.

“Ok, if we’re not going to do this project, what are we going to be doing?” said Shawn. The team determined the best solution was to start a new project.

The new game, called Forced to Stay, is a first-person maze runner game that uses some design and programming elements from the original project. “It is a horror-esque game,” Ethan said, “but there isn’t any gore, blood, violence or jump scares or anything like that.” Players avoid monsters while searching for maps and keys in chests placed within the maze.

“All the monsters have pathfinding, so they’ll be able to pick their way through the maze toward the player without running into a wall,” said Ethan. “[The monsters] can’t recognize it’s there.”
The majority of music for the game was composed by Colton Herndon, a twelfth grade student who also served as a 3D modeler for the team. 

“I really appreciated Shawn’s leadership on realizing that the team was being drained by the original project they had decided on,” said Shaw. 
Ethan Strong, Vista Ridge High School sophomore, explains Forced to Stay, a game he created with teammates.  Shawn Ringler, Vista Ridge High School eleventh-grader, discusses his team's work in advanced game design on April 26.

Shaw developed the advanced game design pathway as a solution to student demand. Participants in the small group were selected based on initiative, willingness to learn, and problem-solving skills. “This would have been almost impossible to teach without the internet,” she said, explaining that game design curriculum is scarce, so online collaboration with other teachers across the country has made an impact.

“We learned how to push ourselves to make stuff and learn how to use the resources at hand,” said Isaac Fraire, an eleventh-grader who served as a programmer for the team. Isaac explained that this isn’t like a traditional class, “there isn’t one figure, one person who we could always go to and ask for help.”

“We started with Blender, one of the programs that the pros use,” said Colton.” We started doing it, we got these guys together and now I’m going to DU for game design theory.”

Shaw hopes the students will be able to apply the skills to their post-secondary careers. “I’m really proud of these guys,” she said.
Kayla Maldonado and Matt Meister