UIC Announces “Video Game Design and Development” Course Winners
Participants: EVL faculty, staff, and students
EVL / UIC
May 25, 2010 - Chicago
Most students attend classes by day and play video games at night. At University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), students take a class on video games by day, and then go home and develop video games at night.
And not ordinary video games, either! Recently rated by Princeton Review and GamePro magazine as one of the top 50 programs in North America where students can go to study game design, UIC’s “Video Game Design and Development” course teaches so much more!
The course has several unique features. It is taught both at UIC and remotely at Louisiana State University (LSU) using high-definition video tele-conferencing over high-speed networks between Chicago and Baton Rouge. It is interdisciplinary, attracting students from a variety of university departments, such as computer science, art, music, and the social sciences, to name a few. The students are organized into decidedly distributed teams, and each team has to design and develop a video game as its class project. And, students must use advanced visualization technologies as the platform for game development. For the past two semesters, students have used TacTile, a multi-user, multi-touch, high-resolution, table display developed by UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL), which LSU subsequently built as well. Prior to that, students used EVL’s GeoWall 3D stereoscopic display as their game platform.
Programming is important, but so are all the skills that go into developing multimedia games to make them creative, compelling and challenging, within the timeframe of a semester, in distributed team environments. On the last day of class, students demonstrate their video games, which are judged by faculty, students, and local video game company representatives - yet more incentive for students to complete their projects on time. Prizes are given and a pizza party for all follows.
For the Spring 2010 “Video Game Design and Development” course, the game “Power Putt” won Best Interaction Design; it is a variation of miniature golf, where one person hits a golf ball, but opposing players can tilt the terrain or add more obstacles. “POL,” similar to Tetris, won Best Gameplay. “Orbital Defense,” which lets opposing players position spaceships in outer space, build up defenses, and attack alien spaceships, won for Best Technical Achievement. “Reach,” in which players build a staircase for an alien to climb and then select a gory ending for their opponent when the alien climbs to a certain height, won Best Intro / Outtro, as the opening (intro) and closing (outtro) graphics are artistically well done. In “Rise O’ the Urchins,” which won both Best Audio Design and Best Visual Design, players use sea urchins to attack boats and ships, and each time an urchin scores, the player’s treasure chest fills with gold. While there is no category for best game, everyone has his or her favorite. And, there are no losers, as all students still get a grade for trying, and learn from their experiences and mistakes.
The distributed nature of the teams proved to be a tremendous educational experience; each team had students from UIC and LSU, who collaborated using a number of technologies, from the classroom’s high-definition video-teleconferencing system, to Skype, email, Google Code, and social networking tools. Alex de Vera of Chewy Software, who served as a judge, “was impressed with how the teams dealt with the challenges of working with members who were so far away.” Keaton Robinson, an LSU computer science undergraduate who worked on “Rise O’ the Urchins,” agrees: “The distributed nature of the course was challenging and interesting, and that is one of the aspects of the course that I feel like I gained valuable experience from.” LSU studio arts undergraduate, Michael Davis, also agrees: “The long distance collaboration with my team was a really valuable experience and is probably something that every student should be required to do. You learn a lot about working with people, motivating one another and staying organized.”
While all students helped with the programming, team members were taught to assume responsibility for specific aspects of a game: the overall storyboard, the art / music, the graphical user interface design, and the project management. Kevin Cherry, an LSU student who worked on “Power Putt,” explained, “I learned about the many difficulties facing a team lead, such as trying to equally distribute the workload according to each team member’s strengths, taking opposing opinions into account, and how never to assume that the bug you just fixed will never show up again.”
“Rise O’ the Urchins” Keaton Robinson called teammate Paul Grenning, a UIC computer science undergraduate and team leader, “our team’s MVP… If it wasn’t for him, our game wouldn’t have been half as good.” Michael Davis from LSU concurs, “Paul kept us on track, gave great feedback about design choices and wrote the lion’s share of the code. It was definitely a bonding experience working on this project. We all met at least once a week for three months and all share a lot of common interests in gaming and computing in general. I didn’t know any of my teammates before the class, but I think we’re all good friends now. In fact, Paul and I are planning on working on another game together soon.”
Paul Grenning showers equal praise for his team members. “One of the most valuable things I learned was how to work with teammates. Not only had I never met my teammates before, we were also spread across two states. As team leader, I was fortunate enough to have three teammates who always put forth a great deal of effort. Michael Davis, our artist, would draw, redraw, and draw again anything needed for the game. Programming with Mike Baker and Keaton Robinson was excellent. Since Keaton lives in Baton Rouge, we used Skype for screen sharing, which allowed us to work together while being 900 or so miles apart. It was a great team experience.”
