The Game Development And Entrepreneurship Program's Project Demonstrations
There are two program majors that can earn you a Bachelor of Information Technology (Honours) degree at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and the Game Development and Entrepreneurship program is one of them. It's a four-year undergraduate study that teaches students to build videogames from scratch.
That's a tall order, as modern video games involve a host of disciplines: the courses include training in art, 3D modelling, animation, motion capture, design, interfaces, programming, creative writing, marketing, accounting, and even film-making. Students learn to build their own game engines and, later on, to leverage existing engines.
We had the pleasure of spending much of the day with Dr. Andrew Hogue, assistant professor and one of the five full-time teachers of the program (there are additional sessional instructors for some subjects). Andrew has a computer science degree with a masters in virtual reality with a focus on head-tracking systems, so he's also a strong advocate of immersive technologies.
He gave us a tour of the facilities, including the gaming and virtual reality lab, which features a full-body motion capture studio, passive stereoscopic virtual reality projection display, an arcade system for demoing games, and fully-featured audiometric room (sound booth).
Game Project Demonstrations
Despite the impressive facilities, our favorite part of the tour was the demo room, where we got to see some of the projects created by students in the program. It's inspiring to experience the innovations young minds at the UOIT have come up with. Here are some notable favorites:
The program follows the history of game development. The very first examples in the genre were text-based, so it makes sense that this is a first-year project. SLUGS is a fine example of the genre, and it reminded me of playing The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy on a Commodore 64. Students learn how to integrate creative writing and scripts, while balancing technical requirements early in the program. By year two, participants are expected to zero in on their forte, and specialize further in years three and four.
This Banjo Kazooie-inspired platformer features a bear with a cybernetic rocket-launching arm. It was created in a mere two months by a couple of students who scratch-built the whole thing, including the graphics engine. That's impressive considering it rivals some of the first-generation Playstation and Nintendo 64 titles in graphics quality.
Fourth-year students created this Web-based game by leveraging the commercially-available Unity engine. A local waste-management company partnered with the university to put together a first-person "sorter". A collection gun is used to pick up garbage and recyclable items, and then shoot them into the correct bin. On a side note, the students that built this title started an indie company, won a pitch competition, and recieved a $25,000 grant in addition to $25,000 worth of business services to help them grow.
Some games aren't just for fun; they can also serve as a powerful learning tool. Power Defense is a project developed for The Hospital for Sick Children to teach kids how to manage type 1 diabetes. The hospital wanted no death or violence, so the students came up with a tower defense game concept that mathematically simulates the mechanics of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream. Unlike typical tower defense games, some of the enemy units (sugar) must be allowed through, so a delicate balance must be struck. A study showed that the game was beneficial for teaching children about managing the illness.
The university is working with the Certified General Accountants of Ontario to provide an interactive game that helps teach important accounting concepts to its students. The challenge: how do you make make accounting fun and interesting? We watched a surprisingly detailed alpha build that follows a new business owner make typical start-up decisions. The player goes to the bank, decides to buy or rent a location, gathers data, organizes it, and prepares it. The software is designed with a simple interface so that users can concentrate on high-level decisions, and it gives lots of feedback if poor choices are made.