Niagara Gazette

Communities

May 12, 2014

Game on for student designers at local library

Niagara Gazette — LOCKPORT — Instead of spending Saturday playing video games, a group of students aged 11 to 16 learned the basics of creating their own.

About 15 girls and boys signed up for a game design workshop at the Lockport Public Library, taught by University of Buffalo graduate student Devin Wilson.

“When you’re young, you kind of always think it would be cool to make your own video games, but usually when you think of computer programmers you picture someone who’s brilliant at math and coding,” Wilson explained. “But there are programs, like the one I’m demonstrating today, which make it much more visual and abstract in a good way.”

Wilson walked the students through the functions of Scratch, a free, Internet-based web design program which allows users to manipulate colorful, cartoon characters, or “sprites”, into a variety of actions.

“You’re going to define the behavior of each sprite, you’re programming what it’s going to do,” Wilson told the class, demonstrating by making the cartoon cat on his computer screen take five steps to the left and meow.

Wilson showed the students how to control where and how far their character moves by defining the coordinates of their movements on an x and y axis.

Scratch allows users to create a program that the characters will follow by choosing from a simple command list on the left hand side of the screen, rather than typing in lines and lines of code, Wilson explained.

“In traditional programming, you’re using complex, cryptic code, which is a language just like Spanish or French, but really designed for computers to understand,” he said. “This program makes the idea of what happens when we type in code in a much more accessible, intuitive way.

Wilson, who originally went to UB to study filmmaking, said that taking a programming class in college “demystified” coding for him, allowing him to design games for the past four years. Wilson is now finishing his master’s degree in UB’s Department of Media Studies and plans on earning his Ph.D from Georgia Tech.

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