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Taking VR to the Next Level

Student spotlight

Taking VR to the Next Level

October 16, 2017

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Make School’s Summer Academy attracts a diverse set of innovators from all over the world. Alumni include college students, grad students, and young professionals, but some of our favorite students are the precocious young minds getting a jump-start on everyone around them in high school. One of those impressive young minds belongs to Albert Gao.

Currently a high school senior in Connecticut, Albert enrolled in the Summer Academy Virtual Reality track this summer. “My first experience with computer science was my AP Comp Sci course sophomore year,” Albert explained. “Back then, I had no experience with programming at all. I did well in that class, and it made me want to explore more.” An avid learner, Albert has since dabbled in iOS-app design, iOS game development, web development, cybersecurity/white-hat hacking, cryptography, and algorithms.

When it came to choosing a summer program, Albert didn’t bother applying anywhere other than Make School. “Nowhere else was advanced enough to include curriculum for virtual reality. Even the best college programs barely offer any insight in virtual reality development. Most of the VR development right now is happening at big businesses, not amongst individual developers,” Albert pointed out. “I felt really lucky to experience cutting-edge VR technology at the Summer Academy and meet geniuses who are destined to become leaders in the field.”

During his eight weeks at the Summer Academy, Albert designed a VR game called Treasure At The Top. “It is a strategy-action game where the player slices monsters, releases energy balls, and uncovers mysteries,” Albert said. “My game currently has a page on the Steam Store where it’s attracting thousands of visitors every day. After about two weeks of release, it accumulated around 5,000 downloads, which is something I did not expect at all.”

One issue with current VR games, according to Albert, is that they are “experiences” that last a few minutes, then the novelty wears off and users never go back to them. He focused on addressing these issues in Treasure At the Top. “I found ways to extend the replay value of my game by incorporating levels, shops, and currency systems. Granted, the added features were complicated and took me lots of effort, but I am confident that I did what I set out to accomplish.”

When asked about the most helpful thing he learned during the Summer Academy, Albert’s answer was simple: collaboration. “Collaboration is key in projects of any size,” he said. “It is a skill for engineers to be able to collaborate with others; otherwise nothing significant can be achieved.”

Now that Albert is back in Connecticut for his final year of high school, he is focusing on other CS topics and his college applications, but he is eager to get back to his game and keep refining it. In the meantime, he’s staying in touch with his Summer Academy instructors and classmates.

“It’s not like a normal classroom. I felt really supported by the instructors, I made friends with them, and I enjoyed collaborating with the other students. That was new to me, and it was a great experience.”

To learn more about Albert’s current and upcoming projects, follow him on GitHub.

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