Student Game Designers Show Off Work for Industry Judges

December 22, 2005

It was the very first student game presentation day for the Viterbi School's GamePipe Laboratory education program, and it was a full one: 53 students showed 14 projects to an audience of 12 industry judges.

The judges, from companies including Activision, Electronic Arts, Motorola, THQ, Disney Buena Vista Games, Emsense, Oddworld Entertainment, and IBM, came away visibly impressed.

But wait, promises GamePipe director Mike Zyda, for next year, when the computer science department plans to begin offering BS and MS degrees.

Zyda is an internationally known game theorist and designer profiled in a new book, Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution.

Under his direction, GamePipe both researches basic game technology (at ISI and on the USC university park campus) and teaches it to students.

"Serious" games - defined as "mental contests, according to certain rules, played with a computer, that use entertainment to further government or corporate training, education, health, public policy, and strategic communication objectives" - are a major focus. But training for work in the multi-billion dollar entertainment game industry is not neglected.

"The mission of the GamePipe Lab is research, development and education on technologies for the future of interactive games and their application," said Zyda. "We focus both on entertainment and serious games, with the ultimate goal of creating a science of games."

The scene of the event was the large laboratory on the third floor of Ronald Tutor Hall on the USC University Park campus that GamePipe occupies in addition to offices at ISI's Marina del Rey campus. The day's presentations were in three groups: Advanced Games, Networked Games, and Serious Games.

Games presented included titles like TuneTube, Jadoo, Storm of Steel, Catch Me, Really Cool Racers and Trojanland. Feeding these demos were three classes now offered by the CS department, including Networked Games CS-599: Serious Games CS-499: and Advanced Game Projects CS-499.

Spring semester has on tap a follow-on course to Networked Games, Networked AI, and additionally Survey of Games and their Technologies, a reprise of Serious Games and Advanced Game Projects.


Victor LaCour (left) a game designer and developer who serves as Projects Director and Creative Director for GamePipe, teaches no fewer than three of these, assisted by teaching assistants Dhruv Thrukral and Vincent Su, and served, along with Zyda, as host for the gathering.

"I could not be more impressed with the students projects," said LaCour. "In sixteen weeks they have gone from never having programmed or designed games to developing fully robust and innovative game levels."

GamePipe began only one year ago, when Zyda moved to ISI and USC from the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

"To have assembled this impressive a set of course offerings, and this rich a program of student projects in so short a time is a significant achievement," said Gérard Medioni, chair of the Viterbi School's computer science department.

Plans for the BS and MS degrees in game development are now awaiting approval by the university curriculum committees, after having won consensus approval in the CS department, the Viterbi School, and other units on campus.

Below: Industry judges mull student product.