SCILS: Advanced Video Game Design

SCILS: Advanced Video Game Design begins October 1, 2014.

The Have Dreams’ SCILS: Advanced Video Game Design course is the most carefully crafted curriculum for the computer lab that we have undertaken.  For several years, our students have been programming with a children’s coding tool called Scratch. Now, as many enter their pre-teen years, they feel they have outgrown this software.

However, for all of us in Computer Science education, the path beyond Scratch is unclear. Many programs begin a coding-only program, which can become very tedious and overwhelming as time goes on. Some programs do something flashy for a few weeks — and promptly end. Conversely, professional video game software comes with a steep learning curve.

Screenshot from first project - Magic Carpet

Screenshot from first project in Unity- Magic Carpet

As a response, tapping into the resources of industry veterans and our in-house instructional designer, we’ve created a program for middle school and High School students,  which is fun and well suited to students who range from HFA/Asperger’s and “twice exceptional” students with an aptitude for technology.  This is a program that our students can continue for the forseeable future – our hope is to create two years of curriculum (for a weekly, 1.5 hour afterschool program).  This is aligned with Have Dreams charter of a “continuum of services” in which we stay with our students from their early years to early adulthood.

We are using tools and languages that are widely used in colleges; and we predict will be relevant skills for students to utilize over the next decade.

This program, which begins on Wednesday, Oct 1 is the launch of the first 8 weeks.

What we will learn:

Unity 3D – Professional Game Design software
Javascript – coding (via Code Academy)
Maya (after week 5)

What we will make:

The player will stand on a platform, jump onto a flying carpet that is moving around the area, and get a ball to land on a bulls-eye target.

Why this program is unique and created for student on the autism spectrum:

“When you make curriculum for kids on the spectrum, it better be perfect.”  Everyone gets frustrated, and kids on the spectrum even moreso.  Many programs are loosely structured and the students create their own project, and often fail to accomplish their goal. Conversely, for several years, we’ve been building skills and competency first, then designing do-able projects when the student knows the basics.

First lesson in 3D Modeling using Maya

First lesson in 3D Modeling using Maya

Although the program takes place in a classroom and provides direct instruction, we make video tutorials specifically for our students. It allows them to go at their own pace, repeat things they need to see more than once, and do what our kids do better than they’re neurotypical  counterparts  – focus on a screen.  As soon as they need help, we are right behind them — literally. After years of experimentation these  “dual-layers of support”, combined with carefully designed age-appropriate curriculum ensure that student endure as little frustration as possible.

We can also say, after doing this for several years, that this is an extremely successful program. We have a group of extremely loyal students and families who have enjoyed learning to code, remain in the program, and are the reason we’re taking the program to the next level.

In sessions to come, the course will become increasingly collaborative, as they will create a group game and more seasoned students will assist newcomers. At this time, for social interaction, we do analog game design activities together as a group, along with analyzing a new game each week.

Our first group is limited to 5 students. At the time of this posting, we have two openings, so please contact us as soon as you are able. If the class becomes full, they can begin during the winter session, which we predict will be a larger group.

To sign up or ask additional questions, please contact