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Rep. Ratcliffe recognizes 2017 Congressional App Challenge winners

From the left: Jonathan Payne, Jr., Kyle Jackson, Rep. John Ratcliffe, RHHS Animations and Video Game Design Teacher Kristen Hopkins, Michael Bess, and Thomas Starnes.

(ROCKWALL, TX — December 4, 2017) Congressman John Ratcliffe recently recognized four Rockwall-Heath High School students who were the winners of the 2017 Congressional App Challenge for Texas’ 4th District.

Last week at his District Office located at 6531 Horizon Rd, Ratcliffe presented seniors Kyle Jackson and Jonathan Payne, Jr., and juniors Michael Bess and Thomas Starnes with signed certificates honoring the students for their winning app, “Iron Clad Cooking Competition.” The app is a “2D platformer” video game geared toward a broad audience and designed using an Unreal Engine blueprint editor and C++ programming. It has a heavy emphasis on maneuverability and features mini games, boss battles, and a custom 20th-century, jazz-themed soundtrack that Starnes produced himself on MuseScore.

The Congressional App Challenge is a prestigious competition which engages students’ creativity and encourages their participation in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education fields. High school students in each congressional district across the country are invited to compete by creating and exhibiting their software application, or “app,” for mobile, tablet, or computer devices on a platform of their choice.

“We know that we have really bright young men and women like these students whose interest is in designing video games,” Ratcliffe said. “With competitions like the Congressional App Challenge, we want to encourage that and make it to where you can turn those things that you enjoy doing, things that are fun but that are also technologically advanced and ultimately can benefit us all as a nation, into a profession down the road.”

Bess, Jackson, Payne and Starnes – students of Kristen Hopkins’s Animations and Video Game Design class at RHHS – originally began work on the app for the TSA Competition Regionals in February 2018, but decided to enter the app in the Congressional App Challenge after learning about it in class. For the challenge, the students created a platforming stage and a mini game that has the player catch cakes falling from the sky, which the player can then consume to gain health back in later levels.

“The hardest part was getting it started, deciding on a story and outline. Once we got all that done, we knocked it out in a week,” Bess said.

Payne said they were tasked with designing a video game themed around sports for the TSA Competition, but since they didn’t really want to do a traditional sport, they decided to incorporate more abstract sports such as competitive cooking into their video game.

“There’s hardcore skydiving, boxing, things like that for the mini games,” Payne said. “So we have a lot of different sports we can incorporate into the app while still maintaining creativity.”

For their final product, the students plan to have a total of four mini games, three platforming stages, three bosses for the player to battle, and four to five cutscenes. Watch their submission video for the Congressional App Challenge here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPfc4AwQd94&feature=youtu.be.

By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.

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