Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Wisconsin Stout won the top honors in the annual Intel University contest for best student game at the Game Developers Conference. The contest is a good place to spot the talent for the next generation of games.
Carnegie Mellon won the prize for best gameplay in a national bake-off that pitted students from 12 college teams with student game projects. The Carnegie Mellon team created a zany title called Beat Step Cowboys, a turn-based game where two cowboys duel on a pseudo chess board.
In gameplay, second place went to Mouse House by SMU Guild Hall. Third place went to Kyon by the Savannah College of Art & Design.
The University of Wisconsin Stout won for best visuals with Everend, a 3D puzzle platformer. In visuals, second place went to Beat Step Cowboys by Carnegie Mellon. Third place went to Channeler by the University of Central Florida/FIEA.
The most innovative title went to The Channeler.
The participating schools included Carnegie Mellon University, DigiPen, Drexel University, New York University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, Savannah College of Art & Design, Southern Methodist University Guildhall, University of California at Santa Cruz, University of Southern California, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, University of Utah, and the University of Wisconsin Stout.
The judges included Li Shen, vice general manager of Tencent Games R&D; Gary Rowe, executive vice president of publishing at Green Man Gaming; Alexander Paschall, Unreal Engine community manager at Epic Games; Mike Geig, trainer and support at Unity Technologies; Jon-Paul Dyson, director, International Center for the History of Electronic Games; Kate Edwards, executive director of the International Game Developers Association; and Susan Gold, Global Game Jam cofounder.
Here are the descriptions of the projects. I’ve also put my comments after each game description.
Carnegie Mellon University
Project Name: Beatstep Cowboys
Project Description: You are in the duel of your life. You have four beats to decide what moves to make. Your opponent is making their move. What do you do? This is the life of the Beatstep Cowboys. In this quirky wild west duel, players quickly plan moves that are then carried out simultaneously to the beat of the music. Read your foes’ mind, make quick decisions, and shoot them before they shoot you.
Team Members: Amy Stewart, Minoong “J.D.” Ji, Xuelai “King Kong” Zhang.
Comments: This title was a hilarious blend of a gunslinger duel and a chess game. The music was paced to increase the tension of the duel.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Project Name: Magnolia
Project Description: Magnolia is an interactive story dedicated to the memory of a three-year-old girl where you play as her experiencing things she loved in her real life. This experience comes to life with dialogue narrated by Magnolia’s father and her sister.
Team Members: Mark Moukarzel, Aji Suprana, Deepak Chennakkadan, Manas Kulkarni, Kim yoon young, Hsi-Hung Shih, and Justin Jacox.
Comments: This game was made in the memory of a girl who died. The team said it was an emotional rollercoaster to make the game over eight months. It had a touching song as its soundtrack. It reminded me of That Dragon, Cancer.
Project Name: Sole
Project Description: Sole is an abstract, aesthetic-driven adventure game where you play as the only source of light in a world shrouded in darkness. Wander through desolate environments, painting the land with light as you discover its mysterious past. Explore the remnants of great cities and uncover the history of an ancient civilization on your journey to restore life to an abandoned world.
Team Members: Nabeel Ansari, Nina DeLucia, Vincent De Tommaso, and Thomas Sharpe.
Comment: This game was pretty, and it reminded me of titles from Thatgamecompany, like Flower or Journey.
New York University
Project Name: Consume Me
Project Description: Dieting is awkward and strange. It’s empowering sometimes, horrible sometimes, and we need a conversation with nuance and honesty. Consume Me is a darkly humorous personal game about my relationship with food and my body. These prototypes are part of a larger experience that draws on my past with disordered eating. Fit, slap, and control are just some of the ways the player experiences this dieting mindset expressed through mechanics.
Team Members: Jenny Jiao Hsia.
Comment: This game has a noble purpose of teaching people to learn how to eat on a good diet and accept their bodies.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Project Name: Gibraltar
Project Description: Gibraltar: a lunch-time strategy game. Claim victory for your faction as you move adorable robots around a board in an attempt to capture territory and vanquish your enemy. Our goal is to create light-hearted, yet competitive and intellectual experience that friends can play at home, during class, or over lunch. In Gibraltar, two players move their pieces around the board in attempt to control territory. The more territory you control, the more moves you can make per turn. This unique take on strategy games and board games allows players more freedom in crafting their own strategies and experiences.
Team Members: John Miller, Danielle Carmi, Elena Mihajlov, and Angela Muscariello.
Comments: This title was an ode to old turn-based strategy games. It was funny that the creator, who had been working on it more than three years, no longer remembered why he called it Gibraltar.
Savannah College of Art and Design
Project Name: Kyon
Project Description: Kyon is a top-down, third-person action/adventure game set in mythological Ancient Greece. The player controls Kyon, a sheepdog who must gather lost sheep and herd them through the world with physical maneuvering and bark commands. Dangerous environmental and A.I. threats must be dealt with as the player guides the herd through seamlessly streamed levels.
Team Members: Remi Gardaz, Jonathan Gilboa, Erika Flusin, Jack Lipoff, Neal Krupa, Christopher Miller, and Jason Thomas.
