Class Notes: Vancouver student developing videogame for visually impaired

Teacher Seema Ali jokes that she usually scowls when the Courier’s photographer asks her to pose as if student Matthew Alvernaz is asking her a question.

“Luckily, I don’t notice,” quipped Alvernaz, who was born blind.

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The Courier visited Killarney secondary Monday morning to meet Alvernaz, who is programming an audio-led videogame.

Other students in Programming 13, an independent study course, used a popular 3D videogame programming engine that includes predetermined settings to create their games. Alvernaz used a more accessible but more obscure program, which lacks helpful forums and tutorials, to create an audio, rather than visually led, shooting game.

“I have to do everything from scratch,” Alvernaz said.

He uses a free program he downloaded to read what’s on his screen, sometimes having to copy and paste code into a text editing program.

“I would think it would be a bit annoying for him to do it that way, but he doesn’t complain about it,” Ali said.

Ali, mathematics and information technology department head at Killarney, first taught Alvernaz Information Technology 10. Students in that class had to install RAM, a hard and a floppy drive.

“He did better than some of the other students on the installation quiz,” Ali said.

Alvernaz couldn’t complete the animation component for the course so he created a battleship game, which Ali says is a difficult task for a beginner.

“He’s awesome,” Ali said. “What makes him awesome isn’t that he’s blind and he can program, but what makes him awesome is that he’s got a really good work ethic. He’s focused, he’s passionate about learning, he’s humble, he’s a really good person and I know he has a good sense of humour because he laughs at my jokes.”

Alvernaz has been interested in videogame design since he was a kid.

He plans to post his game online when he completes it.

Numerous audio videogames exist and describe the environment with sound instead of visuals.

“Say if there’s an enemy behind you, a shooter, then you’ll hear the footsteps walking up to you and you might hear him saying something, and it’ll be maybe a little quieter so you can actually tell it’s behind you, rather than louder, it might be in front of you,” Alvernaz explained.

He hopes to study computer science at BCIT next year.

“I’m really not doing anything special because my blindness is something that’s affected me my entire life,” Alvernaz said. “It’s like the colour of your hair; it doesn’t really affect you enough to matter.”

Ali believes Killarney’s computer science IT offerings are the most diverse of any high school in the city. It’s the only one to offer Programming 13 and it offers a District IT program that helps students skip first-semester courses at BCIT, saving them $1,700.

So why are the offerings at Killarney so diverse?

“Because I’m a workaholic,” Ali said. “If there are students who are interested, then I honestly really want to give them that ability to try it out.”

More than 900 Killarney students and administrators participated in the global Hour of Code event that’s meant to demystify code and teach the basics during Computer Science Week in December. Graduates from Killarney have secured jobs with Google, BlackBerry and Apple.

crossi@vancourier.com

twitter.com/Cheryl_Rossi

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