Logo: University of Southern California

Games in Full Bloom

A first person account of testing a game at Demo Day
By: Katie McKissick
December 12, 2013 —

My name, it seems, is Sprout. In a post-apocalyptic world where machines have taken over, I must wield the powers of mother nature to stop the evil robots and restore organic life.


I’m playing Bloom, a game under development in the USC Games program by a team of 59 people: a mixture of USC Viterbi computer science students, USC Cinematic Arts students, artists from Laguna College of Art + Design and other institutions, sound designers, and a musical composer from the USC Thornton School of Music. They have been working tirelessly for the last four months on this project, and I have the privilege of being one of the first testers at the Demo Day "Sneak Peek." The team will continue development until the showcase at Demo Day in May 2014.

Bloom was just one of seven amazing games on display. The other games ran the gamut of premise and gameplay: Social Clues, Cole, The Maestros, Rhea, Miralab and Fat Loot.

Getting a feel for the controls, I bounce around haphazardly. On a small PC laptop, the space bar makes me jump, and the arrows move me right and left. While I'm testing the game on a personal computer, the development team envisions it being available on the Wii U or the PS Vita. The landscape has an excellent dimensional quality, but I’m in a 2D game. I sail over obstacles, jump onto platforms, and maneuver past piles of scrap metal.

I awaken wilting flowers as I pass by. When I fall between two platforms to my doom, I discover that those white blossoms were re-spawning points, and I find myself appearing from the ethers by the flower’s petals.

After coming in contact with a special gemstone, I unlock a special power to generate foliage wherever I go. Sprigs of grass emerge from the jagged rocks under my nubby little feet. I can now swipe across the screen to create jagged green spikes, and I use these to give myself on-demand platforms when I can’t cross a chasm alone.

Gameplay 2

The USC Games Demo Day “Sneek Peek” took place on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 in the Gallery of the School of Cinematic Arts.
Demo Day, a collaborative effort between the School of Cinematic Arts Interactive Media Division and the Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science, is an exhibition event where students have the opportunity to premiere their newest and most innovative games from the semester. In addition to students from across USC, other participants include students from institutions such as Laguna College of Art & Design, Atlantic University College and the Gnomon School of Visual Effects.

Soon I find myself in an ominous underground cave where giant robots are smelting metals and mining for minerals. I have to get out of here. As I advance, I leave a trail of grass in my wake. Soon the green spikes I can summon are used to shield me from evil monsters’ flashing red laser beams.

Sinking deeper into the caverns, I come to a river of lava. Don’t you just hate those? Smoldering cubical rocks float serenely past me, but surely jumping on a hot coal won’t be good for my little Sprout. But just in time, I am given a new ability: I can trace a circle on the touchscreen to manifest a small raincloud. The rain cools down the floating stones so that I can jump aboard and advance.

Finally, I come to that video game mainstay, the boss fight, where I must defeat a foe many times my size. It’s a huge, angry robot with lasers that also happily lobs bombs my way. If Mario could defeat Koopa, surely I can smite this beast. I have to use my green spikes and rainclouds to disarm his robotic laser arms and defeat him. It takes me several tries. I keep dying in a surge of lasers and fire—it’s really quite traumatic—and reappearing at the last flowery save point so that I can try again. I got some pointers from the game developers standing behind me. "Use your spikes! Oh, no! Run!"

I stood up from the desk and passed the torch to the next eager game tester. I’m going to miss little Sprout—battling robots, evading lasers, and making grass grow was an adventure I won’t soon forget.