BAR HARBOR — Four students at Mount Desert Island High School are taking their love of video games and combining it with art and science, developing their own games in the classroom.
“The big goal is to take game players and make them game creators,” teacher Megan McOsker said.
The idea for the class stemmed from a field trip to the University of Maine last year where an MDI computer science class discovered the potential of Unity, a free game development program. Unity is lauded for its relative simplicity and ability to create games across 27 platforms, from iPhones to Playstation to virtual reality.
The program has an interface that allows aspiring developers to drag and drop assets — the components of all objects in the game — into their games.
But the students also are working directly with computer code, “scripting” the actions of characters and objects.
For example, in Roll-a-ball, a simple game that each student learned to code through a tutorial, the player controls a ball to roll over items and collect them. There are traps or obstacles to negotiate, and the goal is to collect all of the objects.
Each object is added manually, be it an original creation or something downloaded from another creator. Original creations in this class are created in a program called “Blender.” Blender is 3D computer graphics software that allows detailed modeling and animation of assets.
Sophomore Adam Nuesslein created a 3D cat in Blender and used it as the controlled character in a Roll-a-ball game. Unity tutorials helped the students build these types of games in about four days of class time. While the game looks simple, the scripting initially can be complicated.
“We would have to [script] the keys we’re using to create movements,” sophomore Jared Mitchell said. “There are scripts to make things rotate and also scripts to collect [items.]”
Scripting can be complicated, as the use of certain characters is essential; a missing punctuation mark can unravel a whole set of code.
Students gained a familiarity with Unity by playing games created in the program, viewing code and adjusting settings.
Sophomore Keaton Stevens said he is inspired by Minecraft, an open-world game where users create structures from cubes of materials. He said being part of the game development class has been a big motivator for him.
“I’ve always enjoyed technology,” Stevens said. “This allows me to code video games and pursue how I want to create games.”
Nuesslein said he would like to create a text-based game in the future and was glad that he could join a class to hone in on his interests.
“This is probably one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken,” he said.
McOsker said that the goal of the class is to create a cohesive game by the end of the term. A complete game, she explained, includes an overarching story to supplement the coding under the hood. The students have diverse sets of skills, which will help with the group project.
“Right now, we’re collaboratively working on learning the software,” McOsker said. “I think they’re all motivated, and I anticipate them collaborating [on a game].”
The students in the class also are building a computer from a kit to use for virtual reality programs. The current virtual reality device, part of the school’s Design Thinking program, is housed in a different part of the school and cannot be moved easily.