Guitar Hero creator visits RCCC gamer camp

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 24, 2012

By Sarah Campbell
KANNAPOLIS — A co-op at Vicarious Visions helped Ward Childress land a full-time gig as a software engineer for the company and a hand in the creation of the popular video game Guitar Hero.
“I’ve always loved programming and making games,” he said. “When I was younger, all the spare time I would have I would use to make games.”
Childress, a Concord native, told students who are participating in Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s game development camp Monday that the co-op not only helped him secure a job, it gave him the tools to be successful after graduating from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“It’s a great way to get that professional experience,” he said. “And you learn a lot about what it means to work full time because it’s a lot of work.”
Childress said he found his niche in game development early.
“When I was really young, I would go with my father to work and he had an old laptop with just DOS on it, so I would program while he was working,” he said. “He taught me a little bit then I would make games for myself.
“That is what really drove my interest of learning more and making more games.”
Creating games is easier now than it’s ever been thanks to software advances, Childress said.
“There are a lot of great tools for people of all experience levels and ages to make games and really express their creativity,” he said.
Childress said the gaming industry isn’t just for programmers.
“There are a lot of ways that you can get into it through computer science, art or design,” he said. “I think the biggest key is having the creativity and the passion to express yourself in a way that others can kind of attach to and be engaged by.
“It’s taking an idea that you have and putting it into the world as an actual thing.”
The life of a game maker varies from day to day, Childress said.
“What I do sort of shifts as the project goes on,” he said.
Every project starts out with brainstorming concepts before the game moves into the production phase.
“Once we’re there we move on to the bug fixing,” he said. “Any system that is sufficiently complicated is full of things you don’t expect, so you’ll spend a few months just trying to make it work the way you intended.”
Childress said that’s part of the fun.
“I think the thing I love is being able to say that I have a challenge and I have to solve this, and when I’m done with it I did something really cool,” he said. “The idea of always coming in and having a puzzle to solve, that’s what keeps me doing it.”
But the best part of the job is getting to see people enjoy the games, Childress said.
“Really, seeing people enjoy your game is what makes it worthwhile,” he said.
Although Childress said the gaming industry is very competitive, he encouraged students to continue working at it if that’s their dream.
“I think the best thing you can do is to keep making games,” he said.
Elyssa Lozano, 15, said she’s not sure if she wants to pursue gaming as a career or continue as a hobby, but she knows the camp will be beneficial either way.
“A lot of what I’m learning will carry over to my website development classes,” she said.
But she’s also hoping to improve her game-creating abilities.
“When I do things at home, I normally end up having a problem that I can’t fix because I don’t know what’s wrong,” she said. “I think it’d be cool to develop more games.”
Lucas Maynard, 13, said he’s hoping this week’s camp will allow him tap into his creativity.
“I hope it helps me come up with ideas,” he said.
Maynard said it was cool to have Childress on hand Monday to answer questions and talk about his career.
“It was great, because that’s kind of a dream job,” he said.
Rowan-Cabarrus is hosting a variety of game development camps for students of different levels this summer at its North Carolina Research Campus site.
About 22 students participated in the college’s recent 3D graphics and modeling class, which ties into the game development camps and stands alone for those interested in using those skills in different areas.
Instructor Pepsi Boyer said students took 2D images and brought them to life as 3D characters by using Photoshop.
“The great thing about this is that they can use this whether or not gaming is their profession later in life,” she said. “These skills can be applied to simulation that’s used in just about any industry from marketing all the way up to administration.
“We just really want to spark their interest in a field that is only going to grow in the future.”
Dr. Marcy Corjay, dean of science, biotechnology, mathematics and information technologies at Rowan-Cabarrus, said that’s the point of the camps, to lead students to a possible career or educational pathway.
Scott Nason, the college’s program chair of web technologies, said another goal is to help students hone their interests.
“I think a lot of it is very subtle because they’re having fun creating games, and it sparks thinking skills and develops ideas,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.