Lumberyard & Amazon GameLift Blog

Coding: The Next Generation

 

 

As part of the Lumberyard team I’ve recently had the unique opportunity to partner with Girls Who Code, a non-profit organization that focuses on the importance of inspiring, educating, and equipping young women for futures in computer-related fields. But, like most things, it didn’t start out so simply.

Let me tell you my story.

I wasn’t planning to enter the tech field. I didn’t go to a traditional college, own a computer, or receive mentoring. I was a fine artist working for a company that needed a website. It was difficult, but I muscled through learning HTML and CSS to produce a bare minimum website with a few images and text. Impressive, right? After that job, learning to employ a bias for action and ownership over art and code challenges led me to where I am today – a 30-something Senior User Experience Designer working for Amazon’s Lumberyard team.

When I walked through the doors of the Lumberyard team in 2014, I noticed that I was the only woman in the room. Women make up 29.1% of the tech industry, but only 16.6% of technical jobs. Women make up 22% of game developers. Where are all the women? The issue goes back to before we step through workplace doors. The majority of U.S. K-12 schools do not offer a Computer Science curriculum. “Too often girls don’t pursue computer science because they’ve never been exposed to it, or they don’t see the impact it can make on the world,” said Girls Who Code Founder and CEO, Reshma Saujani. “By actually embedding classrooms in today’s leading companies that create products girls use every day, we show them, ‘Look, you can do this. You can code this. This is a world that is open to you, and once you learn this skill set, the possibilities are endless.’”

How does Girls Who Code do it? They began a 7-week summer immersion computer science program that embeds classrooms in major media and tech companies and universities. Students learn the fundamentals of computer science, and in week three the girls learn Video Game Programming.

This is where we come in; we invited 20 high school girls ranging from sophomore to seniors to a dedicated Lumberyard segment so they could learn what is possible with our engine.

 

 

Lumberyard offers a visual scripting interface called Flow Graph that helps developers string together game logic through signals, inputs, and outputs, and uses nodes and connectors, without needing to know C++ or a more formal scripting language, like Lua. Lumberyard’s Flow Graph is even connected to AWS, so you can build connected gameplay without much backend experience.

We asked the girls to use Flow Graph to create marble maze game. Led by Chris Corliss—one of our Software Development Engineers—they learned Flow Graph, designed a maze, pieced together art assets, and wrote the core game logic to create a game level.

 

 

For some of the girls, this was the first game they ever worked on. I could feel the excitement in the room as they learned about Lumberyard and used it to create fun gameplay. They broke down the logic of the inputs and variables by talking with teammates and asking questions to our team of Lumberyard helpers. They gasped as their marbles flew off the edges of the maze board due to a rotation speed setting being tuned too high, but they quickly figured out how to adjust it. It was inspiring to watch the girls learn our visual scripting interface and how to problem solve the game design in real-time, right in the Lumberyard Editor. “It was a little hard getting used to where everything was, but once it got familiar it was really fun to use, it makes sense,” said Zoe Alise, one of the eager girls.

 

 

Once the girls successfully seized control of their marble board, they tried adding different materials to the game pieces. They used the selection and move modes to customize the board and express their personalities. One team used the board pieces to spell out their name. Another team laughed hysterically because they made the marble so big that it crushed the entire board. Soon all the girls were laughing with each other and sharing what they created. In just a couple of hours, I think they discovered why game development is such a blast, and how great editor tools can help developers iterate fast, and surprise and delight each other.

A favorite moment for us was when our engineer Chris told the girls that the Lumberyard segment was over and it was time to start a new activity; there was a collective, “Awww!”. They wanted to keep playing with Lumberyard! We reassured them that they could keep playing by downloading Lumberyard for free at home, and diving right into our Getting Started material.

The girls weren’t the only ones to walk away learning something new. “The girls helped us track down a few hard-to-find bugs in one of our newer systems,” said Engineer Eric Borts. “We thus welcomed them warmly into the Lumberyard team!”

 

 

 

I walked away from the day feeling fulfilled and overjoyed that I had been a part of this experience. If I had this opportunity growing up, I may have had more time to explore the work I love earlier on and better understand my school and career options. I realized the best development for curious girls comes from opening their minds and letting them be creative and explore technology. The best development for our children comes from opening their minds, trying new things, and playing a few games. The possibilities ARE endless.

 

About the Author

Courtney Artuso has been working on User Centered Design since the early 2000’s. She has been with Amazon for over 2 years as the lead Senior User Experience Designer for Amazon Lumberyard Engine and Amazon GameLift.