Logo: University of Southern California

Creativity, Innovation and Exploration

USC Games Events Showcase Stellar Student Talent
By: Cathi Douglas
June 04, 2015 —

The GamePipe Showcase featured LifeSpark and other innovative games.
For USC Viterbi Professor Michael Zyda and his students in the USC Games program, the annual spring GamePipe Showcase is the culmination of more than a year’s worth of collaboration, creativity and computer design. It’s also the students’ introduction to a host of industry scouts who may purchase and produce the games for mass audiences – and hire program graduates to design, program, illustrate, write and produce the games of the future.

“These students are on their way to making billion-dollar games,” noted Zyda, director of the USC GamePipe Laboratory.

The 2015 GamePipe Showcase, one of two signature events under the banner of USC Games, was held May 13 in the new USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s GamePipe Laboratory. The event featured the work of a number of multidisciplinary, collaborative teams of programmers, engineers, artists and game play designers. They displayed and demonstrated games they conceived, designed and built for various gaming platforms, including work from USC’s mobile, networked AI, immersive, engines and advanced games courses.

Demo Day, a companion USC Games event, took place May 12 in Norris Cinema Theater and The Gallery in the School of Cinematic Arts Complex, where large teams of students from the Advanced Games Class premiered their work before an audience including fellow students, friends, families and game industry scouts.

Student talent highlighted at Demo Day and the GamePipe Showcase is perhaps the best representation of USC Games’ No. 1 place in Princeton Review’s 2015 video game program rankings, an enviable position the program has claimed for six straight years.

USC Games itself is a unique collaboration between the USC School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media Division and the USC Viterbi School’s Department of Computer Science.

“Our students’ impact on the game industry is pretty high,” Zyda said. “Their games are played by 2.5 billion players internationally. Building the games is exciting for them and they love it.”

Each fall and spring, USC Games events showcase student work to industry leaders and help students make professional connections, obtain internships and land jobs after graduation, said Tracy Fullerton, an associate professor and chair of SCA’s Interactive Media Division and head of USC Games and the USC Game Innovation Lab.

“One of my goals in coming into academics was to bring independent voices to the game industry,” Fullerton said. “Young designers are interested in innovation. Over the past decade, we’re seen the game industry turn toward those independent voices.”

In some cases, team members are recruited from departments and schools across USC, from art schools such as Otis College of Art and Design and Laguna College of Art + Design, and even from foreign countries as far away as New Zealand and Scotland.

“Coordinating the work of outsourced, diverse artists was challenging but ultimately rewarding,” said senior computer science and computer engineering senior Neetu George. George was lead artist for a seven-member team that worked on “Toward the Stars,” a multiplayer online space adventure game demonstrated at the GamePipe Showcase.

Zachary Metcalf, a senior electrical engineering major from Austin, Tex., who graduates this month, worked as game play and build engineer on “Polyseum,” a first-person shooter game debuted at the GamePipe Showcase. Metcalf already has a job lined up as a game engine programmer with San Diego-based Rockstar Games.

An avid “Super Smash Brothers” player as a child, Metcalf said the year he worked on the 17-person team producing “Polyseum” changed his life. “We’ve made something we’re really proud of,” he said.

Joining “ElemenTerra” in debuting at Demo Day were:

At the GamePipe Showcase, “Polyseum,” the first-person shooter game, was turning industry heads. “Polyseum” recently took first-place honors in the Viterbi School of Engineering’s capstone project competition. Joining it in debuting at the GamePipe Showcase, alongside “Toward the Stars” and “Graviton Marathon,” were the Advanced Games offerings “LifeSpark,” a casual MOBA game for iOS, and “Apophis,” a single-player, third-person action adventure game

Mobile games showcased included:

  • “Graviton Marathon,” a shift gravity side scroller
  • “Escape From Aphelion,” about a young space explorer escaping from an endless planet
  • “Oristein,” a combo matching game and RPG for mobile devices
  • “DeBomber,” a fast-twist game that challenges players’ eyesight and reactions
  • “Fight For Zion,” a tower defense game
  • “Spice Runner,” in which an Indian spice adventurer takes on resurgent army troops
  • “Whatck-A-Bunny,” a fast-paced casual mobile game.

Networked AI Games included:

  • “Polyminis,” a 2D sandbox environment evolving intelligent agents that tackle high-level goals
  • “Starcraft AI,” which fights the award-winning AIs in “Starcraft.”

Native Console Multiplayer games included:

  • “Empire Wars,” a middle-age, multiplayer RTS game
  • “Sniper Wars,” a multiplayer sniper death match