Name: Austin Payne
Type of Project: Artistic & Creative Endeavour
For my project, I developed a mobile game from scratch. This entailed activities involving computer science and game development techniques
As I attended my first STEP meeting and various meetings throughout my Sophomore year, I really had no idea what to do for my signature project. I knew several students that used the opportunity to study abroad, which certainly would’ve been the simplest choice. Others used the opportunity to support their summer internship – but mine had housing provided! I have always been very interested in computers and video games, having built my own computer in high school. Some students proposed signature projects during which they would buy expensive computer parts to build their own – I do believe this is a good experience but not a transformative one. I ended up choosing my signature project closer to the end of the proposal deadline and now realize how the challenges I had to overcome made the project truly transformative.
At the beginning of my project, the first challenge was to come up with a game idea. I had to balance the desire to create something awesome, fun, and new with the reality that I was a one man team with a limited time frame and college classes and a summer internship taking priority. After going through several ideas it became apparent how easy it was to get carried away with the planning – soon the project would have way too big of a scope to be possible. The solution to this was simply diving in to an idea and seeing where it took me. Developing the game and adding new features as I thought of them kept me motivated to see the project through, rather than planning it all out at the start and becoming overwhelmed. Throughout the rest of my project, I overcame many technical programming challenges, as well as bringing a game from start to finish while balancing my time between other responsibilities.
Many events, interactions, and activities during my STEP signature project affected me greatly. Perhaps most importantly were the programming activities that took place during my project. For most people, the hardest code they ever have to write might be a few lines long, contained in a single file. Even for computer science majors, which is certainly not “most people”, their assignments, labs, and projects rarely require more than a few files. Although this was not the first time I had done so, working with hundreds of files of code and assets was an activity that improved my ability to work in an environment similar to what I would encounter working on any enterprise software or software engineering project as an employee. Each piece of code written has to work seamlessly with the rest of the codebase, and while writing code one must strive to make it as easy as possible for future code to use and build off of it – or the codebase becomes impossible to expand and work with.
While there might not have been any “key” event, the key to this transformation came from all of the events put together. You can’t simply code a game from scratch all at once – it has to be broken down into very small pieces. Some of these pieces are very fun, usually flashy gameplay features that the person playing the game will notice. However the vast majority of the pieces are foundational code, menus, basic game logic etc. and only noticed if missing. These pieces are just as important. Each piece is itself an accomplishment that can fuel further motivation and eventually you begin to have a real working game! It should also be noted that because the fun features build on more basic features, getting to the point where they can be added is very exciting but takes real dedication.
Finally, there were several interactions that led to transformations in my life. One interaction was with various content producers in the game development community. Browsing what other independent developers are working on, ideas, artwork, and videos is very inspiring, helping with motivation and providing a base point to compare my game with. In addition, looking at all of these content producers helped me choose a source of assets for the game. Finally, the interaction I had with the hiring manager for my internship this summer was very significant. During the interview I brought up the project and some problems I came across when adding certain features, explaining my solutions and how they were innovative. The next year when the internship began he told me he remembered the interview and that I was his first choice because of the cool discussion we had!
Through the opportunity provided to me by STEP, I was able to gain valuable skills in the fields of computer science and game development. This real world experience will enhance my professional portfolio by showing my capability to bring a game idea from inception to implementation, creating solutions to dozens of problems in order to do so. I gained insight into what it takes to make a game, which gives me an advantage in interviewing for a company. For example, I scored an internship by discussing the project with my hiring manager – this alone proves the significance STEP has had on my life. I recently received a full time offer from the same company for next year! Personally, my signature project made me realize how important creative freedom was to me and I probably wouldn’t want to give it up by getting a job at a massive game company. However, I gained more appreciation for the video games produced by these companies because I see the hard work that dozens or even hundreds of people had to perform.