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Alabama School Goes High-Tech for Video Game Design Class

Using a $20,000 grant from the Alabama Arts Education Initiative, Austin High School bought powerful new computers on which students can learn to code and make computer graphics, background music and sound effects.

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(TNS) — A group of Austin High School students don’t just play computer games, they design them.

Their design efforts got a major boost this school year after the school purchased powerful computers funded by a $20,000 grant from the Alabama Arts Education Initiative.

Beth Bachuss, visual arts teacher and coach of the eSports team, said she used the grant to purchase six desktop computers with monitors and 10 laptops.

“We were also able to get controllers, mice, headsets and game design software,” said Bachuss, who is in her seventh year teaching game design classes at Austin.

The computers have enough memory to also accommodate the eSports team. Last year, the students had to play from home because the old computers were not powerful enough.

Bachuss teaches three game design classes.

“In Game Design I, students will be working with GameMaker Studio,” she said.

GameMaker Studio is development software for creating games that can be played on multiple platforms, including smartphones, computers and consoles.

In Game Design I, students design a maze game.

The students create features like computer graphics, background music and sound effects. Students will use Mac computers with Garage Band software installed to create the music this year.

“It’s basically computer programming for gaming,” Bachuss said.

In Game Design II, III and IV, students transition from GameMaker Studio to Unity software, where they learn coding and continue to learn more about features introduced in Game Design I.

Bachuss said Unity is much more complicated software, but is more powerful and has fewer limitations than GameMaker Studio.

“A lot of the video games they play at home are made with Unity,” she said.

Reagan Atkins, a junior, wants to take the skills she learns in the courses and apply them to the workforce.

“I took Game Design I because I like video games,” said Atkins. “Also, I want to go into engineering so I feel that programming and making games would help prepare me for that career.”

Last year, the class was held online due to the pandemic. Atkins was able to work at home on her personal computer to design her maze game.

“Even though I wasn’t in class last year, I still was able to make a good game,” she said.

Atkins is in Game Design II this year and looks forward to composing background music for her games.

“Last year we didn’t have time to make music because of COVID, but this year I’m really looking forward to it,” Atkins said. “I’m in the school band here so I’m actually thinking of pursuing music as a minor in college.”

Some students in Bachuss’ game design courses have reached national acclaim.

“I had one student last year who designed a game that was a national finalist in the Games for Change Student Challenge,” she said.

That student is currently in college and is majoring in graphic design and minoring in game design.

This year, about 50 students are enrolled in Austin’s game design courses.

©2021 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.