Thursday, May 14, 2009

Senior Project Turns to a Swashbuckling Adventure for Computer Programming

Pirates are all the rage–whether they’re stealing our imaginations in movies or causing a ruckus in foreign seas. At Gordon College they are making an appearance in the virtual world. “For whatever reason, computer geeks love pirates,” said Steve Brinton, associate professor of computer science. And this new computer program is no exception.
Brinton has been working with seniors Chris Pfohl and Adam Elnagger on their senior seminar project: CPirates–a computer program that uses a pirate game to teach computer programming concepts. “It was one of those dream moments,” Brinton said. He admits that learning to write programs that resemble something like the numbers trickling down in The Matrix can be pretty dry for students. “I try to make things as interesting as I can,” Brinton said, “but a lot of programming theory is not hands-on.”
Over the years Brinton noticed the increase of students playing video games in their spare time. Thinking outside the box, Brinton wanted to take something “dry” like learning theories behind computer programming and turn it into something more interactive. CPirates was the answer.
According to Pfohl, cocreator of CPirates, students write the programs telling their pirate ship what direction to move. If the code is programmed correctly, the ship should travel around the map. If the ship is programmed incorrectly, it will travel in circles or not move at all. This means Brinton can see if his lessons are sinking in or not by the way the pirate ships travel. So it looks like students are learning how to control a ship, but they are really learning how to control a computer.
CPirates is also designed to be competitive—allowing other programmers to see the progress of their classmates—and programmers have to watch out for more than just classmates. Pfohl and Elnagger have created sea monsters to navigate around, treasure chests to find, villages to plunder and other adventures besides ship navigation.
The program will continue to be developed with other students taking an active part in their and their peers’ virtual education after Pfohl and Elnagger graduate.


Anonymous said...

This looks really cool!
Is the source going to be released at some point?

Patricia said...

thanks for your interest! We'll ask the student and professor and will post the answer.