ECU computer science students create award-winning game

The chickens are angry. Farmers take their eggs and coop them up all day. They’re tired of it, and now they’re on the attack. You as a farmer have but once chance to survive: avoid the attacking chickens at all cost — and if need be, hit them with a slice of pizza.

That’s the concept of a computer game called Chicken Dodge, created by a team of five computer science majors at East Carolina University. Developed as a class project, the team entered the Game Development and Design/Digital Games Competition as part of the Computer Simulation and Gaming Conference, taking home second place in the college division as well as the People’s Choice award.

Teaching instructor Bobby Hoggard

“I am extremely proud of the students for their accomplishment,” said Bobby Hoggard, teaching instructor in the Department of Computer Science.  “As a teacher, it is always a great feeling to see what students are able to achieve with the material they’ve learned in your course. …  While they had already created the overall game for a class assignment, they then worked to polish it and add a few extra touches to it to make it even better before submitting it to the competition.”

Team members Luke Brush, Jahina Hayes, Jonathan Langston, Sam Puma and Chase Walthall created Chicken Dodge in Hoggard’s Computer Game Development II course.

“The students put in a lot of effort into creating the game,” Hoggard said. “… Clearly they had a lot of enthusiasm about their project, and

putting in extra effort made it superb.”

The students didn’t think about the competition as they created the game, so that made placing second even sweeter.

Chase Walthall

“I was ecstatic,” Walthall said. “I immediately called my family and let them know the good news. It’s incredibly rewarding to see that the time spent on our game paid off.”

In the game, players in the role of a farmer must move side to side as the chickens attack down a road. For every 10 chickens they dodge, players earn a slice of pizza that can be thrown at a chicken to eliminate it from its path. If a chicken hits the farmer, the game ends.

The team brainstormed the concept for the game.

“With our team we generally never go with the first idea pitched from anyone, but it’s always a great starting point to start bouncing ideas off each other,” Puma said. “We’ll sit and chat for like an hour just saying random things, building off what was said last until we get that collective ‘yeah, that’s it right there’ from everyone and then go off making the game.”

Brush suggested the name.

“Chicken Dodge has a ring to it, and we wanted to keep the game playable for any age group as well as be fun,” he said.

Luke Brush

The team also debated how best to arm the farmer in his battle against the chickens, batting around several ideas that included throwing eggs and chicken bones before settling on pizza — of course.

“Pizza seemed to be the universal choice to get a chicken to stop chasing a human,” Puma said.

Hayes created the pizza slices that would eventually become the projectiles, which had a practical application as well.

“In the end, it was a pretty good choice as the pizza slices were more visible over the background of the game,” she said.

Members of the team each had specific roles in the actual construction of the game. For example, Brush worked on the farmers and chickens gathered behind fences and watching from the side of the road. However, they continued to work together as they put the pieces together.

Jahina Hayes

“We really worked well together as a team on all parts of the game,” Langston said.

While the game may be fun, creating it was work. Team members ran into challenges, from debugging and getting the speed of the attacking chickens just right to tracking the number of pizza slices rewarded and getting the high score feature to work.

“The biggest lesson I took away from this is great games take time,” Brush said. “You can look at Fortnite, Call of Duty — any major games — and fully realize how much time it takes to release a game like those. And even when they are released, updating them and keeping them bug free and the most enjoyable is indeed a full-time job.”

Walthall said patience and dedication allowed the group to overcome challenges.

“It becomes apparent that there are some portions of the project that must be completed before any of the other team members can see the effects of their efforts,” he said. “While we all rely on each other to complete our respective parts, it makes it much easier when working with such talented and motivated people like my teammates.”

Jonathan Langston

Hoggard said creating computer games does have its rewards.

“It is a fun process, but it is also a hard one,” he said. “Game programming can be difficult, but the fact that you’re creating something where the finished product is fun to play typically makes the difficult process much more enjoyable, and usually makes game designers even more motivated in producing their product.”

Naturally, as creators of the game, team members had to play it. All had high scores of more than 1,000.

“I’d say the main key to scoring well is being focused at all times when playing, as the game can beat you at any given time if you have even one mess-up,” said Brush, whose high score was 1,700.

Langston’s top score was around 1,000.

Sam Puma

“I think the key is to try and stay in the starting point if possible,” he said.

Walthall had the highest score among the team at 2,206.

“I’ve found that relying on throwing the pizza after you have enough saved up will help with getting out of sticky situations,” he said.

Hayes said she learned a valuable lesson in helping create the game.

“Strangely enough, the most important thing is to have fun,” she said. “I can tell my team had fun making this game, which bled through into the gameplay. I’m sure that’s why so many people enjoyed it.”

Team members believe the game resonated with the judges at the conference for one main reason.

“People genuinely love wacky games,” Puma said.