Student gaming work in global spotlight

By Samuel Charles

The 11th annual Game Developers Conference, which is a gaming trade show, aims to give professionals and fans a look into the future of interactive gaming. This year, a group of Columbia game design students in the Interactive Arts and Media Department will be among the designers displaying their work.

The conference, which industry professionals consider to be the biggest video game showcase in the world, will be held in San Francisco from Feb. 28 through March 4. Columbia will exhibit a nearly completed game the seniors with a concentration in game design have been working on since the start of the fall 2010 semester.

“The Game Developers Conference is huge,” said Annette Barbier, chair of the IAM Department. “For our students, it means their work gets seen, they get to network and meet people who might be their future employers. It’s a valuable opportunity to get a sense of what’s happening in the industry and also be able to meet with individuals.”

There are approximately 30 seniors in the IAM Department who concentrate in some form of game design, and all of them contributed to the project’s progress.

Columbia selected two of those students to represent the college at the conference based on an essay contest. Several more students have volunteered to assist Columbia’s exhibit in San Francisco.

The Game Developers Conference draws thousands of people to the Bay Area each year. Major game design companies, such as Microsoft, Electronic Arts and Activision, will all be represented.

“It’s the No. 1 professional conference in the world for game developers,” said Tom Dowd, assistant professor in the IAM Department. “It’s the show.”

The students’ nearly completed, playable game features an interesting concept and style of play, said Terence Hannum, internship and external relations coordinator of the IAM Department. When completed, the game, called “The Warden of Raal,” will debut at Manifest this May.

“The character has to protect a temple by setting certain traps [to deter] tomb raiders who are coming to steal powerful objects,” Hannum said. “It begins on top [of a ziggurat] of some kind and works its way down. Each level has more territory that needs to be defended.

In addition to Columbia, eight institutions will attend the conference: Ex’pression College of Emeryville, Calif.; Cogswell College of Sunnyvale, Calif.; Savannah College of Art and Design of Savannah, Ga.; Full Sail University of Winter Park, Fla.; Academy of Art University of San Francisco, Calif.; and Flashpoint Academy and DePaul University, both in Chicago.

Joe Locastro, one of the two students chosen to represent Columbia, believes the work ethic the senior class has demonstrated will set Columbia apart from the other institutions that will be attending.

“It feels more like work experience than school experience at this point,” Locastro said. “I know for a fact the amount of time and effort we’ve put into the development can only show in its results. We’re going to get some razor’s edge results out of it.”

At the end of the spring 2010 semester, juniors with a concentration in game design voted on which project they would all work on as seniors.

The theme of “The Warden of Raal” changed during the course of several weeks. Initially, the game was called “The Ghastly Tale of Chester Goodfellow,” and it focused on a ghost trying to scare people out of a mansion.

“We realized from looking at some of our competition that the ghost thing had been done, and we were a little worried about that,” Locastro said. “We changed out the mansion for a temple, the ghost for [the warden] and worked on an original setting.”

Locastro added the overall goal of the theme’s redesign was to have the setting in a completely unique place, and he believes that was accomplished.