The University of Utah’s game design program under the name Entertainment Arts & Engineering (EAE for short) has constantly been rated by the Princeton Review as one of the top undergrad and grad schools to study game design. With these high rankings come high expectations, and let me tell you; students in EAE are gaining the knowledge needed to deliver interactive experiences on a level expected by the games industry.
Every year, EAE holds an event called EAE Play, an event open to the public allowing students the chance to show off the games they’ve been working on all semester and gather feedback. I had the opportunity to attend EAE Play 2019 and interview 5 undergraduate students all working on different games and holding different areas of expertise. Let’s take a dive into the event and see what these students have been working on!
(Note: Games shown are in a work in progress state)
Raul Santos – Level Designer for ‘Sand to Surf’
Adam: How did your team come up with the concept for the game, and what games or developers did you take inspiration from?
Raul: We came up with the concept because we wanted to create a game about movement. We wanted the journey to be as fun, if not more fun than the destination. Our inspiration came from ‘Skate 3’, ‘Journey’ and ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’. Those are the top 3; there’s a little bit of ‘Tony Hawk Pro Skater’ in there as well, but not as much.
Adam: Did you learn to make games in your own time or gradually through the EAE program?
Raul: I primarily learned through EAE, I’ve worked on some projects on the side but most of those were board games. Those probably are focused on system design rather than level design which is my focus now.
Adam: What do you personally think of the University of Utah’s EAE program and would you recommend it to other students wanting to learn about games?
Raul: I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who really wants to understand the nuts and bolts of games. It’s an absolutely wonderful experience; you get to meet a ton of super creative people and the classes are the most fun I’ve had in any school program ever.
Jessie Webber – Art Director, Concept Artist and Vision Holder for ‘Reign’
Adam: How did you come up with the concept for your game, and what games or developers did you take inspiration from?
Jessie: So, I’ve always really enjoyed demons and hell, I think it’s a really fun concept that you can do a lot with. I love Tieflings from DnD which is also a huge inspiration for the game! Some other game inspirations are ‘Bastion’ and ‘Transistor’ from Supergiant Games.
Adam: How did you learn to make games? Did you learn to make games in your spare time or largely through the EAE program?
Jessie: Mostly through EAE, though I’ve been drawing and doing concept art which is mainly my focus in EAE. I’ve been drawing my whole life.
Adam: What do you think of the University of Utah’s EAE program and would you recommend it to anyone that has even a slight interest in games?
Jessie: I think it’s awesome! I’m a big fan of it and I’ve had a lot of fun, I’d recommend it to regular students as well, you can take classes even if it isn’t in your major.
Matt Mason – Vision Holder and Engineer Programmer for ‘Revel Rousers’
Adam: How did you come up with the concept for your game?
Matt: Originally, it [Revel Rousers] was going to be a zombie game where you control a horde of zombies. We also originally had the idea of using two sticks to have two different hordes. Playing with that idea and finding what was fun turned into the hectic nature of just running around and destroying things; it turned out to be way more fun than another zombie game, so we ran with it.
Adam: As far as inspirations, what [game] has been your biggest?
Matt: Everyone compares it to ‘Pikmin’ but I’ve never played it. There are a lot of similarities [to Pikmin] but as far as inspirations, the original pitch of the zombie game using twin sticks, if you’ve heard of ‘Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons’ that was the idea of having the two different hordes interacting, but it turned into something else entirely, so now it’s just frenetic energy and we’re gonna have all kinds of music in there as well. We’ve got a team at UC Berkeley doing the music and some sound effects for us!
Adam: How did you learn to make games? Was it something you learned personally or over time through EAE?
Matt: Making games has mostly been through EAE, signing up for the program. I was going to school just to be a programmer, and I saw there was an EAE emphasis for that. I’m a huge gamer, so that was an immediate draw for me. It’s the programming engineering degree and you get to make games instead of boring things!
Adam: Would you personally recommend it to anybody with a slight interest in games?
Matt: Definitely, especially since it’s not just a programming track, a lot of the artists on our team aren’t programmer. You can come into this as a programmer, an artist or a game designer and get into the program and make games.
