On May 9 the University of Southern California held the first USC Games Expo, an exhibition of the years’ best, most innovative games and interactive projects from across campus, showcased under one roof. For the first time in 2018, thanks to the support of marquee sponsor Jam City, the event expanded beyond current students, to include games from alumni, faculty, undergraduates, graduates, and other strategic industry partners. It signified the yearly culmination of the ongoing collaborative effort between USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media & Games Division (IMGD) and USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.
The event kicked off with a standing-room-only keynote presentation in Norris Theater, filled with students, faculty, industry insiders, alumni, and parents eager to see the results of students’ hard work. “I’ve never seen academia and games put together like this before, and it’s inspiring to see it culminate in this room,” said Chris DeWolfe, CEO of L.A.-based mobile games developer, Jam City, to cheers of the crowd during an on-stage introduction. “Let the games begin and fight on!”
The titles spanned across mobile, PC, virtual reality, augmented reality, board games and more. Complete with a DJ, food, drinks and interactive games, the Expo signaled to attendees what USC Games was about: bigger and better. The demos exhibited held up that message as they inspired, dazzled and confirmed the promising careers that await these young game designers. Since the global video game industry has surpassed Hollywood to become the largest entertainment segment in the world, it’s not hard to envision a bright future.
“We’ve never done a show this big, with this many games represented at this level of quality,” said Danny Bilson, chair of School of Cinema Art’s IMGD and head of the Advanced Games Project (AGP) program. “The students can be proud for their hard work, the alumni appreciated for their continued support, and the students’ parents thanked for entrusting us to set their children up for success.”
“I don’t think there’s a game studio putting out this many games. We actually count as the largest game studio around,” said Mike Zyda, USC Viterbi professor of engineering practice in the Department of Computer Science and director of the GamePipe Laboratory at USC Viterbi.
Here is just a taste of the visionary games showcased part of the undergraduate Interactive Media & Games Advanced Games Projects and the graduate advanced games at GamePipe Lab:
One Hand Clapping
One Hand Clapping is a visually rich, immersive musical puzzle platform video game that challenges players to sing into a microphone as they explore a magical world, solve puzzles, and unlock secrets.
It came to life when the game’s director, Thomas Wilson, a USC Viterbi computer science student, was prototyping game ideas over the summer of 2016. He was looking to make a game “with visceral input”. Inspired by his love for music, he went on to create a sandbox of game mechanics all revolving around a central concept: singing. After researching music theory, emotion, and the brain, and experimenting with various gameplay ideas that evolved naturally from what he had learned, Thomas continued making the game with his USC Viterbi computer science colleague, Rama Gosula, and Berklee College of Music graduate, Aaron Spieldenner, in a game development class at USC.
Sky Command is a local multiplayer virtual reality arcade game, where two players hijack a skyship and try to overcome environmental hazards and hordes of enemies in a ship that’s only holding together because of the players’ managing constant on-board emergencies. The game’s development was co-commanded by Katherine Gray and Matt Levonian, seniors in the School of Cinema’s Interactive Media and Games Department, the core of which is the challenge of having “three jobs for two players,” battling swarms of combatants, repairing broken engines, and extinguishing the fires that erupt throughout the ship. The game will also be featured in this June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Friendshrimp is a 3-D, third person, narrative adventure game based on the tiny colorful and creatively violent creature known as the mantis shrimp. Equipped with a legendary pair of fists, you traverse an immersive and destructible world as a colorful crustacean that solves puzzles and punches through stunning aquascapes.
“The real mantis shrimp is incredible,” explained the game’s lead designer and co-lead engineer Martin Micklethwaite, a USC Viterbi Masters student in Computer Science. “It punches so quickly, it releases what’s called a cavitation bubble, a shockwave with light and heat momentarily as hot as the surface of the sun. We decided to take this absurd real-life creature and make a game into which it fits a little bit better than real life.”
Click here to see the full list of these incredible games making a splash at the expo.