siege-logo-11Last week I attended part of SIEGE 2011 (Southern Interactive Entertainment & Game Expo) in Atlanta Georgia. Before the main part of the conference started the conference hosted hundreds of high school and middle school students for a college open house and presentations on a variety of topics.  I was there to talk a bit about how students can learn to create their own games using a verity of tools from Microsoft. I started with some information about trends in computer gaming such as more and more graphics, faster and faster processors, and new and different devices for game play. Then I talked about what students who want to get into game development have to do to prepare. For programmers, math and physics are key subjects. A lot of students think they can avoid those but pretty much every professional game developer I have met or read about uses math quite a bit. Many also have math books on their reference shelves at work. But most of all those who would become professional game developers must have a passion for it. It requires hard work and it requires being ready and willing to create ones own games to show people what one has. Fortunately there are tools available for students to do just that. I talked about some of them as well.

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Xbox 360 controllers and Kinect Sensors are two of the devices I showed the students. Kodu, a great graphical programming environment for young programmers, is easily programmed using the Xbox 360 controllers for example. The Kinect Sensor device can be used to create games using the released Kinect for Windows SDK.

I also talked a bit about DreamSpark. DreamSpark is the way these students (see picture below) and many more can get free access to a large amount of professional software development tools. These tools can be used for game development of course but they can also be used for all sorts of other applications. It’s a huge opportunity for students.

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I also talked briefly about the Imagine Cup. The last two years have seen high school teams make it to the US Finals of the game design competition of the Imagine Cup. Last year a high school team finished in the top three. I am really hoping for a high school team from the US to make it to the world-wide finals in Australia. I’m also hoping that some high school teams will enter other parts of the Imagine Cup besides Game Design. The Software Design event is the premier event in the Imagine Cup. It takes a lot of work to be really competitive and competing against college and university students can be a daunting prospect for high school students. I do believe that some high school students are up to it though. I should mention that there is a third category in the Imagine Cup – the IT Challenge – which we’ve also seen some high school students do well at. It’s a chance for students of things like systems and network management to really show off what they know. Something to think about for a lot of students at a lot of schools.