Philadelphia Students to Design Skyscraper-Size Video Games

Tetris on Cira Centre

Hundreds of Philadelphians have had the opportunity to play arcade classics Pong and Tetris on the 29-story Cira Centre office building over the last few years, now middle-school students from the city will get a chance to design the next games that will be played on the skyscraper.

Starting this winter, more than 100 middle-school students from Philadelphia schools and community groups will try their hand at being video game designers, with an opportunity to play their games on one of the biggest screens imaginable: a 29-story building covered with LEDs. Drexel University’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio is working with young game designers-in-the-making to come up with new games for Brandywine Realty Trust’s Cira Centre office building, an edifice that has twice played host to the largest architectural video game display in the world.

“We want students to get excited about game design and get their imaginations in gear,” said Frank Lee, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of the Entrepreneurial Game Studio, who is the man behind towering displays of Pong and Tetris on the Cira Centre that set Guinness World Records. “We’ve already played Pong and Tetris, it’s time to play some new games. This project will give middle-school students a chance to see—and play—their designs up in lights.”

Tetris Concept

Now, through fall of 2016, the Entrepreneurial Game Studio in Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center, will host a series of workshops for students from participating Philadelphia-area schools and community organizations. The students will learn about the elements of game design and some of the basics of programming. They will each produce a design concept, using the Cira Centre as their display template. Design concepts created by the students in these workshops will have the chance to go into production and be featured on the Cira Centre for live play next fall.

“I think this is a fun way to get more middle-school-aged boys and girls interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and math,” Lee said. “It encourages creative thinking, of course, but it takes that one step farther by showing these students how to plan and problem-solve and, ultimately, build their creations.”

The workshops are supported by a grant from Intel. The first workshop will be held in December with four more to follow over the next four months. Schools wishing to participate can contact EGS Program Manager Arianna Gass at

“Intel is a strong supporter of STEM education and diversity in technology,” said Christos Georgiopoulos, vice president of Intel’s Software and Services Group and general manager, Developer Relations. “We believe the work Dr. Lee’s team at Drexel is doing will help spark interest in computing and creating games among the next generation of innovators.”

The Entrepreneurial Game Studio, which was founded by Lee in 2013 as a safety-netted springboard for student game-design startups, has worked with several community groups during the last few years to seed interest in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, among the youth of Philadelphia. Last year the studio and the ExCITe Center hosted workshops for TechGirlz and local Girl Scout troops among other outreach efforts.