Have you ever wondered how a video game is created and what steps are involved? Or maybe you know someone who is studying for a college degree in video game design? Well, for Soddy Daisy High School seniors, creating a video game is a concept they have a head start in when they decided to compete in PEF's Arcade Architects this past spring. PEF partnered with Hamilton County Schools and The Benwood Foundation, to host this innovative student video game design competition & showcase. Graduating SDHS seniors Arial Cofer, Samuel Mitchell, Brittany Browne, and Devin Brown collaborated on their video game creation, called Chatt-Cycle, by developing their own ideas, story-line, artwork, and even coding. These students were enrolled in Soddy Daisy High's Web Design & Computer Science courses, taught by Maureen Clark, and the content these students learned in Clark's class proved to be a great segue for them into the Arcade Architects competition.
These senior students developed three primary goals for the project, with the primary driving question: 'How can we, as Arcade Architects, create a game that highlights the best of Chattanooga?' Their first goal was to make the game artistic by creating their own animations. Secondly, they wanted the game to be educational for their audience, so they incorporated Chattanooga's history, including story lines referencing real landmarks throughout the city (i.e. Rock City, Ruby Falls, Coolidge Park - just to name a few). And thirdly, they wanted the game to have a social impact, so they focused on the topic of recycling and keeping Chattanooga clean. "At the beginning of the project, each student came up with their own ideas for the driving question," shared Clark. "We put all their thoughts up on the board, and they had to pitch their ideas. It was impressive to see the development of all their different ideas and how they all came together."
Chatt-Cycle's story-line took students about two weeks of brainstorming and combining many of their ideas. The story stems from the perspective of a tourist visiting Chattanooga, with the team wanting to showcase to their audience the highlights/attractions of why they should visit the Scenic City. Students even incorporated music from one Soddy Daisy teacher, Jonathan George, throughout their video game.
Cofer and Mitchell were able to sit down with us recently and share more details about their experience and their group's 15-week journey creating the video game. When asked what drew her to participate in Arcade Architects, Cofer shared, "I took Ms. Clark's Web Design & Development class the first semester of my senior year, and I enjoyed coding and have always really enjoyed art, as well." When they offered a second semester of the class, Cofer knew instantly that she wanted to enroll. "When I realized there was a video game design competition involved, I knew I would be satisfied whether I was doing coding or art, so I definitely wanted to get on board with it." The process of how constructing a video game would work is also a concept that Cofer has always been interested in pursuing. "I really enjoyed how, when we started out, we had no idea what we were going to do," said Cofer. "Our coder didn’t have any experience with this type of code before. We just started brainstorming, and now it’s an actual playable game. I think it’s really cool to see that process – from starting with nothing to building out an entire video game."
"The way the grading worked was how well you attained certain goals," shared Mitchell. "For example, our coding had to be clean, our marketing had to clearly display who our audience was, what age range we were targeting, etc." When the team designed the layout of the game, they did so with four levels of game play in mind. For this specific project, one level of game play was created, but the player still has the opportunity to complete the game from start to finish, in order to get an overall feel for the story-line and concept. Mitchell enjoyed being responsible for the marketing portion and helping with the design layout. "This project has helped me understand the path I can take and the creative design process," Mitchell said. "It's helped me get an image in my head of what I want to do, sorting it out, and making it a reality." Mitchell has plans to study at Chattanooga State in the fall. While there, he will be part of the TN Promise program, which will help him decide which path he wants to take for a career in technology.
The Chatt-Cycle team presented the process of their video game creation to fellow students and held a competition for them to see who could complete the game the fastest. "We wanted to show the freshmen Future Ready Institute students what a senior capstone project would look like from start to finish to give them an idea of what to expect," shared Clark. The students competed to see how fast they could gather recycling and get to the different Chattanooga attractions throughout the game. This competition for the Future Ready Institute students started out with three brackets of 66 students. From there, they had the top twelve come back and play each other, with the fastest freshman completion score at one minute. The team's coder, Devin Brown, was even able to complete it in 45 seconds!
Soddy Daisy High's Future Ready Institute focuses on media & entrepreneurship. Freshman year, students learn video production, and sophomore year they learn web design, entrepreneurship, & marketing. By their junior year, students have the opportunity to choose which path they'd rather take. "The whole idea is, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur in business, you need to know all aspects of that business," said Clark. "For example, how am I going to get my website up and running, and how am I going to promote myself?" Students are getting a jump start in these areas to help prepare them for college. "When they go to college and they’re presented with a video game challenge, or even creating graphics or animation, they already have the initial beginning stages part of it figured out," shared Clark. "Because of that, they'll have the ability to focus on the creating part of their assignment, and not have to focus on figuring out how it works. That’s an advantage they’re going to have."
Cofer, who will start UTC next fall and plans to study computer science, shared how this project has prepared her for life after high school. "If I were to go into video game design, I have an understanding of not only how long it takes, but the process itself and how marketing, art, and coding all come together," shared Cofer. She also strengthened her skills in collaborating and brainstorming within a team. "I’ve learned throughout these fifteen weeks that I have my part and everyone else has theirs, and we all work together as a team to get it done."
The team had to document everything they did throughout the project (i.e. purpose of the game, target audience, story boards, ideas/plans, resources, brainstorming sessions, etc.). With Cofer focusing on the video game's artwork, Mitchell with marketing, Brown with coding, and Browne with documentation/project management, each area was well represented. Although each student had a primary role or focus within the process, they jumped in to support each other across all phases.
Maureen Clark also shared her thoughts on the Arcade Architects project and the students' commitment to their work. "I think this was a great opportunity for the students," Clark said. "For the Public Education Foundation, which has all these amazing opportunities, this was a pretty cool one for the students. It made them learn how to collaborate together as a team for fifteen weeks. They had to work together each morning, figure out where their road blocks were, who was succeeding, who was having issues, and then come together to figure out how to solve those problems. It wasn’t just one student working on one job only. They all had to work together to keep this project moving forward."
Kudos to the Chatt-Cycle team on all your hard work, drive, and dedication in making your video game a fun and interactive success! We hope you continue to utilize the skills you learned throughout the Arcade Architects project, in your future studies and future career. Congratulations Soddy Daisy High Class of 2019!
*Additional media coverage: WDEF
*Photos contributed by Soddy Daisy High School.