I’m not particularly well educated on the subject of programming, given that I have only recently begun my own voyage into the deep blue C. So when I was asked to sit in on and write about the Hello World presentation, in which VFS’ Programming for Games students showcase their final projects, I did my best to balance a sense of elation at the opportunity, and concern as to my own ignorance on the subject. To my delighted surprise, the works presented weren’t just about technical aptitude, but also largely about bringing a positive experience to their users.
Taylor Powell and Taylor Evans were first up to bat, taking the stage to present Time Passage, a twin-stick shoot’n procedurally generated dungeon crawler. Time Passage had been developed as a final project alongside a team composed of Game Design Students. The game itself comes across as a love letter to the Gauntlet franchise, with a clear influence from other twin stick shooters like the Binding of Isaac. The Taylors stressed the importance of finding the right way to build their level generation, an endeavor that was prone to constant change and development in their search for making sure it spawned good gameplay with a modular experience.
Taylor Evans stayed on stage, as Brian Yich joined him to show off a personal passion project of theirs. In the few months they’d had leading up to Hello World, Brian and Taylor decided to build their own top down action RPG for mobile called Dream Raiders. The results thus far depict a charming fantasy game where players choose a character, fight waves of enemies, and collect loot as they progress through a bizarre fantasy dream world. They wrapped up with promises of implementing social features, such as co-op, in game chat, and leaderboards for high scoring players.
As Taylor made his way off, Brian stayed to talk shop about Zeta Busters, the turn based strategy RPG that recently won the Entertainment Software Association of Canada’s first annual student video game competition. Zeta Busters was another student project developed through the harmonious union of the Programming for Games students, and those in Game Design. Brian worked furiously on UI design and programming in Zeta Busters, as well as with audio collaborators to implement the various sounds of the game. He even built an in-game jukebox for players to change background music tracks while they play. I did my best to pick my jaw up off the floor in time for the next presentation.
Following Brian’s presentation were Sid Basu and Maria Cavazos, who were presenting Flint, an application designed to help coaches manage and record the development of their athletes. Working alongside an actual Rugby coach, Maria and Sid were able to develop a program that uses clear visual diagrams to indicate player progress in both their physical and mental growth. This would allow coaches to more clearly coordinate plans for training and improvement with their players on a one-on-one basis, without having to meet in person to do so. I found myself considering it an impressive, though humble, project with a great deal of promise considering that Sid and Maria were in communication with their target market and zeroing in on their needs.
With Sid stepping down, Maria took center stage to showcase Akita, an auditory mobile game she was developing intended for the hearing impaired. In Akita, players are lost in a forest looking for their dog, Akita. However, they cannot see the world around them, and must listen for Akita’s barks to determine her location and where they should go. Wearing headphones, players will hear Akita to their left or right, and use tilt controls on their phones to head in the direction they last heard her. I couldn’t help but smile through this whole presentation, with the idea, and its intentions, being so positively uplifting.
After Maria was finished with Akita, Dylan Jenken took the stage with a midi keyboard and a smile. He was there to show us his work on two separate projects. He had worked co-operatively with Game Design students on Bleed-Off, a first-person survival horror game, as their primary audio programmer. He’d been responsible for solidifying the audio side of the game’s unsettling atmosphere, scripting effects and audio occlusion to add to its realism. His second project was a Unity plug-in called Umidi, a program designed to allow users to set up midi keyboards as input devices in Unity. Dylan demonstrated the application of this plug-in with an impromptu jam session where each button press prompted a visual element on screen to spin or change colour in time with the music. When the pretty lights faded and my faculties returned, Dylan bowed out and stepped off stage making way for the final presenter of the evening.
Ben Foxall was another one of the few, the proud, the programmer on a Game Design final project. The game project he worked on was Little Hoods, a third-person cartoony stealth platformer where players compete to see who can snag the most loot from local townsfolk before the night is over. Ben’s first hurdle on Little Hoods was setting up the pathfinding for the Town Guard AI, who players needed to be able to outsmart. Town Guards also needed to be able to change targets between players based on how much they had stolen. The second hurdle Ben took on was ensuring that the camera presented zero troubles to the player. By developing a system whereby the camera is constantly shifting position towards or around the player in response to local geometry, Ben was able to make sure there were no shaky or sticky camera moments to interrupt gameplay.
Writing this now, days after the event, I’m still muddling through everything that was shown at Hello World. It’s not just the varied and impressive content presented, it’s the way each person there showed off their own interests and dedication to developing something helpful, something enjoyable, something they were able to be excited about. I realize that as someone who doesn’t do much coding, the work of these students might seem more amazing to me than other, more accomplished coders, but what I took away from that presentation wasn’t so much their prowess as their indomitable passion for programming.