Life in Digital

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, 72 percent of all teenagers play video games on game consoles, computers or smart devices. However, beneath the display screen lies the product of video-game developers’ hard work.

Take Parker Lawrence, video game developer and sophomore. Lawrence said he wanted to be a video game designer since he was very young.

“When I was really young,” Lawrence said, “I was really into video games at the time. But I realized that if I wanted to design video games, I had to be a programmer also and so I began to learn to program at a really small age. It’s kind of ironic that I don’t really play video games anymore, but I’m rather really into making them.”

According to both game development teacher Theresa Kane and Lawrence, a deep understanding of mathematics and computer science is necessary to create a successful product.

“You have to think in terms of design elements and you have to figure out how the game works. There’s a lot of mathematics because movement itself is a mathematical model. With developing computer games where you’re aiming things, you have to consider, ‘By how many units do I have to move my sprite?’ and so there’s a lot of trigonometry involved. You want to get some good content into the game that represents a topic people are interested in and gives feedback to the user,” Kane said.

Lawrence said he has been creating video games for many years, with a combination of both successes and failures. He started to make games on Python, but later switched over to other programming languages such as C and C++  due to certain limitations in the functionalities of Python. Some of his past projects have included building an arcade cabinet and programming a robot to play chess against a opponent, among many others. Lawrence is currently working on a physics engine, which, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Scratch website, is a method for creating the sound movement of an object, in an attempt to produce what he hopes to be a first-person shooter game.

“Normally, designers have got a lot of 3D-modeling programs where they make all the objects that are going to go in the game, and it’s a very detailed process. I myself  am not very good at it at all, and I try to make my games in such a way that (they’re) mostly programming and its not an emphasis on the design aspect. Most of my games will use a series of rules to generate what would ordinarily be designed because I’m just not good at that artistic aspect,” Lawrence said.

Furthermore, Kane said she has made games for elementary school students to help them learn to spell in an interactive format. She has launched a program that will allow students at this school to create video games for patients at Riley Children’s hospital. In order for that to happen, she said the games given have to be at a professional level.

Lawrence said it is essential to build up a project from the most basic functions to complex tasks in order to avoid facing flaws in the program, with regard to the approach a game developer must take.

“First you start out with a plan. You start with a general set of rules and you implement them and you go from there I guess,” Lawrence said. “You sort of do one layer at a time; the first layer might just display very basic stuff, and on top of that is stuff will create the environment, and on top of that is how the environment is supposed to be, and you just keep going on. But it’s very important to make sure that you do a little bit at a time because it helps avoid problems which might emerge.”

“I would say just make sure you’re interested in developing the game,” Kane said. “There are so many tutorials available on the Internet, and there’s nothing stopping you from learning by yourself. and Scratch are great places to start.”

“Don’t give up, I guess,” Lawrence said. It might seem like you’re not making progress at first, and it seems like a bunch of code that’s not connected, but the more you write the faster it takes to shape. I’m definitely going to continue making games, and I’ll see where it takes me.”

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Adhi Ramkumar