Lessons Learned by a STEM Challenge Winner
Brooklyn Humphrey won the Best Middle School Unity game in the STEM Challenge last year. Here she shares her memories of what it was like to develop her first game, and what she is working on now.
I never would’ve thought that I would win the STEM Challenge. I didn’t even think that I would make a video game in the first place, but now I’ve learned that anything is possible. Here’s a glimpse of my experience making my first video game.
In 7th grade, I was learning how to program in a robotics class. During winter break, I decided to try making a video game with the Unity platform, so I started looking through the Unity site with my dad. A Roll-A-Ball tutorial gave me the inspiration for my game, Maze Kraze, where the player is a rolling ball that has to makes its way through a maze to collect coins, and ends up having to find the finish line after all of the coins are collected. I knew that this wasn’t going to be the first maze game ever created, and since there wasn’t going to be a way to lose, I knew it wouldn’t be very difficult to play. However, this was my first game, so I just wanted to see what I was able to accomplish.
Once I actually started to build the maze, I began to think that it was really fun. With Unity, you have to write scripts for the different components of the game. This makes the game-making process a little more difficult than other platforms that require less coding, but this was the part I was actually really excited about. Coding a video game was definitely different from what I had learned in my robotics class, and certainly more difficult. I’m lucky to have a dad that actually programs for a living, so he helped me understand the code I had to write.
After about two weeks of hard work, I completed my game. It felt amazing to have made a video game. I showed my teachers and friends the game that I’d made over winter break. I got some pretty harsh criticism from my classmates, which obviously didn’t make me feel great. However, I wasn’t too upset about it, considering it was my first game. A few weeks later, my dad suggested that I enter my game in the STEM Challenge, which he had just learned about online.
Brooklyn guides a young player through her game
I was surprised to get a call a few months later telling me that I was a potential winner of the Middle School Unity category for the STEM Challenge. Shortly after that, we were in Pittsburgh, where all of the winners went to Schell Games to test out some of the games they were in the process of making. When I was there, I started to realize that game-making could potentially be a future career for me. We also went to WQED Studios, where we got to play each other’s games, were interviewed for the show “iQ Smartparent”, and accepted our awards.
I learned a couple of things through the process of making Maze Kraze. First, I learned that you shouldn’t go overboard with your first game. Starting out simple makes game design easier and a lot more fun. As you add more and more things to your game, the process can become very complicated, especially when it comes to coding. I’ve also learned that no matter what, your game is going to get criticized. Like I said, my classmates thought that my game could have been improved. However, when other people got to play it in Pittsburgh, I got plenty of positive feedback.
I decided to create another game for the STEM Challenge. However, I have some different goals to make this game a lot better than the first, so that I can hopefully win again. First of all, Maze Kraze was only one level, so my new game will have multiple levels. I also want there to be a way to lose, which will make the game a little more fun and challenging. Finally, I want to incorporate some small things that aren’t that noticeable, but that I feel would be more appreciated. For example, I want the player to be able to pause the game, I want to add cool particle systems, and overall, I want the game to have smooth transitions from screen to screen. I’m hoping that these changes will be enough to help me win again.
Winning the STEM Challenge was truly a wonderful experience. Being able to enjoy making a video game—and winning a national award for it—is something I never thought could happen. At first, I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to finish the game or enjoy making it. Now, I’m so glad that I did; I really enjoyed the process and the outcome. I’m definitely entering the Challenge again this year, and I encourage other middle and high school students who are interested to submit a game as well!