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It's not every day your teacher asks, "Would you like to shoot missiles?"

By KBell
July 15, 2011 at 2:15 a.m.
Updated July 16, 2011 at 2:16 a.m.

Michael Conway shows John Atzenhoffer, 11, how to increase the level of difficulty of a video game at Stroman Middle School's video game design camp.

BE A VIDEO GAME DESIGNERYou can create your own video games at home with the free technology Conway used in his classroom.

Kodu is a visual programming language that can be downloaded from Microsoft to play on a computer or X-Box. It's aimed at children and offers the ability to create an entire video game world. It can be found by searching Kodu on the Web.

Sploder is an online software that allows users to build games and publish them to the Web for others to play. Users can vote for their favorite games and post comments. It can be found at sploder.com

All was quiet, save the tat-tat-tat of a dozen spacebar keys. That's when Michael Conway asked something rarely uttered by a teacher.

"Would you like to shoot missiles?"

Of course, 11-year-old John Atzenhoffer wanted to shoot missiles.

It was the final day of Victoria school district's video game design camp at Stroman Middle School, and the students were putting to practice the programming skills they'd learned in the past four days.

"I put a lot of enemies and a lot of power ups because I'm going to need a lot of power to get past the enemies," John said, his eyes never straying from the computer screen.

With some basic, graphic-based programming software, John and other students were able to create terrain, levels and so-called enemies, like sharks and various monsters. The middle-schoolers also threw in things like jet packs, flame throwers and power suits, making their games as easy or difficult as they pleased.

"Oh shoot! That robot," John yelled between explaining his latest game, which he titled "Lava Monstrosity."

The quiet classroom (except for the occasional, "Oh, shoot!") was proof enough the kids were focused and having fun. But Conway joked he's also sneaking in lessons in science, engineering, math and physics, perhaps unbeknownst to the kiddos.

"They're sorting through the whole process of design," he said. "It's problem-solving. It's based on the scientific process."

Besides that, the kids are learning how to work through problems as part of a team - a skill Conway says is increasingly useful, especially in the science and technology field.

"It's all trial-and-error when you're programming," he said.

Another student, 11-year-old Corban Ramos, slipped off his headphones long enough to second that notion.

"I gotta be patient about making (the games)," he said.

Not knowing what to name the game he designed, Corban jokingly called it "World's Dumbest Video Game."

It was hardly dumb, if the enthusiasm with which he fought through its levels was any indication.

Encouraging confidence in his students is also a priority for Conway, who said doing something as seemingly complicated as designing a video game is not beyond the reach of middle schoolers. Hopefully, the challenge gets the youngsters more interested in science and technology, Conway said.

"This stuff doesn't take a rocket scientist. They need to know they're capable of it."

Near the end of class, John said he wants to be an inventor or engineer.

His fingers peck-peck-pecked away at the keys as he neared the end of level three of the game he created.

Then, a graphic appeared on the screen. It most likely meant just as much to Conway as it did to John.

"Mission Accomplished."

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