GameFest 7.0

by Mary Martialay on May 11, 2010

As a non-gamer, I have a feeling that what impressed me most about GameFest 7.0 is not what impressed the judges. I, who gave up video games with Ms. Pac-Man, was wow-ed by “Infinity Simulator,” a student-designed game in which players are suspended in a sort of trapeze harness (and equipped with virtual reality glasses) that senses their pitching and rolling movements and shifts the scene accordingly.

Ever fly in your dreams? This game is probably as close as you’ll get short of paragliding. In a videotaped demo run-through, developer Yehuda Duenas soars above a tropical island – the virtual world duly revolving in time with his in-harness somersaults – and then flies through a palm forest. Interestingly, the palm fronds themselves seem to dissolve just as he would smack into them.

Infinity Simulator was one of 17 games on display at today’s GameFest, an annual showcase of student work from Rensselaer’s Games and Simulation Arts & Sciences program, which was recently ranked 5th in the nation among game design programs. A panel of judges from Vicarious Visions, the Troy-based company of Guitar Hero fame that was founded by Rensselaer alums, was on hand for a more knowledgeable assessment than “ewww …cool!”

The judges – who ranked games based on visual art, audio, engineering (programming), and game design – awarded prizes to the top five games. Let’s pause here for congratulations to (in order from first to fifth prize):

Legend of Vim – Mark Mendelson, Andrew Dolce, Michael Goddard, Eric Li, Ivy Kwan, and Alex Tabor-Moore
Meteor Dawn – Justin White
Factory of Steam – Michael Andryauskas, Nicholas Coppola, Christopher Dipastina, Paul Dipastina, William Lassen, Yuting Lian
Mariana – Nate Stedman
Battle Force 4 – Byron Hulcher, Peter Ingulli, Lauren Sacks, Josh Safran, Noah Scnapp

The games were set up in a theater at EMPAC. Above a cluster of gaming stations, a movie theater-sized screen flashed a looping 18-minute video montage of games, adding to the air of professional polish at the event. The videos embedded in this post are taken from that montage.

During the festival, visitors took a turn at the joystick, or – in the case of “Boogey Man” – the pillow. “Bogey Man” another non-traditional video game, was designed as therapy for kids who are afraid of monsters in the dark.

The game uses facial tracking technology and a bright yellow pillow to help kids vanquish their monsters. Players look at the monsters on-screen and then press the pillow to launch a virtual pillow at the monster, striking and dissolving them.

The video you see of Mariana is one of a kind, as one of the key features of the game is that it’s generated in real-time, meaning no two play-throughs are alike.

Many of the games were designed by teams of students, pairing talents – students with arts experience working with those who have more cognitive science or computer science skills – to improve the finished product, said Marc DeStefano, chair of the program. “Gaming is the ultimate disciplinary field,” Destefano said. “It just brings every field of study together to create these experiences.”

There were traditional “slash and hack” games on display, but even they seem determined to push the boundaries on gaming. Noah Schnapp, a developer of Battle Force 4, said his team’s game uses 3D isometric graphics to give a player two unusual views on his position within the game – one from a 45-degree angle above the player and one from behind. Other games combine music with graphics – in Drummer Singer Pianoman, musician players defeat a video virus by manipulating their characters with beats, pitch, and note.

Destefano said next year’s GameFest will be an even more ambitious assemblage as new faculty help to expand Rensselaer’s prestigious Games and Simulation Arts & Science program.