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GamePipe Lab Showcases Health Games, Phone Games and Fun Games

Q: If you're a virtual pigeon flying over a picnic, how do you get to the next level?
Eric Mankin
May 15, 2008 —

At the end of every USC semester comes Demo Day, when the GamePipe laboratories on the third floor of Ronald Tutor Hall fill with game industry representatives looking for ideas and talents. Viterbi School and USC Cinematic Arts faculty, and scores of excited, sleep-deprived students in teams of five to 15, have their latest creations booted up and ready to show.

 Getting in the game: control vest

On May 13, the sixth installment of what has become an instant USC tradition took place. The statistics tell part of the story: more than 50 industry reps, from companies including SCEA, LucasFilms, Digital Domain, Trigames, Steamboat Ventures, Applied Minds, Microsoft Research, Activision, Sun Microsystems, SayWeAl Games, NaughtyDog, Emergent, EA, Northrup Grumman, THQ, Sony and Disney Interactive.
Lookit 2
Quake on - Trembler team member

GamePipe Executive Director Mike Zyda’s description remains accurate: “Demo Day serves as a checkpoint for student progress in the games program. Students present their semester's work to representatives from the game industry, with the hope that their work will attract the eye of industry for an internship or position upon graduation.”

More than 100 Viterbi students have taken this route from previous Demo Days. As of May 14, some 29 are now working or headed for work as interns in the industry.

A representative from Motorola was on hand to observe an experimental assembly that measures movement and location, that the company was developing.  The device is currently a collection of chips taped onto a plastic rectangle. It will eventually be incorporated into telephones, and is still being updated and perfected.  Viterbi School student teams developing new games for cell phones had advance copies.

Another representative was from Humana, the giant health insurance company, which is interested in creating active games that will encourage clients to exercise, get preventive care, and otherwise improve their health.

Several teams of Viterbi students were on their case; creating games, showing off for the audience.  Some of the games incorporated the Motorola units.  Other games included virtual worlds.  In one, characters gain additional power as the human players increase their activity.  Petpal is a game for kids, in which pets become happier in response to an owner's care.  The pet's condition is measured - happier when petted, scratched or fed - and displayed on the screen.

Another portable phone-based game calculated the calories expended in various activities. More traditionally, another team showed off a boost version of the paintball game Assassin, in which the hunters and hunted locate each other electronically and win or lose in virtual phone duels.

Sandia was on hand in the person of Viterbi games alumna Donna Djordjevich, who for DemoDay5 had been on hand monitoring a commissioned project called Ground Truth. Djordjevich was back with a new a game called Lockdown, which models swat teams responding to shooters on a college campus.

Headlines just caught up with another project, Trembler, in which a malicious mole, maddened by human taunting, creates earthquakes, gaining power as he levels a city. Pure physical fun, artistic design and movement were also the keys to a kite fighting game, SkyDie, a Wi-based game, in which you challenge other players in a networked competition to destroy other's kites.

"The game is relaxing to play and showcased unique artistic vision," said Victor Lacour, GamePipe instructor.

Finishing development from last year were the sophisticated and traditional video games Ragnorak and Errantry.
Victor LaCour, right, and student

Finally, there was Fowl Play.  Players control pigeons flying over parks and city landscapes and win points by dropping deposits on picnickers, children, artists, restaurant diners and an angry stone-throwing man.  It had the entire demo room exploding with laughter.

"These game shows the true potential of this program where we have final projects that encompass distinct visions, great talent, and advanced techniques in game development," said LaCour. "The students really made an impression this semester!"