December 15, 2014
Student Games on Display
Demo Day is an exhibition of student video games that has been hosted at USC for more than five years. In addition to exhibitions of student games and a video games industry career fair, this fall’s version of USC Games’ biannual event introduced what program director Tracy Fullerton said she hoped would be a “new tradition”—a panel on the future of the industry. Titled “Beyond Platforms and Publishers? A Look at the Future of Video Games,” the discussion was led by Interactive Media & Games Division (IMGD) professor Richard Lemarchand and featured three alumni, Kellee Santiago of OUYA, Erin Reynolds of Flying Mollusk and Nate Burba of Survios. They were joined on the panel by Ophir Lupu, who heads up United Talent Agency’s (UTA) video games division, and Clinton Foy of the investment firm CrossCut Ventures.
The conversation focused on the technologies causing excitement in the industry as well as the panelists’ views on what it takes for a title to break through to a mass audience. Erin Reynolds of Flying Mollusk said there is great excitement that biotechnology is being applied to enhanced game play. Her company’s first game Nevermind measures a player’s anxiety levels. The more anxious the player becomes, the harder the game gets. Essentially the game rewards the ability to stay calm during stressful situations, an application that could recommend its use as a training tool for people suffering from stress disorders.
Another area of promise, unsurprisingly, is virtual reality and Nate Burba, whose company Serivos has developed games for Oculus Rift and Razor Hydra, told the audience VR games will benefit from an approach that is “less clerical…more natural.” Burba explained that eventually VR will focus less on the capabilities of technologies and more on creating human-driven, organic experiences.
Demo Day was held on December 10, and the audience for the panel was a mix of IMGD students and faculty, as well as video games industry recruiters who were there to get a sneak peak at the students’ advanced games project which were on display in the SCA Gallery.
UTA’s Ophir Lupu and CrossCut Venture’s Clinton Foy gave panel attendees the perspective from the business side of the industry. Lupu said whenever his clients are pitching their games to prospective investors he tells them to make sure they communicate their passion for their product as well as their brand story (why they developed the game and where they’d like to see it go). “If you’re just doing it for the funding it’s so readily visible to the VC side,” he said. Foy said it’s still a democracy in terms of which games get attention, arguing that regardless of the size of the company if it has a good product and a good team it will rise to the top. However he said that he and other investors are definitely looking for that game has million dollar potential, describing their approach as being “all in and looking for a big outcome.”
Kellee Santiago has had success as a smaller game developer. She is a co-founder of thatgamecompany, which created the titles flOw, Flower and Journey for Sony PlayStation. At OUYA (which sells a console and kit that allows people to make and play games using their TV), and through her work with IndieFund (which helps small developers find financial stability), Santiago has become an advocate for the democratization of game development. While services like hers are “taking tech off the pedestal” as she puts it, Santiago says it’s becoming more and more difficult to stand out. “You can’t just put a game up on the App Store and have it be a runaway hit anymore,” she says adding that marketing and branding are necessary, and that game designers need an indefinable quality that means they are willing to do whatever is necessary to succeed.
This year’s Demo Day saw recruiters from companies that included Blizzard, EA, Rockstar and Riot Games, as well as independent studios like Zynga and thatgamecompany. USC Games students showed off the following games, which are all in development through the Advanced Games workshop.
King Basil and the Quest for the Crown of Spudly Awesomeness.
King Basil and the Quest for the Crown of Spudly Awesomenessis a 2D comedy/strategy game for the iPad. Players follow the story of King Basil, a pompous ass of a king, and his quest to acquire the Crown of Spudly Awesomeness, which is a discontinued discount at ye olde medieval fast food chain, Tater King. To win back this discount, Basil sets out to conquer all Tater Kings in the land of Pomme Frite to get the final hole punched on his stamp card, and receive free tater nuggets for life.
Game-play takes place from a top-down perspective. Send troops down lanes, activate their special abilities, and dodge stage challenges like the Holy Boulder of Yogg in order to destroy the opponent’s castle while defending your own.
Vanishing Pointfollows Rose, a neurologically ill patient at Meadow Hills Hospital. After her only friend Daisy disappears, she enlists the help of three doctors at the institute to track her down. To assist, the doctors construct a special bracelet that help Rose take control of her neurological illness and physically manifest it in the world in different ways. Rose discovers that the doctors are helping her to control what was once her disability and turning them into powers in ways she has never imagined.
Vanishing Pointis a stealth-adventure game centered around reality-bending and empathetic, empowering narrative. Players must master their powers of forced perspective and gravity shift to solve puzzles and evade guards as they delve deep into the lonely halls of Meadow Hills Hospital.
Howie & Yarla
Howie & Yarlais a top-down 2D action game being developed at the University of Southern California. All Howie wants is to be popular and to get people to come to his birthday party. But on the day of his 16th Birthday, he wakes up to find a demonic being named Yarla growing out of his back. Yarla wants to use Howie to summon a giant demon army and enslave the human race, which might put a bumper or two in Howie’s rise to fame.
Bite, grab, chomp, and run your way through your enemies, and save the world one angsty outburst at a time!
Pareidoliais a 2D/3D puzzle platformer and 2nd screen experience. Players become a shadow puppet master and manipulate objects in a three dimensional world, in order to cast shadows which come to life and tell a series of folktales in a separate two dimensional world. Players platform upon and interact with these shadows to solve puzzles.
ElemenTerra is a fully immersive virtual reality world building game that puts you in the body of a nature spirit in charge of restoring life to a small planet.
Inspired by “earthbending” from Avatar: The Last Airbender, ElemenTerra allows you to sculpt the earth around you and fill it with plant life using hand motions. As more of the surface is covered with flora, curious and beautiful animals emerge and help you discover the planet’s secrets.