April 25, 2013

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U Students Showcase Video Games at EAE Fest

Devin Felix

April 25, 2013

Usually, when a college student spends all day messing around with video games, the result is shoddy school work and suffering grades. But when the students in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE) programs at the University of Utah do it, they often end up with praise from their professors and the public, critical acclaim for their creations and jobs in the video game industry.

Students in EAE’s bachelor’s and master’s degree video game programs work in teams to create original games, and the results of their months of work were on display Tuesday at EAE Fest, an annual event in which graduating students’ games are available for play to other university students, the public and members of the video game industry.

Among the games at the event were two-dimensional side-scrollers, 3D puzzle games, movement-based games and others. Many of the students’ games use uncommon methods of interacting. For example, Drop Drop is a game in which the player uses her body position to control an anthropomorphic rain drop as it falls from the sky. The game uses Xbox Kinect to sense the player’s position, and the experience is enhanced by two towers of fans that blow wind in the player’s face while she is “falling.”

One of the games that drew a lot of attention at EAE Fest was Magnetic by Nature, a two-dimensional side-scrolling puzzle and adventure game, in which players control a robot character with the ability to magnetically attract and repel objects. The students planned to launch the game yesterday on the Xbox Live Indie Marketplace, and intend to continue developing it over the summer.

Spencer Buchanan, a graduate student who helped create Drop Drop, said students have more flexibility than commercial game makers to experiment with unconventional games like these because they’re free from the requirement that their game make money or sell well.

EAE’s undergraduate program was recently ranked first in the nation by the Princeton Review, and its graduate program was ranked second. A big part of why the program excels is that it is set up to help students have their games published, said Roger Alitzer, EAE’s director of game design. “That’s one of the things that sets our program apart,” Alitzer said. “Our students can say, ‘I’ve made a game. Turn on your X-Box and play it.’”

The programs are also acclaimed because they are known for helping students find jobs in the game industry. Among the several hundred people who stopped by Tuesday’s event, which was held in the U’s Merrill Engineering Building, were representatives of game companies such as Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive and others, Alitzer said, and they were interested in both the games and the students who made them.

Alitzer said video games are a growing industry in Utah, and the EAE programs would like to help further that trend. “Here at the University of Utah we’re all about growing games in Utah,” Alitzer said. “We really believe this is the next great medium.”

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