ALONG WITH A DOZEN OTHER programme specialists and technical staff from Tipperary Institute, I am part of a three-day event that complements Science Week Ireland. Our part of the itinerary involves exposing students with an aptitude for mathematics to the science of behind computer games development. During intense two-hour segments, second level students are building parts of a revised Space Invaders game, incorporating their own sound effects, their own graphics and some tweaks to the program code. Within 90 minutes, the new game gets compiled in front of an enthusiastic audience and selected students get to play the game. The resulting computer code can be used by students to exhibit their creation in the XNA Ireland Challenge, an event at Tipperary Institute on 13 March 2008. During the quiet moments this week, we have several manic giveaways--we give prizes to teens who correctly answer technical questions. After the first day, I wish we could offer this kind of activity to teenagers across Ireland. It takes some choreography to make it work.
Start with a Games Developer. You need a games developer, someone who knows how to code computer games, who has more than one games player at home, and who understands the roles played by UI designers, project managers, graphics designers, scripters, and sound engineers. We have that kind of expertise in Tipperary Institute because we offer a third level college degree in Games Development. Phil Bourke is our local games developer expert.
Get management buy-in for the event. The only way we were able to handle an auditorium full of 180-200 teens is to have the voluntary participation of wranglers and professional technical support from specialists. These third level lecturers and tech staff gave up free time and class preparation to watch student progress, answer questions and generally keep things focused around the sides and back of the audience. We thank James Greenslade and Padraig Culbert for their endorsement and support of this initiative.
Leverage graphics and sound expertise. We are blessed with staff members who know how to fly through audio, graphical and video content. Mark O'Leary, Triona Croke and Mike Kiely have done this kind of work in front of classrooms, sometimes on equipment that misbehaved. They have keyboard shortcuts and backed-up archives worth of clips that will get them through any kind of demonstration.
Connect across an existing social network. Those attending want to see and hear what they've done. This happens seamlessly since several staff members already have social networks where they can upload and share information related to Science Week Ireland. These networks were up and running weeks before the main event and that meant it was relatively easy to share content as it was unfolding during the creative sessions. Thirty miles away from the Thurles campus, social network friend Ken McGuire set up a Jaiku channel where several students left comments about their Science Week activities.
Learning how to program computer games can guide students into full-time employment after they earn a college degree. Offering a taste of that career field, alongside a clear requirement for an aptitude in mathematics, may help several students start on a career path that winds through science and engineering. Even if 20 out of the 500 students get the idea to take on this goal while watching the half-day events in Tipperary Institute, the three-day Science of Games sessions will pay off for Ireland's knowledge economy. That's why we're doing our part in Thurles for Science Week Ireland.