It was his family’s two dogs, two cats and ferret that inspired the enemy in Ben Heyns’ virtual reality game.
Titled “The Maze,” the Grade 11 U-Connect student designed a course where players must collect swords and shields in a massive castle, all while avoiding the giant evil fleas roaming through its halls.
“Honestly, my pets are infected with them (fleas), and I’ve grown to loath them,” he said.
“So, I thought it was a good enemy.”
Heyns is one of several students at the Langley school to beta test their virtual reality programs on Tuesday, and to show off their creations to a representative from Microsoft.
“Our students have been working very hard this year developing virtual reality applications on a variety of platforms like Google Cardboard (virtual reality), like Microsoft Hololens (mixed reality), like Oculus Gear VR (virtual reality),” said John Harris, who teaches information technology to Grade 10, 11 and 12 students.
“And so the kids are rolling out their beta versions and are testing them on some of the younger kids that are coming through to make sure that how they think the game works is how the public will interpret it. So it’s a very crucial step to get the users to do the testing.”
U-Connect, which operates out of Simonds Elementary, is a unique school that blends home schooling with face-to-face classes and online support. Its technology program has proven to be very successful, with past students winning international competitions and awards.
On hand at the beta testing event was Microsoft learning consultant Toby Sheldon, who is working with the school to bring advanced technology into the classroom.
“I’m very honoured to be here to see all of the innovation that has been happening all around us, and what has been done with the Hololens, especially,” he said. “This is something that is on the cutting edge and I’m happy to see this being implemented in the schools. I work directly with schools to implement technology in the classrooms, and this is a shinning example of what can be done.”
The technology — and the skills of the students — have come a long way since the Times last visited in 2016.
Then, the school was piloting Google Cardboard virtual reality devices. Now, it’s all about mixed reality — where virtual objects are layered on top of the real world — and applying the students’ skills to projects that could be sold on the market.
Students Liam Harder and Liam Troan, for example, are developing a virtual reality fighter jet game that mimics an actual fighter jet, right down to the controls and weapons.
“We thought it would be an interesting experience because it simulates you much more being there — it’s not quite mixed reality yet,” said Troan.
“So we thought it would be interesting to be able to experience being in an actual fighter jet — being able to fly above and maneuver without having the actual risk, and danger, and expensive training to be a fighter jet pilot.
“We’re just in the beginning phase, but we have high hopes for it.”
Also in attendance was U-Connect graduate Ryan Scovill, who is now in his third year of computer science at Simon Fraser University. Scovill was part of the student group that won a robotic competition in Atlanta a few years ago, and recently completed a co-op at company Visier as a developer.
“It was here (at U-Connect) that I got interested into coding,” he said. “It started with flash games — that was back in Grade 2 or 3, so very young. And then through the robotic competitions, that was an awesome experience. It led me down this path into software and coding.”
For more on U-Connect, visit uconnect.sd35.bc.ca.