Camp merges games and learning

Published 8:55 pm Friday, July 30, 2010

A group of middle school students — who don’t have drivers licenses — got behind the wheel and took a drive Wednesday afternoon.

No one was hurt. No cars were crashed. And, no citations were issued.

The drive was a simulated experience and part of the Suffolk Public Schools’ Summer Gaming Enrichment Camp, where students got a taste of how to apply their strengths and talents to a career in modeling and simulation.

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“Locally, modeling and simulation is a big market with a lot of jobs,” said Jody Strausser, Assistant Professor of Modeling and Simulation at Tidewater Community College. “The goal of the camp is to show students how to apply their interests and skill sets to the industry.”

This is the second year Tidewater Community College has partnered with Suffolk Public Schools to provide the camp. Sixteen students spent four days at the college’s Tri-Cities Center campus.

While the students were afforded different opportunities, including a car simulator, their main project was learning how to create a computer game using modeling and simulation instruments.

Day one of the camp included learning how storytelling sets the scene of any game. On day two, students reviewed different kinds of games and brainstormed on what a successful game is comprised of, including a story line, characters and graphics.

“Students were surprised that there was a component to putting together a game that didn’t include sitting down behind a computer,” Strausser said.

Students were able to use computer to manipulate games and learned how to use a computer to create a game.

“They altered and switched how objects acted, how characters look, the background, sounds and music in tutorials,” Strausser said.

Later, students spent time creating their own two-dimensional game and learning how to create three-dimensional objects on day four.

Students Michael Egnor, 14, and Brian Holland, 11, created “Star Blast,” a game based on the tale of a spaceship that got lost in space, ended up in a wormhole and had to fight its way out.

The game has a spaceship the boys controlled by pressing computer keys and having it shoot lasers at objects.

“It’s amazing,” said Egnor,, who said he plays similar games to the one he and his partner, Holland, made at the camp. “I hoped I’d be able to do something like this some day. It was easier than I thought.”

The mission of the camp was accomplished in at least these two boys.

“Our goal was to take this huge, multi-faceted industry and gives students an example of what it could mean to them,” Strausser said. “Creating games is something they can relate to. It’s something in their world. Whether they’re the creative, artistic, literary or physicist types — there’s a way for them to use that in modeling in simulation.”