If you think only adults design complex video games, it's time to upgrade your thinking. Kid-created wizards, swordswomen and hedgehogs are boinging and battling right now at a video game design camp at Georgetown University.
Drew Crederico, for example, made a two-dimensional shooting game with characters he drew on a computer. The Potomac Falls 10-year-old gave his two heroes -- a sword-brandishing Anakin and a blaster-packing Clone Trooper -- the power to shoot their enemies at two-second intervals.
"This is so great. You can make the rules yourself," Drew said as he showed off his video creation. Soon, new ideas were popping out of his head faster than the shots spitting out of his Clone Trooper's blaster.
"I think I'm going to put in an Obi-Wan Kenobi and he just floats around like this and you can't catch him," said Drew, moving his hand like a fast-falling leaf. "And I'm going to make it so Anakin goes through all these levels and then you get to the end and -- guess what? -- he turns into Darth Vader and you have to start all over again!"
Learning how to make video games is one feature of the technology summer camp Drew recently attended. Camp sessions, which are held on college campuses in 16 states and the District, are run by a California company called iD Tech Camps.
The weeklong camp costs $649 for day campers and $999 for overnighters. Campers hold game tournaments, swim, play Dance Dance Revolution and compete in non-video games such as capture the flag and Frisbee. But fascination with technology is the hard drive powering this camp.
At each weeklong session, instructors (usually college students majoring in computer science, film or engineering) guide about 50 campers through a packed schedule that includes Web page design, robotics, digital video and moviemaking, three-dimensional game design and game modding (modifying existing games by adding levels or characters).
All this sounds great to most kids, but what's the appeal for parents, who often worry that excessive screen time turns children's brains to mush?
The camp gives kids the skills to demand more from games, said Karen Thurm Safran, of iD Tech Camps. "They'll look at a game and say, 'Why isn't it more complex? Why are the graphics flat?' "
Being able to make your own games, movies or Web sites is creative, she said, and a handy skill to have for school projects and future careers.
Gamer Geek Heaven
How are kids able to do such sophisticated stuff? For one thing, they use software that allows them to make games without writing computer code.
Also, there are lots more kids these days like 13-year-old Andrew Imm of Oak Hill. Andrew knows several computer programming languages and already had made a couple of simple computer games before starting camp. He also has created a Web page and logo for the game design company he wants to launch someday.
"Once you get started," Andrew said, "there's practically no limit to what you can do."
On his computer screen was a white-bearded warlock, pulsing as if breathing heavily. The warlock stood in a cavelike place with sewer water flowing through -- a place Andrew designed using a kind of 3-D blueprint. It easily could have been a GameCube or PlayStation game, but it was Andrew's creation.
When problems popped up, everyone seemed to enjoy dealing with them. "Okay, that's strange, the fairy disappeared," Andrew said as an instructor peered over his shoulder to help figure out what happened.
Why go to all this trouble when you could buy a ready-made game?
"I'm always thinking of ways games could be better or more interesting," said camper Montana Williams, 13, of Orlando, Florida. Montana modified one game at camp by adding an Ancient Egypt level, using downloaded pyramids and palm trees. With another game, the evil dogs and skeletons seemed too strong, so she took away some of their power -- that way her heroine wouldn't die so easily.
"It's really fun to be in control!" Montana said.
-- Fern Shen