November 19, 2004 —
Noted interactive game creator and theorist Michael Zyda
will join the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering
to spearhead an ambitious and widely focused research effort to make game production
faster and easier, and make games themselves more powerful, vivid, educational
Zyda has created several highly successful games for the American military, including
"America'sArmy" in his role as originator and director of the MOVES Institute at the Naval Postgraduate
School in Monterey, California, as well as researching many basic aspects of interactive
"The mission of the GamePipe Laboratory,” he said, “is research, development,
and education on the grand challenges of radically transforming the game production
process — from dramatically shortening the production timeline, to developing
the supporting technologies for increasing the complexity and innovation in produced
GamePiper: Michael Zyda has both built complete games ("America's Army") and researched
game components. He will direct the Viterbi School's GamePipe Laboratory
Zyda says that USC which has emerged in recent years as a major academic center
both for study of games and training of game creators, is an ideal place for this
“With the formation of the GamePipe Laboratory, we have a chance to put USC
on the map as the go-to place for next generation game technology and application,”
“We know USC is the place to do this,” said ISI Executive Director (and Viterbi
School Senior Associate Dean) Herbert Schorr, in making the announcement. “And
we believe Mike is the man to make it happen.”
"I think we have a real contribution to make here," he said, noting that ISI,
IMSC, and other elements of the Viterbi School included prominent researchers
in almost all game elements, and that the school's Information Technology Program
(ITP) already offers degree programs in game production and design.
GamePipe Research and Development will be concentrated in four key areas:
- Infrastructure: The next generation of game software and hardware, including game engines and
tools, streaming media, next generation consoles, and wireless and mobile platforms;
along with techniques needed for massively multiplayer online games --spacious
digital arenas that can accommodate hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of thousands
- Cognition and Gaming: Developing theories for modeling and simulating computer characters and story,
human emotion; finding ways to analyze large scale game play and creating ways
to use games for teaching — to integrate pedagogy and story.
- Immersion: Creating technologies to engage the mind through graphics, sound, and haptics
(touch), building new forms of user interfaces and developing a theoretical framework
for how gamer engagement works, and how greater "presence" can be achieved.
- Serious Games: Basic research on the roles interactive media and games can play in education,
training, human performance engineering and testing; on finding new applications
of games to issues of health, policy, and communication, and actually developing
Zyda said that while videogames have grown to become a $11 billion business,
creating games remains a slow, unsystematic, chaotic and often wasteful process.
“Teams are built on a per-game basis and then dissolved,” he notes, "while training
times on game engine toolsets are increasing. Code modules are crafted for specific
games, with less than 30% reuse of that code for subsequent efforts.
"First-person shooters are currently the only games that have reusable engines.
Those engines are proprietary. They cost $6 million or more and even with large
teams, take more than a year to develop. They are used for a few games only, and
licensed at exorbitant cost. "
Zyda noted that as games gain sophistication, problems are intensifying.
“Times for game production are increasing steadily as our graphics cards provide
more visual capabilities and as the game-playing public demands more in terms
of interactivity and verisimilitude. “
The number of technical elements that have to be combined to create a successful
game is intimidatingly long, and game producers are so caught up in the competitive
development of their next title that they have little time to step back and consider
ways to improve the process, said Zyda.
Zyda noted other USC Schools, including the USC School of Cinema-Television have
strengths in interactive media, and have potential contributions to make with
GamePipe Labs in all of these areas.
“The general sophistication of USC in this area was apparent last month when
we held a “Games Summit” involving more than 30 faculty from 9 different schools,” Zyda said
Zyda has a DSc in computer science from Washington University in St. Louis,
and in 2003 was named a National Associate of the National Academies, in recognition
of “extraordinary service.”