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May 16, 2018

2018 USC Games Expo Showcases Over 80 Games

By Phenia Hovsepyan

On May 9ththe USC School of Cinematic Arts (SCA) held the first annual USC Games Expo. The event was a collaboration between SCA and the Viterbi School of Engineering, meant to showcase the most innovative projects from the USC Games community. Undergraduate as well as graduate student games were on display, along with games made by faculty and alumni. Complete with a DJ, open bar and buffets, the entire SCA campus transformed into a space for game play and eclectic interactivity. The theme of the event was “Bigger and Better,” and the USC Games Expo kept attendees engaged and entertained as they got a first-hand look at the incredibly innovative spirit of the next generation of advanced game designers. 

The event began at the Eileen Norris Cinema Theater, where eight student games developed over the last year were presented by the teams who worked so hard on them. With the theater at maximum capacity, the Games Expo brought gamers from all backgrounds together to explore what’s to come. The scale of the event was made possible by sponsorship from the mobile game development company Jam City, whose CEO, USC alum Chris DeWolfe, introduced the evening by praising the intersection of gaming and academia, the magnitude of which he said he has only seen at USC. “Making a great game is a team sport, and putting it all together is an art. How amazing is this school!” DeWolfe told the audience, which included family members and other well wishers. DeWolfe pointed out that game development is the fastest growing part of the entertainment industry, saying that, “70 percent of Apple Store and 90 percent of Google Play revenue is games. There is so much opportunity, and everyone in this room already knows it. The entertainment industry is finally catching on.” 

Before the student projects were presented to proud parents, professors, industry leaders, and gaming lovers alike, Danny Bilson, Chair of the School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media & Games Division introduced the event by commenting that, “We have never done a show this big, with this many games represented at this level of quality. Mike Zyda, professor of engineering practice at the Viterbi School of Engineering Department of Computer Science, added that, “We have curated over 80 games on display tonight. I don’t think there is a game studio putting out this many games.” Zyda joked that, “We actually count as the largest game studio around!”

After the eight featured games were presented, the more than 1,000 guests in attendance went explored all that the Games Expo had to offer: From virtual reality to live-action role-play to board games to more traditional looking video games, these was something for everyone at this end-of-the year extravaganza.      

For the students from the Cinema and Engineering Schools who had been working in teams on their games for over a year, the Games Expo was a truly special moment. “When you are deep in the trenches it is hard to see the light. You see all the mistakes in the game. Today, as I see people play the game, I see it with fresh eyes. It is giving me a new perspective on my work,” said Maria Ferreri, who was the Creative Director for Catastropieces, one of the eight games presented at Norris Theater. “This has been a very rewarding experience, and what we as game makers work for,” they added. The sense of wonder for both the game players and the people who spent so much time making them was evident throughout the Expo. Sam Sintz, the Creative Director on another feature game, Way of the Wolf, commented that, “It is amazing to see the light come on in my teammates’ eyes as they play the game now. There is such a positive reaction from everyone, and it is very rewarding.” Kevin Lipton, a 2011 SCA alum, brought his wife Andrea and three-year-old son Jake to the Expo. When asked what his favorite part of the evening was, an elated Jake answered, “The dancing!” Yes, there was dancing. This year’s event was truly for the entire community, with families coming to spend time together and support USC.

For Danny Bilson and Mike Zyda, seeing the culmination of all the effort their students and colleagues have put forth was a testament to the potential of the games program at USC. “USC is the number one games school in the Princeton Review. The objective here was that this was the first year we were really going to show it. We are professionals teaching the next generation of professionals, and I am very proud of our students,” said Bilson. Zyda  pointed out the unique set of skills necessary to accomplish what their students have so brilliantly pulled off. “Building games is a completely different culture. It is collaborative, artistic, musical, and it all has to come together seamlessly,” he said. Zyda added that in game development, “everyone comes together for a common goal, and there is no star in the creation process. People interact differently in a game setting because you are all together in a small room trying to make something work.”

The 2018 USC Games Expo was a delightful success. Here are the eight new student games that were unveiled:

One Hand Clapping is a musical game where the player sings his/her way through a series of puzzles of increasing difficulty in a magical world. 

Kaisuo is a virtual reality game where the player solves Chinese puzzle boxes to uncover extraordinary spaces.

WaveBent is a racing game that is set in space and aims at tapping into a competitive visceral experience.

Wildbrew is an adventure puzzle game where players start building from their backyard.

Catastropieces is a design game which uses physics to challenge the player to make one-of-a-kind art pieces. 

Friendshrimp is a personal adventure narrative game featuring a lively mantis shrimp.

Way of the Wolf is an action adventure game where the player is teamed with an AI wolf.

Sky Command is a cooperative two player virtual reality game meant for the arcade market.