Kiwis turn up in digital gamers’ battles

Otago Polytechnic senior bachelor of information technology student 
Otago Polytechnic senior bachelor of information technology student mentors Erica Niyazmand (21, left) and James Olsen (24, right) with Otago Girls’ High School Game Jam team members (from left) Erika Stuart (17), Chloe Alexander (16) and Jomana Moharram (13) and their kiwi creation. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Don't mess with this kiwi.

During the inaugural Dunedin Schools Game Jam at the weekend, three Otago Girls’ High School pupils dreamed up an electronic kiwi which, though flightless is far from defenceless.

The pupils, Erika Stuart, Chloe Alexander and Jomana Moharram, in years 13, 12, and 11 respectively, were among dozens of senior secondary school pupils studying the digital curriculum who spent the weekend at the inaugural Dunedin Schools Game Jam.

They designed and coded a fully fledged electronic game, during the event, which was hosted by the Otago Polytechnic Centre of Digital Excellence (Code) as part of Techweek 2021.

The OGHS team pitted a kiwi against possums in their game, but in this case, the electronic kiwi also had one small advantage: laser beams fired from its eyes.

The possums could still win sometimes but the laser firepower suggested at least some games would end with a Kiwi 1, Possums 0 scoreline.

"The whole idea of a any game is to be fun,"one of the team mentors, senior Otago Polytechnic bachelor of information science student James Olsen, said.

The laser beam eye motif had been inspired by a quirky Laser Kiwi flag idea from the New Zealand flag referendums in 2015-16.

The participants were learning not only about computer coding under pressure but also learning that

"team work is super important", Mr Olsen said.

The team members said on Saturday they were enjoying the challenge, and Erika said the game also helped raise predator awareness.

Six teams of secondary school pupils, each backed by two senior student mentors from the polytechnic, were given 48 hours to work together to dream up a computer game, with a suggested Aotearoa-New Zealand component.

At least three teams picked a "kiwi"-related game protagonist, one pitting kiwis against kangaroos. Huge racing moa featured in another.

Otago Polytechnic information technology principal lecturer Adon Moskal was impressed by the depth of thought and participants’ creativity.

New Zealand’s games scene was quickly becoming a billion-dollar industry, and technology companies, both in New Zealand and globally, were in need of specialist game designers and developers, he said.

The Game Jam culminated last night with a public mini showcase of the games.

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