Liam McLachlan and Josh Caratelli accepting their prize from PwC’s Kate Eriksson at the 2014 the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge awards ceremony. Photo ©ACER
Participating in the inaugural Australian STEM Video Game Challenge has opened doors into the game industry for two resourceful students.
Josh Caratelli and Liam McLachlan were already dabbling in video game development in their spare time while completing Year 12 at Victoria’s Elwood Secondary College when Giselle Rosman from the International Game Developers Association alerted Josh to the launch of the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge.
After looking into the details of the Challenge, Josh phoned Liam and said, ‘We have to enter this.’ Liam agreed and the pair ended up winning the 2014 Year 9-12 Group Advanced category as well as the PwC People's Choice Award, for which they received a six-month mentoring package with PwC’s Digital Change team.
‘We had been thinking about making a game for a while,’ says Josh. ‘We thought it would be a great opportunity to match the theme of the Challenge to the game so that actually, we’re not just making a game but we’re teaching players STEM themes as well.’
The result of their collaboration is Smog Game, a colour-based reaction shooter aimed for 9-12 year-olds that teaches about eco systems and the benefit of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Designed for the touch-screen environment of an iPhone or iPad, Smog Game uses a fun and interactive medium to impart lessons about biology and the importance of environmental conservation. Described by the Australian STEM Video Game Challenge judges as being ‘fun to play with impressive graphics’, Smog Game is addictive and challenging; while the visual representation of the surrounding environment relative to the actions undertaken by the player is a very inventive way of delivering the core message.’
Josh and Liam encourage other young people interested in game design to ‘just start making something’ by taking advantage of the wealth of assistance available online, such as on YouTube, and not being afraid to ask the ‘big and loving community’ of game developers for help. They also recommend working with a partner or in a team.
‘As winners of the 2014 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge (Year 9-12 Group Advanced category) and the PwC's People’s Choice Award with Smog Game, we’ve discovered that, although it may be fun most of the time, making games is HARD,’ says Josh.
‘It combines so many disciplines from everything as broad as business to programming and so much more. That’s why it’s so important you find a solid team you work well with where you can play off each other’s strengths. When you hit a wall in development, look to your teammates for the inspiration and motivation to keep going,’ says Josh.
Leading by example, Josh and Liam have continued to work on their game since the Challenge, establishing their own game development studio in the process, and plan to release Smog Game in the App Store in late 2015. At the same time, they are pursuing their passion for STEM in their tertiary studies, with Liam studying physics at the University of Melbourne and Josh studying computer science at RMIT University.
The $1000 prize money that the school received as result of Josh and Liam winning their category was used to establish a STEM scholarship to promote and inspire participation among females and disadvantaged students, who are typically under-represented in STEM-related fields.
‘Liam and I decided to spend the money towards helping others because throughout the years, and especially recently with Smog Game, we’ve been helped by so many different people. It would be impossible to pay everyone back for their extraordinary support, so instead we decided to pay it forward,’ says Josh.