Computer science class constructs alternate realities

By Daniel Kim

Chalmers 304 during eighth period is a class unlike any other class at Harvard-Westlake. The students are spread throughout the room working individually on their own laptops for most of the period, and there is no teacher lecturing on formulas or important historical figures. Instead, each student is engrossed in the work that he or she has on the screen.

“It’s not a class in the traditional sense,” James Zhang ’12 said. “It’s an opportunity for us to take our knowledge of computer science and explore its application towards things we like.”

Computer Science teacher Jacob Hazard allows students in his eighth period Advanced Topics in Computer Science Honors class to design their own project for the class. Whether they be iPhone apps or handy programs, all ideas are fair game for this project. The only requirement is that these projects be finished by May.

Oscar Beer ’12, Mark Seuthe ’12, Elliot Storey ’12 and Zhang are creating a role playing game from scratch. However, they are not the first to try creating a game. Last year, Matthew Goldhaber ’11 and Riley Pietsh ’11 created a first person shooter game as their class project by using multiple pre- and semi-programmed components. Zhang created the project map last year.

In the game Beer, Seuthe, Storey and Zhang are creating, the main character works at a company called Robo Corp. and stumbles upon records that reveal negotiations with a terrorist group. The company finds out the information is leaked, and now the main character must escape. Making his way out, he finds spare parts and assembles gear that allows him to escape.

In order to create this game, Zhang and Beer utilize a program called Autodesk Maya, otherwise known as Maya. Maya helps create three-dimensional figures varying from lamps and furniture in a room to robots that roam the hallways of the building.

Storey and Seuthe use another program called Unity to create their game. Unity is a game development tool that provides a framework to develop games. They import the figures created on Maya and code their game using Unity. While Maya designs elements of the game, Unity brings to life those elements to make the game functional.

But, it all starts on paper. The creators draw two-dimensional renditions of what they ultimately want to see and then work on one aspect of the picture at a time. From the background windows to the mid-ground table, they use Maya to design the figures.

When drawings don’t fully capture the ideas of the creators, they look for alternatives to pictures. For some of the robots, Beer used lego pieces to create miniature robots. These provide a three-dimensional figure that facilitates the modeling of the robots.

Since all the figures that they create are formed individually by hand from simple pre-loaded polygons, some objects can take almost an hour to shape correctly. That’s why creating a 3D game is a difficult and time consuming task, Seuthe said.