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Dragons made DigiPen’s 2023 a year to remember, racking up awards with amazing student projects and bringing our campus community to life with fun new events, organizations, and more. Impressive faculty accomplishments abounded in 2023 as well, and off-campus, alumni continued to contribute to the biggest games and franchises of the year. Let’s take a look back at DigiPen’s incredible 2023!

Decorated Dragons

Ellen Heitmann presents at a GDC-branded podium next to a projector screen displaying her Xenoblade Chronicles analysis.
Ellen Heitmann presents her Platinum award-winning narrative analysis of Xenoblade Chronicles at the 2023 GDC Narrative Summit.

Dragons earned a range of awards and recognition in 2023 for their project work, earning DigiPen institution-wide honors as well. Early in the year, one of those honors came from the Princeton Review, which named DigiPen a top-five game design school in North America and abroad for the 14th consecutive year.

Soon after, graduating BFA in Digital Art and Animation student Andrew Terrell was named the winner of the 12th annual World of Warcraft Student Art Contest in the environment art category for his crystalline submission, “Aldricgos’ Archive.” Four BA in Game Design students followed up on that success with one Platinum and three Gold awards in the 2023 Game Narrative Review Competition. Awarded as part of the Game Developers Conference (GDC), Ellen Heitmann, Canon Coker, Connor Runyan, and Vasilisa Shcherbakova earned free passes to the weeklong conference in San Francisco, where they presented talks on their award-winning game narrative analyses at the GDC Narrative Summit.

Dragons also made an impressive international showing at the 2023 Rookie Awards, landing top marks amongst competition from 521 schools across the globe. DigiPen animated shorts The Little Rat and Heads up; game projects Green Reaper and Grocery Gauntlet; and student artists Jessica Chen, Nitis Borirakpanich, Juthapat Limpattanakul, and Ethan Yant all earned badges for their stellar work. Those winning projects from the Redmond campus shared the spotlight with a handful of impressive games and animations from the students at DigiPen Europe-Bilbao as well. Their combined talent prompted the Rookies Global School Rankings to name DigiPen among the top schools in the world in five ranking categories: #2 in Production Excellence – Console Games; #10 in Concept Art & Illustration; #11 in Game Design & Development; #15 in Production Excellence – 2D Animation; and one of the Top 50 Creative Schools.

Even students in DigiPen’s high school WANIC programs won big this year. Two WANIC teams earned the first- and third-place prizes in the Washington Technology Student Association (TSA) video game design challenge for their games Avarice and Grand Stage Garage, which they created based on this year’s contest theme, “puzzlers and party games.”

A Vibrant Campus Community

Six DigiPen students huddle together and pose for the camera on the dancefloor at DigiProm.
Dragons reveled at the first annual DigiProm this year.

For Dragons who began their DigiPen journeys during the pandemic, 2023 marked the in-person return to many events and activities on campus. One such event was the Global Game Jam, a 48-hour game dev whirlwind that had 18 teams at DigiPen’s jam site crafting games based on this year’s theme, “Roots.”

Last spring saw the birth of an entirely new on-campus extravaganza. The first annual DigiProm, which transformed Bytes Café into an enchanted fairy forest, gave both current students and those who graduated during the pandemic a chance to party in-person again for the first time.

Another newcomer to campus, the student organization Gamers Philanthropy Network, emerged from Dragons’ desire to “benefit the greater Seattle area through organized, charitable initiatives.” In proper DigiPen fashion, some of those initiatives included a campus Super Smash Bros. tournament that doubled as a food drive, as well as an Intro to Game Development workshop hosted for Children’s Home Society Washington. That external community support earned the club the honor of being named Registered Student Organization of the Year in the 2023 Student Life Awards. Also from the Student Life Awards, Joseph Crump was recognized as the 2023 Student for the Year, having been nominated by the Dragon community for supporting his peers on campus as a long-time teacher’s assistant and “Unity wizard.”

Before wrapping up the 2022-23 academic year, student teams unveiled the incredible game projects they spent all year working on at the DigiPen Student Game Showcase. Among the many original concepts on display were an alien pressure-washing platformer, a multidimensional chess game, a rollerblading side-scroller, and much more. A number of those projects would soon head to Steam, where DigiPen student games recently passed an impressive milestone of 8.5 million unique game downloads.

After the Class of 2023 threw their caps in the air at commencement, DigiPen welcomed new freshmen to campus for the 2023-24 academic year. The incoming class wasted no time fitting right into our unique campus culture (just check out this incredible Halloween pageant cosplay). DigiPen’s elder Dragons made an on-campus appearance as well during October’s DigiPen Alumni Reunion, an opportunity to see old friends and learn about their amazing post-DigiPen careers.

Our Fabulous Faculty

Sonia Michaels poses on steps in front of DigiPen’s main entrance.
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Chair Sonia Michaels was honored with the 2023 Excellence Award for Teaching at IndieCade Horizons.

DigiPen faculty had a banner year as well, wrapping up 2023 with an impressive list of achievements, awards, and honors.

