Some excited Coast Union High School computer programming students got a rare behind-the-scenes look this week at Lego Universe, a new “massively multiplayer online game” or MMOG.
Game developers at NetDevil in Louisville, Colo., talked to the 19 students for about 45 minutes via Skype, a real-time, video-voice connection on the Internet.
NetDevil participants included executive and senior producers, the creative director/project leader, the technical director and Lego Universe’s art director.
According to a promotional flyer, Lego Universe features mini-avatars that “stand between the maelstrom and total destruction, fighting bravely to keep the dark forces in the universe under control.”
The heroes’ swoosh-line-and-dot facial expressions evoke memories of Calvin, from the “Calvin and Hobbes” cartoon, and their images seem like “Ben-Hur” meets Mario Brothers.
The Cambria students got involved through a series of coincidences:
Campuswide interest in computer programming and gaming increased this year when Henry Danielson, the district’s technology director, was authorized to add a computer/video game room, open only during the lunch hour.
The school district has some tech-savvy administrators and teachers who see a future for their students in game design and other computer-programming careers.
Eileen Calandro of San Luis Obispo, who works as a reviewer/marketer for www.momcentral.com, was assigned to assess Lego Universe.
When Calandro signed up to go to Colorado to interview the game’s designers, she asked if she could bring her three sons — Max, 11, Matthew, 7, and Miles, 5 — plus her tech-wise husband John Calandro, who just happens to be the principal of Santa Lucia Middle School in Cambria.
“Usually, I don’t go along” when his wife travels for work, he said before they left. But when the game’s developers learned of his occupation, they “got excited about the opportunity to talk about the game to high schoolers who are interested in programming.”
Calandro said he believes this is the first time Lego or NetDevil have involved a school in the pre-launch process.
After some initial problems with keeping Skype connected, the five pros answered questions from the students for about 45 minutes during the online meeting Monday. The queries covered programming, play and how the developers plan to entice more sophisticated gamers onto a format that’s also good for younger players.
After they logged off, the hyped-up students cheered and proclaimed the experience “cool,” “awesome” and “a great experience.”
“It was amazing,” Gabriela Bucio said. “Now I want to be a computer programmer.”
John Calandro, who was present in Colorado during the session, said the developers “thought the kids asked great questions and were very excited that students were already looking at the opportunities in online gaming. They all said that they wished they had an opportunity to talk to industry people when they were in high school.”
He told the programming students Wednesday that when the game’s developers are hiring, they look for “people who are passionate about what they do and are willing to work, to stretch themselves” and preferably have tried to build a computer game already.
What they wanted to know
Among questions asked of Lego Universe game developers by Coast Union High School computer programming students Monday:
“What language do you use?” (Student Brenden Holland had correctly guessed C++ and other programs.)
“What age user interface are you using?” (Phillip Attencio, the art director, said the game is “meant to look easy to use, for young children, but it’s a very high priority to make extremes more difficult,” to make play more fun for older, sophisticated gamers.)
“How will players communicate with other players?” (Text chat with a lot of filtering action for safety, said Lego Universe creative director Ryan Seabury, but less restrictively in a “best friends” platform that requires advance proof the player is who he or she is supposed to be.)
“How big is the programming team?” (Scott Brown, NetDevil executive producer, said, “About 32 people report to me on the tech team,” but more than 100 are working on the game.)
“How long did it take to make the game?” (Seabury said although Lego had the idea for more than a decade, the game has been in development since November 2005.)
“If a lot of the game is geared toward younger and casual gamers, how do you intend to keep hard-core gamers interested?” (Seabury credited superior technology and layered entertainment, inspired by Pixar movie techniques that appeal to both children and adults.)