Twenty-five teams composed of USC Viterbi and USC Cinematic Arts students gathered on Dec. 6 at the USC GamePipe Laboratory Fall 2017 Showcase to demo their original video games, ranging in design from fully immersive virtual reality games to iPhone and Android apps. Approximately 1,000 people were on hand throughout the day, including professors, gamers and company executives hoping to snap up the next hot game.
At the event, visitors had the opportunity to test all the games currently in development, including ones that were selected at last spring’s demo day for development over the course of two semesters.
Founded in 2005, the USC GamePipe Laboratory is the home of USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s gaming-related majors, including the B.S. in Computer Science (Games) and M.S. in Computer Science Game Development. Under Director Michael Zyda, the participants of GamePipe’s advanced games course, a year-long program currently in its 12th year, were present to showcase a semester’s worth of hard work.
“Since its creation, 2,000+ students have graduated from the GamePipe Laboratory,” Zyda said. “We, as an institution, have dominated an industry which generates billions of dollars into the U.S. economy annually.”
The Princeton Review ranks USC Games, a joint a collaboration between USC Cinema’s Interactive Media & Games Division and USC Viterbi’s Department of Computer Science, as the No. 1 ranked game design program in the country.
Here are just a few of the games that were available to test at GamePipe Lab’s mid-year preview:
“Embedded” is a virtual reality game that takes players on a journey through the Vietnam war, giving them the opportunity to act as a journalist writing a story on the war from a behind-the-scenes setting. The game’s slogan is “Shoot first, ask questions later,” and it forces you as a player to face many real-life deliberations and make snap decisions, including what types of photos you would like to shoot and what you want your article to ultimately be about.
This game is unique in the sense that the entire outcome is based solely on your choices. The photos you choose to take as a journalist will set the tone for the final article that culminates your experiences, and the questions you ask the soldiers in interviews will affect their mood and how they answer.
“We wanted to make this game emotionally compelling so it strikes you more at the end,” said Osman Kaan Demiroz, a second-year M.S. student in computer science game development and one of the “Embedded” programmers. “We want the outcome of the game to affect you.”
The game also rates your photos as you take them: the better the photos, the more prestigious the newspaper your article will appear in at the game’s end – which only serves to deepen the player’s emotional connection by providing a sense of pride in the work.
Fan the Cannon
An immersive virtual reality game where you construct towers armed with various weapons, “Fan the Cannon” gives players the opportunity to stop an onslaught of hungry cats from eating your prized fish through the use of “ridiculous weapons,” according to Handa Zhang, a second-year M.S. student in computer science game development and one of the game’s creators.
This game is played using VR goggles and control sticks in each hand. You first create a specific type of tower, each with a different associated weapon. You choose from four weapons options: one tower is equipped with different types of firearms, one a slingshot, one an exploding fruit catapult, and one with a variety of musical weapons whose notes shoot out like bullets. You then hop from tower to tower using your remote’s “teleport” capability as needed, with the option to upgrade your towers to access more advanced weaponry as you go. Your goal is to destroy the cats before they exit the room. The game culminates with one enormous “boss” cat that you must defeat to save your fish.
“Unfolded” is an origami-based, action-dungeon style game played with a controller on a gaming console. In this game, you play as a character, Kiri, who has lost her memory but must complete a quest. Throughout the course of her quest, Kiri learns that she has the ability to fold into different animals like origami; she also has the ability to use a variety of different weapons and must harness these new skills to help her on her journey.
Though not yet finished, this game currently features several mini bosses that the character must face over the course of the quest. Kiri fights these mini bosses using the weapons and animal powers that she has developed in previous challenges. The team intends for her final boss-level opponent to be the god of origami folding.
The aforementioned teams – as well as the other five selected last semester for further development – also had the opportunity to partner with MBA students from the USC Marshall School of Business to receive assistance in production management, marketing and business plans for their original games. This is the first time USC Marshall students have participated in the advanced games course and showcase, and the students are enjoying the interdisciplinary collaboration.
“We are using input from the business students, as well as analytics from data, to help the design process and lead the project in the right direction through both organization and management,” said Jonathan Vincent, a second-year M.S. student in computer science and technical designer for the game “Unfolded.”
Zyda credits part of today’s huge success of the USC Games’ program to the alumni, many of whom have come from the GamePipe Laboratory itself.
“A large part of why we’re the best in the world today is because we have the best connections,” Zyda said. “USC alumni comprise a major creative power advancing the gaming industry today.”