Department of Music lecturer Brian Schmidt started out the year seeing a decades-long campaign he helped lead come to fruition when the GRAMMYs handed out the first award in its brand new category for Best Score Soundtrack for Video Games and Other Interactive Media. Even better, it was an event he got to witness firsthand as a GRAMMY awards ceremony attendee. Schmidt’s formidable reputation in the industry also earned him an invitation to the World Health Organization in Geneva in June to take part in its “Make Listening Safe” initiative, which focused this year on ways to protect player hearing health in video games.

Jazno Fancoeur, director of DigiPen’s BFA in Digital Art and Animation program, also found himself in Europe this year for a different reason — a prestigious Cannes Film Festival screening of an animated short film. The film was Shelter in Place, directed by Seattle filmmaker Clare Chun, and it featured the contributions of four DigiPen faculty, including Francoeur as lead animator; original score by Department of Music Chair Lawrence Schwedler; audio mastering by assistant professor Greg Dixon; and color correction and assembly by Department of Animation senior lecturer Chris Mosio.

Instructors from DigiPen’s BFA in Digital Art and Animation program all got a chance to shine as well in March’s invitational faculty art exhibition, “Divergent Voices,” at Seattle’s Figure | Ground Gallery. Guest curated by DigiPen Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Open World, Danny Samuels, the show featured work by 22 instructors spanning digital and traditional painting, miniatures, sculpture, and more.

Department of Humanities and Social Sciences Chair Sonia Michaels enjoyed a tremendous year filled with well-earned recognition. For one, IndieCade Horizons honored her with their 2023 Excellence Award for Teaching. In addition, Michaels’ talk at the 2023 Game Developers Conference, “Soft’ Skills Are Hard! Acing the Non-Technical Interview Questions,” became the top-rated career-focused session of the year, earning her a spot in 2024’s official GDC speaker deck of cards, highlighting the previous year’s 50 highest-rated speakers.

Also from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, assistant professor Catherine Broadwall won the Paula Svonkin Creative Arts Award for her lyric essay “Ironies,” submitted to the PAMLA 2023 Conference. She enjoyed a highlight year, thanks also to the 2023 release of her well-received poetry collection, Fulgurite, published by Cornerstone Press.

And last but not least, in July, BA in Game Design Program Director Jeremy Holcomb was able to officially say he wrote the book on game design after publishing his brand new textbook, “What is Game Design?” The book breaks down the foundational game design skills and processes he teaches DigiPen students for audiences around the world.

Alumni Excellence

Chonlawat “Takki” Thammawan poses in front of a giant statue of the Overwatch 2 character Tracer.
Chonlawat “Takki” Thammawan’s Thai heritage served as the inspiration for the new Overwatch 2 hero, Lifeweaver.

Dragons out in the industry continued to contribute to an impressive list of hit games and series. BFA in Digital Art and Animation alum Apollonia Vick kicked off the year with her professional TV series debut as a storyboard revisionist on the Netflix animated show, My Dad the Bounty Hunter. As fate would have it, the show’s director, animator Everett Downing Jr., was the inspiration behind Vick’s award-winning DigiPen student film, Adija.

The renowned remaster of the classic sci-fi horror game Dead Space got a big graphical boost from MS in Computer Science alum Matt Hurliman, who worked as a senior software engineer for EA’s internal Runtime Technology Group on the project. Another EA title, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, had players planet-hopping across the galaxy thanks to DigiPen alumni at Respawn Entertainment, including narrative technical designer Joanna Robb, level designer Brandon Yuan, and lighting artist Rob Simpson. They weren’t the only grads who won the space race this year, however. BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation alum Anthony Saulls helped realize Bethesda’s massive new open world RPG, Starfield, as a systems designer — leading development on the complex “Lego set” used to create the infinitely-customizable characters’ faces in the game.

Dragons’ red-hot game dev skills at Blizzard Entertainment made a big impact in 2023 as well. BFA in Digital Art and Animation graduates Chonlawat “Takki” Thammawan and Ying Liu got to celebrate a career milestone when Blizzard unveiled a brand new hero in Overwatch 2, one whose Thai background was directly inspired by Thammawan’s own cultural heritage. The two DigiPen grads had worked hand-in-hand to create the new hero, Lifeweaver, from the ground up. While Lifeweaver’s support powers had him healing players around the globe, BA in Game Design alum Devin Brom brought some fun-filled pain to the world instead on Diablo IV, helping craft the game’s 150-plus demon-filled labyrinths as a dungeon designer.

But they weren’t the only alumni who contributed to high-profile games in 2023. BS in Computer Science and Digital Audio graduate Matthew Rosen got to bask in the universal praise that came with the release of Baldur’s Gate 3, a game he served on as developer Larian Studios’ sole audio software engineer. Meanwhile, BS in Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation graduate Brittany Aubert became an unlockable playable character in the 2023 sports game AEW Fight Forever, a game in which she appeared as her pro-wrestling alter ego, AEW referee Aubrey Edwards. Lastly, a whopping 22 DigiPen Dragons past and present helped ship the surprise retro revival F-Zero 99 for Nintendo Switch Online, a game that turned the classic sci-fi racer into a high-speed battle royale on tracks.

Thanks to everyone who helped raise the DigiPen banner through their incredible work and community contributions. Here’s to an equally amazing 2024!