Gaming teachers help student work on project
Ed Bailey  /  AP
Rob Manuel, second from right, a dean at NYU's Center for Advanced Digital Applications, and Nicole Tecco, right, director of NYU's summer Camp/Game for aspiring game creators, work with an unidentified student on her 3-D video animation project in New York.
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updated 7/13/2004 11:14:44 PM ET 2004-07-14T03:14:44

In this warm season of thawed lakes, green mountains and plentiful daylight, a small group of kids will spend a month in quiet air-conditioned classrooms in the city.

They're choosing a different kind of summer fun -- making video games at New York University's Camp/Game: Intensive Video Game Creation.

Not that they'll be zombied out in front of computer consoles. The campers, all guys ages 15 to 20, will use the Center for Advanced Digital Application's cutting-edge facilities to learn the techniques behind best-selling digital masterpieces such as "Doom," "Quake" and "Madden N.F.L. Football."

Camps for musicians, artists and athletes are widespread, but young video game makers must often embark on a "Myst"-like quest for a mentor.

"It's difficult for kids to get experience in this field. I usually tell the ones who call me to get in touch with companies themselves and ask for internships," said Hal Halpin, president of The Interactive Entertainment Merchants Association, which runs gamejobs.com.

Warm-ups: Chess, cards
Campers will arrive each day for a 9 a.m. warm-up of playing time-tested analog games like chess or cards, followed by a discussion of the elements that explain the games' persistent popular appeal. Lights-out could happen more than 14 hours later, if they choose to work in the computer lab from 9 to 11 p.m.

Four gaming professionals will serve as instructors and some of the advanced students in the Center's master's program will evaluate campers' work during daily assisted open lab sessions. During evenings and weekends, guest lecturers from an array of video game companies will speak to campers in person or through conference calls.

Game Audio Network Guild president Tommy Tallarico is flying in from the West Coast to talk to students. He's written music for video games including Terminator, Aladdin, Tomorrow Never Dies and Spider-Man.

Campers can focus on one of the three main categories of game-making: design, art and programming. They will attend classes with people in their field of interest and brainstorm in teams to hatch a game concept and playable level. At the end of the session, the team will pitch its idea to an industry panel, which will award prizes to the best game concepts.

The programmers of the bunch must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the programming languages C or Java and experience with Adobe Systems Inc.'s Photoshop or Illustrator. There's no prerequisite for those interested in game design.

Nicole Tecco, director of Entertainment, Technology, Digital Arts and Design at NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies, is still receiving applications for spots in Camp/Game.

While declining to identify the campers, Tecco described them as "extremely motivated."

"These guys are like superstars," she said.

Inquiries about video game-making courses from high school students prompted Tecco to lay the plans for Camp/Game because SCPS offered only graduate and night classes. The program, which runs from July 6 to Aug. 6, is designed for high schoolers and college undergraduates.

Camp/Game is the first summer camp for game builders on the East Coast. Last year Digipen Institute of Technology, based in Redmond, Wash., held its first video game creation camp, in California, and the University of Illinois Women in Engineering Program hosted one for 30 eighth- and ninth-grade girls.

Dose of reality
Campers won't receive school credit through the $5,125 program, but the concepts used to create video games -- including 3-D animation, programming, character and environmental design -- apply to other fields, including architectural visualization, medical imaging and engineering.

The experience will also help campers decide whether they have the drive to pursue a career in the video game industry.

Aspiring game creators often have sugarplum visions of the gaming workplace.

"They often assume that programming means they'll play games all day," Halpin said.

Adding to the allure are the relatively generous starting salaries. In the United States, they hover around $45,000 for artists and $58,400 for programmers with less than two years of experience, according to Game Developer magazine's 2003 salary survey.

But Dov Jacobson, an instructor at the camp and founder of Big Fun Development Corp., wants to shoot down the misconceptions of itchy-thumbed gamesters who don't realize that building a game is often much less enjoyable than playing it.

"Sometimes the people who are real good at playing games are people who don't buckle down," he said, "You need someone who can focus in and finish their part of the game."

Employees sometimes clock in 80 hours or more a week and Jacobson recalls "weeks and weeks and weeks of living on pizza and barely going home." But no matter how much family time and nutrition you sacrifice, "it's really hard to come out with a game that's fun and full of spirit."

Jacobson also approves of Camp/Game's emphasis on teamwork. "The stereotype for game creators is this lone genius," Jacobson said, "But making games these days is not a solo occupation. It requires the ability to share the decision-making and the glory."

But Tecco understands the ego of the young digerati.

"It's kind of sexy," she said. "Making video games is kind of like a dream come true for them."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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