Skoolcade 2017 & Video Game Design in the Classroom

This Saturday, I had the honor of serving as a judge at Ventura County’s first annual Skoolcade competition, hosted by Rio Vista Middle School! My fellow judges were an incredible bunch of teachers and industry professionals, the event got great press, but most of all the students wow-ed me with their coding prowess and got me thinking about some ideas for teaching game design in my classes next year.

Below, find links and resources to get your own video game coding started, as well as some screencaps from the winning games.

Apple Air Duct

The winning middle school entry, a mouse-based maze game called Apple Air Duct

At Skoolcade 2017, many of the elementary school and middle school entries were programmed in Scratch, a block-based programming language, including fan favorites like the 2-player button masher Soccer Physics, the uncommonly beautiful and retro space questand the tricky, Super Meat Boy-style platformer JUMP.

Stick Ninja

The winning elementary school entry, Stick Ninja. Gameplay involves simply pressing a button to create a stick that is just long enough to span the gap between platforms.

The elementary-schoolers also introduced me to Hopscotch, a drag-and-drop coding app for iPad/iPhone, which allowed them to create fidget-spinner-studded phone games like Emoji maze escape 🐳.

(Lost) Memories

Lost Memories, the high school winner, was a gripping and surreal video game experience–the creators used Unity to craft a Metroidvania-esque platformer where the player ventures into the mind of a coma patient to recover his memories.

Some middle- and high-school contestants challenged themselves to use real game creation software, from Unity to the Unreal Engine to GameMaker Studio. Some students leveraged their existing coding experience in Java and C++, while others crammed tutorials and worked with flowcharts and art design.

Although it didn’t take home a trophy (this time), my favorite high school entrant was Stingray, a gorgeous and upbeat little game with bespoke 3D fish produced by a team of students from Ventura County’s Career Education Center. I hope to see a full version on Steam some day soon!

press space to start

My favorite 2-player game, press space to start, was a delightfully whimsical platformer in which two square-headed knights race through a colorful, boxy world.

I was excited and inspired by Skoolcade 2017, and hope to get my students in on the action next year! Again this year, I am planning to teach my programming class in Javascript–because although it’s a quirky and sometimes difficult little language, it’s easy to get running and immensely practical.

The book 3D Game Programming for Kids is a fast-paced and fun introduction to JavaScript and game design that comes with its own, easy-to-use online code editor. This year, I found it an excellent text, particularly when supplemented with CodeHS as a more traditional web coding lesson site with nice teacher features. (We found that although Code.org has some impressively polished videos, and a great block-based coding language that converts to JavaScript at the click of a button, it just was too slow for my high school students.)

If you have favorite video game coding resources for students, share them in the comments! This time next year, I hope to be posting links to my own students’ games here.

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