Champlain Game Academy Helps Students Find Their Creative Direction

By Brendon Johnson ‘16 / Champlain College News

BURLINGTON, Vt., — With summer in full swing, many high school students are off working part-time jobs, camping, relaxing, or maybe catching up on the latest video games. But for a group of students from across the country and around the world, spending two weeks at Champlain College, they are using their summer break to make the games they love instead of just playing them.

The Champlain Game Academy, a two-week residential program for high school students, aims to introduce students to what is is like to create video games.

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Students work in teams on projects at the Champlain Game Academy

The Academy, now in its second year, was first started by Assistant Professor Dean Lawson and his co-founder/co-director, Bridget Ryan. They felt students did not seem prepared to study games at the college level. “We wished there was more they could do before they got here” Lawson said. From that emerged the idea of a residential summer academy devoted to creating video games using the faculty and facilities of Champlain College’s award-winning programs.

This year, 50 students are attending. At the Academy students are exposed to three areas of game development which can be studied at Champlain College – Game Design, Game Art, and Game Programming. High school students get to try their hand at all three areas with Champlain College professors, instructors, students and alumni.

Lawson says that after learning some of the basic tools and theories, students break off into smaller work groups to create their own games. These projects give students the opportunity to develop ideas they have for games and encourages inspiration for future portfolio pieces, something that is required for many college programs, including Champlain College’s own competitive programs.

The Game Academy also strives to help students discover and make the right choice of study for their interests and talents. “There is a lot of misinformation about what studying games is, it sounds like it is just fun and games all the time but it is really hard work. People need to understand what they are getting into,” explained Lawson.

The program was inaugurated in 2013 and was immediately met with positive feedback from participants. 11 out of the 20 students who attended the Game Academy applied to Champlain College and were accepted early decision. Overall, 17 of 20 students applied to Champlain. Lawson credits this to the positive experience they get from the program and the exposure they received to Champlain College faculty and students. “It is really hard work, but if they like the way we do things (at the Game Academy) then they will like the way Champlain does things,” he added.

Bjorn Wolstad of Norway, is an 11th grader who is interested in working as a programmer in the game industry.  He learned about the program through a Champlain faculty member in his family who suggested it. “Being able to write a code and see what you wrote on the game, that is awesome,” he said. “I would like to major in Game programming and I’m thinking about applying to Champlain.”

Another participant Jennifer Carlin, who will be a high school senior this fall in North Carolina, saw the Game Academy as a way to figure out what roles she is best suited for on a game development team. She first started to want to make games as a freshman, “I had a realization that people had to make the games that I love playing, and I could make the games. It was nice thing to realize I could do something fun for a living.”

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Jennifer Carlin working on her latest project

Carlin, took a semester of Game Art at her high school before coming to Champlain and found the difference in learning environments striking. “I learned more in the first hour here then I did in the entire semester. Everything just clicked and it has been a really positive experience,” she explained.

With a week and half behind her at the Academy, Carlin says she has figured out that she excels with terrain building and world building. “It is pretty good to know that I found something I can do for the rest of my life.” Asked about her dream job, she said it is down to three
Ubisoft, Roosterteeth, or Bungie, the creator of her favorite game series, Halo.

The student teams will present their games to friends and family on Friday from 1-3 pm in Alumni Auditorium at the Academy’s closing ceremony in a fashion similar to how seniors in Champlain’s Game Studio do every April. Teams will stand before the audience, talk about their roles in creating the game and then show a demo reel of the game.

For many of the dedicated students, it will be a good preview of things to come if they decide to follow their dreams at Champlain College, Lawson said. “There is something really special when you see students start to get to a deeper level. To see them start thinking like game developers. It is cool to see how thrilled they become.”

To learn more about Champlain College’s Game Design Studio program, visit, http://gamestudio.champlain.edu/

To learn more about the Champlain Game Academy visit www.champlain.edu/game-academy or www.facebook.com/ChamplainGameAcademy

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