Program helps Utah youth learn how to design video games

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Spy Hop Productions is a Utah nonprofit that mentors youth in the digital media arts, and they just staged their second "Power Up, Party Down" event to honor some exceptional teens.

The event celebrated the release of a game called "Gray,” which eight teenagers spent 10 months developing.

The game is a lot of fun to play, and it teaches kids about perseverance and self-discovery.

"A lot of people, when you really think about it, have not been able to actually complete something like this in the past, and so it's really exciting that myself and so many other people on the development team were able to do this at such a young age,” Bryan Smith said.

Along with teaching youngsters how to build video games, Spy Hop also has courses on film, audio, and music.

The game designers had to master the skills to build a game that meets industry standards.

"This is some really hard stuff that they learned, a lot of them walked in never programming before, and they had to learn C sharp,” said Liz Schulte, a Spy Hop Mentor. “They'd never opened up any game designing software, and they learned how to use Unity. A lot of these kids had never drawn before, and now they're building their own sprites."

Spy Hop partnered with Google Fiber to showcase the teens' work. Bryan Smith, 18, attended Ames, a Salt Lake Academy for math engineering and science. He said desire is just as important as smarts.

“Anyone can do video game design as long as you have the passion for it, and all you really have to do is try and see how things turn out,” he said.

The Power Up class is part of Spy Hop's digital pathways program. The goal is to serve as a pathway from secondary to post-secondary education and ultimately lead participants to careers in the industry. For more information about Spy Hop Productions, visit their website.