Education

Phenix City teens 3rd in nation for creating, presenting video game

Central High students win big with video game in FBLA competition

Three sophomores, Evan Dunkle, Banks Stamp and Peyton Burton, created and designed a video game when they were freshman that they call "Gulag" - and took third place in the Future Business Leaders of America National Conference competition.
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Three sophomores, Evan Dunkle, Banks Stamp and Peyton Burton, created and designed a video game when they were freshman that they call "Gulag" - and took third place in the Future Business Leaders of America National Conference competition.

They were freshmen competing against more than 100 older high school students in their category, and the projector to show the video game they created didn’t work, but these precocious Phenix City teens persevered.

Peyton Burton, Evan Dunkle and Banks Stamp won third place out of 189 entries in computer game and simulation programming during the 2016 Future Business Leaders of America national leadership conference June 28-July 2 at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta.

“Wow, just wow,” Peyton said. “It’s a feeling you can’t really describe. It’s just crazy. It blows your mind.”

Also as ninth-graders last school year at Central Freshman Academy, they finished first in Alabama out of about 15 entries in their category during the FBLA state competition April 7-8 at the Sheraton Hotel in Birmingham, said Rodgetta Williams, the academy’s career preparedness instructor and FBLA adviser.

When they told Williams their concept in November, she told the trio she could help them with their presentation skills, but they had to learn the computer coding and game design on their own. No wonder she calls them innovative self-starters.

“This group of kids, you will see their names somewhere in lights,” Williams said. “They are absolutely amazing.

They worked on some of the project in Williams’ career prep class, but most of the time they spent during the next three months came after school for about two hours each day, she said.

Peyton did most of the game’s art. Evan did the programming. Banks was the concept designer.

At the national competition, they made their 7-minute presentation twice: in a preliminary round and then in the finals featuring the top 10. Both times, technical glitches prevented them and other teams from projecting their game on a big screen, so the judges could follow only their PowerPoint presentation on a laptop computer.

“A lot of groups weren’t prepared for that,” Banks said. “They were actually freaking out, and it kind of threw off their presentation as well, so we just walked in there and explained our game and walked out. It was completely shocking.”

A separate panel of three judges already had evaluated their video game, which was worth two-thirds of their final score, so the presentation to the other panel didn’t rely as much on the projector. While other teams were flustered, the resilient Phenix City trio used that crisis as an opportunity to shine.

“They’re very personable,” Williams said. “They didn’t get rattled. … They had practiced so much, they knew it right off the top of their heads.”

Phenix City’s ninth-grade FBLA team competes separately from the one at Central High School. Williams has grown the freshman academy’s FBLA program from 22 members to approximately 150 in six years, she said. The chapter won first place in the business plan competition in the state and this year had 15 first- or second-place winners at state -- covering every category except one in which they competed – to qualify for nationals, she said. Banks, Evan and Peyton are the only ones from the team to place at nationals.

“The state chair told me, ‘I can’t believe ninth-graders won.’ I could, when they walked out of that room, they were like, ‘We’ve got this.’ They were so excited. They did so well,” Williams said.

Peyton explained the story of their video game “Gulag” this way:

“You’re out in the woods adventuring. You come across this random person in the woods, dressed as a wizard. ‘Hey, I need you for a very important mission. You need to defeat this dude.’ So they send you to the Mines of Moria. I kind of got inspiration from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series. When you go to the Mines of Moria to find the first ninja, you actually find the person who killed the first ninja, and you have to fight them. Then after that, you fight gulag, which is a villain, which was the guy dressed up as the wizard. You fight him. If you beat him, you beat the game.”

The game’s look is reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. The idea was to appeal to middle-age folks who remember that game from their childhood but make it new enough to appeal to younger folks, Peyton said.

The toughest part of the project, Evan said, was getting the right software. The one they ended up using, Sploder, is the third one they tried.

“It’s hard to find free software online that is user friendly,” Evan said.

An estimated 400 users played the game during the open beta phase. The consensus: Level 1 was too easy and Level 3 was too hard.

“They loved the idea,” Banks said. “They were focused on more of the challenges, the certain levels, how the levels went, the way it flowed, making it not too easy and not too hard, trying to find the balance between two.”

Asked for their ultimate goal with this project, Banks said, “We just want a game that people enjoy. We really don’t plan on doing anything major with it, making money or anything. We just want something for people to play and have fun and have a great time.”

Now at Central High School as sophomores, Banks and Peyton are considering creating a mobile app for the video game as their next FBLA competition project. Evan wants to stick to the same category and create another video game.

As for their career plans, Banks wants to be a surgeon, Evan a cybersecurity computer scientist and Peyton a video game designer. Whatever they end up doing, they are confident this experience has prepared them for more success.

“The most important thing we learned was how to display our game properly,” Banks said. “A lot of people have a great idea, but they have no way to get it out to the public. So that was the main thing we had to struggle with, learning how to say things and how to present them.”

TRY THE GAME

The video game “Gulag” that Phenix City teens Peyton Burton, Evan Dunkle and Banks Stamp created last school year asks the player, “Can you survive against the evil wizard Gulag’s plan?”

Try it at http://cfagulag.weebly.com/

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