While some kids will be playing video games this summer, others will be creating them.
At least that is the hope for 28 students who signed up for a summer gaming camp hosted by Weber State University this week. By the end of the week, students involved will have created a protocol video game, something they can continue to develop throughout the summer and add to their advancement portfolios.
"They spend all these hours in front of the TV playing all kinds of video games, and most of these kids have very brilliant minds and great ideas," said Greg Anderson, assistant professor of computer science at Weber State University. His hope is that more students will catch onto computer science and respond to the industry's growing needs.
"Instead of just sitting there playing, let's start harnessing this creativity and turning it into something productive," he said. "And who knows, maybe one of these kids could end up being the next Bill Gates in the gaming industry."
WSU offers a bachelor's degree in computer science and was recently approved by the state Board of Regents to offer a certificate of game development. The new program is in response to needs of local industry leaders, including a pledge by officials at Disney-affiliated and Salt Lake City-based Avalanche Software to hire hundreds of new developers in the coming years.
In addition to getting a degree, building a portfolio containing quality products is important for students who want to succeed in the gaming industry, Anderson said. He said those who signed up for the gaming camp have proven they have the desire to succeed, even as far as taking additional math and physics courses required for computer science majors. Experience and refinement of their skills is the next step, "and they're excited about it," Anderson said.
"They have a passion for the games," he said, adding that the kids are fast learners. "If you can work with somebody's passion, they'll overcome any deficiencies."
The camp provides students with the tools they need to creatively develop multiple computer games on their own, including tutorials on various free software such as Game Maker, graphics tools GIMP and Blender, sound effects package Audacity, and others. They also gave participants a DVD tutorial to take home regarding XNA, a Microsoft product urging XBox 360 game development.
"These are simple enough tools that you can be productive in a short amount of time," Anderson said. The students are put into groups and required to create a game with their new knowledge by week's end.
"The games aren't going to be perfect, but they're at least going to be entertaining," he said. A typical professional-quality video game takes on average three to five years to create. After that, developers continue to build on the original premise, making it better all the while.
With the state garnering increasing popularity among game development companies, such as Avalanche and EA Sports in Bountiful, Anderson said it will be tough to fill all the jobs. Although its only in its first year, the gaming camp will continue to be offered as long as there are interested students.
"We see ourselves as the go-between for the industry and the student," Anderson said. "If we can't effectively help a student be prepared to get a job and make a difference in the industry, then we failed as academics."Participants, which included some faculty members, were required to pay a $10 fee for the weeklong camp. Following Friday's introduction of their games, they'll take home prizes in addition to all the tricks of the trade they picked up throughout the week.
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