Comments: This game pits a sheep dog against wolves in a top down battle to either slaughter or save some sheep. It looked very dynamic and fun.
Project Name: Mouse Playhouse
Project Description: Mouse Playhouse is a light-hearted VR puzzle game in which you manipulate objects to solve puzzles and guide your pet mice towards the cheese. In Mouse Playhouse, you can also throw objects around, play basketball, darts, and even play the xylophone. There are a total of 15 levels and each one presents a unique challenge. Players must use the blue objects provided to guide the mice away from trouble and towards the cheese.
Team Members: Clay Howell, Taylor Bishop, Ben Gibson, Jeremy Hicks, Komal Kanukuntla, Michael Feffer, Alexandre Foures, Steve Kocher, Jacob Lavender, James Lee, Sam Pate, Taylor McCart, Devanshu Bishnoi, Nina Davis, Taylor Gallagher, Mace Mulleady, Mitchell Massey, and Mario Rodriguez.
Comments: This was the first VR title in the contest, where you had to guide mice around a puzzle to get them to find cheese. It looked good and it had a sense of humor.
Project Name: Project Perfect Citizen
Project Description: Project Perfect Citizen is an innovative interactive narrative experience that addresses government surveillance in the modern digital age. In this alternate-day dystopia, the player takes on the role of a no-name employee at the Department of Cyber Police and Security: a division of the government tasked with monitoring all domestic communications within “The Nation.” After obtaining a warrant from an automated database extraction system, the player is granted access to their target’s Desktop in order to collect incriminating evidence to prove the target’s guilt. But when the line between criminality and the everyday struggle is blurred, the player must look to their own conscience to arrest or exonerate the targets he or she is surveilling. In all, Perfect Citizen seeks to take the player on a thought provoking journey through the personal lives of imperfect citizens in order to push the bounds of games as a storytelling medium and create a tense yet intimate gameplay experience that directly engages with the conversation of privacy and security.
Team Members: Mark Biundo, Alex Vincent, Andy Baden, Brandon Gomez, Daniel Luna, Michael Lowe, Nader Sleem, Jason Brisson, Austin Enoch, and Pilar Costabl.
Comments: This was a downright scary game, where you as the player become aware of the National Security Agency’s monitoring of everyday citizens and what you can do about it.
University of Central Florida/FIEA
Project Name: The Channeler
Project Description: The Channeler is an experimental game that uses eye tracking with the Tobii EyeX. Taking place in a quirky world of ghosts and ghouls, you play an intermediary who uses their powers to solve mysteries and crimes committed by spirits. Using their eyes as the controller, the player investigates and discovers clues to solve the latest mystery in the city of spirits.
Team Members: Summan Mirza, Nihav Jain, Derek Mattson, Alex Papanicolaou, Peter Napolitano, Raymond Ng, Claire Rice, KC Brady, Matt Henson, Steven Ignetti, Yu-Hsiang Lu, and Kishor Deshmukh.
Comments: This title made innovative use of Tobii eye-tracking technology.
University of Utah
Project Name: Wrecked – Get your Ship Together
Project Description: Wrecked: Get Your Ship Together is the living room party game for VR! One person is on the Vive while everyone else in the room is on their phones. Together, they must cooperate to repair their ship in time.
Team Members: Sydnie Ritchie, Michael Brown, Brock Richards, Yash Bangera, Shreyas Darshan, Jeff Jackman, Sam Russell, Matt Barnes, and Samrat Nagarjuna.
Comments: This title could get as many as 15 people together in a party game where the goal is to repair a ship.
University of Southern California
Project Name: Arkology
Project Description: Arkology – A Virtual Reality Real-Time Strategy Game. Players can control the game using simple and intuitive motion control. From the Operation Room in the heart of the Ark, players must strategize, command, and lead your forces to preserve what may be the last of humanity. Arkology was developed as part of VR research at the University of Southern California, focusing on novel VR interactions.
Team Members: Powen Yao, Yen Kuo Kao, Shou Yi Hou, Shitong Shen, Siqi Guo, Qing Mao, Hanyuan Huang, Divanyanshu Bhardwaj, Ting Gong, Yue Wang, and Guangxi Jin.
Comments: This was a very abstract version of a real-time strategy spaceship battle where you could pause and issue orders.
University of Wisconsin/Stout
Project Name: Everend
Project Description: Explore a vast, ancient cave and overcome its many obstacles as Kaia, an adolescent owl. Everend is a single-player, exploration driven 3D puzzle platformer. Solve various problems and puzzles throughout the environment as you progress through various levels of the caves, trying to reach the surface. Kaia collects various items through your journey, which allows for increasingly complex problems and solutions.
Team Members: Will Brereton, Mitch Clayton, Megan Daniels, Emily Dillhunt, Alex Knutson, Daniel Craig, Gabe Deyo, Hue Vang, Logan Larson, Phoenix Hendricks, Tyler Walvort, and Zachary Pasterski.
Comments: This game has beautiful 3D art and environments.