Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Game On: UNO’s Video Game Development Concentration Simulates Real World Experience

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The spring 2016 semester produced the first group of students to have completed the capstone course in UNO’s newly launched academic concentration in video game development. Nine students took computer science professor Stephen G. Ware’s advanced game development class, which simulates working in a professional game development studio.

In the first week of class, each student pitches an idea for a video game and the class votes on which concept to pursue. Once a project is selected, each student takes on the role of a studio employee, such as producer, lead developer, designer or quality assurance tester. Functioning as a real development team, the students then develop the game from concept to prototype to final deliverable. The students’ grades are based on their role in the studio for the semester-long group project.

This group elected to develop a game that they named “Honest Abe,” a side-scrolling action game where the player takes on the role of Abraham Lincoln on a quest to avenge the kidnapping of Mary Todd in the post-Civil War South. The game features three unique locations, six types of enemies, three powerful "boss" enemies and numerous ways the player can enhance Abe to make the game more fun or more challenging. It was developed using the Unity 3-D game engine, a popular tool among independent and professional game developers alike.

Ware’s “final exam” involved the participation of local game development professionals. Students presented the final version of the game to experts who have worked at companies such as Electronic Arts, Nickelodeon, Turbosquid, Gameloft and inXile. The visitors played the game, listened to the students recount their experience and offered feedback on how to improve the game and market their experience if they choose to pursue careers in game development.

"With the rapid influx of game developers to the New Orleans area in the last three years, I'm really glad to see how successful our first group of students has been,” said Ware, an assistant professor of computer science. “They really stepped up and took ownership of this project, and I think it was an invaluable learning experience.”

With the exception of two sound effects and three images, every single part of the Honest Abe game was created from scratch by students.  They made hundreds of 2-D and 3-D images, sound effects, songs and animations. Much of the development activity took place in the Earl K. Long Library’s new digital media lab, which includes 10 high-performance computers, a motion capture studio and a 3-D printer.

According to Ware, every game developer uses different tools for different purposes, but they all have one thing in common. They require a group of passionate people to work together, form a shared vision and piece together a single, large project from the contributions of each member.

“That's what our students did, and the result is impressive. They learned a lot, gained valuable experience and had a lot of fun in the process!"

The following students completed Ware’s spring 2016 video game development class: Christian Simmers (Designer, 2-D Artist), Chris Toups (Producer, Sound Designer), Edward Garcia (Developer, 3-D Artist), Parker Sprouse (Developer, Quality Assurance Tester), Maurice Robert (Designer, Developer), David DiMaggio (Developer, Sound Designer), Breena Crump (Developer, Quality Assurance Tester), Ted Mader (Lead Developer), Rachel Farrell (Designer, Developer).