Here in Seattle, we’re lucky enough to be surrounded not only by many game companies (Valve, 343 Industries, and Big Fish to name a few), but also by fantastic programs for young people to practice interactive media development and game design.
The University of Washington Bothell’s Digital Future Lab is one of these. On November 1st the DFL had an open house to showcase the projects that its student interns have been working on for the past year.
UW Bothell is doing something special by using games to teach both programming and game design. The Tues project partners interns from the DFL with computer science students from UWB’s CSS program, for the benefit of both. The students have been working together closely for the last several months to create a series of arcade games.
Another team of student designers, developers, and artists has been working on the DFL’s flagship project, a point-and-click adventure called Voyage.
All these games and more on-campus projects were on display at the open house, with playable demos. The event was attended by executives of Microsoft, Amazon, and more, as well as staff from UW Bothell.
“One of the most unique and exciting things we’re doing at DFL is approaching all of our games as potential commercial titles—this means we’re pushing far beyond the basic mastery of each individual component of game design and producing highly polished final works that may potentially be distributed for retail sale,” said Jason Pace, DFL’s Executive Director. “The lab environment is structured like an interactive media start-up, so students who participate in our projects benefit from professional development that historically has only been available through external internships.”
And yes, the students did it all—from the programming, to the art design, to the puzzle design. The school provides the mentorship that the students need, but everything we playtested on Friday was a student creation.
“It’s awesome to see our games getting played by industry professionals,” said Emma Gene Rae. Emma is the lead designer on all of the Tues project games. She worked closely with the programmers to create five arcade puzzle games. “Game design is always a team effort. Working together with programmers and artists meant that we could each focus on doing what we love, and at the same time maximize potential and efficiency.”
“The experience of working with a team through a full product cycle from concept to completion is something very few students have been able to access as part of undergraduate education and should translate to much smoother transition to professional work culture,” Pace added.
I sat down with Fernando Arnez, the programmer for Corrupted. Corrupted is one of the Tues project games—a color-combining game where players are trying to save their portrait from a series of viruses that corrupt the image.
Fernando is a junior in UW Bothell’s CS program. He started out studying engineering, and switched over to programming.
“The reason why I went into game programming was because I really want to create stuff,” he says. “That’s the reason why I wanted to be an engineer in the first place.” He was attracted by the immediacy of computer programming—it allowed him to see and use his creations. “Eventually it evolved into ‘I want to make games.’”
Fernando’s parents have supported his career choice. “They always wanted me to do the best.” As for game programming, “it’s a viable career, right? It’s hard, it’s math-intensive, and it isn’t an easy field whatsoever. It’s physics-intensive and highly competitive.”
Aside from his classes at UW Bothell, Fernando has also taken game design courses from Digipen. It was there that he decided that programming was the right career for him. Corrupted is the first game that he has completed, and he’s excited for the next challenge. Mechanically, he’d like to tackle a 2D platformer. “If anything I’d try to stretch out new mechanics. This is a very young field in terms of experimentation. I know there’s a lot of mechanics that have been tried, just not fully.”
When it comes to young programmers, he wants them to tell them to just try making a game. “First off, what people need to know about game programming is that it’s really hard, it’s intensive, but it’s also really rewarding. Once you get one game out it’s like, ‘Oh, I made that.’ It’s really rewarding.”