Super Street Arcade: into the ‘Dragon’s Den’!

Issue: Volume 97, Number 1

Posted: 29 January 2018
Reference #: 1H9hE7

Digital technology students at three Christchurch high schools have had the chance to create games for an authentic context that also contributes to the rejuvenation effort happening in their community.

GapFiller is a Christchurch non-profit ‘creative urban regeneration initiative’ that forms partnerships around innovative projects, events, installations and amenities that re-engage people with the city as it is rebuilt in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes. GapFiller is funded by the Ministry of Education through the Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom (LEOTC) fund.

These projects are often temporary in nature, limiting the risk involved in permanent developments while the Christchurch rebuild continues to evolve. One of these projects is Co[de]Create. It has partnered students from three high schools – Papanui, Lincoln and Burnside – with game development company CerebralFix to build games for a rather unusual installation: a giant six-by-four-metre screen and gaming console on Tuam Street in Christchurch, called Super Street Arcade. The idea is that passers-by can stop for a quick game on the big screen, which is attached to the side of the Vodafone building.

Students worked for the past year on their games as part of their technology classes at school, with their debut on the giant screen the culmination of their hard work. After testing, the students had time to tweak their creations before they were made available to the public in time for the school holidays.

Steven Rodkiss is a technology teacher at Burnside High School and has a particular interest and expertise in gaming development. When GapFiller approached a Papanui teacher who had recently met Steven, his name was put forward as someone who could provide the technical know-how to move the project forward. This led to Lincoln High School getting involved as well. Steven says the project has given his class a motivating real-world scenario to aim at.

“One of the things that’s often a challenge in digital technology projects is authenticity. Having a ‘real’ target has focused the students. When this landed in my lap, I thought, ‘wow, this is a really good cause’. I think Super Street Arcade is such a cool way of revitalising that part of the city where there are still a lot of empty spaces.”

Steven says also that GapFiller was a great organisation to work with and was happy to align the key timings of the project with those of the school year so students could get the best educational outcomes out of it. This allowed Steven and his class to invest a full school year in the project, which followed a process typical of industry norms – concept design, prototyping, refinement and final outcome were all key learning steps.

Steven was able to link the class with players in the gaming industry through a collaboration with CerebralFix. Wanting something that could act as a milestone to break up what was a long process, Steven and CerebralFix staff put together a ‘Dragon’s Den’-style event. Students went into the CerebralFix office and presented their designs to professional game developers, which according to Steven, was both nerve-wracking and exciting for the young people. He says the event gave students a taste of how ideas are deliberated in the industry using the same strenuous criteria that professionals must satisfy.

Steven says the brief – designing a game that would work for people looking at a giant screen above them – wasn’t as restrictive as he first thought. One big hurdle they had to overcome was joystick lag.

“On the very first testing day, we discovered that when you press ‘right’ on the joystick, whatever is supposed to happen doesn’t quite happen straight away. So an allowance for that had to be built into the design of the games. The lag comes about because the controller isn’t actually connected to the screen by cable. The signal goes through a web server first, all the way to CerebralFix around the corner, through the internet and to the screen.”

As Steven says, “That’s a sign though of a good, authentic project context.

“I loved seeing the level of collaboration. That was one of the coolest things for me. We talk about that all the time, but it’s quite challenging to implement, particularly when you get to NCEA. That’s because collaboration can be difficult to assess meaningfully.

“This project was pretty big; it couldn’t really be done by one student alone. So within teams we had game designers, artists, musicians, level designers and project managers. One of the groups was six strong. But all the groups showed real maturity and real perseverance because there was a real outcome at the end.”

Further information on Learning Experiences Outside the Classroom Fund can be found at link)

Voices: Super Street Arcade

Catherine Illingworth, student at Burnside High School : “What I liked [about the Super Street Arcade project] is that it allowed me to know what it’s like to make a game, like an actual game that is seen by the public, and how it all works in a team.”

Ruth Davey, teacher, Lincoln High School: “It helps to have real people to talk to, to have real clients with real expectations. Despite all the problems and the challenges, the learning that happens really blows your mind.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 29 January 2018

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