National High School Game Academy

Summer Pre-College National High School Game Academy



The Pre-College Game Academy (NHSGA) allows dedicated high school students to experience the modern video game development process and, in so doing, learn skills used in those processes. NHSGA provides an opportunity for students in all disciplines (art, music, design, and programming) to experience the rigorous demands of college-level instruction in those areas. The program includes an exciting blend of hands-on exercises combined with traditional lecture and discussion. Students are encouraged to expand their own creative possibilities in a unique blend of left- and right-brain college-level work. The NHSGA is not just a programming camp, but a rigorous academic experience in art and engineering.




The Experience

The program shares methods and paradigms used in Carnegie Mellon University’s M.E.T. graduate program in Entertainment Technology. The NHSGA shares the rigor of the M.E.T. program, and students who enroll are expected to fulfill all the requirements of the program, including, without limitation: attending and participating in all classes; completing all assigned coursework, homework, projects, exams and any other program requirements. This is not a summer camp at which high school students play games all day. Our curriculum is designed to elevate the students’ rigor and discipline and prepare them for the college experience upon which they will shortly embark.

Through classwork and team projects, the NHSGA gives all students a taste of state-of-the-art video game development and provides instruction in the collaborative skills required for success in college and beyond. 

The program encourages all enthusiastic students to apply. No particular technical or artistic skills are needed, although we support students in areas they may already be passionate about, whether visual arts, software engineering, or music. Teams are created of two artists, two programmers, a sound designer/composer, and a producer. All students receive deep instruction in all those areas, and students leave our preparatory coursework ready to perform any role on the team to which they are assigned. We know this process works, as every year our best teams produce work at a similar level of quality delivered by beginning graduate students.

Regardless of your background, if you are interested in exploring the world of video game development, the National High School Game Academy is the program for you.

The NHSGA is housed at the Entertainment Technology Center and all NHSGA students avail themselves of all state-of-the-art game-related technology available there.

Coursework

The program is divided into two phases: the first is class instruction. This lasts two weeks and is followed by two team projects that take up the remaining four weeks of the summer.

Class instruction consists of daily lectures and workshops centered on crucial skills needed to build a video game. Topics include Programming in Unity, 2D art, 3D art, project management, and sound design / music composition. These all receive equal weight. Homework is assigned in every class, and the NHSGA instructors grade and evaluate the homework in order to assign the students to their ideal role when team assignments arrive. These lectures run 9 to 5 every day for the first two weeks. Lunch is provided.

Each student then builds two collaborative projects before the end of the summer. The first is a “Lightning Round,” where teams are first selected and then given one week to build from scratch an old-school arcade game such as Pac-Man or Galaga. This dynamic week teaches the students how best to navigate collaboration and teamwork in an intense, deadline driven environment. During this week, students work 9 to 5 on their project with hands-on mentoring of the Instructors, followed by teamwork back in the dorms. The teams present their interim work, where the students first experience faculty critique. This week ends with Parents’ Weekend, where each team shows their game along with a formal presentation on their process, their challenges, their learnings and their successes.

The Second Project lasts three weeks. In this project the teams are first shuffled by the faculty to maximize each student’s potential for success based on our observations of their performance in the Lightning Round. This game is an all-original idea, using any technology available at the ETC, designed to become a portfolio piece the student could use in their college admissions process. This project begins with a pitch process where the team presents three ideas to the faculty. One is selected and the team builds it from scratch, using the expertise they acquired in the Lightning Round combined again with hand-on mentoring by the faculty. These three weeks again run 9 to 5, and as before students continue working on their projects in the dorms. Faculty again critiques the projects, and the students learn deep life-long lessons about the nature of collaborative creation during these weeks.

A word about teamwork

While knowledge of art skills, software engineering, audio engineering and project management are all areas useful to a prospective NHSGA student, the single most important skill a student should possess in order to succeed in the program is a willingness to and facility with non-judgemental creative communication with teammates. Our observation is that students who have participated in activities such as sports, glee club, band, drama club, and the like all achieve greater success and enjoy the summer more thoroughly than a student who spends all their time playing video games by themselves prior to arrival. While not a hard and fast rule, this observation holds true for the M.E.T. students as well as the NHSGA students, as video game development is a collaborative process and active enthusiastic communication is a must to achieve success.

For further questions regarding this program, you may contact the Director of NHSGA, Chris Klug at gcklug@andrew.cmu.edu or at (412) 268-3258. We encourage reaching out prior to enrollment to ask Chris questions about whether your child would get the most out of our program.

Materials

Each student must bring a late-model laptop to participate in the program. While some desktop computers are available at the ETC, more than 50% of the students’ work is done in the dorms, and students who bring an old or under-performing laptop always wish they had heeded this requirement prior to arrival. Students will be required to install all software used in class and on their projects while enrolled in the program. It is expected that this software will be free, but the vendors of such software often change their policies without notice and a small software fee may be necessary. Students will be assigned homework in the areas of design, programming, sound editing and drawing that they will be expected to finish in their off hours.

The summer Pre-College Forms booklet lists the suggested minimal system requirements for the student's laptop along a list of required art materials.

Cost

Resident - $8,689
Commuter - $6,374