27 Jan BYU releases computer game to help kids learn programming concepts
It’s no coincidence that Brigham Young University released “The Tessera” on Kid Inventors’ Day. The game, which teaches the logic behind coding, aims to inspire a new generation of coders through a storyline where players, with help from the ghosts of some of history’s best minds, defeat the villainous “S.”
“Some of the skills they develop in solving puzzles that are fun are the same skills that can help them succeed in computational careers,” said Derek Hansen, a professor of information technology at BYU in Provo.
Students launched “The Tessera,” a collaborative, alternative reality game for teens, Tuesday afternoon at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi. Information on progressing in the game will be released in real time over the next few months.
In the game, a group of history’s geniuses, including Ada Lovelace, Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, make up the group named Tessera.
“The Tessera” and “Dust,” a game released two years ago, were partly funded by a $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help get teens interested in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — with the team’s emphasis to appeal especially to girls.
Forty BYU students and students from the University of Maryland teamed up for the project, which is free for educators and teens.
BYU students from multiple disciplines, including film and design, worked on the project.
“I’m amazed,” Hansen said. “We have a really great interdisciplinary team of students.”
The game also utilizes social media, which instead of distracting students from the game, helps reel them in to move through the story.
“A clue may be on Instagram,” said Jeff Sheets, an associate professor of communications at BYU.
Utah’s STEM standards are incorporated into the game, which is free.
The goal was to use a game to show how easy coding can be, even if the game doesn’t directly teach the skill, but does teach the concepts behind it.
“It shows you are thinking like a programmer all the time,” Sheets said.
Connor King, a senior at BYU who worked as the game’s student art director, has been involved with the project for about a year and a half. The game has a steampunk (where the Victorian era meets technology) aesthetic with a slightly spooky feel.
For King, a challenge was making the game look appealing while having the art tell the story.
“I can make it look nice, but if it isn’t playable, it doesn’t matter,” King said.
Lexie Bradford, a junior who worked in several positions, including quality assurance and as a student lead for the student and museum experience, has been involved in the game since last summer.
In classes, she proposed ideas for the game, but didn’t discover they had been implemented until she got involved in the project.
“I know now I am capable of this,” she said.
Her job in quality assurance included testing everything in the game to make sure it is functional.
As the game rolls out in the following months, the students invite students and educators to get involved in “The Tessera” experience.
“I hope people take time to explore it,” King said. “We put a lot of time into the details.”
“It teaches you to be so thorough,” Bradford said. “You have to explore every ounce of the game or it can ruin everything.”
A special version of the game will be available only at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.