UCF students create video games, offer free game play
Published: Sunday, August 5, 2012
Updated: Sunday, August 5, 2012 22:08
What do an armored tortoise, a word-wielding heroine and a diminutive teddy-bear knight have in common?
At UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, the answer is 63 dedicated students who put in hundreds of hours of work into three video games: “Battle Fortress Tortoise,” “Plushy Knight” and “Penned.”
The games represented the culmination of their master’s theses. A demo open to the public on Friday in the packed FIEA “bridge,” an auditorium nicknamed as a Star Trek reference, showed exactly how much work the three teams of Cohort 8 put into their projects.
“It’s a great portfolio piece to give to a potential employer,” Todd Deery, FIEA communication and admission director said before the demo, displaying box art and product manuals the students had made to accompany their games.
They go through the whole process of producing the games, from conception to advertising trailers, he said.
Before each demo, the project leaders had a chance to speak to the audience about their projects.
Blake Battle, project leader for Battle Fortress Tortoise, said the concept for the game was very simple. A group of gnomes fight off attacking hyenas while riding an armored tortoise to the Promised Land.
“All the female tortoises are at the promised land,” he said, to raucous laughter from the audience.
After a demo that took the audience through a gauntlet of cannonball-throwing elephant creatures, frantic hyenas, and a final arrival at the “promised land,” Alexis De Girolami, a FIEA master’s student in interactive entertainment, was next up to talk about her team that worked on “Penned.”
“Everyone on this team worked outrageously hard,” she said.
The team member who had the idea for the project, Emily Krebs, a master’s student in FIEA, said she was initially hesitant about pitching an idea for a game that essentially taught SAT words. She was shocked it made it through not only the first pitch round, but the second as well.
“I was convinced that no one would want to do an educational game,” Krebs said.
If you’re passionate about an idea, people will get behind it, she said.
During the demo, the heroine of the story had to save the works of Edgar Allan Poe from a corrupting force that was infiltrating the pages of Poe’s works. Instead of typical weapons, adjectives acted as swords and verbs as gloves. The player could chose “diminutive” to make enemy forces shrink, and the word “ebullient” floated up on the screen with a definition as the heroine emitted a loud battle cry during a fight scene.
De Girolami said she felt very passionate about the project and said each member of the cohort was rooting for the other. She said the lack of really good educational games past sixth grade are what make “Penned” fill the dearth for students in the late high school demographic.
“Knowing words helps you, but not knowing words doesn’t hurt you,” she said. Instead of punishing you for not knowing a word, the game treats it as a lesson learned, and the player then knows the word for later in the game.
As for whether or not the prospective players will actually retain the words, she said “we can’t guarantee people will learn, but we can spark an interest.”
Ron Weaver, a game programmer and designer who is part of the FIEA production faculty, said what set “Penned” apart from the other games was the idea was from a woman. He said women make up only ten percent of the program, but are never unappreciated.
“Whenever we see applicants who are female, we are always very excited about that,” he said. “They are a great positive force here, and a great balancing force, because there are plenty of testosterone-filled guys who want to make male-dominated games."
Weaver said the presence of women in the program helps encourage the students to think of other audiences for their games.
After Alexis wrapped up her demo, she introduced Jeremiah Graves, project lead for “Plushy Knight” - a game that follows a girl who has lost her father on a magical journey with her non-typical, smaller hero by her side.
“I’m not a tall man, so I insisted we have a smaller, plushier hero,” Graves, a FIEA production master’s student, said.
The demo showed a lush, magical land that took the girl and her plushy knight on a journey of memories of her father. The duo was also accosted by a mutant spider-camera they had to fight and defeat before they found the final memory.
The concept for “Plushy Knight” was actually pitched by Battle, but as per FIEA policy, students who pitch games are not allowed to be the project leaders, in order to avoid students becoming possessive of their ideas and unable to make the hard decisions, Graves said.
Initially, the idea was about a little Japanese girl who lost her parents in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. After getting feedback, the team decided to shift focus in order to avoid offense.
“Instead of focusing on someone else’s tragedy, [we’ll] focus on a little girl’s tragedy,” Graves said.
The story ended up being a lot more personal, he said, about one moment in a little girl’s life. It took 20 people to create 15 minutes of gameplay over eight months, crafting every blade of grass, every tree, rock and the countless components that make up the game.