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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

JBS students develop innovative video games

Published: August 23, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

This summer, students enrolled in the Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) computer science program collaborated to develop innovative computer games and mobile apps, transforming their technical skills into creative expression. While exploring 2D and 3D game design, the twelve students selected for the program concurrently took courses in mobile application development and software entrepreneurship.

Professor Thomas Hickey (COSI) taught “Mobile Applications and Game Development.”

“The course was designed to give students the conceptual foundations they need to understand how video games are created on a wide variety of platforms as well as the technical skills to start building their own games,” he said.

Students worked individually and collaboratively to design 2D and 3D video games, creating their own avatar, foes and jewels amid a 3D virtual environment, which was complemented by sound effects and music. On a technical level, Hickey taught students how to use the Visual Programming Interface to control the way in which avatars and other components of the game react to input such as the click of the mouse controller.

One of the products developed during the session is a game titled “Crafty Hunter,” in which the player must evade foes, such as wolves, while dodging fire and arrows from shooters. Obstacles placed within the game’s environment complicate the task of locating a randomly placed room, which the player must enter in order to defeat the boss and win the game. With a classic feel evocative of traditional video games, “Crafty Hunter” is just one of the impressive products designed by Brandeis students.

Taking the breadth of virtual design beyond the scope of web games, students explored the design of mobile games as well, which would be accessible on devices such as phones and tablets. Teams worked to develop the android app FollowInk, which traces your footsteps using customized brush colors across a virtual map as you travel in real time. Other successful projects include a drum application and an interactive mobile tool designed to aid high school students studying at Brandeis for the summer and that features schedules, maps, alerts and dining information. Collaborating with Professor Robert Sekuler (PSYC), select students developed games designed to study auditory and visual processing.

The sheer complexity behind the development of these programs is remarkable, while the ingenuity used to create innovative products brings to light diverse opportunities within the field of computer science. “I think all of the games the students created were quite exciting and have potential!” Hickey said. “They are all in either the alpha or beta stage and not ready for commercialization yet, but with a lot of work and a lot of luck, many of these projects could become the next ‘Draw Something’ app.” “Draw Something,” a popular mobile game, has been downloaded more than 50 million times since its release.

Hickey reflected on the skills that the students attained through the JBS computer science program. “They now have a much better sense of their own self-agency and are much more confident in their ability to develop software applications even when it means they will need to learn the technology on their own and work in a group to develop the project,” he said.

For the upcoming fall semester, Hickey encourages students to enroll in CS65a: Introduction to 3D Animation, which will explore 3D animation, 3D modeling and 3D Game Design—all of which will culminate to a 3D Game and Film Festival near the conclusion of the semester.