This post is from RJD board member Leonard Wedderburn, who has his own company with Power On Games as well as helping work on Ralph VR’s Daydream Blue. You can find Leonard on Twitter.
When I was playing games as a kid I never gave much thought that there were actual people making these games. How can folks make these things and get paid? Where do they go to do this? Could I do it? Those questions wallowed in my mind as I went through high school trying to figure out my future. I knew what I wanted but I didn’t know where to go or how to start. When I left high school, honestly I wasn’t going toward the path I truly wanted. Jumping into the short future (10 years), I finally can honestly say I am on the path I set out for myself.
Looking back at that time, I could tell there was one thing that was missing and that was guidance. Yes, there were guidance counselors at my school but I am talking about a guidance that is focused and taken seriously by not only the student but the one offering that guidance as well. During Global Entrepreneur week, I was given that opportunity to be the counselor and I must say, it was a awesome experience.
It’s been 10 years since I had stepped in that school and it was a little weird not having to go to class when the bell rang. Also, I realized that I had never done anything like this before but with the help of caffeine, I was gonna make sure I did my part that day. I’ll be honest, I was pretty nervous.
I was joined by good friends Shylo Shepherd and Warren Nash and also 2 other attendees from Commerce Lexington. After getting our visitor passes and waiting for classes to end, we headed to the classroom where we’ll be delivering our knowledge to students about the greatness that is game development.
After the students settled in, the class was quieted and Mr. Nash took to the front to talk about the reason for our visit and about being a entrepreneur. After completing his short part, Shylo took the board and I took to the middle of class. The slides showed our game development work including Haunted Pixel the horror VR experience, Atheria the mobile meditation game Shylo was currently working on and also NeaNaf, the game I had released on the Play Store. As we went through the slides, I looked out wondering who was interested and paying attention and it was good to see that some were.
The last few slides pertained to the activity we were gonna have the students participate in, where they would do a shortened game jam and then try to pitch the game to Shylo and I. We would then give feedback. The theme that was chosen for them was High School.
As they broke up into their groups to begin the process, Shylo, Warren and I walked around listening in on their development process. With High School as the theme, many subjects related to sports and living life in high school were brought up. A couple groups seemed stuck at times so I tried to help them out as much but to only guide and not decide what was best for their group.
After a few minutes time ran out and they started to present. I must say, listening to the groups I noticed that some weren’t really comfortable with the activity. I don’t think many of them have ever thought in this manner of creating a product and trying to sell it. Some however really enjoyed the process I could tell. After giving the talks, Shylo and I would give feedback. There were 2 that really stuck with me.
The first was a game that allowed students to fight each other online and not in school so that they wouldn’t get in trouble. The idea from the top sounds very intriguing but I did offer warning about having a game could possibly create issues in the real world, like revenge at the school in real life based on the results of the fight online. I felt bad for kind of shooting the game down but I knew that it would be best to bring up. My goal was to make sure they understood the possible issues that come about when creating a game so close to real life.
The second game was a game where you live you life through the 4 years of school and you add a “musical” part to it and it’s VR making it honestly sound like “High School Musical VR”. I must say when the student first mentioned, I chuckled, not because I thought it was funny but because I was excited for it. I told her that I really wanted to see it in VR. It would be so crazy to be walking down the hallway and then all these students appear and do a dance number in VR. Shylo and I gave some feedback on it, me focused on creating content for it and Shylo for possibly getting the license to make it. I hope the student makes it a reality.
The other projects were good as well and the students presented them with a focus in mind so that made me happy. It was great to see some really take it all the way and explain what they wanted for the game. Those who showed that true interest were the ones that I knew we had come there to talk to. Towards the end we talked about VR, starting game development and made it rain business cards. In leaving, after talking to students, I felt as though it was not a waste of time for us and not a waste for them. Even if they weren’t planning on becoming game developers, for them to see the support that Lexington had for the group and the support of small business organizations in town, it hopefully hit in their minds that they could do what we were doing and it wasn’t easy but was possible.
So for Tuesday, the second day, we were going to take our gospel to Tates Creek HS. I’ve never been there before and not knowing the environment I was walking into had me a little worried but I knew it would be another great experience as we had the day before.
This time I was joined by only John and the attendant from the day before. Having a smaller team this time meant it would go probably much quicker. This time walking into the school, I had to find my way around but after a quick trip to the office and some police officers to guide my way, I found the class I was supposed to be in.