Michael Davis’ “Rise O’ the Urchins” experience taught him to appreciate the interdisciplinary nature of the teams. “I now have a better understanding of how the design process and making of a video game happens and what an artist’s responsibilities are in that field. It was also interesting to learn how scientific data about human interaction with computers and perception of sound and video can be used in professional game design. The two are much more related than I would have guessed.” Jason Kincl, an LSU computer science undergraduate who worked on “Reach,” says he now understands that “video games are multidisciplinary in nature, and that code is one part next to art and music.”
The excitement and energy generated by this course was not part of some grand plan, but evolved that way due to the ingenuity of its teacher. Jason Leigh, UIC associate professor of computer science and EVL director, started UIC’s “Video Game Design and Development” class in 2003. At LSU, faculty member Bob Kooima, and previously Steve Beck, facilitate and occasionally teach some of the classes, but Leigh is the primary instructor. In 2007, LSU asked Leigh if he would teach his class remotely, as they did not have the expertise in house. Leigh saw an opportunity to understand how to offer a distributed course where classroom activity and content are extremely dynamic and require the use of high-resolution media.
In addition, Leigh wanted to understand how advanced visualization technologies, used in scientific research, could be used in the classroom, to not only teach specialized subject matter, but train the next-generation work force. “I wanted the classroom to have the same full-scale real-time telepresence quality that we are developing for the research community,” said Leigh, “so that students, as well as scientists, have better tools at work than they have at home.”
Leigh also determined that students should use the TacTile display for their gaming platform. Little did the students know that they were really being asked to do computer science research on graphical user interfaces and human / computer interaction techniques, as no one truly understands how multiple people can (or should) dynamically collaborate on a single program by standing around four sides of a table!
Jeremy Meador, an LSU undergraduate who worked on “POL,” said, “Designing the game from scratch and seeing people playing and enjoying it on the TacTile was the best part.” Paul Grenning summed up the overall experience nicely: “I expected to enjoy the game class, but I didn’t expect myself wanting to write my own video game more than play the games I own!”
Tom DeFanti, Research Scientist at Calit2, University of California, San Diego, and first-time judge, noted: “What struck me as standing out the most from this distributed single-term effort is how completely different each of the projects looked and felt; each of the projects contributed unique content: visuals, gestural controls, game play, and they each independently exploited the touch table as a tele-medium.”
Scott Massing of WMS, who brought several colleagues to judge, also enjoyed the experience. “We were thoroughly impressed with both the quality of the games on display at the UIC / EVL Video Game competition and the talented emerging designers who are using the latest in technology. WMS is always looking to learn from these types of experiences.”
Right now, these games are only available for play at UIC or LSU, but Chris Chemel from Electronic Arts, who served as one of the judges, said, “Several of the games have great potential to become successful games on devices like the iPad.”
What’s next for these students? Andy Johnson, UIC computer science associate professor who has served as a judge for all the video game classes, is “continually impressed with the way the teams of students embrace new technologies, such as multi-touch, to create unique experiences within only one semester. This course is an excellent way to see which students are the go-getters that EVL wants to hire as research assistants. We need students with the same ability - to work in interdisciplinary teams, deal with cutting-edge technology, and produce fully functional applications on time.”
Bob Kooima, LSU faculty organizer, was very enthusiastic about this year’s winners: “This semester’s results widely exceeded my expectations. It was the best group yet.” “The students demonstrated pure raw talent, ready to be polished!,” said Cristian Luciano, a UIC PhD mechanical engineering student and one of the judges. “I had a lot of fun and I would absolutely love to be a judge again.”
For articles on Princeton Review / GamePro Top 50 list, see:
For prior articles on the UIC “Video Game Design and Development” class, see:
The Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at University of Illinois at Chicago is a graduate research laboratory specializing in the research and development of networked, high-resolution visualization, collaboration and virtual-reality display hardware and software systems, and the design and implementation of international networking infrastructure. It is a joint effort of UIC’s College of Engineering and School of Art and Design, and represents the oldest formal collaboration between engineering and art in the country offering graduate MS, PhD and MFA degrees. EVL has received worldwide recognition for developing the CAVE™ and ImmersaDesk™ virtual-reality systems, and, more recently, the GeoWall low-cost passive stereo display, the LambdaVision tiled display, the Varrier autostereoscopic display, and the LambdaTable and TacTile horizontal high-resolution displays. EVL receives major funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). EVL is a founding member of StarLight and the Global Lambda Integrated Facility (GLIF), and was a lead institution of the NSF-funded OptIPuter project.
Electronic Visualization Laboratory
University of Illinois at Chicago
maxine @ uic.edu
Date: May 25, 2010