Get Immersed in Game Development at Champlain’s Summer Game Academy

This summer, 59 high school students will replace the usual college-aged crowd on the Champlain College hilltop campus. They will be living in the residence halls, taking classes with Champlain professors, and exploring all that Burlington, Vermont has to offer. Their mission? To develop a playable game in two weeks. This is the Game Academy.

This summer program allows high school students to explore their passion for games in Champlain’s state-of-the-art Game Studio. Here, they can learn more about the four undergraduate Game Studio majors: Game Design, Game Art, Game Programming, and Game Production Management. Students often come in with a basic knowledge in at least one of these areas, but are encouraged to delve into other fields to learn more about game production, design, and coding.

Game Academy students build games in a professional team-based environment.
Game Academy students work in teams-just as they would in a real game studio-to develop two working games.

“I really like the classes here,” says Natalie Basile, a rising high school senior from Fairfield County, CT. “Compared to other programs, this one makes you explore many different areas as opposed to picking one and staying with it. I figured I didn’t want to do art, but I really enjoyed it and I’m actually pretty decent at it, so that was fun.”

Students work in teams to develop their games from the ground up, and although each person has their own role, everyone gets the chance to experience their teammates’ work as well.

“Everybody’s job is hard in different ways, so it’s really interesting to be in different positions and to see that, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize how challenging this actually was,’” says Natalie. These skills are an essential part of the teamwork that makes up the Game Academy and the larger Game Studio at Champlain.

Teaching Assistants provide experience to the Game Academy students.
Champlain hires current undergraduate Game students to work as Teaching Assistants at the Game Academy.

Dean Lawson and Bridget Ryan, co-founders of the Game Academy, initially had the idea for the pre-college program back in 2012 when they realized that students were arriving at Champlain College’s Game Studio without a clear idea of what the work entailed and which major most suited them. Thus, the idea of a summer program was born so students could experience the structure of a game development team before deciding on a major.

“The Academy totally mirrors what goes on at Champlain. Everything they do in the Academy is what a student would experience as part of the undergraduate program,” says Lawson, who also teaches Game Programming during the year at Champlain College.

The Academy totally mirrors what goes on at Champlain. Everything they do in the Academy is what a student would experience as part of the undergraduate program.

Dean Lawson, Game Programming Director
Champlain College Game Studio professors teach at the Game Academy.
Game Academy classes are taught by Champlain College Game faculty. From left to right: Assistant Professor Greg Bemis (Game Design, Game Programming); Professor Joshua Buck (Game Art); Instructor Peter Wehr (Game Design); Associate Professor Joseph Manley (Game Design, Game Programming).

Over the course of the two weeks, students take classes with professors before forming teams. In total, they are responsible for creating two games. “Usually we start with a single mechanic, and we come up with five ideas,” explains Natalie. “We narrow them down based on which ones we like the most and which ones are doable in the amount of time. We flesh those out more until we have a game that we really, really like and then we start making it.”

Elaine Dorer, mother of Game Academy student Harry Dorer, was impressed by how students and faculty work together. “It’s more collaborative and less hierarchical than high school,” she said. “It shows students how exciting college can be.”

Students make new friends at the Champlain College Game Academy.
Students learn all aspects of game development, from art and design to coding and sound.

It’s more collaborative and less hierarchical than high school. It shows students how exciting college can be.

Another rising high school senior attending the Game Academy, Matt Slockbower from Mahwah, NJ, explains his group’s process in coming up with their concept. “We wanted to make a 2-D platformer game, so we picked a song on which to base our game called ‘Snowball in Hell’ by They Might Be Giants. And that’s what we ended up naming it, because it was literally a snowball in hell. You had to escape or it would melt!”

Parents experience their children's games at the end of the Game Academy.
Game Academy students present their games at the Academy’s final luncheon. Afterwards, students and their families are invited to play the games.

Matt especially appreciates the teamwork involved. “In these groups of four or five people we’ve been able to get a lot done that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to do on my own.”

Champlain College is a top contender on Natalie and Matt’s college application lists, and the Game Academy is an invaluable experience for when they begin their first year.

Game Art major Cameron Howell, ’21, is a Teaching Assistant at the Game Academy this summer after having attended it himself in high school. “It’s a ginormous step up when you actually get to use Maya® [a 3-D animation software] at the Game Academy because most people coming into college have never touched anything like it. Being able to use Maya® kickstarted my learning. As soon as I left the Game Academy, I downloaded it, started using it, and then came to Champlain knowing the base features already.”

Game Academy students spend time at Mt. Philo.
Students get to enjoy the outdoors, too. Each summer the group hikes to the top of Mount Philo, a nearby mountain with spectacular views of Lake Champlain.

These students will walk away from the Game Academy having gained hands-on experience in a state-of-the-art lab facility with access to some of the most current industry software before they even finish high school. They will experience campus life thanks to the team of program mentors who organize walks through Church Street, game nights, a hike up Mt. Philo, and a BBQ on the beach. Most importantly, though, these students get a unique opportunity to create an original game in a professional, team-based studio environment.

If you’re here and you enjoy it, it’s almost hands-down you’re going to want to come here and be a Game major.

Now that Cameron has been on both sides of the Game Academy, as a student and as a TA, he is confident that it was the right choice for him. “If you’re here and you enjoy it, it’s almost hands-down you’re going to want to come here and be a Game major.”

The Game Studio at Champlain College is a professional-grade game development studio.

Interested in learning more about the Game Studio and our Game majors? Come to our Game Career Exploration Day Friday, October 4, 2019 to connect with faculty and learn more about each Game degree program.

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