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Getting schooled in video

Nearly a dozen South Medford High School gamers congregated earlier this month in one of the school’s labs during their eighth period to play-test a video game created by their peers.

The students, as characters Penelope, the foil, or Connor, the protagonist, navigated a digital maze encountering “slinky wolves,” crabs, bats and other villains along the way. A few got lost in the maze, but most made it to the fifth and final scene.

“I’m a pretty big gamer when I’m not playing sports,” said South sophomore Carlene Platts, who made it to level four before being defeated by a mini minotaur, a mythological, bull-headed creature. “I’m excited for the full version, and I’ll probably buy it — or ask my dad to buy it because I’m a high school student and have no money.”

The demo and forthcoming video game, "Legacy," isn't a student's senior project but the creative enterprise of Undiscovered Game Studios, a group of tech-savvy, artistic teens from South Medford and Ashland high schools and St. Mary’s School. There’s also one teenager, Simon Price, from Wales who composes the audio for the game.

UGS was formed in late 2013 after South junior Patrick Conner got together with several students with unique skill sets, including artists, designers and techies like himself, and persuaded them to collaborate on “something cool.”

The group meets for several hours every Saturday in an empty apartment, owned by Conner’s mom, to work on the video game, which is scheduled for release in February 2016. Members also have created a comprehensive website and several podcasts with updates on the gaming industry, studio projects — namely "Legacy" — and other topics.

South sophomore Alexandria Kruger, the group’s project manager and “jack-of-all-trades,” has contacted several companies to see whether they want to advertise on the podcasts.

“But so far, I haven’t got any yeses,” Kruger said.

The group also launched an unsuccessful Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a studio space.

Nonetheless, the students are hardly disheartened, and the group continues to grow.

Carson Bennett, a freshman at South, said he joined the group in December after seeing a poster at school. He'll be working with freshman Jacob Beke on level design.

“I’d always enjoyed games and wanted to make one but couldn't do it on my own,” Bennett said.

Conner, the lead programmer on the project, said he’s invested nearly 260 hours in the video game. Before he started the group, he ran a YouTube channel and worked for Rogue Hack Lab.

“I worked with them teaching classes and building electrical components,” he said. “We once built music amplifiers with Altoid tins.

“I like the process of starting with basically nothing and ending up with this cool thing that you can sit and stare at and be like, ‘Did I make this?’ ” he added.

Conner hopes that the UGS and "Legacy" will be the start of a larger tech industry in Medford.

The demo, he explained, is rudimentary but features player interactions and basic story art while the end product will be reminiscent of Nintendo’s “The Legend of Zelda” with a fantasy storyline and “simply, complex game play.”

Kruger, Conner and others in the group have pitched their demo to their friends and classmates and held three test play sessions at South Medford to get feedback.

“I just walk around campus and ask students if they like to play video games and if they’d be willing to play-test our demo,” Kruger said.

More than 15 students showed up to the first two sessions and nearly a dozen to the third. When they’re done, Kruger asks them to fill out a survey rating their overall experience on a scale of zero ("Horrible waste of time”) to five (“Perfect! Look forward to more”).

Platts recommended that there be a shorter delay between the attacks, and another student, James McAdams, suggested that the group “put more into the characters and design.”

“At first, I thought it would suck and drag on, but then it got interesting as it went along,” said McAdams, who, like Platts, was defeated by the minotaur.

Another student shouted, “Yea, I made it!” as the red, victory curtain came across his screen.

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.

Jacob Beke 14, front, Veronica Nava, 14, Lauren Dega, 14, and Alexandria Kruger, 15, are among the students developing a video game at Undiscovered Game Studios in Medford. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch