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Exposing High School Students to Concurrent Programming Principles Using Video Game Scripting Engines

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Electrical and Computer Poster Session

Tagged Division

Electrical and Computer

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.623.1 - 25.623.13

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Paper Authors


Michael Steffen Iowa State University

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Michael Steffen is a Ph.D. candidate in computer engineering and NSF graduate research fellow. His research interests include computer architecture, graphics hardware, computer graphics and embedded systems, and specifically he focuses on improving SIMT processor thread efficiency using a mixture of custom architectures and programming models. He received a B.S, degrees in both mechanical engineering and electrical engineering from Valparaiso University in 2007.

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Joseph Zambreno Iowa State University

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Joseph Zambreno has been with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Iowa State University since 2006, where he is currently an Assistant Professor. Prior to joining ISU, he was at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he graduated with his Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2006, his M.S. degree in electrical and computer engineering in 2002, and his B.S. degree summa cum laude in computer engineering in 2001. While at Northwestern University, Zambreno was a recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, a Northwestern University Graduate School Fellowship, a Walter P. Murphy Fellowship, and the EECS department Best Dissertation Award for his Ph.D. dissertation titled "Compiler and Architectural Approaches to Software Protection and Security."

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Exposing High School Students to Concurrent Programming Principles using Video Game Scripting EnginesIntroducing programming using an imperative language often requires a steep learning curve dueto the significant emphasis and corresponding time commitment placed on a particularlanguage’s syntax and semantics. We have developed a suite of video game scripting enginesfocusing on nurturing computational skills that can be explored in as little as one hour. Thesescripting engine run code developed by students to control four concurrent players on a team; upto four teams (four different code scripts) can play in a head-to-head competition. To achieve aquick learning curve, the scripting engine only supports a limited number of instructions todefine initial player qualities, movements, and game actions. Students are faced with thecomputational thinking challenge of mapping their game strategies into code. Successfulstrategies require teams to appreciate the complexities of concurrent programming to control allgame players simultaneously. We have observed that students quickly learn that writing code forall team players individually does not result in a competitive match, but requires a mixture ofcollaboration and parallel programming to be competitive in a short amount of time. The needfor more advanced control flow semantics are also motivated, since students must rewrite similarcode for performing similar routines through the game simulation. Our video game scriptingengines have been used in two high school outreach programs and results from these eventsindicate that our learning objectives were met and students were engaged in the activities theentire duration by modifying their code to be more competitive. We will also present lessonslearned from our first scripting engine (dodgeball) that went into creating our second engine(boomtown).

Steffen, M., & Zambreno, J. (2012, June), Exposing High School Students to Concurrent Programming Principles Using Video Game Scripting Engines Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas.

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