This time the students were 9th graders, and the energy in the room was a little higher. This was good because we wanted folks to be interested in what we were talking about with them. After they had all settled in, we were given the stage. As the day before, I decided to be support and let John take the lead.
Just as the previous day, they were given the same task of creating a game idea and also coming up with mechanics, characters and also how to sell the game. That was interesting. Many children seemed to have an understanding that they could sell the game but to get other funds, they’d add addons that folks would have to pay for. My guess is that since they grew up with this type of financial system in games, it would make sense to add it to their imaginary games as well.
In looking at the groups that were created spontaneously, it seemed like it would be a smooth process for all involved. Walking around and answering questions, I noticed that one of the groups felt super comfortable with the task but another just had 2 guys and they needed a little help in getting started. The group that was comfortable seemed to be writing down ideas and creating hard but for the duo in the corner, it was a challenge to them. For the 2 in the corner, their ideas differed, one’s idea was related to Sports, the other was thinking about some Hitman action. To make the situation simple and not uncomfortable, I guided them on figuring out how to combine both ideas. I mentioned on how this year the Global game jam, 6 folks came up with 6 different ideas and made a beautiful mess of a game. That seemed to help and they kept on working on their idea.
For most of the children, the theme being High School, the ideas seemed to focus around sports as well and also there were some Zombie ideas that popped up. Those 2 genre of games seem to the desired game for some in that grade which surprised me. With FPS being popular but also Minecraft, you would suspect those ideas to be at the center but Sports game still seem to have fan base especially those of certain ethnicities.
For those who had the idea about Zombies, 2 groups I believe, I decided to give them my personal thoughts on the subject since it was something I was looking into at the same time. My thought was that the Zombie idea can still work but they should try to create original monsters, making it unique to their game so that it’ll create a fanbase. I referenced the Inklings from “Splatoon” and how they are a new species that Nintendo came up with. You can see by looking at the fan base and how it has continued to grow in popularity due to its story and gameplay. I wasn’t sure if that thought got through to the dev side of their mind but I knew it was be important to mention.
In finishing it up, we talked about VR and the headset coming out. We also talked a couple students personally that were interested in the group. All in all, they seemed to enjoy us being there. The teacher really seemed to like the Jam design idea, possibly since it can be used for other types of business as well with some small changes being needed of course. Before leaving, we did another business card rain and left before traffic picked up. We had a good class in Tates Creek, so I was happy with the experience and I hope the kids did as well.
Kentucky has many subjects it can be proud of like horses and UK basketball but for video games, what’s the future of it in the state? Can we become a state that’s focus is digital entertainment?
Everyone no matter what age or race has a imagination. The ability for us to create something in our heads from practically nothing is a amazing gift of life. For some though that ability is stronger than others. They are able to look at a blank piece of paper and see a flower. They can look into the clouds and see a dinosaur. For children at times this ability seems to be in overdrive but as they get older, it can disappear or grow. With current technology, they have a chance of bringing out their imagination for people to see. Starting off at a young age and learning the tools and languages necessary to make these experiences work will be a guiding point for them for what they want to do in their life.
From the kids I talked to at the schools, I noticed that it was still there but more mature. Based on their past and the goals they’ve set for themselves, what’s possible for them is great. Some will grow and have many cliche professions like doctors, lawyers and maybe astronauts but some will decide that they can offer something those other profession can’t and they’ll become game developers. They’ll make worlds that have never been seen and using the latest technology that allow players to interact with that digital world and exit the real one. Some will take a chance like many in our group do and make this a full time job instead of hobby, it’ll be up to them to decide their future but they’ll figure it out I do believe.
From where I see now, the interest is there. For Kentucky to become a new hub for game developers is possible and I think we are on the right path. We have RunJumpDev, creating a community in central KY of knowledge and support. We have our sister group GameDev Lou on the west creating the same type of environment for those interested in making game development their living. We also have colleges and universities, EKU, BCTC and KU, taking a chance in creating curriculum and degrees for game development. Also the amount of studios, startups and indie developers are increasing as well. With all these pillars that have started to appear, I believe it’ll create a strong foundation for the next generation in school now. They’ll be able to stay in state and make game development their living. They’ll be able to do what they love and entertain the future. Kentucky has a bright and digital future ahead of it especially when it comes to game development.