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Innovator Anthony Carlson: the game for everything


“I let the students educate themselves. I teach them skills but let them take care of them as much as possible. That’s what it’s like to work in the tech industry.

“Andy has served his community for decades by making the most delicious donuts in the valley,” reads the introduction to Andy’s Donuts, a mobile game created in Anthony Carlson’s class at Monrovia High School and released. ‘last summer.

“As he contemplates retirement, Andy has found a way to automate the donut-making process! However, there are still a few flaws to be addressed. Can you help him reach his goal? “

The game is available for free on the App Store and is a basic “puzzler” in which a curmudgeonly robot named Andy runs an automated shop where donuts decorate and wrap themselves. The player is a donut that must roll in various ingredients (like nuggets) and jump into a pink box to earn a point. The game has 30 levels and a grand finale.

Creating and publishing a complex mobile game has been a huge achievement for students at the Digital Studies Academy (DSA) in Monrovia. They were educated, then released and encouraged, by Carlson, a member of the Monrovia Teachers Association.

“I wanted to create a course that was different from other programming or game development courses,” says Carlson. “I wanted to provide my students with real world experiences. And what they produced was absolutely amazing.

Students on the DSA path begin in Carlson’s programming class where they learn Python, a computer programming language. Then they can enroll in its game development course. “We look at all aspects of game development, including writing, character development, storytelling – and creating digital art for games in 2D and 3D. “

Students looking for extreme levels of game creation take Carlson’s advanced course called the Software Development Team, where their mission is to spend an entire school year creating a game and releasing it to the real world.

Andy’s Donuts is the second game released by its advanced students. The Red Dungeon mobile game was released on the itch.io platform in 2019 and won a Congressional App Challenge award in 2020. The challenge, where members of Congress hold contests in their districts for middle and high school students, encourages young people to learn to code and eventually pursue a career in IT.

Andy’s Donuts took part in the Congressional App Challenge 2021, and there are high hopes that it will give the competition a good dunk. (Winners will be announced in December 2021.)

It’s not all fun and games, says Carlson. “I can’t tell you how many freshmen come in with shining eyes saying they want to play games for a living, and then they find out how much work that is and realize that they prefer to play games. games than to create them. “

Carlson runs his software development team like a business, taking an “agile development” approach to product development that emphasizes teamwork and project management. The team currently has 10 students.

“I let my students educate themselves. I show them how to keep things organized and teach them the skills to run a game, but I try to let them take care of it as much as possible because that’s what it is to work in the industry. of technology.

Charlie Heatherly, who was a project manager on Andy’s Donuts and did the coding on Red Dungeon, is now a freshman at the University of Southern California, which has the # 1 undergraduate game development program. in the country.

“It takes a lot of confidence for a teacher to say to high school students, ‘Spend a year making a game and you’ll get what you put in it,’ but he did,” Heatherly says. “And we came away with knowledge that we couldn’t have obtained otherwise.”

His sister Julia Heatherly, a junior at Monrovia High, is now in the game development course and enjoys creating art with graphics.

Students in class working with computers

Carlson’s student Julia Heatherly shows off the graphic art she’s working on for a game.

“The most important thing for me is that Mr. Carlson respects me as a woman in making games,” she says. “It opened us up to an experience where we can immerse ourselves in creativity as a team. I could see myself getting into this field and pursuing it as a career. “

Carlson, a fourth grade teacher, grew up in Monrovia. He spent several years as a drummer for a rock band. Being on the road was tough on his family, so he signed up for a four month web development boot camp and found he loved computer programming. He taught for a year at Monrovia High as a career technical education teacher, then went to work in an engineering company.

“It sucked my soul out,” Carlson said. “It made me realize how much I missed being in class. Luckily, Monrovia High School picked me up.

He never created a game himself.

“I want my kids to do better things than I ever could. I want them to outdo me. And when they do that, I feel like I did something right.