Walking around the PGF show floor, you see games from all levels. Veteran devs will be sitting next to rookies and uni students, but it’s rare to see high school students showing off their work. One game that caught my eye was Escape, a puzzle-platformer that had reached the semi-finals of the STEM Challenge. Some year nine kid from Perth had managed to reach the semi-finals of a national game-making competition?! I decided to get in touch and learn a bit more about the lad behind the game, who he was and how Escape came to be.
For those who didn’t see it at PGF, what’s Escape all about?
Escape is about an adult male who wakes up in a testing facility and must solve challenges to ‘escape’. He soon discovers he is being watched as if it were an experiment, so he decides to turn the tides and becomes the person behind the camera.
What was the idea behind the game?
The idea behind the game was to create a puzzle game that followed the theme of ‘transformation’ for the STEM video game challenge. At first, I wanted to create a Portal-like game but had many issues with lag. The portals would sometimes go into the wall instead of sitting on it, so I scrapped the idea and created a different puzzle game that still has portals but worked differently to reduce lag and working mechanics.
What did you use to make it?
I used GameMaker studio 2 with GML (Game Maker Language), not DnD (Drag and Drop) to code all of the objects in the game.
What challenges did you face making Escape?
I faced many problems with the game’s code. Most were solved by troubleshooting, but the major issue I had was when I was first creating pushable blocks that could activate switches/pressure plates. The problem was that they would work when pushed one way but not the other. I couldn’t figure out how to fix them, so I had to outsource help from the game maker community website. From there, someone was able to help me and fix what was wrong with my code.
Did you work on this on your own or as part of a group?
I worked on Escape by myself with my teacher as my mentor for the STEM video game challenge.
What influences did you draw from?
When creating Escape, I drew influences from the Portal series concerning the art style and original concept. It turned out very different, and I only ended up with the two-tone grey and rusted blocks as the background.
For those who don’t know, what is the STEM Challenge?
The STEM video game challenge was a challenge that got kids from year 5-12 in two age categories: years 5-8 and 9-12, I was in the 9-12 category as I am in year 9. Every year they host the challenge where you create a game in any free creator platform following a theme. This year, it was ‘transformation’. The competition runs from February to August, and the winner got to go to PAX in Melbourne to present their game and talk to real dev’s to get insight into how they got to where they are today.
Is the STEM challenge seen as a big deal by you and your teacher?
The STEM challenge was seen as a big deal by myself and my teacher. She would give me extra resources like Youtube videos and tutorials when I needed them. I also worked many hours outside of school to nail how the game looked, sounded and played.
Did you make the game for the challenge or school? Or was it a bit of both?
I first decided to make the game for the challenge as a school project, so it was a bit of both.
So, your school had you make the game or was it something you chose to do?
At school, we got given a sheet with options of what we could do for the first three terms. I chose video game design and the STEM video game challenge, so it was something I wanted to do.
What was the process of the competition like?
The process of the competition was prolonged, which made me anxious. I would pull up their website every day, look at the news section and find it empty long after certain phases of judging would be over. When the news finally came out, I was relieved to hear that I passed the first two rounds. I got eliminated the next day in the semi-finals, which was upsetting but still incredible, as I was in the semi’s when I was in the low end of the of my age bracket.
Dumb question, but do you play many games?
I am a big fan of Tom Clancy and play the Splinter Cell games and Rainbow Six, but I also enjoy the Assassin’s Creed games as well.
What initially drew you into gaming?
My dad originally got me into gaming when I was little. He still has the original Xbox which he had hooked up to a projector and played Splinter Cell from there. He also bought me my first console and handheld, the Nintendo Wii and DS.
What role do games play in your life?
Games are a hobby of mine, and they’re also a chance to catch up with some friends from primary school or other schools that I don’t see anymore. They are also a hobby of mine in the way of making them, and I am going to be making one for the challenge hosted next year.
Do you see yourself pursuing making games in the future? Either as a job or in your free time?
I do see myself in games in the future because I also have an interest in engineering and the military. I hope to be a mechanical engineer either in or out of the military.
Do you know many other students your age making games? Friends, for instance?
I do! They are doing video game design as an elective subject at school, but only one has completed before the deadline, and the rest are yet to finish.
Any advice to anyone interested in making their own games?
To anyone who is interested in making games using GameMaker Studio 2, check out videos by Shaun Spalding on Youtube. He has many videos on how to use GMS2 and learning the GML language and was a big help when I was first learning how to use GMS2 for my own game. Use the GMS2 community site; Escape wouldn’t have been possible without the community’s help.
Any other shout outs you want to give?
I want to say thank you to Miss Myer for guiding me as my mentor for the challenge and by helping me get my game out there when I couldn’t due to work and other commitments. I’d also like to thanks Mr Ihlein for being my main character and by helping convert my game from test mode to HTML5 version.