Game On: LSU Students Apply Cutting-Edge Creativity, Interactive Techniques to Develop Original Video Games
BATON ROUGE – When most people play a video game, they just focus on winning, unaware of the multiple science, computer programming, technology and art elements that went into its makeup.
These critical elements are the focus of a course LSU has offered since 2007, in which students work in teams to form “companies” and develop an original video game throughout the course of a semester.
The course is listed in the university’s registration materials as both an art and a computer science course, and the material is interdisciplinary, encouraging students from different academic backgrounds to work together in creating a game, each contributing their strengths to the product. Computer science students work on many of the programming elements, while art students work on storyline and character creation.
LSU offers the video game design class in collaboration with University of Illinois at Chicago, or UIC. In the class, which students attend via high-definition video streaming broadcast from Chicago to Baton Rouge, participants learn core concepts to develop and design video games, from storyline to character development to coding.
Jason Leigh, a computer science professor at UIC and director of the university’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory, teaches the course from UIC in collaboration with LSU’s Robert Kooima, adjunct faculty in the LSU Department of Computer Science and a post-doctoral researcher with the Arts, Visualization, Advanced Technologies and Research, or AVATAR, Initiative in digital media. Kooima worked with Leigh at the UIC Electronic Visualization Laboratory before coming to LSU in 2008.
The video game design course will be part of the curriculum for the AVATAR minor in digital media, which will begin in the Fall 2010 semester, allowing students to take courses in different departments to prepare for careers in digital art, animation, electronic composition, video game design and related fields.
“The video game design class has been popular since we first offered it, and its success at LSU was one of many reasons we worked to create the digital media minor,” said Stephen David Beck, Derryl and Helen Haymon Professor of Music and AVATAR lead. “Many college students want to learn the necessary skills to work in these emerging industries, and we hope many of the students who have participated in the video game class will sign up to take other, related courses toward the digital media minor.”
This year, the video game design course had record participation, with 53 students between the two universities. At LSU, there were nine computer science students, 11 art students and one education student participating. The students divided into 12 teams to form companies and, with the exception of one all-UIC group, the companies had an equal balance of LSU and UIC members, who worked together all semester to create an original video game.
Beginning with the 2009 course, Leigh and Kooima began emphasizing games with multi-player, multi-touch capabilities. To give the class a place to experiment with multi-touch gaming, Kooima began building a 52-inch TacTile LCD touch table with high-definition video. The students were able to use this table in rough form to play and display their video games in 2009, but it was completed and available for the 2010 students.
“We always try to emphasize new trends and possibilities in the gaming industry with this course, and a current one is allowing people to touch and interact directly with the game,” Kooima said. “This table gives the students a platform to develop these types of popular games. In the coming semesters, we hope to try other new gaming techniques, such as super-high resolution gaming on tile displays, which occurs on multiple screens simultaneously. We definitely want to keep doing things that are unique.”
As in previous semesters, students spent the final class period of the semester, on Friday, April 30, playing and presenting the video games their “companies” created.
Kooima and a judging panel comprised of representatives from the Baton Rouge Area Digital Industries Consortium, Louisiana Tech Park and the Electronic Arts Video Game Test Center in Baton Rouge evaluated the games, which constituted a large component of each student’s final grade. The students had a special guest judge, Tom DeFanti, Ph.D., an internationally recognized pioneer in visualization and virtual reality technologies. DeFanti, who was Leigh’s dissertation adviser and helped establish the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at UIC, was at LSU to speak as part of the AVATAR Lecture Series. He participated in the video game class competition during his visit.
The judges awarded prizes for Best Audio Design; Best Visual Design; Best Technical Achievement, which looked at the computer science elements included in the game; Best Interaction Design, which evaluated how well players could touch and experience the game; Best Bookends, which focused on the titles, sequences and conclusion, elements that Kooima said are important but often overlooked in gaming; and Best Game Play (overall).
With the exception of Best Technical Achievement, which the all-UIC team won, teams with LSU members won in all the other categories, and the LSU students developed and implemented many of the winning techniques in these games, Kooima said.
The winning LSU-led companies and their games are:
Best Audio Design and Best Visual Design
Dark Tide Software for the game “Rise of the Urchins”
Participating LSU students: Keaton Robinson and Michael Davis
In this game, players are underwater and must throw sea urchins at pirate ships to sink them and steal their gold. “This product just went above and beyond,” Kooima said. “The custom music blended in some nautical elements in keeping with the theme, and the overall playing experience was extremely good.”
Best Interaction Design
B2 Bomber Games for the game “Power Putt”
Participating LSU students: Kevin Cherry and Katherine Herrin
This was a miniature golf game, but the team added the unique element of allowing other players to push their hands on the touch table and tilt the golf course, making it more challenging for the golfing player, and allowing more touch points in the game. “This was an extremely clever way of drawing in the audience,” Kooima said.
Kenchi Games for the game “Reach”
Participating LSU students: Jason Kincl and Sara Fradella
This company won for adding “very clever and funny” introductions and endings to the game, in which players must grab objects to build a ladder that allows their characters to climb out of a pit, give them a high five, and win. At the end, the winning player can choose how to destroy the remaining players’ characters in the pit, with options such as “Raptor Attack,” which adds an extra creative sequence to the play, Kooima said.
Best Overall Game Play
Magnetic Enigmatic for the game “POL”
Participating LSU students: Jason Meador and Lee Vanderlick
This two-player game is similar to the popular online game “Bejeweled,” but is more interactive and created for the touch table. Balls fall down from the top, and players must stack like items in rows to make them disappear. Extra and discarded balls push toward the other player, who loses when so many balls pile up that they hit the side of the display. “The interaction in this game was complex, deep and well-thought out,” Kooima said. “Overall, all their elements just led to a good game.”
The university plans to continue offering this course once a year, and it will return in the Spring 2011 semester. For more information about the AVATAR Initiative and the upcoming minor in digital media, please visit www.avatar.lsu.edu.