Chris Payne – Lead Designer and Vision Holder for ‘Personal Space’
Adam: How did you personally come up with the concept? What games inspired you in the creative process?
Chris: There were 2 main games that inspired me; ‘Superhot’ and ‘Ape Out’. They’re both kind of smaller indie titles, Superhot has gotten pretty big though. My idea coming up for this [Personal space] was social anxiety simulator. With time, it became much more intense and vibrant and energetic. We sort of took the social anxiety concept and then played it up and made it a more uh, gamey type of game. I pretty much wanted to make a game a theme to it, a more serious game that people could resonate and have fun with. I figure social anxiety made sense because gamers have a stereotype of struggling with it, and I definitely had social anxiety when I was younger. Or really, I was just shy, but it felt like social anxiety so I use that term. Everyone here wanted to be on my team, so that was cool!
Adam: How did you learn to make games? Was it something you learned in your spare time, or did you start with EAE?
Chris: It started with EAE. A lot of people will learn about how to make games beforehand but I didn’t know that I wanted to make games until I started to make games. Everything I know is through this program, basically.
Adam: What do you think of EAE? Would you recommend it to somebody that has a slight interest in games?
Chris: Oh yeah, for sure! I think that EAE is a really solid program and I think if you want to make video games it gives you such a leg up, both in terms of a resume and in terms of the practical knowledge. You can learn all of this in your free time if you want, but having structure to it really forces you to get that knowledge in a structured way, it’s awesome.
Michael Gardone – Lead Engineer on ‘Ballad of the Masked Bandits’
Adam: How did you and your team come up with the concept of the game and what game or developers did you take inspiration from in the process?
Michael: Our vision holder told us that she really liked the idea of being 3 raccoons in a trench coat. She really found that to be an endearing topic to go out with. We came up with the wild west because you know, what can we do [with raccoons] in a modern era? The wild west is a bit more fun, a lot more opportunities for hijinx. The main games we started to pull from were ‘Hitman: Absolution’, a lot of big open world games, but recently we started scaling down a bit more. We started working on smaller levels to see where the fun is. For those levels, we mostly pulled inspiration from puzzle games. Now we’re pulling from everywhere, trying to find what we enjoy and figure out how we can put it into the game if it doesn’t work we cut it, if it works, we keep running with it.
Adam: How did you personally learn to make games in your position?
Michael: Me personally, I started back in freshman year of high school. I started working with code because ‘Minecraft’ was the big thing back then. I really enjoyed it, I find it to be really fun and I’ve worked on some mods here and there for it. When I really got into game development was during my freshman year of college. I met some people; the producer I met, a really good guy, worked with me and we worked on small games and did mini jams and game jams to build up our skills and understand how to communicate efficiently and build a fun game. Where we [the team] learned [to build] our game from was primarily just doing it. That’s the best thing for a game developer is just to keep trying, keep trying, keep trying. You’re going to find things that never work. It can be unfortunate, but that’s the way game design can work, but from there, you keep iterating and try to find the fun. It doesn’t matter what tools you use, you could use game maker, Unity, Unreal, you can make your own engine if you want. You just have to find the fun in it.
Adam: How do you feel EAE contributed to your learning?
Michael: I feel like I’ve learned a lot through traditional teaching, it’s by far taught me the most about scope. I think one of the biggest skills you should learn is how to scope properly. If you don’t scope properly, you’re going to be either crunching or your game won’t be fun because you’re not putting in what you could. Traditional [teaching] definitely helped me the most, I’m in Computer Science with EAE Emphasis, from there what I find to be the most helpful [classes] were the ones focused on communication within your teams. This game is capstone, we have bigger teams and need to communicate across different disciplines. I’m an engineer, I like to talk to artists because they have a different way of thinking, the issue with that can be the communication barrier. That’s a skill that this college has helped me most with is trying to communicate my ideas as an engineer to artists and vice versa. By far, the best thing this college has done is teach me to be a good communicator.
Huge thanks to all the students who agreed to be interviewed and for providing footage for this article. There were a large amount of games at EAE Play 2019, we’ve only scratched the surface! Be sure to check out other games from the event here.