4 middle school students who are building their dream 3D Unity multiplayer tank game from scratch…A journey started a year ago and still going strong 💪

Leading up to this season 3, the Slurpin’ snakes was a very ambitious team in a nutshell. They consisted of 4 middle school students from two different states(CA, FL) and met every week over Zoom and Discord to develop their insanely ambitious game using rigorous task management tool(Airtable) and Lean startup methodology(build, measure, reiterate). The team has been very eager with their grand plan to produce a masterpiece 3D unity multiplayer tank shooting game when they launched in August 2020 in the middle of the pandemic 100% virtually without even meeting in person one single time.

As the initial enthusiasm and fever settled down, the team’s main focus and challenge were becoming self-evident; working toward accomplishable scoping and narrowing their perspective toward an achievable goal as what they envision and what’s possible. They dreamed of producing an amazing game with complex mechanics and in their minds, it all was planned out perfectly. Although their passion allowed them to overcome massive obstacles such as getting multiplayer mode to work with tireless effort and troubleshooting for 2 seasons(28weeks) and overcoming the time zone from Florida to California, it was spreading our resources too thin especially since we have only 4 members total at the end and conquer the game industry. We really had to recalculate and push for the minimal viable product(MVP) before the addition of all of these special features which was necessary for completing the prototype in a timely manner. Lots of heated debate and acknowledgement ensued painfully as the team realized and accepted that they cannot achieve everything at once but one at a time. After season 3(42weeks), this was not a small feat at all for middle school students and especially they had to compromise and scope down while still accomplishing the major feature(multiplayer mode functioning). Quite an humbling and excruciatingly rigorous process to learn maturity way earlier than their actual age experience to say the least!

Overall, looking back, the 2nd hardest part was delegating the tasks and forming a bond between the different subgroups of the team. Of those four members, we have three members on our Unity team(core tech team), and 1 member on our Web team. The Unity team made up of 3 students were able to bond easily through sharing an interest in playing video games. On the other hand, our 1 web team member doesn’t play games, so there is a bit of a disconnect there, which is why we put this member on the web team. And the gap grew bigger and bigger that we had to come up with the solutions for this member to bond with the game team such as writing the team blog together.

Another interesting but easily relatable challenge we ran into was helping the team develop their presentation skills. Sounds familiar to engineers? Just want to develop and free me up from all that time wasting presentation and talking stuff-lol. This has been a constant struggle because the team was strong technically but they were very robotic/monotonous while presenting to fellow ACF startup teams, teachers and parents. Especially early on, it was very easy to tell that the students were reading from a script without putting much effort to heed our advice to be more passionate and natural speakers. The students were also often opposed to the direct feedback from the coaches including me and my sub coach, and needed external feedback such as from the coaches outside of the team like Mr.V and Sakan to finally change their behavior at times. Maybe this is how the old expression plays its tune “familiarity breeds contempt to a certain extent”. Through encouragement and lots of practice though, we were able to shift them more towards a natural presentation style in the end. And they presented supremely well at Silicon Valley Teen Tech Talk 5th summit as a keynote speaker which is a huge honor for a middle school team to do. In order to achieve this rather seemingly insurmountable goal, the staff had to emphasize that marketing is equally as important as making the game. We haven’t fully mastered the team’s presentation skills yet, as the team still insists on a bland gray background for all of their presentation slides. However, these type of challenges do provide for us to mentor them, not just teach the team with thoughtful consideration from their perspectives.

Overall working with the Slurpin’ snakes team as a head coach has been a tricky but rewarding experience for one year during the pandemic. Essentially it allowed my coaching job not to be too stifle or limiting their potential, rather my role was to maximize and capitalize on their strengths. Knowing when to reel in their focus when they are distracted and having fun while also balancing having an enjoyable environment takes a lot of precision. For example, whenever they lost sight of their progress, I had to constantly remind them of their compelling goals in a firm but convincing way and it worked as we built trust and respect toward one another over one year.

Finally, this season(season 3) in particular, the students have really stepped up in their desire to publish their project instead of delaying it with perfection achieved in their eyes. They have gone forward with declaring a clear deadline for when it should be released in early access on Steam platform, and when the trailer should be released. From this goal setting and execution, the maturity level of the team has reached an all time high for sure. The only real problem was that one student planned on revamping the entire game in terms of graphics to make the game look more “realistic”. He expressed this over the Discord team channel and went forward with the idea without the approval of the entire team.

From this incident, it was obvious that we need to train students; To be open to new ideas which can improve the team, but they need to disclose and receive the approval of the majority of the team when such ideas arise. In other words, unlike other typical middle school students, this team’s weakness is not technical capability but communication and teamwork oriented attitude are their major weaknesses to improve upon. Especially with such a grand decision, that would completely change the direction of the project if we let him do it, so we are learning how to harness this “wild” but “very attractive” and “irresistible” 4 middle school students group called “Slurpin’ Snakes” team every week. 😁

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