Making Games and Taking Names

By: 
Gibson Drysdale
Class of: 
2017

Science majors at St. Lawrence often must bend over backwards if they want to study abroad. The rigorous major requirements and the lack of programs that offer courses for appropriate credits make it difficult for us to justify spending an entire semester off campus because it would mean overloading our already busy semesters. As a computer science/business in the liberal arts double major and math minor who desperately wanted to be able to study abroad, I was worried that I would not be able to escape overloads unless I found a program that would give me credit for courses taken there. Browsing the extensive list of St. Lawrence’s offered off-campus study destinations, I found an intriguing course offered in Copenhagen, Denmark: Game Development: Programming and Practice.

I love games, be it board or computer. I did a project in one of my computer science (CS) courses here where I wrote a program to allow people to play an entire game of Risk on a computer. While researching the Denmark program I found out I could take several CS classes and they would be counted as electives towards my major which I needed if I wanted to go abroad. I also discovered that if I participated in the game-making program, I would be the first SLU student to do so.

I applied and was accepted! I began putting my schedule together through DIS, the Danish Institute, where I would be studying. My core course was the Game Development class which came with a mandatory lab. One of the most attractive parts of the Game Development program was the field study and travel components. On Wednesdays, instead of classes, we would go into Copenhagen on an educational field trip. One week we visited the headquarters of the company who created the software which we were using to make games, and they let us play Fruit Ninja with their Virtual Reality gear. Another week we went paintballing as a class in an old ship-building factory and discussed the activity in the context of game theory.

All of DIS’s core courses also have two significant travel components: one that spans a long weekend and another that is an entire week. For our shorter study tour, my class boarded a bus and travelled out into the Danish countryside, to the village Vallekilde, where we stayed for two nights at a hojskole, (a topic-specific boarding school for high school- and college-aged people who want to study something specific). Since our hojskole was design-specific, we spent the weekend hanging out with Danes our own age and participated in a Game Jam, where we had about 48 hours to create a game from start to finish.

For the longer study tour, our three-legged trip dropped us in Frankfurt. The trip lasted a week and we did the typical touristy sightseeing and visited different places that applied to our classes, mostly game design headquarters. One company consisted of three people working on interactive virtual reality graphics, and was sought out specifically by Christopher Nolan to make a VR display for his movie Interstellar.

While all that extracurricular activity was fun and educational, the main goal was to learn how to make games. Over the last month of the semester we worked in groups to brainstorm, design, and program a computer game. Ours ended up being an endless-runner type game (think Temple Run, playing until you lose trying to beat a high score) with a dinosaur theme. We had an animated dinosaur being chased by a much larger, hungrier one through a forest full of obstacles. We had a ton of fun making it and it was interesting to see other people play the game we spent so much time designing, creating, and testing.

Taking part in this program was an amazing experience and one that wouldn’t have been possible without St. Lawrence. And while I am a CS major who had some programming under my belt, the game design class’ prerequisites are only a semester or two of intro-level CS classes, so if you are not the strongest coder, you can focus more on design. And really, going abroad is about more than just being in the classroom. If you’re reading this and are trying to figure out how to get off campus, this may just be the program for you.