Students continue development of CyberKnight, an educational video game

Posted by Centre News in Academics, Math, News 24 Jul 2015

CyberKnight projectConducting collaborative undergraduate research with professors is a hallmark of the Centre Experience. This summer, select Centre College students are continuing to engage in this work, teaming with faculty members to advance research in a variety of fields.

Professor of Computer Science Michael Bradshaw is continuing his work with a team of students to develop CyberKnight, a video game that will teach its players the basics of computer science without the presence of an instructor.

“The idea is that a high school student plays this video game, and when they beat it, they’ve learned everything we teach in our CSC 117 (Intro to Computer Science) class or for the AP Computer Science A exam,” Bradshaw explains.

The students—Chad Carter ’17, Forrest Kamperman ’16, Michelle Kim ’18 and Allison Walther ’18—work on the game in an Olin Hall room that they’ve dubbed the “CyberKnight Lair.” Split into two subgroups, they work on different projects that will help create the first prototype of CyberKnight.

Carter and Kamperman got involved with the project to fulfill their summer work requirement of the Brown Fellows Program.

“I didn’t really know anything about CyberKnight, but we talked to Dr. Bradshaw to ask him to help us find a project and he offered to let us work on the game,” Carter explains. “After hearing about what CyberKnight was, I was interested in it and its goal.”

They spend most of their time working with a motion capture system. The motions they record, like swinging an imaginary sword, will become the movements CyberKnight’s characters can make within the game.

“Working on motion capture is something that just seems really cool,” Carter says, “and it turns out, it is.”

Kim and Walther first got involved with CyberKnight during the spring semester, when they joined a team of eight students to work just a few hours a week on the project. They are designing the visual aspects of the game—right down to the types of shoes the characters wear.

They are also taking on the task of tailoring and then inserting the open source program Snap, created by the University of California, Berkeley, into CyberKnight. Its easy-to-follow graphics programming language will teach players basic coding techniques.

“Using building blocks has been on the rise in computer science education,” Walther explains. “In CyberKnight, characters can be moved by creating a sequence with the building blocks in Snap.”

As the summer comes to a close, the group will work with Bradshaw to merge their work together and prepare the game for initial testing.

Kim says that this experience has taught her, among other things, that failure is part of the learning process.

“Dr. Bradshaw has put a great emphasis on the fact that failing comes with computer science,” she explains. “Little failures are necessary and lead to little successes. Even if you think that you are completely off on something, it’s usually just a minor error that’s easy to fix.”

Learning about the positive aspects of failure is just one of many things that Bradshaw hopes his students take away from their research experience.

“I wanted the students to have an experience where they could become independent,” he says. “It’s really hard when you’re watching a student struggling, but they need to learn how to solve the problems. The struggle to do it the first or second time means that afterwards, they’ve mastered this ability.”

by Hayley Hoffman ‘16
July 24, 2015

Pictured (l to r): Allison Walther ’18, Forrest Kamperman ’16, Michelle Kim ’18 and Chad Carter ’17