Logo: University of Southern California

FTW! For The Win

From virtual reality to handhelds, USC GamePipe Laboratory Showcase uploads innovation in game design
By: Daniel Druhora
December 17, 2015 —


Students display their game creations at Games Pipe Laboratory Fall '15 Showcase Photo/Peter Shin


We went down to the GamePipe Laboratory to hear what one of LA’s biggest economic engines sounds like.

It’s loud, multilingual and multiplatform. And this is year it will surpass Hollywood, it’s older entertainment sister, by a whopping $27 billion, according to Global Games Market Report.

Tinseltown wept, for example, when on September 17, 2013, it watched Grand Theft Auto V rake in $800 million in global sales in its first 24 hours – the biggest launch for any piece of entertainment ever produced.

This semester GamePipe unveiled 24 games built in the fall semester, including work from mobile, networked, immersive, engines and advanced games courses.

One of these is Recall, a virtual reality game that uses machine learning, performance and storytelling to improve memory. For those who love to spend their winter nights with a cup of hot coffee pretending to be Sherlock Holmes – you must play Recall. But put down the hot coffee down, as this game completely sucks you in.

Photo/Courtesy Recall

 The brainchild of Viterbi biomedical engineer Lukas Ferrer, Recall is more than a game – it is a virtual reality mind-hack. Inspired by the spatial and imagery based mnemonic techniques of competitive memorizers, Recall puts players in VR “mind-palaces” built from their own digital documents. In essence, it turns your documents into playable “levels” designed for easy memorization. Instead of reading something on paper, you explore it in VR!

“You live the document,” says Jyotsna Kadimi, Recall’s co-lead designer and producer, a Viterbi graduate student in electrical engineering. “Why read about Rome when you can be in Rome?”

It may look simple, but under the hood Recall runs on sophisticated natural language processing and deep learning concepts such as those pioneered by the computational linguistics group at USC’s Information Sciences Institute (ISI).

“It’s a great place to build games,” says Clinton Anderson, Recall’s lead designer and USC Viterbi graduate student in computer science.

Anderson raves about Recall’s diverse team that included students from the School of Cinematic Arts, School of Architecture and Laguna College of Art and Design

Widely recognized as the No. 1 game design program in North America, USC Games represents an exciting collaboration between the School of Cinematic Arts’ Interactive Media & Games Division and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science.

Computer Science Chair, Gaurav Sukhatme, believes students benefit tremendously from this collaboration. Sukhatme views modern computer science as “a remarkably creative discipline” and encourages students to evolve with the times. “Computer scientists are not just stereotypical lonely people who write code. The gaming world culture has long shattered that. It’s time mainstream media picked up.”

Students and industry professionals experience multi-platform gaming at Showcase Photo/Peter Shin

Tracy Fullerton, interactive media division chair agrees: “Like film and literature, games are artistic expressions of our culture. And they come out of the alchemy of these diverse teams, each with their own unique skills and vision that bring new, unique voices to the field.”

Under the USC Games umbrella, The GamePipe Laboratory has cast a deep stake in the industry with award-winning games like “The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom” that originated in The Lab as an IMD student thesis project built in the Advanced Games course. According to GamePipe Lab founding director, Michael Zyda, over 1,500 students have passed through courses in the laboratory. His alums have shipped games played by over 2.5 billion players.

“Visit Activision, Blizzard or any of the biggest industry players and you’ll bump into loads of USC Viterbi CTOs, designers and lead engineers working on juggernauts like Call of Duty, Destiny and Grand Theft Auto V,” says Zyda.

Whether five minutes of mind-numbing gunk of phone play on the train, or 14 hours of transformative journeys through a lushly painted virtual world, games will continue to shape our human experience.

The next one you play might very well have originated in USC’s GamePipe Lab.


Click on a title to take you to the game's website.


Magnus - soccer in space 
Recall - a mind palace in virtual reality 
Possession - galactic war between the Krom & Nexron in an RTS/FPS combination 
Swarm - a fighting game mechanic merged with a MOBA