Sask Polytech Students Create 2D Video Game About Ocean Pollution

Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Business Information Systems class project helps Shore Buddies educate children about plastics pollution in our oceans.

A group of students in Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s Business Information Systems (BIS) program are working with Shore Buddies, an online company dedicated to saving marine life, on an educational two-dimensional (2D) video game. Shore Buddies mission is to save marine life and keep plastics out of the ocean. It’s doing this by educating children about plastics pollution using a series of stuffed animal characters, each made from recycled plastic bottles that are sold on their website.

Last year, the company was looking to add a 2D Frogger-style game to its website, something fun yet educational to make their characters come to life. They pitched the project on Riipen, an online platform that matches companies looking for skills with post-secondary students seeking practical experience. That pitch opened the door to a partnership between Shore Buddies and Sask Polytech’s BIS program.

The game called Shore Buddies lets website visitors choose a character (e.g. Finn the Dolphin or Sammy the Seal) and work their way from the bottom of the ocean to the surface, dodging plastics and learning about the impact of plastics pollution in our oceans along the way.

Gavin Osborne, BIS program head says, “Students can come up with projects themselves or work on games requested through the Riipen platform.” When Shore Buddies pitched their game idea, Osborne matched them with students Starlene Hermanson, Harley Anakaer and Rushik Soni. “We assign the students to the project teams; they don’t always get to pick who they work with or what project they work on, much like the real world,” Osborne says. “Once we match the company with the students, we step back and let them handle the project.”

“The partnership between Shore Buddies and the student group was very well placed,” says Shore Buddies representative Raylee Crawford. “The class was a good fit for our project. The students were very enthusiastic about creating the game, and Sask Polytech was very welcoming.”

The two-year BIS diploma program provides a foundation in business basics with a focus on informational technology including areas of software, web and mobile app development. “We use game development to teach project management principles in an applied setting,” says Osborne.

Starlene, a mature student enrolled in BIS to enhance her business digitization skills. As project lead, she says, “I’ve had prior experience managing projects, but I didn’t have any experience developing computer games. The Shore Buddies project has immersed us in a real-life game development situation.”

“I’ve worked with people on the technology side who didn’t have that business training, and you can really see the difference. In business, you can’t just be a tech person working in isolation; you have to be good at the communication side, at being able to work through ideas and challenges with the whole team,” says Starlene. “I give credit to Harley and Rushik who have been our programming superstars!”

Harley credits Starlene with providing the vital documentation needed to keep the project on track. “I enrolled in BIS right out of high school for the programming,” he says, “but I’ve learned the importance of the business side of things. Programming is one part, but if you can work as a team and communicate what you’re doing, it makes everything easier.”

The Shore Buddies client team enjoyed working with the students. Crawford says, “We love challenging students to reach higher than they thought they could in order to show them their potential. We're very excited to see what the end product will look like—the sneak peeks so far have not disappointed.”

The project has taken the better part of two semesters and will wrap up in June 2021—a hard deadline for the student team. “That’s one of the benefits of lining students up with actual clients,” says Mike Barclay, BIS instructor and one of the team’s project mentors. “They end up working on real world problems with real world deadlines. It creates a level of engagement that’s hard to match in a classroom.”

Osborne sums up Sask Polytech’s hands-on approach to teaching project management, saying “We always want to emphasize business and emphasize the connection between business and technology. These projects are what tie it together. They give students a chance to integrate their technical skills into a business process, and that drives home the business side of the BIS program.”

Look for the game at this summer.

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Published April 2021